Bible Review 11:2, April 1995

How Did Jesus Die for Our Sins?

The use of a sacrificial metaphor to interpret Jesus’ death subverted the role of the Temple: Its sacrifices were no longer the only way of dealing with impurity and sin.

By Marcus J. Borg

Bible Review

Good Friday recalls a brutal fact of history: Jesus’ execution under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.1 Yet this act of imperial brutality is seen by Christians to have had beneficial or “salvific” religious significance. It was “for us and our salvation,”2 and hence this day of darkness is also called “good.”

The most familiar Christian way of talking about Good Friday’s significance uses sacrificial imagery: “Jesus died for our sins.” In its fully developed form, which took over a thousand years to emerge, Jesus’ death is not only seen as a sacrifice but as necessary: Without it, forgiveness by God would be impossible.3 “Jesus died for our sins” is thus seen by many to be the crystallization of Jesus’ role in God’s plan of salvation, the central meaning of Good Friday, and the core of the Christian message.

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