Q & A with Dr. Craig: What “Dying for our Sins” Mean?
Dear Dr Craig,
I was born in Turkey and simply followed the traditions and became a Muslim. I have always been hungry for knowledge and understanding. So I started to research Islam with the hope that I could have a closer/stronger connection with God. But unfortunately I realized that the Prophet Mohammed stands between God and me. This was my first disappointment. I also found out certain things that put me off so much from Islam, and in fact, from all the other religions. I then became and atheist because I believed it was intellectual, logical and rational. After I studied Mathematical Physics (and understood the true meaning of science, rationality and logic) at university, I realized that atheism was not for me either.
My question is about Jesus. I am not a Christian but feeling very close to Jesus since the first day I came to know him. I don’t understand him dying for our sins. What does that mean? No Christian has given me a satisfactory answer and I can’t think of an answer myself. I am ready to die, today, for my mother but that’s not what Jesus did (I assume?).
What does it mean to “die for someone else’s sins”?
Dr. Craig’s Response: I’m glad that you’re feeling drawn to Jesus, Hakan. He is a compelling figure, isn’t he? I’ve dealt with your question in lectures 9-13 of Section 6 “Doctrine of Christ” of my Defenders class on Christian doctrine and apologetics, and I’ll refer you to the podcasts or transcripts of the lectures for a fuller answer.
The followers of Jesus claimed that Jesus died both for us (Romans 8.32; 14.15; I Corinthians 8.11; Galatians 2.20; etc.) and for our sins (Romans 5. 6, 8; Galatians 1. 3-4, etc.). I think this latter expression is best understood in the context of the system of animal sacrifices practiced in ancient Judaism. Among the offerings to God made in the Temple, there were offerings for the sins of the people. These offerings were intended to atone for the sins of the people, that is, to remove their estrangement from God as a result of the guilt they bore. These sacrifices were intended both to propitiate God (that is, to annul His wrath, justly deserved for violating His law) and to expiate the people’s sin (that is, to remove it).
Now you might say that this is bizarre. How could the sacrifice of a dumb animal take away people’s sins or meet the demands of God’s justice? Well, the writers of the New Testament would have agreed with you! The author of the book of Hebrews says flatly, “It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10.4). He explains that the animal sacrifices were merely a temporary device that served God’s purposes until the true sacrifice should come…
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