How can one man pay for the sins of another?

| April 29, 2012 | Comments (57)
Jesus who dies for sinners in order to set humanity free

Jesus who dies for sinners in order to set humanity free

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, 53:38, Arberry)

From verses like these Muslim leaders conclude that it is not possible for Jesus to bear our sin, 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 three stages.

  1. What the Qur’an and Hadith actually say.
  2. Reading Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20 in context.
  3. What the Bible says about Jesus.

I will also engage with common objections that Muslims have raised with me in debates and emails.

1. What 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.

That they may bear their loads complete on the Day of Resurrection, and some of the loads of those that they lead astray without any knowledge. O evil the load they bear! (Qur’an 16:25, Arberry)

They shall certainly carry their loads, and other loads along with their loads, and upon the Day of Resurrection they shall surely be questioned concerning that they were forging. (Qur’an 29:13, Arberry)

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.

In the Hadith we also see that a person can bear someone else’s load. In this case their good deeds.

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)

Here we see that a person can do a good deed and that this good deed is credited to another person’s account before God. This teaching is actually quite similar to the Christian belief that Jesus’ righteous life is credited to us.

Therefore, when we consider all of what the Qur’an and Hadith say we see that bearing the load of another is a part of their teaching. When Islamic leaders say, “each person only bears their own load”, they are not telling the whole story.

2. Reading Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20 in context.

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)

Muslims see these verses as confirming their beliefs and proving that Christianity is wrong. They understand these verses to mean that each person can only bear their own sin, however, this is not the case because both of these verses are referring to a person living under the covenant of the Torah (the Law of Moses). Deuteronomy 24:16 is part of the Torah itself and Ezekiel 18:20 is addressing the Israelites who were living under the Torah. That is, the context of these verses is the Torah and not the Qur’an. If we want to understand the verses we need to understand some basics about the Torah.

When somebody living under the Torah sinned they were responsible for what they had done, but if they repented they could be forgiven by a sacrifice that would bear their sin before God. The Torah explains this.

(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 substitute sacrifice that bears our sin.

In the book of the prophet Ezekiel we see this idea as well.

(The priests) will put the most holy offerings (there) – the grain offerings, the sin offerings and the guilt offerings – for the place is holy. (Ezekiel 42:13, NIV)

Therefore Muslims are not reading Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20 in their context. These verses are not saying there is no sacrifice that can bear our sin. Instead they are saying that we are individually responsible for our sins and need to seek forgiveness through God’s provision of a substitute sacrifice that can bear our sin. These verses do not support Islam at all, instead they confirm what Christianity teaches.

3. What the Bible says about Jesus.

The Bible
Law of Moses
The Prophets
The Psalms
The Gospel

Christians believe all of the prophets and make no distinction between them. What Christians believe about Jesus comes from all of these books. We will now consider how these books prepare us for the death of Jesus and explain his death to us. First we will consider what the Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel teach about the substitute sacrifice.

Jesus and 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 substitute sacrifice.

(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.

The Passover

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. The death of this lamb would be a substitute for the death of the firstborn son.

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.

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 substitutes for sin. The first goat was killed as a sin offering. The second goat figuratively carried the sins far away. The Law of Moses demonstrates clearly that God accepts a substitute as a sacrifice for 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 someone or nation dying for the sins of others. It 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. Therefore, Isaiah 53 is an amazing prophecy about someone who will bear the sins of others.

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.


In the Gospel Jesus often speaks about his death.

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 servant of the LORD who would give his life as a sacrifice for the sins of others. This is how Jesus can pay for our sins. He is our substitute.

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 the sins 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 about substitute sacrifices for sin and this is what Jesus fulfils.

Objection 1

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. However, this is not what the Qur’an says. 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 multiple their good deeds by ten, thus in the scales they will have more good deeds.

(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)

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 multiple 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)

Forgiveness in Christianity is just and based on the perfect justice of God.

Objection 2

A second objection I have heard from Muslims is that God wants us to sin. This is based on the following hadith that says that God will destroy us if we 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 3

The final objection I have been told is that God has no desire for human 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. In order to understand why ultimately a human must pay for sin we must understand how Jesus is our representative and we will do this in the next section. But before we move on to this topic we will conclude this section by reaffirming what we have seen in the Torah, Prophets and Gospel. That is, that God accepts a substitute sacrifice for sin as a means of forgiveness, and this is at the heart of the Christian message. There is no greater sacrifice that could ever be offered to pay for your sin that 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 last section we saw that the Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel all taught about a substitute sacrifice for sins. In this section we will consider what they teach about one person being a representative for another. The first representative is the priest.

The Priest as Representative

The Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel all teach about priests and how they represent the people to God.

(God said to Moses) Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests. (Exodus 28:1, NIV)

Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (Hebrews 5:1, NIV)

Abraham also had a priest. His name was Melchizedek.

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth”. (Genesis 14:18-19, NIV)

The Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel all teach that the priest could represent the people before God and in the Psalms of David God made a special promise about the Messiah. God promised that the Messiah would also be a priest.

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4, NIV)

Jesus is the Messiah and the priest for Christians.

Now there have been many of those (other) priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:23-27, NIV)

The other type of representative was the king/ruler/messiah.

The Ruler as Representative

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 20 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 a unique representative role like this.

In the Law of Moses (Torah) we read about Adam.

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 even though it was Adam who disobeyed. God’s punishment on Adam comes to us all because Adam is our representative and we are joined to him. What he did affected us individually. In the same way, but for the better, Jesus is our representative. Jesus’ death can bear our sin and take our punishment because he represents those joined to him.

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.

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.

Objection 1

Muslims have told me that Adam may have that 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.

Objections 2

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 is Zalimun (2:35) which is the common Qur’anic word for sinner or wrong doer. 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 (Zalimun) (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.

Objections 3

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 shows 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, it has been shown that God deals with us not only as individuals but also through our representatives. Adam was such a representative; what he did he did for us. Jesus is the new Adam; what he did he did for us. He represented us on the cross and took the punishment we deserve.

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)


We started this article by asking, “How can one man pay for the sins of another?” We have seen that there are verses in the Qur’an and Hadiths that actually teach the idea of bearing the deeds of others. We have also seen that the Muslim appeals to Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20 do not read these verses in their context as they are part of the Torah which provides a substitute sacrifice for sins.

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 then he promised that his servant would come and 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 true priest and the second Adam and that what Jesus did he did for us.

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)


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Category: Christianity, Islam

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