HOW CAN ONE MAN PAY FOR THE SINS OF ANOTHER?
By Samuel Green
Christians teach that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and that his perfect sinless sacrifice is the only way for us to receive eternal forgiveness and life. Muslim leaders reject this idea. They say that even if Jesus did die on the cross it is not possible for him to bear our sin because the Qur'an says,
Every soul earns only to its own account; no soul laden bears the load of another. (Qur'an, 6:164, 17:15, 29:7, 35:18, 39:7, 53:38, Arberry)
From verses like these Muslim leaders conclude that it is not possible for Jesus to bear our sins, instead each person can only bear their own load before God. They also point to verses in the Bible which they think teach a similar idea.
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. (Deuteronomy 24:16, NIV)
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. (Ezekiel 18:20, NIV)
Therefore, are Christians wrong to say that Jesus died for our sins?
I will answer this question in two parts.
Throughout the second part I will also engage with the objections that Muslims have raised with me in debates and emails. This will include considering Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20.
1. WHAT DO THE QUR'AN AND HADITH ACTUALLY SAY?
It seems that Islamic leaders only show some of what the Qur'an and Hadith actually say about this subject. You may be surprised to learn that the Qur'an actually has verses which say that one person can bear the load of another:
They will bear their own burdens in full on the Day of Resurrection, and also of the burdens of those whom they misled without knowledge. Evil indeed is that which they shall bear! (Qur'an 16:25, Hilali-Khan)
And verily, they shall bear their own loads, and other loads besides their own, and verily, they shall be questioned on the Day of Resurrection about that which they used to fabricate. (Qur'an 29:13, Hilali-Khan)
Both of these verses refer to bearing the sins of others that you have lead astray. They are not saying that you are only responsible for leading them astray but also that you bear their load. Thus the Qur'an does have some concept of bearing the sins of others.
There are also many hadiths that say that Allah will save some Muslims by placing the load of their sins on Christians and Jews:
Abu Musa' reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: When it will be the Day of Resurrection Allah would deliver to every Muslim a Jew or a Christian and say: That is your rescue from Hell-Fire. (Sahih Muslim, bk. 37, no. 6665, Siddique)
Abu Burda reported on the authority of his father that Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: No Muslim would die but Allah would admit in his stead a Jew or a Christian in Hell-Fire. 'Umar b. Abd al-'Aziz took an oath: By One besides Whom there is no god but He, thrice that his father had narrated that to him from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). (Sahih Muslim, bk. 37, no. 6666, Siddique)
This hadith has been transmitted on the authority of 'Aun b. Utba. (Sahih Muslim, bk. 37, no. 6667, Siddique)
Abu Burda reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: There would come people amongst the Muslims on the Day of Resurrection with as heavy sins as a mountain, and Allah would forgive them and He would place in their stead the Jews and the Christians. (As far as I think), Abu Raub said: I do not know as to who is in doubt. Abu Burda said: I narrated it to 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz, whereupon he said: Was it your father who narrated it to you from Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him)? I said: Yes. (Sahih Muslim, bk. 37, no. 6668, Siddique)
Narrated Abu Musa: Allah’s Messenger said: On the Day of Resurrection, my Ummah (nation) will be gathered into three groups. One sort will enter Paradise without rendering an account (of their deeds). Another sort will be reckoned an easy account and admitted into Paradise. Yet another sort will come bearing on their backs heaps of sins like great mountains. Allah will ask the angels though He knows best about them: Who are these people? They will reply: They are humble slaves of yours. He will say: Unload the sins from them and put the same over the Jews and Christians; then let the humble slaves get into Paradise by virtue of My Mercy. This Hadith is sound and mentioned in Mustadrak of Hakim. (110 Ahadith Qudsi, trans.: Syed Masood-ul-Hasan, pp. 20-21.)
There are other hadiths which teach that a person's good deeds can be credited to another person:
Narrated Ibn Abbas: A man came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! My mother died and she ought to have fasted one month (for her missed Ramadan). Shall I fast on her behalf?" The Prophet replied in the affirmative and said, "Allah's debts have more right to be paid. ... " (Sahih al-Bukhuri: vol. 3, bk. 31, no. 174, Khan)
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: A woman from the tribe of Juhaina came to the Prophet and said, "My mother had vowed to perform Hajj but she died before performing it. May I perform Hajj on my mother's behalf?" The Prophet replied, "Perform Hajj on her behalf. Had there been a debt on your mother, would you have paid it or not? So, pay Allah's debt as He has more right to be paid." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 3, bk. 29, no. 77, Khan)
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The mother of Sad bin 'Ubada died in his absence. He said, "O Allah's Apostle! My mother died in my absence; will it be of any benefit for her if I give Sadaqa on her behalf?" The Prophet said, "Yes." Sad said, "I make you a witness that I gave my garden called Al Makhraf in charity on her behalf." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 4, bk. 51, no. 19, Khan)
To conclude this section, when we consider all of what the Qur'an and Hadith actually say we see that bearing the load of another is part of their teaching. When Islamic leaders say, "each person only bears their own load", they are not telling the whole story. Muslims cannot simply dismiss the Christian claim because Islam has its own expression of this idea.
2. HOW CAN JESUS PAY FOR THE SINS OF OTHERS?
Christians believe all of the prophets and make no distinction between them. What Christians believe about Jesus comes from all of these books. The Bible is not one book but the collection of all these prophets.
|Law of Moses
We will now consider how these books prepare us for the death of Jesus and explain his death to us. The first way they teach us about the death of Jesus is by teaching about sacrifice.
The Substitute Sacrifice
God commanded Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice. Abraham obeyed God and just as he was about to kill his son God sent his angel who provided Abraham with a ram. This ram was a substitute sacrifice in the place of Abraham's son. The ram represented Abraham's son and died in his place.
(The angel said) "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided". (Genesis 22:14, NIV)
Thus, God provided a substitute sacrifice to save Abraham's son from death. God provides.
In the Law of Moses (Torah) we read how the Israelites were delivered from Egypt and Pharaoh. God sent nine plagues on Egypt but they refused to let the Israelites go. The tenth plague was the death of the firstborn son. God was going to send his destroying angel to kill the firstborn son of every family in Egypt. The Israelites were saved from this destroying angel only if they sacrificed a lamb and painted its blood on the doorposts of their homes. One lamb was to represent each house and the death of this lamb would be a substitute for the death of the firstborn son of that house.
The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I (God) see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. (Exodus 12:13, NIV)
Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. (Exodus 12:21-23, NIV)
The firstborn sons of Israel were saved from the wrath of God by the substitute sacrifice of the Passover lamb. The Israelites were instructed by God to remember this event by celebrating the Passover meal once a year. The Passover sacrifice demonstrates that you can be saved from the judgement of God by a substitute sacrifice.
Forgiveness in the Law of Moses
When somebody living under the Law of Moses sinned they were responsible for what they had done. If they repented they could be forgiven by offering a sacrifice that would bear their sin before God. The person would place their hands on the animal's head and the animal would then represent them. The sacrifice would then die in the place of the person who had sinned.
(H)e must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect. He is to lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering. Then the priest is to take some of the blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:28-31, NIV)
For the life of a creature is in the blood , and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. (Leviticus 17:11, NIV)
This is why a lot of the Torah teaches about priests, sacrifices and the tabernacle/temple where the sacrifices were offered. The Torah teaches individual responsibility and forgiveness through a representative sacrifice that bears our sin.
The Day of Atonement
In the Law of Moses (Torah) we read that after God delivered Israel from Egypt he commanded them to make a special tent (the tabernacle). This tent was where God spoke to Moses and where the Israelites brought their sacrifices to God. However, the sin of the Israelites defiled this tent and its furniture and made it unclean. In fact the sin of Israel made their whole nation unclean. God provided another sacrifice for the Israelites to take away their sin and uncleanness. It was the Day of Atonement.
Two goats were the main sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. These sacrifices were substitutes for the sin of Israel. Here is what Aaron was instructed to do with the goats.
Then he (Aaron) is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats - one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat. (Leviticus 16:7-10, NIV)
He (Aaron) shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull's blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. (Leviticus 16:15, NIV)
When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites - all their sins - and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert. (Leviticus 16:20-22, NIV)
Both of these goats were to represent Israel. The first goat was killed as a sin offering. The second goat figuratively carried the sins of Israel far away. The Law of Moses demonstrates clearly that God accepts a substitute as a sacrifice for defilement of sin.
The Servant of the LORD
Hundreds of years after Moses, and hundreds of years before Jesus, God spoke to the prophet Isaiah. He said that he would provide a new sacrifice like he provided for Abraham. This sacrifice would turn away God's wrath like the Passover sacrifice. This sacrifice would remove sin like the Day of Atonement. Please read this next prophecy very carefully. It was given to the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus.
See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him - his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness,
so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 52:12-53:12, NIV)
Here we see that the servant of the LORD will offer himself as a sacrifice for sin; for our sin. What an amazing prophecy hundreds of years before Jesus!
Some Muslims have said to me that the servant of the Lord in this prophecy is the nation of Israel and not an individual. Even if that was the case that does not change the fact that this prophecy is still about a substitute sacrifice for sins. But the servant of the Lord is more than the nation of Israel; it is an individual. In Isaiah 49:6 we see that the servant will be an individual who will call Israel and the nations back to God.
(God) says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the nations, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6, NIV)
In fact the servant of Lord is the Messiah, for in Isaiah 11:1-3 the Messiah is described in the same way as the servant of the Lord in Isaiah 42:1-7. Isaiah 53 is an amazing prophecy about someone who will bear the sins of others and be their representative.
John the Baptist
Hundreds of years after the prophet Isaiah, God sent the prophet John the Baptist. John lived at the time of Jesus and he spoke about Jesus.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29-31, NIV)
The prophet John calls Jesus the "lamb of God". When John says this he is referring to all the sacrifices that we have read about in the prophets.
Throughout the Gospel we read of Jesus' power to make people clean. Some were unclean from skin diseases, some unclean from bleeding and some unclean from possession but when they came into contact with Jesus they were made clean.
A man with leprosy came knelt before him (Jesus) and said, "Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said, "Be clean!" Immediately he was made clean. (Matthew 8:2-3, NIV)
Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. (Matthew 9:20-22, NIV)
Jesus was not made unclean by these unclean people touching him as would normally happen. Instead, Jesus gave the purification of God to them. Jesus also spoke about his death and resurrection.
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. (Matthew 16:21, NIV)
(Jesus said) ... "(T)he Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28, NIV)
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, NIV)
When Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples he taught them that he was the new Passover lamb.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He replied, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, `The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. ... While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:17-28, NIV)
This is how Jesus understood himself. He said he was the fulfilment of the previous sacrifices. He was the one who would represent others and die in their place. He was the servant of the LORD who would give his life as a sacrifice for sins. Jesus' greatest act of purification was to purify people from their sins through his death on the cross.
The disciples of Jesus taught the same message:
Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18, NIV)
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for thesins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2, NIV)
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father - to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6, NIV)
Therefore all of the prophets teach one message. They all teach a sacrifice for sin and this is what Jesus fulfils.
Objection 1 - God just forgives.
Muslims have told me that God does not need any sacrifice to pay for our sins because he can simply forgive. They say he is the God who forgives and nothing more is required than for him just to forgive.
Firstly, this is not what the Qur'an says about God. It says that God's forgiveness is based on him showing favouritism to Muslims on Judgement Day:
The Qur'an teaches that on Judgement Day our good and bad deeds will be weighed in the balance.
Then those whose scales are heavy, they are the successful. And those whose scales are light are those who lose their souls, in hell abiding. (Qur'an 23:102-103, Pickthall)
The Muslim will be forgiven on Judgement Day because God will overlook their bad deeds and will multiply their good deeds by a random amount so that their scales will have more good deeds.
Lo! Allah wrongs not even of the weight of an ant; and if there is a good deed, He will double it and will give (the doer) from His presence an immense reward. (4:40, Pickthall)
(W)hoever brings a good deed will receive tenfold the like thereof, while whoever brings an ill-deed will be awarded but the like thereof; and they will not be wronged. (Qur'an 6:160/161, Pickthall)
Whoever brings a good deed will have better than its worth; and such are safe from fear that Day. (Qur'an 27:89, Pickthall)
Whoever brings a good deed, he will have better than the same; while as for him who brings an ill-deed, those who do ill-deeds will be requited only what they did. (Qur'an 28:84, Pickthall)
And as for those who believe and do good works, We shall remit from them their evil deeds and shall repay them the best that they did. (Qur'an 29:7, Pickthall)
That Allah will remit from them the worst of what they did, and will pay them for reward the best they used to do. (Qur'an 39:35, Pickthall)
Those are they from whom We accept the best of what they do, and overlook their evil deeds. (They are) among the owners of the Garden. This is the true promise which they were promised (in the world). (Qur'an 46:16, Pickthall)
... And whoever scoreth a good deed We add unto its good for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Responsive. (Qur'an 42:23, Pickthall)
Therefore, the Qur'an does not teach that God simply forgives our sins. Instead it says that he will show favouritism to the Muslims in judgement. He will multiply their good deeds by ten and ignore their bad deeds; he will have mercy without justice. This view of God is not taught in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms or the Gospel. They all teach that God has mercy with justice and that he will never corrupt his justice. This is why God has provided a sacrifice for us. The sacrifice pays for our sins. The sacrifice is a just payment. On Judgement Day, Christians are saved, not by God ignoring their sin or multiplying their good deeds by ten; instead they are saved because God himself has paid for their bad deeds. This is just and the testimony of the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms and the Gospel.
God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26, NIV)
Objection 2 - God just forgives.
A few Muslims have quoted Psalm 40:6 and 51:16 to demonstrate that God does not require a sacrifice. But this is simply reading these verses out of context.
Psalm 40:6 is not denying the sacrifice for sin at all. When read in context it says that the true servant will not sin in the first place and so not need a sacrifice for sin.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, "Here I am, I have come — it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:6-8, NIV)
This is what God would prefer, that we do not sin in the first place, that we always desire to do his will and have his law within our heart. If you never sin then, yes, you do not need a sacrifice for sin. But we all sin and so need this sacrifice. Jesus is in fact the fulfilment of this verse. In Hebrews 10:5-10 it declares that Jesus is the sinless one who did not need a sacrifice for sin but instead offered himself for our sins.
Psalm 51:16 is not denying the sacrifice for sin either. Again it is stressing that God would prefer obedience instead of sacrifice but since we do sin a sacrifice is required as is shown in v. 19.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem. (v. 19) Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (Psalm 51:16-19, NIV)
Therefore neither Psalm 40:6 nor 51:16 are denying the need for a sacrifice for sin.
Objection 3 - God wants us to sin.
A third objection I have heard from Muslims is that God does not require a sacrifice for sin because he wants us to sin. This is based on the following hadith that says that God will destroy those who do not sin.
Abu Ayyub Ansari reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: If you were not to commit sins, Allah would have swept you out of existence and would have replaced you by another people who have committed sin, and then asked forgiveness from Allah, and He would have granted them pardon. (Sahih Muslim: bk. 37, no. 6621-6622, Siddique)
Again, this is a corrupt view of God because it says that God will destroy those who do not sin; God will not destroy the righteous! It is also a corrupt view of Satan because when Satan leads humanity into sin he is actually saving them from God's destruction. Satan becomes our saviour! This whole way of thinking is just corrupt.
Objection 4 - Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20
Another objection I have heard regards Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20:
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. (Deuteronomy 24:16, NIV)
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. (Ezekiel 18:20-21, NIV)
Muslims leaders see these verses as confirming their beliefs, proving that Jesus cannot die for our sins, and that we just need to turn to God and do not need any sacrifice. However, neither of these verses deny the sacrifice for sin; in fact, the sacrificial system of the Torah is the context for both verses. Deuteronomy 24:16 is part of the Torah and as we have already seen the Torah teaches at length about the need for a substitute sacrifice for sin. And Ezekiel 18:20-21 calls upon the Israelites to individually repent (18:21) and to look forward to the sacrifice for sin (Ezekiel 40:39, 42:13, 44:29, 45:17, 25).
It is true that a father cannot bear the sin of his son, but the sacrifice for sin can. A son cannot bear the sin of his father, but the sacrifice for sin can. We must individually repent and turn to God and seek forgiveness through the sacrifice for sin. The death of Jesus is the fulfilment of this sacrifice that God has provided for us.
Objection 5 - God does not want this type of sacrifice.
The final objection I have been told is that God has no desire for this type of sacrifice.
Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech (a pagan god), for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. (Torah: Leviticus 18:21, NIV)
It is true that God did command the Israelites not to sacrifice their children to the false god Molech, but it is also true that it was acceptable to God for him to command Abraham to sacrifice his son. God was not commanding Abraham to sin when he did this; it was acceptable.
We have seen in the Torah, Prophets and Gospel that God accepts a substitute sacrifice for sin as a means of forgiveness. We have also seen how God promised to provide the ultimate sacrifice for sin and how Jesus fulfils this. This is the message of the prophets and the heart of the Christian message. There is no greater sacrifice that could ever be offered to pay for your sin than the perfect life of Jesus.
The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3, NIV)
Jesus our Representative
In the previous section we saw that the Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel taught that God accepts a sacrifice to represent people. In this section we will explore more about the idea of representation. The first representative is Adam.
Adam is more than just a man. He represents all of humanity. We see this with his name. The name "Adam" is actually the common word for "man" in the original Hebrew language of the Torah.
This same word does not only refer to one man but also all of humanity.
When mankind (man/adam) began to multiply on the earth and daughters were born to them ... And the LORD said, "My Spirit will not remain with mankind (man/adam) forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years." (Genesis 6:1-3, HCSB)
The man Adam represents all of mankind and what he does affects all of mankind. We see this in his story.
Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. ... The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:8-17, NIV)
God commanded Adam not to eat from a certain tree, but Adam disobeyed God and ate, and he was punished by being cast out of the garden to die.
So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. (Genesis 3:23, NIV)
This punishment on Adam did not affect him alone. All of humanity is now out of the garden and given over to death. God's punishment on Adam comes to us all because Adam is our representative and we are united to him.
This should not surprise us. God deals with humanity in many ways. In the prophets we read that he deals with us as individuals, as families, as tribes, as nations and as an entire race. God relates to us in all these ways, not just one way.
In 2008 the former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, apologised to the indigenous people of Australia for how they had been treated. Many individual Australians had already said sorry but they could only say it for themselves. The Prime Minister, however, has a unique role and was able to apologise for 23 million Australians at once. No other Australian could do this, but the Prime Minister could. And so we see that God has structured our world so that some people can represent whole nations. Not all people are the same; some have different roles. The first man, Adam, had this unique role.
After Adam, God promised through the prophet Daniel that he would send a new Adam who would do what Adam failed to do. This son of Adam would receive God's kingdom as the representative for God's people.
I continued watching in the night visions, and I saw One like a son of man (Adam) coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before Him. He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed. ... The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey Him.' (Daniel 7:13-14, 27, NIV)
Jesus is this second Adam. In the Gospel Jesus is born from Mary when she is a virgin. Jesus is connected to our humanity through Mary, yet is like Adam in that he had no human father. Jesus is the new Adam and we can be united to him.
Adam ... was a pattern of the one to come (Jesus). (Romans 5:14, NIV)
(T)he result of one trespass (of Adam) was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19, NIV)
If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Roman 6:5, NIV)
So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam (Jesus), a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45, NIV)
This is how Jesus can pay for the sins of others. When Adam sinned he was our representative and the judgement came on us. Jesus is the new representative for God's people. If we are united to him then his death is our death. He can take the punishment that we deserve and pay for it on the cross. If you trust in the death of Jesus then you will be united to him. The way that we are united to Jesus is through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus so that we are one with him.
"I (John the Baptist) baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11, NIV)
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." (Romans 8:15, NIV)
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body (of Jesus) - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13, NIV)
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38, NIV)
Objection 1 - Adam is not our representative in Islam.
Muslims have told me that Adam may have a representative role in Christianity but he does not have it in Islam. However, this is not the case. Adam does have a representative role in Islam.
Firstly, Adam is the first ruler. He is called a caliph (2:30) and the angels are to bow down before him (2:34, 7:11). Rulers are representatives by nature.
Secondly, when the Qur'an wants to holds Jews to account it refers to the covenant of the Law of Moses and applies this covenant to them. When it wants to hold Christians to account it refers to the covenant of the Gospel and it applies this covenant to them. When the Qur'an wants to hold Muslims to account it refers to the covenant of the Qur'an and it applies this to Muslims. This is the main theme of Sura 5 (Al-Maa'idah). But when the Qur'an wants to hold everyone to account it uses the example and covenant of Adam and applies this to everyone. This is particularly seen in Sura 7:11-58 and 7:172-206. In the Qur'an Adam represents our common humanity and his failings represent the failings that are common to all of humanity.
The representative role of Adam is particularly seen in how God speaks to Adam. When God speaks to Adam he speaks to all of all humanity. We see this in 7:172 where God speaks to the seed of Adam while they are still just seed in Adam.
And when your Lord took from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their seed, and made them testify touching themselves, 'Am I not your Lord?' They said, 'Yes, we testify' - lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection, 'As for us, we were heedless of this,' (Qur'an 7:172, Arberry)
Narrated Anas: The Prophet said, "Allah will say to that person of the (Hell) Fire who will receive the least punishment, 'If you had everything on the earth, would you give it as a ransom to free yourself (i.e. save yourself from this Fire)?' He will say, 'Yes.' Then Allah will say, 'While you were in the backbone of Adam, I asked you much less than this, i.e. not to worship others besides Me, but you insisted on worshipping others besides me.' " (Sahih al-Bukhari: Vol. 4, bk. 55, no. 551, trans: Khan)
According to the Qur'an and Hadith God spoke to us all while we were still in Adam. None of us can remember this time because only Adam was capable of hearing, yet because Adam is our representative, the words were spoken to us.
Thirdly, in the Qur'an we see that when Adam sins in the garden, the punishment on him comes to us, and we are banished from the garden because of him.
And We said: O Adam! Dwell, you and your wife in the Garden, and eat freely (of the fruits) thereof where you will; but come not near this tree lest you become wrong-doers (Zalimun). (Qur'an, 2:35)
... (Allah said) And their Lord called them, (saying): Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you: Lo! Satan is an open enemy to you? ... (Qur'an 7:22, Pickthall)
And verily We made a covenant of old with Adam, but he forgot, and We found no constancy in him. (Qur'an 20:115, Pitckthall)
He (God) said: Go down (from here), one of you a foe unto the other. There will be for you on earth a habitation and provision for a while. He said: There shall you live, and there shall you die, and thence shall you be brought forth. (Qur'an, 7:24-25, Pickthall)
This account demonstrates, like the Law of Moses, that what Adam did affected us; it is part of our history. It demonstrates that Adam was our representative. Therefore Adam does have a representative role in Islam.
Objection 2 - Adam never sinned.
Some Muslims have told me that Adam did not sin but instead he just innocently forgot. Therefore being thrown out of the garden was not a judgement of God that we share because of Adam. However, the Qur'an says that Adam sinned and was judged. The word in Arabic to describe Adam and his wife is Zalimeena (2:35) which is the common Qur'anic word for sinners or wrong doers. This word is used 16 verses later to describe the idolatry of the Israelites as they worshipped the golden calf.
And when We appointed with Moses forty nights then you took to yourselves the Calf after him and you were evildoers (Zalimuna) (Qur'an 2:51, Arberry)
The Arabic is very clear: Adam disobeyed God and committed a serious sin, and the judgement of this sin came upon us. That is, Adam was our representative.
Objection 3 - It was God's plan.
Another common Islamic objection is to say that it was Adam's fate for him to sin, and so it was always God's will for us to be banished from the garden. Therefore we do not suffer the consequences of Adam's sin; instead it was always God's will to banish us from the garden. The problem with this objection is that it is a denial of what the Qur'an and all the prophets teach. The Qur'an always maintains that we are fully responsible for what we do and that God is in control of all things. The following verses show that human responsibility and divine sovereignty go together and must not be separated.
And who does greater wrong than he who has been reminded of the revelations of his Lord, yet turns away from them and forgets what his hands send forward (to the Judgment)? Lo! on their hearts We have placed coverings so that they understand not, and in their ears a deafness. And though thou call them to the guidance, in that case they can never be led aright. (Qur'an 18:58, Pitckthall)
(on Judgement Day) Lest any soul should say: Alas, my grief that I was unmindful of Allah, and I was indeed among the scoffers! Or should say: If Allah had but guided me I should have been among the dutiful! (Qur'an 39:56-57, Pickthall)
These verses hold human responsibility and God's sovereignty together; you cannot separate them. We can never say, "I am not responsible for what I do because it was God's plan". Therefore, Adam is responsible for what he did and the judgement upon what he did has come to us because we are united to him.
To conclude this section, it has been shown that God deals with us through our representatives. Adam was such a representative; what he did he did for us. Jesus is the new Adam and we can be united to him through faith and the Spirit of God. He represented us on the cross and took the punishment we deserve.
We started this article by asking, "How can one man pay for the sins of another?" First we saw that while Muslim leaders may reject this idea, the idea is in fact found in the Qur'an and Hadith.
We then proceeded to look at the idea of sacrifice in the Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel and saw that God gave many sacrifices to save and forgive his people, but he promised that his servant would come who would be a sacrifice for sin and bring the true salvation. Jesus came and was the fulfilment of all that God had promised.
Finally we considered what the Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel said about the role of a representative. We saw that Jesus was the second Adam and that we can be united to him so that his death is our death, his life our life, that he can die for our sins.
Throughout the article we have dealt with objections and seen that none of them undermine the Christian understanding.
Christians believe all the prophets and make no distinction between them. What they believe about Jesus comes from all of the prophets and it is from all of the prophets that we see that Jesus died for our sins.
(Jesus) said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-26, NIV)
110 Ahadith Qudsi, trans.: Syed Masood-ul-Hasan, Riyadh: Darussalam, 3rd ed. 2006.
Arthur J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955.
Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali & Dr Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Translation of the meanings of the Noble Qur'an in the English Language Madinah: King Fahd Complex. 1419 A.H.
Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari (translator: Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan).
The Holy Bible - New International Version (NIV), London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997
Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an, Delhi: Crescent Publishing House, 1985.
Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim (translator: Abdul Hamid Siddique).