Dear Rabbi Singer,
A mutual friend of ours introduced me to your site. I work with Michael Flanigan of Palestine, TX. I am a gentile Christian who has many questions. I have found a lot of fascinating reading on your site. Michael and I have been discussing atonement and sacrifice as of late. Now bear in mind that I am by no means a biblical scholar, so I apologize if my questions seem silly. Would it not be possible for the death of Y’shua to apply as an unintentional sin sacrifice with His death applying when an individual asks Him into his/her life initially? Thereafter, sins would be forgiven as intentional sins through repentance. I hope you are able to make sense of my question. I am learning much through my conversations with Michael and listening to your tapes. I will continue to visit your website in the future.
Thank you for your time.
There is nothing silly about your question. First, I will explain your question more clearly so that those unfamiliar with this subject will have a better grasp of what you are asking.
Missionaries claim that the blood sacrificial system is man’s only hope for atonement; they insist that there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood. They maintain that the Bible sets forth only blood atonement to expiate sin.
Evangelical Christians assert that for the past nineteen centuries, since the destruction of the second Temple in 70 C.E., the Jewish people lacked the essential and indispensable animal sacrificial system for atonement. Consequently, they maintain, God must have provided a blood atonement in place of the animal sacrifices of the past. This sacrifice, they insist, is the death of Jesus on the cross.
In support of their claim that atonement can only be achieved through the shedding of blood, missionaries cite the following verse:
This is because the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
The Church appeals to this verse to prove that the blood of the cross is man’s only hope for salvation and the assurance that God will forgive his sins.
In response to this argument, I have explained that contrary to the missionary claim that blood sacrifice is the only method of atonement, the Bible clearly prescribes three methods of atonement: the sin sacrifice, repentance, and charity. Moreover, the sin sacrifice (called in the Jewish Scriptures as korban chatat) did not atone for all types of sin, but rather, only for man’s most insignificant iniquity: unintentional sins. The sin sacrifice was inadequate to atone for a transgression committed intentionally. The brazen sinner was barred from the sanctuary, and had to bear his own iniquity because of his rebellion against God. The Torah teaches this fundamental principle:
If a person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one-year-old female goat for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven …The person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people, because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be on him.
Your question is excellent: “If the sin sacrifice was necessary in order to atone for unintentional sin, didn’t Jesus then have to die for those sins committed unwittingly?”
The answer to your question is simple. Jesus could not die for anyone’s sins, whether they were committed intentionally or accidentally. To begin with, the Jewish people were strictly prohibited from offering human sacrifices under any circumstances. There is not one place throughout the entire corpus of the Jewish Scriptures where human sacrifices are condoned. In fact, over and over again, the Bible warns the Jewish people that it is a grave sin to bring a human being as a sacrifice. In the Book of Leviticus, only distinct species of animals are permitted for use in blood sacrifices.
The ancient pagan religions promoted the same idea about atonement as Christendom continues to preach today (e.g. Molech). They would joyfully offer a child into the fires of their sacrificial offering in order to expiate their sins and appease the gods. Why would a child sacrifice be used in this pagan ritual rather than an adult? The reason is that a child is a moving portrait of one who is innocent of sin. A child, they reasoned, could not have committed iniquity and thus mirrored the animal sacrifice which also had to be unblemished. The Torah therefore condemned human sacrifices, and forewarned Jewish people of terrible consequences if this commandment were violated.
This message was conveyed at Mt. Moriah, where Abraham prepared to offer up his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice. At that epic moment in history, as Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac, the Almighty admonished him that He did not desire human sacrifice, and directed Abraham to sacrifice the ram caught in the thicket instead. The Almighty’s directive – He only wanted animal sacrifices rather than human sacrifices – was immediately understood. This teaching has never departed from the mind and soul of the children of Israel.
Furthermore, the prophet Ezekiel warned the Jewish nation that a righteous man could not atone for the wins of the wicked. Wouldn’t we consider a father cruel if he punished an obedient child for the misdeeds of another? Only an unjust society would pardon its criminals while imprisoning the innocent. The prophet therefore warns that no innocent person can die for the sins of the wicked!
The soul that sins, it shall die! The son shall not bear for the sin of the father, nor the father bear for the sin of the son. The righteousness of the righteous person shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked person shall be upon him. 21As for the wicked man, if he should turn away from all his sins which he did, and safeguard all My decrees, and do justice and righteousness; he shall surely live. He will not die. 22All his transgressions which he committed will not be remembered against him. For the righteousness which he did, he shall live. 23Do I desire at all the death of the wicked man — the words of my Lord, God — is it not rather his return from his ways, that he might live?
Moreover, if missionaries want to use Leviticus 17:11 to bolster their claim that blood sacrifices are indispensable for procuring an atonement, they must use all of the verse, not just a part of it. Leviticus 17:11 specifically says that the blood of the sacrifice must be placed “upon the altar to make atonement for your souls.” That is to say, Leviticus 17:11 explicitly declares that blood can only effect atonement if it is placed on the altar. Jesus’ blood, however, was never placed on the altar. If the Church is going to take the “blood” part of the verse literally, they must also take the “altar” part literally as well. Jesus’ blood was never sprinkled on the altar, and therefore his death could not provide atonement for anyone.
Finally, the prophets loudly declared to theJewish people that the contrite prayer of the penitent sinner replaces the sacrificial system. Therefore, atonement for unintentional sins today is expiated through devotional supplication to God, the Merciful One.
In fact, in the third chapter of Hosea, the prophet foretold with divine exactness that the nation of Israel would not have a sacrificial system during the last segment of Jewish history until the messianic age. Hosea declares,
…for the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.
In the words of the Bible, this period of time would last for many days. Yet, despite the repeated proclamations of the Church that the crucifixion of Jesus serves as a sin sacrifice today, the words of Hosea were meticulously fulfilled, and we remain without an animal sacrificial until this day.
Given the spiritual magnitude of this remarkable prophecy, Hosea was compelled to reveal how the ecclesiastical Temple functions were it to be replaced. In essence, if the prophet is testifying that the nation of Israel will indeed be without a sacrificial system during their long exile until the messianic age, what are we to use instead? How are the Jewish people to atone for unintentional sin without a blood sacrifice during their bitter exile? What about all the animal sacrifices prescribed in the Book of Leviticus? Can the Jewish people get along without animal offerings? Missionaries claim they cannot.
The Bible disagrees.
For this reason, the teaching highlighted in Hosea 14:2-3 is crucial. In these two verses, Hosea reveals to his nation how they are to replace the sacrificial system during their protracted exile. The prophet declares that the Almighty wants us to “render for bulls the offering of our lips.” Prayer is to replace the sacrificial system. Hosea states,
Take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will render for bulls the offering of our lips.”
The prophets never instruct the Jews to worship any crucified messiah or demigod; nor does Scripture suggest that an innocent man could die as an atonement for the sins of the wicked. Such a message is utterly antithetical to the teachings of the Jewish Scriptures. Rather, it is the prayers of the sinner that would become as bulls of the sin offerings.
King Solomon echoes this sentiment as well.
In I Kings 8:46-50, King Solomon delivers a startling prophetic message as he inaugurates the newly constructed first Temple. In his inauguration sermon, King Solomon forewarns that one day the Jewish people would be driven out of the land of Israel, and banished to the land of their enemies, near and far. During their exile, many would fervently desire to repent of their sins. King Solomon then declares that they are to face Jerusalem from their diaspora, confess their sins, “and God will hear their prayers in heaven, and forgive them for all their transgressions.”
If they sin against You, for there is no man who does not sin, and You will be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, and their captors will carry them away captive to the land of the enemy, far or near. And they shall bethink themselves 47in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of their captors, saying,‘We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness.’ 48And they shall return to You with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, who led them away captive, and pray to You toward their land, which You gave to their fathers, the city You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name. 49And You shall hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven, in Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause. 50And forgive Your people for what they have sinned against You, and all their transgressions that they have transgressed against You…
(I Kings 8:46-50)
There was no mention of a cross or a dead messiah in King Solomon’s prophetic message. Only the contrite and repentant prayer of the remorseful sinner can bring about a complete atonement. Although King Solomon’s timeless message stands out as a theological impossibility in Christian terms, it remains the warm, centerpiece of the God’s system of atonement throughout his long and bitter exile.
Best wishes for a happy Passover.
Rabbi Tovia Singer