A Sacrifice for His Own Sins? Heb 4:15 and 7:27 in the Sixteenth Century and Beyond

Due in part to John Chrysostom’s influential Homilies on Hebrews, most interpreters have argued that the author of Hebrews distances Jesus from the Levitical obligation to offer a sacrifice for personal sin (cf. 5:2-3, 7:27, 9:7). Since Jesus never committed sin (Heb 4:15), Jesus had no personal sins for which to atone. This interpretation of Hebrews, however, appears to conflict with the author's argument in Heb 7:27. Here the author appears to state that Jesus currently has no need to offer a sacrifice for personal or corporate sin since he offered a sacrifice for both (t??t?) once for all. A number of recent studies have acknowledged this difficulty but appear unable to reconcile why a sinless saviour (Heb 4:15) would require a sacrifice for personal sin (7:27). A few scholars throughout history, however, have attempted to reconcile these two verses. In this paper, I review recent interpretations of Heb 4:15 and 7:27 and recount the attempts of Origen, Nestorius, and Faustus Socinus to retain Christ's sinlessness in Hebrews while attaching a self-designated sin offering to his new covenant sacrifice. Socinus’s reconciliation in De Jesu Christo Servatore is the most extensive and suggests that Jesus's "sins" should be understood as his human weakness unto death. This proposal is employed as an argument against John Calvin’s advancement of penal satisfaction, an advancement complicated by a self-designated sin offering. Socinus’s argument was condemned as blasphemous by John Owen but encouraged a stream of interpretive tradition that remains unaddressed in recent literature. This stream appears to illuminate a debate that is currently bifurcated between studies that suggest Jesus committed sin (e.g. George W. Buchanan and Ronald Williamson) and studies that argue Heb 4:15 must distance Jesus from a self-designated sacrifice.