Positive Hope in Jesus Christ
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (3:13–14)
Turning again to the positive, Paul reminds the Jewish believers in Galatia of the fact that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having been a curse for us.
Redeemed is from exagorazō, a word commonly used of buying a slave’s freedom. Christ justifies those who believe in Him by buying them back from their slavery to sin. The price He paid was the only one high enough to redeem all of mankind, the “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:19).
The curse of the Law was the punishment demanded because no man could keep from violating its demands, but Christ took that curse upon Himself as a substitute for sinners and became a curse for us in His crucifixion, for it is written (Deut. 21:23), “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”
In ancient Judaism a criminal who was executed, usually by stoning, was then tied to a post, a type of tree, where his body would hang until sunset as a visible representation of rejection by God. It was not that a person became cursed by being hanged on a tree but that he was hanged on a tree because he was cursed. Jesus did not become a curse because He was crucified but was crucified because he was cursed in taking the full sin of the world upon Himself. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24; cf. Acts 5:30).
That truth was extremely hard for most Jews to accept, because they could not imagine the Messiah’s being cursed by God and having to hang on a tree. First Corinthians 12:3 suggests that “Jesus is accursed” was a common, demon-inspired saying among unbelieving Jews of that day. To them, Jesus’ crucifixion was final and absolute proof that He was not the promised Messiah.
But for those who trust in Him, the two words for us become the two most beautiful words in all of Scripture. Because God sent His Son to bear the penalty for man’s sin, every person who puts his trust in the crucified Savior has had the curse borne for him.
Jesus’ sacrifice was total and for all men, in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. On man’s part, the curse is lifted by faith, which God, on His part and by grace, counts as righteousness on the believer’s behalf, and the river of blessing begins to flow as the rushing water of God’s grace engulfs the believer. Jesus Christ bore the curse, Paul affirms, to bring the blessing of Abraham … to the Gentiles. Salvation was for the purpose of God’s blessing the world. All that God desired for and promised to Abraham of salvation and its benefits would spread to the nations. A coordinate purpose clause is added—so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (cf. Acts 1:4–5; Eph. 1:13), who comes as the resident, indwelling Person to bless us with power.
All of this blessing is through faith. Justifying faith involves self-renunciation, putting away all confidence in one’s own merit and works. Like the Israelites who had Pharaoh’s pursuing army behind them and the impassable Red Sea in front of them, the sinner must acknowledge his sinfulness and his total inability to save himself. When he sees God’s justice pursuing him and God’s judgment ahead of him, he realizes his helplessness in himself and realizes he has nowhere to turn but to God’s mercy and grace.
Justifying faith also involves reliance on and submission to the Lord. When a sinner sees that he has no way to escape and no power in his own resources, he knows he must rely on God’s provision and power. Finally, justifying faith involves appropriation, as the sinner gratefully receives the free gift of pardon Christ offers and submits to His authority.
Justifying faith does not have to be strong faith; it only has to be true faith. And true faith not only brings salvation to the believer but glory to the One who saves.
When a person receives Christ as Lord and Savior, he receives the promised blessing and the promised Spirit, which Paul describes in Ephesians as being “blessed … with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (1:3). This blessing gives a testimony of praise to “the glory of His grace” (1:6). God receives glory when His attributes are on display, and nowhere is His grace more evident than in the sending of His only Son to be crucified on man’s behalf, the Sinless paying the debt of the sinful. Believers are “raised … up with Him, and seated … with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward [them] in Christ Jesus” (2:6–7).
Men are redeemed in order to exhibit God’s majestic being before all creation. His supreme purpose is to demonstrate His glorious grace against the backdrop of man’s sinfulness, lostness, and hopelessness. The very purpose of the church is to “stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” and to praise “the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, … [for His] glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever” (Jude 24–25).
13 (a) Christ in his death is described as “having become a curse” (RSV, NASB)—a conclusion Paul arrives at by the use of the rabbinic exegetical principle of “equal category” (already mentioned in regard to v. 12), which in the present instance works in the following manner. In the LXX both Dt. 27:26 (quoted in v. 10) and Dt. 21:23 (quoted in v. 13) begin with words based on the same verbal stem (“curse”): 27:26 pronounces a curse (epikataratos, verbal adjective) upon everyone who fails to render perfect obedience to the law, and 21:23 declares to be accursed (kekatēramenos, perfect participle) everyone who hangs upon a tree (or pole). By bringing these two texts together and interpreting the latter in terms of the former, Paul understands Jesus’ death on the cross (to which a curse was attached according to Dt. 21:23) as a bearing of the curse of God incurred (according to Dt. 27:26) by all who fail to continue in obedience to the law.
In its original OT context the “hanging” doe not refer to hanging as a means of execution but to the hanging of a body on a tree or stake (cf. Dt. 21:22) after execution in some other way, in order to expose the condemned to shame. But in its application to Jesus the “hanging” obviously refers to crucifixion. This, however, is consonant with the fact that already “in many OT passages the Heb. tlh does not refer to the supplementary Heb. punishment but to the customs of hanging, impaling and crucifixion customary elsewhere” and with the application in Jewish law of the principle of Dt. 21:22f. to the hanging of both living persons and of corpses.
The word “curse” in the expression “having become a curse” is evidently used by metonymy: Christ “became a curse” in the sense that he submitted to the curse pronounced by the law of God, or it could be an instance of abstractum pro concreto: “curse” = “bearer of the curse.” It is significant that Paul avoids using of Christ the expression that is used in the LXX of Dt. 21:23 (“accursed by God”): the implication of such an expression would conflict with Paul’s view of Christ’s death as his supreme act of obedience to God’s redemptive will (cf. Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:19).
(b) Christ’s submission to the curse is said to be “for our sake” or “for us” (RSV). The personal pronoun “us” (hēmōn) is understood by some as referring to Jews only. But it probably includes Gentiles as well, since both alike fail to keep the law perfectly and therefore stand under the curse which the law pronounces; if Gentiles do not possess the Mosaic law (cf. “Gentile sinners,” 2:16), they nevertheless have the equivalent of the law within their hearts and consciences and are in principle subject to its curse (cf. Rom. 2:12–15). It would seem, therefore, an inadequate explanation of Paul’s meaning to say that “it is by the deliverance of Israel from the curse of the Law that God made it possible for the blessing promised to Abraham to extend to the Gentiles”; rather, the Gentiles must themselves be redeemed from the curse before they can receive the blessing of Abraham.64 Moreover, the “we” of v. 14b, which picks up the “us” and “our” of v. 13a, surely includes “the Gentiles” of v. 14a, thus confirming that v. 13a already has Gentiles as well as Jews in view. “For our sake” renders a Greek phrase (hyper hēmōn) which in itself need not mean any more than “on our behalf”; the sense “in our place,” however, is conceded by many scholars as at least a derived meaning warranted here by the context.
(c) By submitting to the curse of the law on behalf of his people, both Jew and Gentile, Christ redeemed them from the law’s curse and condemnation. He neutralized the curse for them, so that they, on whom the curse rightfully falls because of their failure to keep the law, now become free from both its demands and its curse. Christ was able to neutralize the curse because in his death he satisfied the claim of the law by fulfilling it in his life, so that “this liberation from the curse of the Law … confers both an actual and also a legally established freedom.”
Verse 13 thus represents Christ’s death as a vicarious bearing of the curse of the law which delivers his people from the same curse. This is in simple terms Paul’s Christian interpretation of Christ’s death on the cross.69 Like the early disciples before him, after his conversion Paul had to rethink the meaning of the cross. The confession of Jesus’ messiahship involved in his conversion (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16; see above on 1:16a) made it imperative for Paul to explain Jesus’ accursed death on the cross in a way consistent with his glorious resurrection and exaltation; this Paul does by means of the exegetical device explained above.
It has rightly been said that “this use of the text of Deuteronomy [21:23] might be described as a brilliant controversial device.” But it would be wrong to think of Paul’s initial development of it only in connection with controversy. He must have made use of this text himself to refute the early Christians’ claim of a crucified Messiah; now that he was forced by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection to acknowledge that claim, he was compelled to reconcile its validity with the judgment of the law in Deuteronomy. The solution to the scandal of the cross found in our passage must therefore have occurred to him sooner rather than later in his Christian life. As H. R. Mackintosh put it, “He had no need to await the outburst of controversy; he had a Judaist in his own heart, with whom from the outset he was bound to reach an understanding.”71
13–14 Relying on works of the Torah as the path to righteousness and life, or putting oneself under the yoke of Torah on this side of the Christ event, is ultimately contrary to God’s purposes in Christ—purposes achieved only at the greatest and grisliest cost to Jesus himself: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Torah by becoming a curse on our behalf (because it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone left hanging upon a tree’) in order that the blessing of Abraham might come to the nations in Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through trust.” Paul speaks here about the purposes of Christ’s death and thereby the benefits that Christ’s death have brought—benefits that are jeopardized where “grace” is set aside (2:21). To prefer slavery to liberation won at great cost alienates the liberator (5:2–4).
Paul quotes an excerpt from Deut 21:22–23, a regulation originally limiting the amount of time an executed criminal’s body should be displayed on a tree or a pole to further degrade that criminal and serve as a warning to others. The regulation stipulated that the body of the deceased criminal was to be buried before nightfall, so as not to defile the land of Israel, “because anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut 21:23 NRSV). Curiously, we do not find Jewish authors connecting the victims of crucifixion with this verse, deducing therefrom that they die accursed. Philo and Josephus refer frequently to crucifixion—Philo, five times (Flaccus 72, 83); Josephus, seventeen times (Antiquities 13.380–81; War 5.449–51), never speaking of the victims as cursed. Blame falls instead upon the perpetrators of these executions: upon Flaccus, Alexander Jannaeus, and the soldiers who crucified refugees fleeing Jerusalem during the siege. Even in the Testimonium Flavianum, the somewhat doctored reference to Jesus in Josephus, there is no mention of curse. Pesher Nahum (4QpNahum fragments 3–4, col. 1, lines 7–8) also recalls the acts of Alexander Jannaeus, who crucified 800 of his enemies (presumably Pharisees, as that party opposed him most virulently), but this text envisions God vindicating the victims against Alexander Jannaeus’s heirs. The Testament of Moses (6.9; 8.1) also speaks sympathetically of faithful Jews who are the victims of crucifixion, clearly not cursed by God for standing by the covenant and being “hung on a tree” as a result. The Temple Scroll, by contrast, does apply Deut 21:22–23 to crucifixion, reversing the order of the killing and the hanging, such that the hanging now becomes the mode of execution (11QTemple 64.6–13). This is perhaps the only text that understands both the “hanging” (on a cross) to indicate the mode of death and God’s curse to fall upon the victim as a result. Crucified Jews were otherwise not widely viewed as automatically cursed apart from the justice of their sentence and execution—hence, the fact that they had indeed been transgressors of such a kind as merited capital punishment and postmortem degradation.88
There is therefore almost no evidence that Deut 21:22–23 figured prominently in Jewish criticism of Christians and their Messiah. It may have been sufficiently problematic that the one proclaimed by Christians as Messiah had been subjected to suffering, degradation, and death, without critics also feeling the need to bring up (or perhaps not perceiving the possibility of applying) Deut 21:22–23. These verses, however, do rise to the fore in Christian texts, which focused in some instances not on the fact of the curse but on the command to bury the crucified victim the same day (as in John 19:31). The passage is also referred to obliquely in Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29, texts that focus on Jesus’s innocence. In the resurrection of Jesus, God had personally intervened to vindicate Jesus as righteous (hence not guilty of the capital crime for which he was executed) and not as accursed, overturning the verdict of the Jewish authorities, the Roman enforcers, and (in Christian discourse) the Torah itself.
Paul may introduce the quotation here not because of popular anti-Christian application calling for rebuttal, but because it affords him an opportunity to demonstrate how Jesus’s death announces an end to the rule of the law and its power to curse. The principle of gezera shawa is again operative in the selection and juxtaposition of Deut 21:23 and Deut 27:26:
Cursed is everyone who … (Deut 27:26).
Cursed is everyone who … (Deut 21:23).
Christ suffered crucifixion—was hung upon a tree—so as to die accursed under the Torah, specifically in order to redeem all those who had been born under the threat of Torah’s curse (or who, because of their actual disobedience during their lives, suffered the curse itself). The word translated “redeem” probably carries the sense of “secure the rights to someone by paying a price,” as in the purchase or sacral manumission of a slave.92 The use of this verb anticipates Paul’s depiction of life under Torah as a form of slavery (3:23–25; 4:1–4; 4:21–5:1). Christ made himself an “exchange curse” for all who lived under the threat of curse and brought the authority of Torah to an end by buying out all who lived under its jurisdiction. With the term of Torah—that which separated Jew from gentile—ended, God would now deliver the blessing, promised through Abraham, to “all the nations,” Jewish and gentile alike (3:14).
When Paul speaks of Christ as cursed by virtue of hanging upon a cross, it is unclear whom he regards to be doing the cursing. He has omitted the phrase “by God” in his citation of Deut 21:23, which may be an indication of his desire to suggest that not God, but Torah, pronounces Jesus accursed. As a result, Torah itself would appear to have been ranged against God and God’s Messiah by virtue of pronouncing the latter “cursed” when, in fact, he was the first human being to experience the ultimate blessing of resurrection from the dead (the sign of God’s vindication of the righteous person). It is also possible, however, that Paul assumes—and knows that his readers would assume—the curse pronounced in Torah to be pronounced by God. In this case, Paul would regard Jesus as willingly enduring God’s curse in order to redeem those laboring under the curse of the law, with God, however, nevertheless also affirming Jesus to have been righteous and to have died to advance God’s own salvific purposes for all peoples. In either understanding, returning to the Torah-observant way of life as a means to acquittal before God entails placing oneself back under the slavish existence from which Christ redeemed that individual by dying accursed on the cross—and thus also entails a “setting aside of God’s favor” (2:21), a repudiation of this death on the person’s behalf by repudiating its beneficial consequences.
Christ a curse for us (v. 13)
In what is without question one of the most remarkable statements in the New Testament on the death of Christ, Paul says in verse 13, ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” ’ (ESV). The cross was a scene of redemption, an idea with which Paul’s first-century readers were more familiar than we are today. To redeem someone (a slave, for example) was to secure his or her freedom by the payment of a price. And it was in order to redeem us, to secure our freedom from the curse of the law, that Jesus died on Calvary.
What a price he paid for it! He redeemed us from the curse of the law, says Paul, by ‘becoming a curse for us’ (v. 13). The penalty of our law-breaking was transferred to him. For a wrath-deserving people he became the wrath-bearer, an accursed one, bearing the curse that should have been borne by us.
In confirmation of that, Paul quotes yet another Old Testament Scripture (Deut. 21:23): ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’ When a criminal under Old Testament law was put to death by being hanged on a tree it pointed to the fact that he or she was under the curse of God. The nailing of Jesus to the cross symbolized the very same thing. Frequently in the New Testament the cross of Calvary is thought of and spoken of as a tree (Acts 5:30; 13:29; 1 Peter 2:24). That is because the Christ who died there was under the curse of God—redeeming us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.
3:13 / Paul believes that the change in the relationship between law and faith within Judaism results from Christ’s death, which Paul interprets in various ways throughout his letters. As M. D. Hooker has noted, none of the images Paul uses to speak about the cross “is complete in itself” (Not Ashamed of the Gospel: New Testament Interpretation of the Death of Christ [Carlisle: Paternoster, 1994], p. 45). Here it serves the apostle’s purpose to interpret Christ’s death as one in which Christ became a curse. This description should be understood in the context of the following scriptural quotation. Paul uses metonymy: Christ did not become as the law is (the curse of the law); Christ took on the position of those under the law—he became accursed. Citing Deuteronomy 21:23, Paul describes Christ’s death as one who was accursed, cut off from his people and from God. This place of curse is one that Paul and others were in until Christ redeemed them. Through his death Christ delivered believers from the “curse of the law” and thereby severed the relationship between faith in him and law. There is no need to follow law, for those who believe in Christ are released from law.
The quotation from Deuteronomy 21:23 contains the word “curse,” as did the first quotation (3:10, citing Deut. 27:26). In the scriptural context of each quotation the word “curse” indicates exclusion from the community. In Deuteronomy 27:26 all the people say “amen” to the curse, thereby affirming their stand against the behavior cursed and their willingness to shun anyone disobeying the law. The context of the Deuteronomy 21:23 quote is instruction about the burial of a criminal’s corpse: when someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and so executed and hung on a tree, the corpse must not remain all night upon the tree but should be buried that day, for “anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” The exposed corpse of a dead criminal would defile the land God gives as an inheritance. The language of curse in relation to Christ’s death serves Paul’s point of emphasizing that through the Galatians’ faith in the death of Christ (3:1) they already are descendants of Abraham (3:7). He affirms that Christ’s death released believers from the curse of potentially being excluded from the people of God and effected inclusion within the people of God for those in Christ.
Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 21:23, in which the cursed person is a criminal deserving death, and his statement that Christ’s death was in our stead (for us), make plain that Paul thinks that Christ died for our sins. Nevertheless, Paul does not say explicitly that Christ died for our sins; he does not state directly that Christ’s death was a “sin offering” (cf. Rom. 8:3–4). The mechanics of salvation are beyond the rational realm. It is probably best to take Paul’s words as metaphorical. He seeks to explain his conviction that Christ’s death has effected the end of the law and opened the way for all to benefit from being the people of God. Paul’s focus is not on the manner in which Christ’s death made salvation available but on the fact that salvation is in Christ, apart from the law, and that those who believe in Christ are now incorporated into Christ.
Paul’s use of the first person plural pronoun us does not indicate that the Galatians had been following the Jewish law before they came to faith in Christ. In fact, we know that they had been pagans (4:8). Rather, Paul is describing the stages of God’s salvation plan, which he will describe in more depth in the subsequent verses. Before Christ everyone, Jew and pagan, was in slavery to the law (cf. 3:23), for whether one was a Jew or a pagan, there was no other way to deal with sin than through the law one knew (cf. Rom. 2:14). The ancient world understood law in a general sense to be that which reflected justice. As Aristotle says, “ ‘The just’ therefore means that which is lawful or that which is equal and fair” (Eth. nic. 5.1.8 [Rackham, LCL]). Law was a way of measuring and achieving justice. By broadening the field to speak about law in general Paul asserts that the Galatians have already followed the law. This is an effective rhetorical strategy, for the conclusion is plain that through believing in Christ crucified (cf. 3:1), the Galatians have already once turned from following law.
The Alternative of Faith (verses 13, 14)
This second alternative introduces Jesus Christ. It tells us that Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross what we could not do for ourselves. The only way to escape the curse is not by our work, but by His. He has redeemed us, ransomed us, set us free from the awful condition of bondage to which the curse of the law had brought us. Verse 13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. These are astonishing words. As Bishop Blunt put it: ‘the language here is startling, almost shocking. We should not have dared to use it. Yet Paul means every word of it.’ In its context, in which it must be read, the phrase can mean only one thing, for the ‘curse’ of verses 10 and 13 is evidently the same curse. The ‘curse of the law’ from which Christ redeemed us must be the curse resting upon us for our disobedience (verse 10). And He redeemed us from it by ‘becoming a curse’ Himself. The curse was transferred from us to Him. He took it voluntarily upon Himself, in order to deliver us from it. It is this ‘becoming a curse for us’ which explains the awful cry of dereliction, of God-forsakenness, which He uttered from the cross.
Paul now adds a scriptural confirmation of what he has just said about the cross. He quotes Deuteronomy 21:23: for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’ (verse 13b). Every criminal sentenced to death under the Mosaic legislation and executed, usually by stoning, was then fixed to a stake or ‘hanged on a tree’ as a symbol of his divine rejection. Dr. Cole says the quotation means ‘not … that a man is cursed by God because he is hanged, but that death by hanging was the outward sign in Israel of a man who was thus cursed’. The fact that the Romans executed by crucifixion rather than hanging makes no difference. To be nailed to a cross was equivalent to being hanged on a tree. So Christ crucified was described as having been ‘hanged on a tree’ (e.g. Acts 5:30; 1 Pet. 2:24), and was recognized as having died under the divine curse. No wonder the Jews at first could not believe that Jesus was the Christ. How could Christ, the anointed of God, instead of reigning on a throne, hang on a tree? It was incredible to them. Perhaps, as Bishop Stephen Neill suggests, when Christ crucified was preached, Jews would sometimes shout back ‘Jesus is accursed!’, which is the dreadful ejaculation mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:3.
The fact that Jesus died hanging on a tree remained for Jews an insurmountable obstacle to faith, until they saw that the curse He bore was for them. He did not die for His own sins; He became a curse ‘for us’.
Does this mean that everybody has been redeemed from the law’s curse through the sin-bearing, curse-bearing cross of Christ? Indeed not, for verse 13 must not be read without verse 14, where it is written that Christ became a curse for us, that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. It was in Christ that God acted for our salvation, and so we must be in Christ to receive it. We are not saved by a distant Christ, who died hundreds of years ago and lives millions of miles away, but by an existential Christ, who, having died and risen again, is now our contemporary. As a result we can be ‘in Him’, personally and vitally united to Him today.
But how? Granted that He bore our curse, and that we must be ‘in Him’ to be redeemed from it, how do we become united to Him? The answer is ‘through faith’. Paul has already quoted Habakkuk: ‘he who through faith is righteous shall live’ (verse 11). Now he says it himself: ‘We … receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’ (verse 14).
Faith is laying hold of Jesus Christ personally. There is no merit in it. It is not another ‘work’. Its value is not in itself, but entirely in its object, Jesus Christ. As Luther put it, ‘faith … apprehendeth nothing else but that precious jewel Christ Jesus.’ Christ is the Bread of life; faith feeds upon Him. Christ was lifted up on the cross; faith gazes at Him there.
13. The penitent sinner does not need to despair, however. To be sure, he is by nature under the curse of the law, as has been indicated. From this pitiable situation he is unable to deliver himself. But God has provided the remedy: Christ redeemed us—Gentiles as well as Jews (see verse 14)—from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. Christ purchased us free from the curse of the law. He bought us back from the sentence of condemnation which the law pronounced on us and from the punishment of eternal death which it exacted (Gen. 2:17; Deut. 30:15, 19; John 3:36; Rom. 5:12; 8:1; Eph. 2:3). He rescued us by the payment of a ransom (Exod. 21:30), the ransom price being his own precious blood (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Rev. 5:9; cf. 1 Peter 1:18, 19). He became a curse—that is, “an accursed one”—for us.
It is, indeed, difficult to conceive of the majestic Christ as being accursed. What! Jesus anathema? In the face of 1 Cor. 12:3 how would one dare to say that? This becomes all the more a problem when we consider that we generally—and rightly—associate the curse with sin, and Christ had no sin (Isa. 53:9; John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22). The only solution is the one supplied by the beautiful words of Isa. 53:6: “Jehovah laid on him the iniquity of us all”; cf. also verses 10–12. Christ’s curse-bearing, then, was vicarious: “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin for our sake, in order that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). This eminently scriptural truth of Christ’s substitutionary atonement is being denied by ever so many people. It has been called “butchershop theology.” Nevertheless, not only is it taught here in Gal. 3:13 in unmistakable language but it is the doctrine of Scripture throughout (Exod. 12:13; Lev. 1:4; 16:20–22; 17:11; Ps. 40:6, 7; 49:7, 8; Isa. 53; Zech. 13:1; Matt. 20:28; 26:27, 28; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:14–23; John 1:29; 10:11, 14; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:24, 25; 8:3, 4; 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; 2 Cor. 5:18–21; Gal. 1:4; 2:20; Eph. 1:7; 2:16; Col. 1:19–23; Heb. 9:22, 28; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 1:7; 2:2; 4:10; Rev. 5:9; 7:14).
In support of the idea that Christ became a curse for us Paul appeals to Deut. 21:23: for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanging on a tree.” In its Old Testament context, however, that passage does not refer to death by crucifixion, which was not known among the Israelites as a mode of capital punishment. It refers, instead, to the custom according to which after a wrong-doer had been executed, his dead body was nailed to a post or tree. But if, in the sight of God, the hanging of a dead body was a curse, how much more would not the slow, painful, and shameful death by crucifixion of a living person be a curse, especially when that dying one was experiencing anguish beyond the power of description! See Matt. 27:46.