Another misunderstood and misinterpreted text that is used to prove Calvinism is Galatians 3:13-14.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written,“Cursed is everyone who is hangedon a tree”– 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so thatwe might receivethe promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14; ESV)
I have read this text so many times and missed it over and over again, seeing Calvinism in this text when it is not there. It took a biblical writer and preacher, Maurice Barnett in his book The Scheme of Redemption to open my eyes to what the text truly says.
Begin with this question: how did Christ become a curse for us?
Notice that the answer Paul gives as to how Christ became a curse for us is not substitution atonement. Further notice that the apostle Paul does not say that Christ became a curse for us by taking our place. But let’s back up for a moment before proceeding further.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. What was the curse of the law?
Galatians 3:10, just a couple verses earlier tells us, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'” Our curse is our lack of obedience. We have violated God’s law, not abiding by the commands God has given to us.
Back to verse 13 – Christ became a curse for us (on our behalf). How did Christ become a curse for us? Paul answers that Christ became a curse in the way that he died. By dying on a cross, Deuteronomy 21:23 says such a person was to be considered “cursed by God.” There are two different curses under consideration in Galatians 3. Paul does not say that Jesus took our curse upon himself. Paul does not say that our curse was placed on Christ. Jesus’ curse must of necessity be entirely different than our curse because Jesus DID abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and did them.
Paul’s point is rather simple and does not teach a system of Calvinism or substitution atonement. Every human is cursed under the law because we have not abode by God’s laws. Jesus purchased us (redeemed us) from the curse upon us. Jesus alleviated the curse upon us by dying on the cross. By dying on the cross, Jesus became a curse on our behalf because he died in a fashion that people would see Jesus as rejected and cursed by God, according to Deuteronomy 21:23. This accords with the prophecy of Isaiah:
…yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4; TNIV)
Why did the people consider Jesus “punished by God,” “stricken by God,” and “afflicted by God?” Because he died on a cross and, according to Deuteronomy 21:23, the Jewish people would see him as cursed by God. Isaiah does not say that Jesus was punished by God. We considered him punished by God. Paul does not say that Jesus was cursed by God. Jesus became a curse because of the way he died, not because Jesus took our place.