He Became Sin


One of the (dis)advantages of travel, is that you are likely to get bored in your hotel room and turn on the tv, or get bored in your car and turn on the radio – and thus you will see or hear what you might otherwise have missed. It seems that any town in South Carolina has twice as many Christian radio stations as any town in Tennessee – if that can be believed. If you like Christian radio – I suppose it’s a slice of heaven. I don’t mind some Christian radio but, then again, I tend to think doctrinally and thus am fairly critical of radio preaching (or any preaching).

I listened the other evening to a portion (it’s all I could take in) of a radio preacher – the subject was the death of Christ, and, I suppose, the atonement. The great concentration of this message was on the silence (he said stretched from noon until three). I’m not sure about the details or whether I should argue for less time, but it does not matter. I will quickly grant the point of silence on the cross, and darkness. The preacher’s point was that God the Father did not want the world to see or hear the Son’s suffering for sin. It was a homiletic moment, and I forgive almost any preacher who, caught up in the momentum of his preaching may stretch something a bit. But this was not the first time I’ve encountered this kind of thought. The general precis is that God (the Father) could not bear to look on sin (I’ve been looking for the Scripture verse in vain – but I know it must be there). Thus, when the Son bore our sins, He also bore the disapproval and punishment of His Father.

All of this is part of the Substitutionary Punishment (note the punishment added here) Theory of the Atonement. There are ways in which we can accurately speak of Christ as a substitute. But there are problems (for me) in speaking of a substitutionary punishment. Does God the Father need someone to be punished for our sins? In what way would He need such punishment to occur? Why punishment? This is not a strong theme at all in the Eastern Church. That Christ suffered for us, yes. That His suffering was a punishment from the Father – this is hard to find any support for.

One of the questions raised in my mind was the Father’s need to turn His back on the Son. First, I thought of the doctrine of the perienchoresis. Not familiar with the word? It’s the doctrine that generally means that each member of the Trinity shares in the life of each member of the Trinity. There is, after all, only One God. Thus when the Son suffers, we must say, though it is a paradox, that God suffers. The Divinity of the Son is not absent from the Humanity of the Son in His suffering. If He were He would be absent from us in our salvation. If the Divinity of the Son is not absent, then we cannot posit that the Divinity of the Father is absent, either.

Now, I am not a theologian. I’ve read a little and studied some, and prayed even less. Thus I am subject to correction from those who have studied and read more and prayed more, and are Orthodox. Thus I ask, “How is it that some say the Father turned away from the Son?” Is this Orthodox? I do not read it in the prayers of the Anaphora (the Liturgy). Is this not a late invention?

I do not mean this for argument – but if someone knows the answer and can inform me better along Orthodox lines (or even a good Scriptural argument) I would be glad to read it. But as it stands, I cannot agree with the preacher on the radio. It seems to me that this popular treatment of the Atonement is off base. But I’ll wait to be corrected.

I readily agree that He became sin that we might become the righteousness of God (as noted in the title). But He became sin – thus He looked on it. There is no separation between the Father and the Son. What God has become, God has become.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





42 responses to “He Became Sin”

  1. Matthew N. Petersen Avatar

    I’m not Orthodox, but can I hazar a precis of an answer anyway?

    Given the incarnation we have no choice but to experience God. Now through the medium of creation, but it shall be face to face. For those conformed to Christ he will be present as fire is present in and around a hot coal. But for those conformed to Christ, he will be present as a burning. This later type of experiencing God is what I would call “forsaken by God” or “experiencing the back of God.” Perhaps I’m not saying this too precisely, but I think I have Orthodox say this sort of thing.

    Moreover, I think that all suffering is us experiencing God (or God present in things) as Semele to Zeus. Because we are marred by sin, bear Adam’s fallen flesh, we, even when holy, can experience God as burning. And this suffering was what Adam brought on us. Through Adam we must ultimately, experience God as burning. But though there was no man to take responsibility for Adam’s sin, God Himself chose to become man and take responsibility for the sin and pain of the world. So Christ came in sinful flesh and suffered, experienced God as burning, was forsaken by God “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!” That is to say, God turned His back on Christ.

    But of course God did not turn His back on Christ in the sense that He deserted Him. Or ceased to be pleased with Him. Like you said, God suffered(s) with Christ. And He did not leave His soul in hell, nor did He suffer His Holy One to see corruption.

    Can that be Orthodox? Is it consistent with Orthodox understandings of the passion?

  2. Fatherstephen Avatar

    I generally agree – although I think the evangelical Protestant account is quite different and argues that God the Father could not look on the Son as He bore our sin and thus “forsook” Him. I do not think He forsook Him. Christ quotes the first verse of Psalm 22, which, in Hebrew reckoning is to quote the whole Psalm – which is a wonderful Psalm on the crucifixion of Christ. But abandoned? He made Him to be sin. Abandoned Him in that way. But I do not think it is necessary to say that He did this any more for Adam than for us all. He knew the depths of our forsakenness and yet was not forsaken. That, of course, is a mystery. But is not really what the preacher was saying. But, neither was he trying to give an Orthodox account.


  3. peter Avatar

    What a stunning icon, Father.

  4. David Avatar

    I very much love reading your blog and wouldn’t want to step out of my element too much (I’m a better reader than contributor).

    There are many useful metaphors for the work of God in Christ.

    There seem to be several competing metaphors all attempting to claim exclusive and complete conveyance of truth in this matter. To me Christ Victor and SubAton aren’t at odds, they just describe different aspects of his work.

    Clearly Christ came to do all that he did. He didn’t “just” come to die as some would interpret. But I wouldn’t want to speak of the wholeness of his life without the hub on which that life turns, Calvary.

    Without any intent to prove myself, only to point to my understanding, I offer 1 John 2:2. I see both views in it. It clearly uses “atonement” but uses the “being”. That is, John doesn’t say, Christ’s death on a cross WAS payment. He says Christ IS the payment.

    I hate getting hung up on grammar and my Greek is less than expert so I can’t provide all the subtleties here. But clearly Christ is payment, punishment, insert-your-metaphor here.

    Of course, I cannot speak of holy liturgy which seeks to live the truth of metaphor.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    An important verse. The Greek is literally the “mercy seat” referring to the mercy seat on which the Blood of sacrifice is poured in the Temple (on the Day of Atonement). You’re correct there are a number of metaphors that are used and it should not be an exclusive this or that. But payment is not necessarily contained at all in offering or in Hilasterion (mercy seat). Very often there are fairly elaborate schemes that some put forward that simple are not in the Scriptures. Certain aspects of the substitutionary atonement (when it is made a satisfaction theory to appease the wrath of God then I think it may have gone too far). But continued dialog about these things can only benefit us. I guess it’s why I continue to raise the question one way or another.

  6. ochlophobist Avatar

    You suggest this in an above comment but I would play it out further, if I may. Years ago, when I was in Bible college and had an OT prof who was quite given to a christological interpretation of the OT (with even patristic themes), we were taught that when Christ quoted the first line of Psalm 21 (22) He was thus, in the mind of Hebrews who heard Him, quoting in abbreviated form the whole Psalm, and therefore the meaning of the phrase is the meaning of the whole Psalm. This rhetorical form lasted throughout the medieval period.. The first 18 verses of the Psalm are on the crucifixion of Christ, but the rest of the Psalm, most importantly, the end of the Psalm, is on the glorification of He who has suffered. Vs. 24 of the Psalm – “For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.” And of course that great last verse, 31, “They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.” This is not a Psalm of defeat, it is a Psalm of victory. There are other Psalms Christ could have quoted had He wanted to convey a full sense of abandonment. The first verse of Psalm 21 (22), given the whole Psalm, approaches irony. When Christ quotes it, that first verse takes on full irony, indeed the fullest use of irony in all human narrative. Christ takes on the form of defeat and in this accomplishes the greatest of all victories. To think that Christ actually believed Himself to be defeated is some sort of modernist literalism of which the fathers knew nothing. Christ took on the form of defeat. He never knew defeat. In that subtle difference lies our salvation. To state that to be human is, of necessity, to know defeat, and to know forsakenness and God’s displeasure, is a gross determinism that makes God subject to some perverse equation of grace. When Christ utters the first line of Psalm 21 (22), He is not proclaiming defeat, but rather triumph, the end of the postlapsarian order. Those who insist that Christ was literally forsaken (and therefore defeated, even if only for a time), are 1, reading ideologically parsed phrases instead of the whole of salvific narrative, and 2, committed to a caricature of the “pre-Incarnation” order. But, then again, how could von Balthasar be wrong? He wrote 50,000 pages in his lifetime.

  7. Fatherstephen Avatar

    I agree with you. It is a Psalm of Victory – the Icon is well titled (generally) The King of Glory.

  8. Philippa Alan Avatar
    Philippa Alan

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    If I may throw my metaphorical hat into the ring on this topic…it doesn’t seem as brilliant as everyone else’s but it is what I was taught as a Protestant.

    Adam sinned. That sin was put on all of mankind. That sin gave us guilt and a sense of guilt. Adam was kicked out of and barred from Paradise because “where sin is, God cannot be.” God is holy and cannot sin. (James 1:13).

    When Christ was crucified, He took on to Himself ALL the sin of the world…past, present & future…in order to render payment for it all. Just as on an accounting ledger sheet, one has a debt to be paid. Christ, by His death, paid the debt for us, so now we have an eternal credit balance of zero. Romans 6:10 tells us that sin can never legally regain its mastery over us though in practice we can yield to its temptations.

    Therefore, because He had ALL that sin on Him (the sin offering or aka guilt offering [see Leviticus]), God had to forsake Him because “where sin is, God cannot be.”

    “His works have made the sinful ‘holy and blameless and irreproachable’ before God (Col. 1:22; Rom 5:19b), ‘cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands’ (Col. 2:14), and ‘made purification for sin’ (Heb. 1:30. He has ‘died for the ungodly’ (Rom 5:6), ‘bore our sins’ on a tree (1 Pet 2:24), saved us from God’s wrath over sin (Rom. 5:9), expiated our guilt (Rom. 3:25), and wash us clean in His redeeming blood (1 John 1:7).”

    How do I know this? May God forgive me…I used to teach this.

  9. Fatherstephen Avatar

    There are merits within aspects of that version, but, as you note, it has its problems, too. Too much theory too little metaphor. Mostly its problems falls in the area of saying what God must have (justice) and what He cannot do (look at sin). It begs the question of the proper definition of justice, using a very this-worldly understanding of justice, and a narrowing of the sense in which Christ was and is a sacrifice for us. It’s so much broader than the payment theory. Thanks. Sounds like you learned it well. Don’t apologize for that.

  10. Scott Lyons Avatar

    These thoughts are too high for me, Father.

    I am not trying to push forward any defense of substitutionary punishment of Christ. And I agree that Christ alludes to the entire psalm, a psalm ultimately of victory, when he says, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” But He is dying. He is suffering. He has become sin.

    Isn’t this itself too great a mystery for us? And paradox? How can God become sin? How can He suffer? How can He die? Is this not the mystery of the incarnation?

    And if God can do this, though we do not understand it, is it possible that when our Lord cried “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” that he was not merely claiming the victory, but also experiencing the forsaking? I understand (he says, laughing nervously) the basic idea of perienchoresis, but isn’t this event the apex of the mystery of the incarnation?

    Obviously I only have questions. But I’ve always only assumed it was a mystery that such an impossibility were possible.

  11. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, I think the mystery is that two things are true at once. The problem, in certain versions of atonement theory, is in describing the problem in such a way that the nature of God is the real issue – thus His righteousness demands a sacrifice – which pushes too far in a direction that is problematic. But Christ enters into the depths of death, he became sin, that is quite clear. He enters Hades, which I’ve written on just recently. The Kenotic (emptying) doctrine of both St. Silouan and Fr. Sophrony are the fullest statement on that that I’ve ever seen. And I recommend them to others – and have drawn some quotes on it. This is the love of God – that He empties Himself for us and goes into the depths of our alienation – but the mystery is both that He does that, and that it is God that does that. So there is a both/and – the mystery as you’ve stated.

  12. Mother Joan Shelton Avatar
    Mother Joan Shelton

    The quote you are looking for is Habakkuk 1:12d-13a: “O Mighty God, thou who hast destined them to chastise/ thou whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil….”

    Obviously I’m not Orthodox (being a woman priest) but I have been taught that the idea of the whole Trinity suffering together at the Crucifixion is completely orthodox.

  13. leatherbear Avatar

    To me the protestant preacher on the radio tells me more about his view of his sin which he has projected on to Jesus and God the Father. Thus his christology has gone wrong.

    I love the term perichoresis (I noticed you used the word perienchoresis – is that a different concept?) – as it gives me an image of dancing around – a delightful image of God that we sometimes need.

  14. C Grace Avatar

    I’m not Orthodox yet, but I spend quite a bit of time on the Monachos.net discussion board and have learned a little. There was an excellent discussion on the atonement under a thread called “The River of Fire” not that long ago. http://www.monachos.net/forum/showthread.php?t=2014

    “God had to forsake Him because “where sin is, God cannot be.”

    Just thinking about some of the things mentioned there about God’s judgement, I wonder if we should turn the above statement around and say that sin cannot be where God is. God of course is everywhere -“In Him we live and move and have our being.” However, any person who wants to enter into God’s presence cannot have sin in him/her. What is sin,–rebellion against God.

    God’s wrath is being poured out, not on sinners, but on everything that separates us from God -ie sin. The burning passion of His love for us is a consuming fire.

    It seems to me that at the Fall being kicked out of the garden (kicked out of God’s presence) was an act of God’s mercy. He withdrew Himself because he knew that His presence would tear apart a soul in rebellion against Him.

    Have you ever really wanted to do something but couldn’t because circumstances prevented you? It causes an internal struggle and pain that is not ended until either you get to live your desire or you let go of your dream. This is the type of thing God’s love causes except at a greatly magnified level. The greater the desire the more painful the struggle tends to be and God has created the human heart to desire Himself infinitely and completely with its whole self. Therefore for the soul still enslaved by Satan to be in the presence of God would indeed be torment. It would tear itself apart.

  15. Wei-Hsien Avatar

    Father, bless!
    Perhaps an understanding of Hebrew shorthand can contribute here. The sacrifices of Leviticus were also known by their intent, e.g. “the peace offering” (zebach shelamim) is simply called “peace” (shelamim).
    In 2 Cor 5.21, I think what the Apostle has in mind is the sin offering, which for a Jew can also be called “sin” (Gk: hamartia) for short. Thus, we can translate 2 Cor 5.21 thus: “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be *a sin offering* who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. There need not be an implication here that Christ himself became sinful, only that he became a sacrifice for sin. I think Paul is playing here on the paradox of the OT sacrifices: innocent animals being offered as sacrifices for human sin. Likewise, the innocent Son (“he who knew no sin”) was offered as a sacrifice for our sins.
    Your weblog is always a joy to read, Father!

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you Wei-Hsien and others. I always feel like I’m stirring up a hornet’s nest on the subject of the Atonement, mostly I like us to dig for its broader scopes and that seems to be a result of these postings. A bit further pushing on the Hebrew – looking more carefully at various statements and images.

    It is important that we understand that Christ died for us – that He utterly reconciled us to God. It is important that no one else could do this for us – it is important that we understand that God did this for us in His mercy and love and that He is for us. It is important always to know that He is a “good God and loves mankind.”

    Occasionally images will sometimes negate this – and either need to be teased further before they yield better fruit – or sometimes – discarded.

    My main commitment as an Orthodox priest is to the fullness of the truth and to be careful of places that have narrowed it in a way that contradicts the faith.

    Several have mentioned the “River of Fire.” It’s a useful document, especially as it is full of patristic notations. I occasionally read some who have made the imagery of that document into a new roadmap of metaphysics and become too literal with even its imagery. Though I’d prefer that to anything else I’ve seen. But we must always remember that God has given us a number of images because the reality transcends, not our ability to know, but often our ability to express. We must continue to press forward into God and not stop at any image (theologically speaking). For it is God whom we wish to know and never just a theory. The more fully we know Him, the more sense the images will make, even when they fall short.

    Thank you all, kind readers.

  17. Matthew N. Petersen Avatar


    It is true that in quoting the beginning of the Psalm, Christ was quoting the totality. Even at the last He commited His spirit to God. But he was at that moment living the beginning. We cannot forget the end of the Psalm because of the beginning, but neither can we forget the beginning because of the end.

  18. Dolly Fox Avatar
    Dolly Fox

    If I have read correctly, the questions posed in today’s entry stem around one radio-preacher’s interpretation of the darkness during Christ’s crucifixtion. His interpretation is, in fact, representative of the overarching mindset for many Protestants that God forsook His Son on the cross (after all, Jesus said so in His own words, right?).

    What does this interpretation mean? A few years ago, I heard Larry Crabb, highly esteemed in Evangelical circles, describe the “church” in Amercia as a thousand miles wide and one inch deep. For the interpretation of darkness over all the land to mean God turning away from Jesus (ergo us) is as anthropomorphic and egocentric as one inch can reflect. “One inch” looks upon darkness, sees abdonment, and flees into blame. A deeper perspective–of the two thousand year old variety–enters into darkness and finds the light of love reaching out to save. When deep (darkness, death) enters into deep (darkness, death), she finds Pascha. (“Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.”)

    Recalling your entry “On Loving Your Enemy,” this same perspective ruefully compells me to pray for my little sister who has no breasts. (…and just when I was calling for lightning.)

  19. Death Bredon Avatar

    I don’t think I can improve on the Ochlophobist’s excellent response.

    But, I just wanted to note that Fr. Thomas Hopko’s celebrated ‘Rainbow Series’ (due to the colorful cover) does a great job explicating the Orthodox view of atonement in elementary language with scriptural citations and quatations form the anaphora of St. Basil (IMHO, the single best terse explication). It was Fr. Hopko’s explication that first made the mysteries of Christianity sensible to me — the western explications had only alienated me.

    And, if I recall correctly, Fr. Hopko describes Christ’s sacrifice as being to Death, Defeat, Sin, or Separation from the Father — however you want to name it — itself; not to satisfy the Father’s honor or wrath.

  20. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Death Bredon,

    (Sometime tell me the story of your first name). I agree about Hopko’s summary. He does as well as anyone the setting forward of doctrine in clear, unmistakable language. I find him one of the most interesting preachers in Orthodoxy.

    And, I would readily agree that St. Basil’s Anaphora is the single best, short (relatively) summary of the faith.

    Amen. Amen. Amen.

  21. Jordan Avatar

    I don’t mean for this to have any real, practical meaning…but atleast it is food for thought on this substitution idea. Afterall, who doesn’t like a good movie?

    I am a big fan of the Matrix Trilogy. Everyone agrees the first movie was good. I also liked the second and third, however most will say they weren’t up to par. But still, the sequels complement the original.

    To sum the movie trilogy up: the world people live in is actually a computer-simulated world known as ‘the matrix.’ The matrix is run by machines that destroyed the human race and plugged them into software so they would stay live while being harvested for energy by the machines. Every so often, by one means or another, people are unplugged from the matrix and awaken into the ‘real-world’, where humans are constantly battling against the machines for survival.

    The matrix was authored by a CPU known as ‘the architect.’ When designing the matrix, the architect forsaw the possible errors that could occur in the matrix, so he invented a piece of code, known as ‘the one’, that could re-enter the matrix and set things for the better. The one, played by Keanu Reeves, is a man who has a keen sense and thorough understanding of how the matrix works.

    In the last sequel, matrix revolutions, the one (Keanu Reeves) is re-inserted back into the matrix by the machines to eliminate a virus that is taking over the matrix. The one eliminates the virus in exchange for the liberation of all those people freed from the matrix. The one becomes part of the code that corrects the matrix by integrating into it and is no longer a man.

    I’m sure everyone who was liberated would be excstatic (sp?).

    Anyways, if you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s one of my favs. 🙂

  22. Chirstopher Orr Avatar

    Perhaps a discussion about how the Church and the Fathers understood the mercy seat and the OT sacrifices – who were they paying, what were they ‘gaining’? – as well as the term often translated as Expiation would be helpful.

  23. Chirstopher Orr Avatar

    Also, a good look at what God’s wrath and anger are. The standard Substitutionary Atonement theory is predicated on this wrath, and its need for appeasement. How does the Church – including the pre-Schism West – and the Fathers see God’s wrath, his punishing will, etc.?

  24. fatherstephen Avatar

    As good a collection of quotes from the Eastern Fathers on God’s wrath is in the talk (available on the internet) called “The River of Fire” by Kalomiris. There are weaknesses in the talk, partly because it is too one sided, but the footnotes are useful.

    Generally the Eastern Fathers see the wrath of God as quite metaphorical, and not referring to anything that needs to be appeased. They generally saw the notion of appeasing the wrath of God as thoroughly Pagan and not in keeping with the Gospel of Christ.

    The notion of a “punishing will” is a late scholastic invention. There is no such thing as this will and that will in God, just the will of God. Those are simply later categories thrust on God by scholastics. They’re not Scriptural nor properly Patristic.

    I’ll see what I can do on the quotes.

  25. Michael Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I have read an understanding of Genesis 15 (cutting the covenant with Abram) that, when two parties made an agreement by walking down the bloody path between severed animal halves, it was akin to saying, “May I die like these animals if I don’t keep covenant with you.” The interesting thing about this passage is that Abram does *not* walk down the path; instead, the LORD walks down the path twice — as fire and as smoke — once for Himself, and once for Abram and his descenants forever.

    The idea seems to be, if the Lord breaks covenant with us, He will die.

    And if we break covenant with Him…He dies in our stead, taking the whole weight of the covenant upon Himself.

    What do you think of that idea?

    Also, someone may have already mentioned it, but Isaiah 52-53 does seem to speak of God laying on Messiah the iniquity of us all, He being crushed for our iniquities. To me that is an impressive passage.

    I’d love your thoughts on the above.

  26. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    “As good a collection of quotes from the Eastern Fathers on God’s wrath is in the talk (available on the internet) called “The River of Fire” by Kalomiris. There are weaknesses in the talk, partly because it is too one sided, but the footnotes are useful. ”

    I just read it. I think I recall reading this many years ago. He stretches Western thought a bit far in order to refute it. However, the essence of the piece pierces the heart. It’s worth the read.


  27. fatherstephen Avatar


    I am familiar with this explanation. Actually we don’t know much about this particular covenantal act – note there is not an explanation of it anywhere in the Old Testament. If there are similar sacrifices in Mesopotamian civilization, that may be where the explanation comes from, but this is a sort of weak link. Does Abraham mean by his act the same thing that someone else in Mesopotamia meant by a similar act?

    Thus it is hard to comment on other than to add my ignorance to that of others.

    It is clear in Isaiah that God has laid on Him the inquity of us all that he was bruised for our sake, etc. But, again, this does not mean that there was a legal debt owed that he paid (which the substitionary model always assumes). Instead, sin is more often equated with uncleanness and death itself. When you read through Leviticus, for instance, it’s not the sense of a legal issue, but more of a life for a life, etc. There are interesting scholarly books being produced recently that look a bit at atonement in Scripture.

    I think the general tenor has been to see that atonement and sacrifice are not one thing in Scripture but several things – and that St. Paul, for instance, we sometimes combine more than one image even in the same sentence (which was considered good rhetorical style in his day).

  28. Death Bredon Avatar

    I am so glad we agree on this, as I admire your blog writting so much. Please keep up the good work!

    Yes, I have heard Fr. Hopko preach on several ocassions. I endearingly call him the shouter! But, what he shouts! Almost always, I find myself in agreement with him, even though I have heard that he ruffles some feathers occassionally. Ah well, it goes with the territory of his gift. (As an aside, we spent a sabbatical year away from St. Vlads at my undergraduate institution.)

    As for Death Bredon, its the middle name of Lord Peter (Death Bredon) Wimsey — Dorothy Sayer’s fictional aristocratic sleuth. (Is my Anglophilia showing?)

  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    Death Bredon,

    Now you’ll have endeared yourself to my wife – as great of fan of Sayers and British Mysteries (as well as great British literature) as can be found. I’m surprised she had not already pointed your name out to me.

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “What is not assumed is not saved”–a Christologic principal that is easy to forget. The darkness of dispair and the separation from God that is the Adamic state had to be assumed as well. Perhaps it is the beginning of Christ’s descent into Hades, I don’t know, but it is the state that man dwells in without God, without communion, without grace and it is the darkness through which we must often travel in order to fully appreciate His sacrifice for us and what it means when we say that He is the only lover of mankind.

    The modern mind, especially in the United States, fights tooth and nail to be “happy”. Drugs, sex, music, wealth, frenetic activity in order to “have fun”. It is not surprising that we see even the hint of suffering as God leaving us. In actuality, it can be just the opposite.

  31. Fatherstephen Avatar


    The icon of the Nativity has certain elements in common with the Paschal icon, which is to say, certain common elements of Hades. I think the simple message is indeed that His entrance into that Adamic state begins with His incarnation. I think it is also one of the reasons we continually see Him casting out demons throughout His minstry. It’s like a 33 year Pascha.

  32. spiro manos Avatar
    spiro manos

    What about ew kenyons theory that He became sin and died spiritually in hell to pay the price? There are a lot people teaching this doctrine and I would like your thoughts on this.

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    Forgive me, but I’m not familiar with ew kenyons theory. Scripture is clear that Christ became sin that we might become the righteousness of God. This sense of paying the price is one of a number of metaphors used to describe Christ’s death on the cross. The problem with it is that if we make it a literal payment – to whom is He paying and who is demanding payment?

    St. Gregory the Theologian in the 4th century examined this teaching and found it full of problems. He then largely dismissed it.

  34. spiro manos Avatar
    spiro manos

    What about the view that he died spiritually and was in hell for three days before he rose from the dead becoming the first born again man from the dead.

    These are not my views, I know what and why I believe and I don’t need to go past the cross and resurrection.

  35. fatherstephen Avatar


    I’m not sure what “die spiritually would mean.” It is not in normal Orthodox vocabulary regarding Christ’s death and resurrection. But the Scripture is clear that he descended to the dead, that is Hades, and bound Satan and set free those who were held in bondage. This is the teaching of the Church as well. It is, if you will, part of the fullness of the meaning of the Cross. He trampled down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.

  36. Spiros Avatar

    I have some family members by marriage that go to a Church that teaches that because Jesus became sin, He had to die spiritually and take on the nature of Satan in order to pay for sin, the firstborn from the dead. They get this teaching from E.W. Kenyon whom wrote many books between 1910 thru 1940? Anyhow this is the same view many prospeirty and word of faith teachers use. They also say Jesus had limitations while on earth. I view this as heresy, but can you please expound on this as well as give me a few bible passages that would discount these false teachings.
    Thank you and God bless you.

  37. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is, of course, in 2Corinthians 5:21 that St. Paul speaks of Christ becoming sin. What he means is not that he took on the nature of the devil (that is supported no where in Scripture), but that he took on Himself the full consequences of our sinfulness, entering even into Hades, to set us free.

    Orthodox and the right reading of Scripture always emphasizes this idea of “exchange” or “sharing” in Greek koinonia. He took on Himself what was ours that we might receive in ourselves what is His. This is our salvation.

    But he wasn’t saving the devil, He was saving us. He did not take on the nature of an angel (the devil is an angel) but Human nature. Nowhere does it speak of Christ taking on the nature of an angel (fallen or unfallen). He became man. And he accepted the full consequences of our fallen humanity, that He might heal it and raise it up with Himself.

    I hope that’s a little helpful.

    When it says “he became sin” it is “our sin” it is speaking about. The whole of that passage in 2 Corinthians 5:

    …in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal
    through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to
    God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in
    him we might become the righteousness of God.

    It is clear that it is mankind He is saving here. It is our nature that needs healing, not the devil’s. The devil cannot be saved. They are simply wrong.

  38. Spiros Avatar

    Thank you for the last comment. Where is the verse or verses which state Jesus went to Hades and bound satan.

  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ephesians 4:8-9 are traditionally understood to be referring to this. Of course the great Hymn of Pascha, “Trampling down death by death” contains this image as well, though it is not stricly speaking a verse of Scripture.

    The image in Ephesians is of a victory march in which those whom you have conquered are bound in chains and led in a parade. In this case He ascends on high and leads “captivity captive” that is, he leads Satan and all his host captive in a victory parade.

    Notice that within the same passage it speaks of his “descending,” a reference to His descent into Hades.

  40. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    “The devil cannot be saved.”

    I fully agree that I expect he will not be saved…but isn’t it troublesome to say that any of God’s creatures can not be saved? (I don’t mean to be pedantic, but perhaps there is some subtly in Orthodox theology concerning the Devil that I am unaware of)

  41. fatherstephen Avatar

    Traditionally, it is held that he cannot be. There are perhaps 2 fathers who suggest otherwise, but it’s sort of questionable. I suspect it belongs to the heading of things we do not know. For my safety’s sake, I assume he cannot. If he cannot, then I won’t be tricked into some weird scheme that says he can and wind up dealing with things that I don’t need in my life.

    If he can, then I’ll let God tell me about it later…

  42. Janine Avatar

    At this late date, I am exploring this topic. I would like to suggest the possibility that “He became sin” implies the whole of the Crucifixion as an embodiment of sin: a total miscarriage of justice at every turn, an extreme example of unrighteousness: goodness itself is crucified. We have to remember this is a voluntary state He goes to, and His prophesies to the disciples about all of it. In this sense I would say “He became sin.” I relate this to the times in my life I have gone through sinful experiences or hurtful miscarriages of justice and unrighteous treatment in some sense, as for me it has only been through prayer and faith that I have been led through them with a good outcome. Prayer and faith kept me holding fast to what was good, despite what I was going through. When I made mistakes in response, they were mistakes in terms of the passions rather than a prayerful state.

    I would relate this tangentially to the expanding violence of the Old Testament, leading to Lamech’s multiplications of vengeance. The Crucifixion teaches us a different way and that there is Resurrection. I also relate it to Christ’s repeated instructions to the disciples to “Watch and Pray,” especially in times of temptation and testing.
    Anyway, offered for your comment and consideration as I am pondering this today.. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. As a total aside: Henry Adams practically invented Social History with his efforts almost 200 years ago. A magnificent book…

  2. Sorry for typos. Meant to say nothing pollutes more than warfare, etc , and don’t want to tread over the…

  3. Regarding “green” policies and the discussion here, I want to add that nothing polltes more han warfare, weapons, and to…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast