The central goal of Outreach Judaism is to respond directly and effectively to unyielding Christian missionaries who specifically target Jews for conversion. As overzealous, fundamentalist denominations grow worldwide and Jewish evangelism continues at a feverish pitch, the overwhelming task of Outreach Judaism becomes more vital than ever.
The Let’s Get Biblical audio series and study guide refutes missionary claims
Our renowned Let’s Get Biblical audio series and this accompanying in-depth study guide has become one of the most effective educational tools to empower Jewish communities worldwide, and counter the well funded and highly aggressive missionary movement. Introduced in 1993, this program has helped countless Jews and gentiles understand why Judaism does not accept the Christian messiah. Moreover, this groundbreaking work has inspired so many to understand the beauty and truth of the Jewish faith.
Jews for Jesus responds to Outreach Judaism on its Website
Jews for Jesus, the most well known and highly aggressive organization committed to converting Jews to Christianity, posted on its web page its response to one of our hallmark audio programs entitled, “Sin and Atonement” from Outreach Judaism’s Let’s Get Biblical series. Strangely, Jews for Jesus calls this section of its web page which seeks to rebut our audio series, Let’s Get Really Biblical. Their choice of this title is
puzzling given that whereas our Let’s Get Biblical audio series – as the title suggests – quotes exclusively from the Scriptures, there is not a single instance where Jews for Jesus quotes the Bible throughout the entire corpus of their response. Instead, Jews for Jesus’ rebuttal draws all of its arguments from rabbinic and secular sources.
Throughout the Let’s Get Biblical audio series I quote only from the Bible for a simple reason. Christians reject the validity of Judaism’s rabbinic literature (although they quote it incessantly when it suits their agenda), thus it would be pointless to use any source other than Tanach to disprove their arguments. It is the words of the Jewish Scriptures alone that can empower a Christian to thoroughly grasp why Judaism does not accept the Christian messiah. It is only the eternal words of Tanach that can guide a lost Jewish soul in the Church back to the God of Israel.
Christian doctrines refuted in the presentation, “Sin and Atonement”
Prior to responding to Jews for Jesus’ numerous arguments, I will highlight the fundamental points that I address in my lecture entitled, “Sin and Atonement.” This presentation confronts and responds to one of Christendom’s most central claims against its elder rival, Judaism: How can man expiate his sin without the shedding of blood? Missionaries argue that man’s sin can be cleansed only through a blood sacrifice. They contend that there can be no forgiveness of
sin without a blood sacrifice.1 Without the blood of Jesus, man is utterly hopeless, lost in a state of eternal sin.2 To prove this doctrine, the Church teaches that the Bible sets forth blood atonement alone to expiate sin.3 Moreover, evangelical Christians assert that for the past two millennia, since the destruction of the second temple in 70 C.E., Jews lacked this essential and indispensable animal-sacrificial system for atonement. Consequently, they conclude, God must have provided a blood atonement in place of the animal sacrifices of the past. This sacrifice, they declare, is Jesus’ death on the Cross – man’s only hope for salvation.
To support this claim that atonement can only be achieved through the shedding of blood, missionaries cite a passage in the Torah which reads:
“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.”
Christians quote Leviticus 17:11 to prove that blood-sacrifice alone atones for sin
With this verse in hand, Christians conclude that only the blood of the Cross can cover man’s sins, and provide any hope of being forgiven by God for his sins.
The lecture “Sin and Atonement” and its corresponding chapter4 in the study guide responds to the above missionary argument in a variety of ways. The following is a brief overview of six crucial points elucidated in the presentation “Sin and Atonement.”
Overview of the Presentation “Sin and Atonement”
There are three methods of atonement in the Bible – Blood Sacrifice is the weakest form of atonement
Contrary to the missionary claim that blood-sacrifice is the only method of atonement in the Bible, there are three methods of atonement clearly defined in the Jewish Scriptures: The sin sacrifice,5 repentance6 and charity.7 Moreover, the חַטָאת קָרבָּן (Korban chatat), the sin sacrifice, did not atone for all types of sin, but rather, only for man’s most insignificant iniquity: unintentional sins.8 The sin sacrifice was inadequate to atone for transgressions committed intentionally. The rebellious sinner was barred from the Sanctuary, and had to bear his own iniquity because of his deliberate intent to sin against God. The Torah declares this fundamental principle in the following manner:
“If a person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. And 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… But 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.”
Leviticus 17:11 does not suggest that atonement can only be achieved through the shedding of blood; rather, it explains the prohibition against consuming blood
Contrary to the Christian claim that Leviticus 17:11 proves that man can atone for his iniquity only through the shedding of blood, this verse explains only the prohibition of eating blood outlined in the previous verse. Missionaries have conveniently severed this verse from its original context, effectively concealing and distorting its message.
In the immediate context of Leviticus 17:11, we find that the Torah is speaking of the prohibition of eating blood, not the subject of sin and atonement. The Torah discusses blood atonement in this verse only as a byproduct of its central theme. This crucial message is lost when missionaries quote Leviticus 17:11 alone, without the surrounding texts as its proper background. Leviticus 17:11 begins with the conjunctive Hebrew word כִּי (kee), meaning “This is because…” Whenever a verse begins with this conjunction, it is explaining what has just been related in the previous verse. The previous verse reads,
“And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.”
Leviticus 17:11 then continues this message and expounds,
“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.”
Thus, Leviticus 17:11 explains Leviticus 17:10 by revealing that consuming blood is forbidden because it may only be used in the act of sprinkling of an animal’s blood on the altar for an atonement. It is a grievous sin to use it for any other purpose.9
Leviticus 17:10-11 is therefore outlining two fundamental principles about blood:
1) you may not eat it
2) among all the various rituals associated with the sin sacrifice, which include the laying of the hands on the animal, slaughtering, collecting, carrying, sprinkling, placing of the animal on the altar, it is only the rituals directly associated with blood that brings about the atonement. It is therefore forbidden to eat blood.
This verse does not state or imply that one cannot have atonement for sin without a blood sacrifice. Such a message would contradict all of the Jewish Scriptures which clearly highlight two other methods of atonement more efficacious and pleasing to God than a blood sacrifice: heartfelt repentance and charity.10
Although the statement “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” is found nowhere in the Jewish Scriptures, it does appear in the Christian Scriptures. The author of the Book of Hebrews misquotes Leviticus 17:11 when he states:
“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
Although this quote in Hebrews 9:22 is always cross referenced in a Christian study Bible with Leviticus 17:11, it is a deliberate misquote of the original passage in the Torah.
Furthermore, if missionaries seek to hold up Leviticus 17:11 to bolster their position that blood sacrifices are indispensable for procuring an atonement, they must use all of the verse, and not dispense with any 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 effect atonement only 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.
Most importantly, the Torah repeatedly states that it is strictly forbidden to offer human sacrifices under any circumstances. There is not one place throughout the entire corpus of the Jewish Scriptures where the practice of human sacrifice is condoned. The Torah condemns this grotesque ritual as an abomination. Throughout the Book of Leviticus, only distinct species of animals are permitted for use in blood sacrifices.
The prophets openly pronounced that repentance and charity are more favorable to God than a blood sacrifice
Throughout the Jewish Scriptures, the prophets declared that repentance and charity are more pleasing to God for atonement than a blood sacrifice. They repeatedly warned the Jewish people not to rely on blood offerings. Other methods of atonement were more efficacious and would even replace animal sacrifices. For example, King David cries out to God:
“Rescue me from blood-guilt, O God, God of my salvation. 17My Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. 18For You desire no offering, else I would give it, a burnt offering You do not favor. 19 The offerings of God are a broken spirit, a heart broken and crushed O God, that You will not despise.
King David declares:
“Sacrifice and burnt offering You have not desired; but my ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.”
(Psalm 40:7 – 40:6 in a Christian Bible)
These words of the Bible are not consistent with the Christian doctrine that sin can only be expiated through the shedding of blood. Because the Psalmist’s words were deeply offensive to the early Church, the author of the Book of Hebrews altered Psalm 40:7 to read instead:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure.”
Notice how King David’s original words, “but my ears You have opened” have been removed entirely in the “quote” in the Book of Hebrews. Instead, this New Testament author replaced this expunged clause with the words “But a body you have prepared for Me.” This is a startling alteration of the Jewish Scriptures.
The notion that the sacrificial system is central to faith and atonement was condemned as heretical by the contemporary prophets Hosea and Micah.
For I desire goodness, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.”
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8He has shown you, O man, what is good, what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
In his Book of Proverbs, King Solomon explicitly states that giving charity is a more effective method to atone for sin than a sacrifice:
Riches will not avail on the day of wrath, but charity will save from death.
With loving-kindness and truth will iniquity be expiated, and through fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.
Performing charity and justice is preferred by God to a sacrifice.
During the Babylonian exile, following the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, Daniel declared that charity atones for sin:
“Nevertheless, O king, let my advice be agreeable to you. Redeem your error with charity, and your sin through kindness to the poor, so that there will be an extension to your tranquility.”
Hosea foretold that the Jewish people would be without a sacrificial system, and instructed us to replace animal offerings with prayer
In Hosea 3:4-5, the prophet foretold that the Nation of Israel would not have a sacrificial system during the last segment of Jewish history until the messianic age.
“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, contrary to the Church’s claim that the crucifixion of Jesus serves as a sin sacrifice today, the words of Hosea were meticulously fulfilled.
Given the magnitude of this remarkable prophecy, Hosea was compelled to reveal how ecclesiastical temple functions would 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 worship without blood sacrifices 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? Can the sacrificial system be replaced in exile? Missionaries claim they cannot. The Bible disagrees.
For this reason, the oracle in Hosea 14:2-3 is crucial. In these two verses, the prophet reveals to his beloved nation how they are to replace the sacrificial system during their protracted diaspora. Hosea declares that the Almighty wants us to “render for bulls the offering of our lips.” Prayer is to replace the sacrificial system.
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 Jewish people were never instructed to worship a crucified messiah or demigod.11 Nor does Scripture ever tell us that an innocent man can die as an atonement for the sins of the wicked.12 Such a message is utterly antithetical to the teachings of the Jewish Scriptures. Rather, it is the lips of the sinner that is transformed into bulls of the sin offerings.
Ezekiel condemns the doctrine of vicarious atonement
The Book of Ezekiel forever condemned Christendom’s central doctrine of vicarious atonement, and slammed the notion that an innocent human being can die for the sins of the wicked.
Throughout his famed 18th chapter, Ezekiel warned his people that this erroneous teaching, i.e. that a righteous man could die for another man’s sins was contrary to the will of God. The way for the sinful man to come right by God is to turn away from his rebellious ways and repent. Only the sacred path of the penitent is assured complete forgiveness. Accordingly, throughout Ezekiel’s uplifting sermon on the forgiveness of sin, blood sacrifices are never mentioned.
The word of the Lord came to me, saying: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel, saying: ‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the sons’ teeth are set on edge?’ As I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to Me, the father as well as the son – they are Mine. Which ever soul sins, it shall die… Yet you ask: Why did the son not bear the sin of the father? But the son, justice and righteousness did he do, all My decrees did he safeguard and perform them. He shall surely live. 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. As 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. All his transgressions which he committed will not be remembered against him. For the righteousness which he did, he shall live. Do 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.”
(Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-23)
If Jesus was the final sacrifice, why will the sacrificial system be restored in the messianic age?
Finally, the New Testament emphatically claims that the animal sacrificial system never could atone for sin in any permanent way.13 The only purpose of the animal sacrificial system, the Book of Hebrews claims, was a foreshadowing Jesus’ death on the cross.14
The New Testament, therefore, repeatedly declares that Jesus was the final sacrifice for all time, and there would no longer be any future need for the return of the animal sacrificial system. In his most influential epistle, Paul states,
The death he died, he died to sin once for all…
Paul’s claim is that Jesus’ death was once for all – in that a sacrifice for sin would never be repeated. The Greek adverb ἐφάπαξ (ephapax) in Romans 6:10 denotes “once only,” meaning that it will never be done again.
By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
This doctrine, however, completely contradicts the words of the prophets who clearly foretold that the animal sacrificial system would return in the messianic age.
In essence, if Jesus was the final sacrifice “once and for all,” as Paul vehemently argues, and the animal sacrificial system merely was a temporary “foreshadowing” of Calvary (Hebrews 9-10), why will animal sacrifices be fully restored in the messianic era?15
Moreover, why would the messiah – named “The Prince” seventeen times at the end of the Book of Ezekiel – bring a sin sacrifice on behalf of himself and the nation!
On that day the Prince is to provide a bull as a sin offering for himself and for all the people of the land.
According to Christian teachings it would be preposterous for Jesus to bring a sin offering for his own iniquity.
Jews for Jesus Argues that a Blood Sacrifice is Necessary for an Atonement. Here is Our Response:
The Jewish Scriptures declare that blood sacrifice, heartfelt repentance, and charity atone for sin – blood sacrifice being the least efficacious of the three. Jews for Jesus disagrees, and they make the following argument:
Jews for Jesus argues the following:
Is a blood sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of sin?
Rabbi Tovia Singer tells us that according to the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible), not only blood but also repentance and charity atone for sin – and atonement by blood is the least important of all of them.
The Tanach does give a few examples in which atonement was procured apart from blood sacrifice. The actions are really to avert God’s wrath and not to secure forgiveness. There is atonement by a cereal offering designed for poor people (Leviticus 5:11-13); atonement by the burning of incense (Numbers 16:46; Hebrew 17:11); atonement by gold (Numbers 31:50). In the last two cases, for sin; in the first case, an exception is made for a poor person who cannot bring an animal. The general rule remained: atonement came by a blood sacrifice.
In fact, these three verses raised by Jews for Jesus are mentioned nowhere in the audio series. Moreover, these texts do not support their conclusion. Jews for Jesus’ inference “The general rule remained: atonement came by blood sacrifice” is a non-sequitur.
Let’s examine these three verses in greater detail: Leviticus 5:11-13, Numbers 17:11, and Numbers 31:50 are examples in the Torah where atonement is procured without the shedding of blood. In Leviticus 5:11-13 the poor man may give a flour offering instead of an animal sacrifice for an atonement. Numbers 17:1116 describes how Aaron made an atonement for the people with incense, and in Numbers 31:50 the Torah declares that the golden ornaments donated by high officers of the military, who successfully defeated the Midianites, were offered as an atonement as well.
It is worth mentioning that missionaries often argue that in the case of the poor man’s flour offering, the flour was mixed by the priest with the other blood-offerings. Thus, having the flour mixed with the blood of someone else’s sacrifice, a partnership was somehow created with another man’s blood offering, who has vicariously provided blood for the poor man’s sacrifice.
The problem with this argument is that it is unsupported by Scripture. Nowhere does the Torah state that the flour offering was mixed with any other sacrifice. On the contrary, it was equal to any other sacrifice, because it was placed on the altar like any other offereing.
Jews for Jesus’ statement that the incense and the gold ornaments “are really to avert God’s wrath and not to secure forgiveness for sin” is incorrect. The Bible clearly states otherwise. With regard to the incense brought by Aaron, the Torah says:
So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the Lord. The plague has begun.”
(Numbers 17:11 – 16:46 in a Christian Bible)
Here the Torah clearly states that the incense both averted God’s wrath and provided an atonement for the people. Jews for Jesus’ statement with regard to the case of the golden ornaments is even more puzzling because nowhere does Scripture ever state that the golden ornaments were to avert God’s wrath. The Torah only declares that the purpose of this donation was to procure an atonement.
It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word כפר kapar (atonement) used in Leviticus 17:11 – the verse Jews for Jesus uses to “prove” that only blood can be used as an atonement – is the identical word used in all three verses that Jews for Jesus insists did “not secure forgiveness for sin.” Well, which is it? Does כפר kapar mean an atonement or not? You can’t have it both ways.
In Leviticus 17:11, the Torah explains why it is forbidden to consume blood: It has been set aside for the sole purpose of making atonement on the altar.
Leviticus 17:11 does not imply that the only method of atonement is the shedding of blood. By ripping Talmudic texts out of context, Jews for Jesus will argue that Jewish sources differ with Rabbi Singer. Let us examine Jews for Jesus’ argument.
Jews for Jesus:
In connection with this, Rabbi Singer questions the use of Leviticus 17:11 to demonstrate that a blood sacrifice was necessary. The verse reads, “For 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 maketh atonement by reason of the life” (Jewish Publication Society translation).
Because the context of Lev. 17:11 is the prohibition against consuming blood, Rabbi Singer argues that the point of the verse is: blood is prohibited because it is used to atone – but not that the verse teaches that blood is the main or only way of atonement.
Traditional Jewish sources differ with Rabbi Singer:
Babylonian Talmud, (Yoma 5a) citing Leviticus 17:11 (Soncino)
Does the laying on of the hand make atonement for one? Does not atonement come through the blood, as it is said: For it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life!…. Does the waving make atonement? Is it not the blood which makes atonement, as it is written, ‘For it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life’?
Babylonian Talmud, (Zevahim 6a) citing Leviticus 17:11 (Soncino)
Surely atonement can be made only with the blood, as it says, For it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life!
These traditional sources do not disagree with us at all. Jews for Jesus is again taking these Talmudic texts completely out of context. If these Talmudic quotes were indeed cited in context, it would be clear that the statement of our sages are irrelevant to the point that Jews for Jesus is trying to prove. Let us examine these Talmudic texts further.
Both the Talmud in Tractate Yoma 5a and Zevachim 6a are addressing the same aspect of animal sacrifices, and are therefore quoting from the identical statement in a Baraisa.17 More specifically, both of these sections of the Talmud examine the same question: What specific error might occur during a sacrificial offering that would cause it to become invalid?
As noted earlier, there are many rituals that are performed during a sacrificial ceremony, including the leaning of the hands on the animal, the four actions relating to the blood (slaughtering, collecting the blood in a service vessel, carrying the blood to the altar, and the sprinkling of the blood on the altar), and the burning of the entrails and fats, etc. ThisBaraisa, quoted in both Yoma 5a and Zevachim 6a, addresses the sacrificial rituals and their effect on atonement alone. It questions whether the laying of the hands of the sinner on the animal brings about atonement.
The Baraisa insists that this could not be the case because Leviticus 17:11 explicitly states that it is the blood on the altar that makes the atonement for one’s soul. Therefore, “there is no atonement other than the blood” (Jews for Jesus), and an improper leaning on the animal’s head would not invalidate the atonement.
The essential principle of sacrifice and atonement is that atonement can only occur after the blood of the sinner’s sacrificed animal has been sprinkled on the altar. The other rituals relating to sacrifice, such as the leaning of the hands, are secondary and do not effect the atonement.
The Talmud in Yoma 5a and Zevachim 6a of the Baraisa discusses only the narrow context of the sacrificial offering; and within this specific context, it is only the blood of the animal sprinkled on the altar that brings about the atonement. This section of the Talmud is not addressing atonement in general, but rather sacrificial atonement alone.
Our sages do not contradict the words of the Bible. Scripture explicitly state that there are other methods of atonement that are superior to ritual sacrifice.18 The biblical principle that repentance and charity atone for sin is taught and expounded upon throughout the corpus of the Talmud.
In fact, later on in Tractate Yoma – the same tractate that Jews for Jesus uses as support for their claim – the Talmud says that when a person repents of his transgressions out of love, not only are his sins forgiven, but his premeditated transgressions are accounted as merits!19 (See also Baruch Levine’s commentary below on Leviticus 17:11)
Jews for Jesus also cites the modern Jewish commentator, Baruch Levine, trying to substantiate the Christian doctrine that atonement is only achieved through the shedding of blood. Let us examine their argument.
Jews for Jesus:
Similarly, modern Jewish commentator Baruch Levine states:
Expiation by means of sacrificial blood-rites is a prerequisite for securing God’s forgiveness. As the rabbis expressed it, “ein kapparah ella be-dam,” meaning, “There is no ritual expiation except by means of blood.”
– Baruch Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus; The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), p. 23, referring to Yoma 5a cited above.
Jews for Jesus deliberately neglected to mention the context in which Baruch Levine’s statement appears. The above quote of Baruch Levine appears in his commentary on Leviticus 4:20, which concludes with the Torah’s explanation of how the blood is ceremonially sprinkled on the curtain of the Tent of the Meeting by the priest. Jews for Jesus does not offer an explanation as to which sin the Torah is referencing, and therefore their choice of using Baruch Levine’s quote is irrelevant, since not all sins require the offering of an animal, i.e. the shedding of blood, for sacrifice.
Let’s now quote Baruch Levine in context, so we get a sense of his commentary on the overall picture of atonement and blood sacrifice. Does Baruch Levine agree with Jews for Jesus?
“It should be emphasized here, as the workings of the sacrificial system are introduced to the reader, that the laws of the Torah did not permit Israelites to expiate intentional or premeditated offenses by means of sacrifice. There was no vicarious, ritual remedy – substitution of one’s property or wealth – for such violations, whether they were perpetrated against other individuals or against God Himself. In those cases, the law dealt directly with the offender, imposing real punishments and acting to prevent recurrences. The entire expiatory system ordained in the Torah must be understood in this light. Ritual expiation was restricted to situations where a reasonable doubt existed as to the willfulness of the offense. Even then, restitution was always required where loss or injury to another person had occurred. The mistaken notion that ritual worship could atone for criminality or intentional religious desecration was persistently attacked by the prophets of Israel, who considered it a major threat to the entire covenantal relationship between Israel and God.”
(Baruch Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus; The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia:Jewish Publication Society, 1989), p. 3, under the heading, The Principal Types of Sacrifice 1:1-7:38)
Below is another quote from Baruch Levine on Leviticus 17:11. Jews for Jesus insists that this verse proves that atonement can only be procured through the shedding of blood. Baruch Levine disagrees.
“Substitution was allowed only in cases of inadvertence. Where the offense against God had been intentional, ritual expiation did not apply.”
(Baruch Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus; The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), p. 115, on Leviticus 17:11.)
To summarize, the Jewish Scriptures clearly teach that blood sacrifice is not necessary for the forgiveness of sin. Comments from traditional Jewish sources and the modern commentator Baruch Levine examined critically, in context, lend no support to Jews for Jesus’ claim.
The Jewish Scriptures clearly state that sacrifice was used to atone for man’s least grievous transgressions, essentially unintentional sins and therefore the prophets did not dignify the blood sacrificial system. On the contrary, as if with one voice, these men of God declared that repentance and charity were more pleasing to God than a blood sacrifice.20
Jews for Jesus maintains, however, that Jesus’ death was sacrificial in nature, and his death atones for all sins. They obscure the clear words of the Jewish Scriptures by quoting modern Jewish commentators out of context who are discussing peripheral issues. Let us examine their argument.
Jews for Jesus:
Rabbi Singer maintains that sacrifice was only meant for unintentional sins. For example, he cites Leviticus 4 which says that the sin offering (the hattat) was for unintentional sins. Numbers 15 says that the person who sins “with a high hand” will be cut off. The intentional murderer must be put to death; only the man slaughterer who killed someone accidentally can have atonement. How then, Rabbi Singer asks, could Jesus be a sacrifice for all sins, including intentional ones?
The sin offering was only one kind of sacrifice. Though it was specified for inadvertent sins, other sacrifices were not restricted in that way. The full evidence includes the following:
Exhibit A: Modern Jewish commentators:
The function of the burnt offering as exemplified by the Hittite sources, cited above, is clearly propitiatory and expiatory (for “wrath,” “guilt,” “offense,” “sin”), a fact that accords with the purpose assigned to the burnt offering in this chapter [Lev. 1][/Lev.]…. “to expiate” (v 4)…. Some medieval commentators suggest the entire range of unwitting sins (Bekhor Shor; cf. Shadal) and even brazen sins, if their punishment is not specified (Ramban).
– Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 175.
Once again, Jews for Jesus is quoting Milgrom out of context. The above commentary by Jacob Milgrom appears within the context of the Olah offering. This sacrifice, which was entirely burnt on the altar, had the distinction of being a voluntary offering. It was brought when the individual felt a sense of personal guilt and wished to express his penitence by offering this free-will sacrifice. The unrepentant brazen sinner, however, was barred from the sacrificial system.
Let us now examine the words of Jacob Milgrom as he speaks about sacrifices in general, and see if he agrees with Jews for Jesus.
“Inadvertence is a key criterion in all expiatory sacrifice. A deliberate, brazen sinner is barred from the sanctuary.”
(Num. 15:30-31, Leviticus 1-16: Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1991, p. 228.)
Once again, let’s read Jacob Milgrom’s own words on the matter of why in the case of the Asham, does the Torah place the repentant transgressor in the class of the inadvertent sinner:
“The witness’s defiance of the imprecation is indisputably a deliberate, if not a brazen, misdemeanor. Ibn Ezra would add the element of a memory lapse, which plays a role in the following cases (vv 2-4), but its absence here is hardly accidental. Then, why is his sin expiable by sacrifice? The answer lies in his subsequent remorse, a factor that is not stated in the case itself but in the general protasis governing all four cases (vv 4b, 5a); it is his subsequent guilt אשם (asem) that is responsible for converting his deliberate sin into an inadvertence, expiable by sacrifice.”
Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 295.
Jews for Jesus:
The offenses outlined here [in Lev. 5:20-26][/in] were quite definitely intentional! A person misappropriated property or funds entrusted to his safekeeping, or defrauded another, or failed to restore lost property he had located…. If, subsequently, the accused came forth on his own and admitted to having lied under oath – thus assuming liability for the unrecovered property – he was given the opportunity to clear himself by making restitution and by paying a fine of 20 percent to the aggrieved party. Having lied under oath, he had also offended God and was obliged to offer an asham sacrifice in expiation… God accepts the expiation even of one who swears falsely in His name because the guilty person is willing to make restitution to the victim of his crime….
-Baruch Levine, JPS Torah Commentary, pp. 32-33. Note: asham means a “guilt offering.”
Baruch Levine, again:
[In Lev. 5:20-26][/In], an asham is offered in expiation of any of a series of deceitful acts involving an oath and the loss of property to others. -Levine, JPS Torah Commentary, pp. 25-26.
Enormous insight is illuminated from the guilt offering (the asham). The Torah states that in unique cases, such as the breaking of an oath or theft, a willful sinner’s transgression may be placed into the unique category of an unintentional sinner. Outlined in the fifth chapter of Leviticus, are circumstances where the transgressor has diminished his iniquity by voluntarily confessing his sin. This individual may therefore bring an Asham sacrifice.
When a person utters an oath to bad or good purpose – whatever a man may utter in an oath – and, though he has known it, the fact has escaped him, but later he realizes his guilt in any of these matters – When he realizes his guilt in any of these matters, he shall confess that wherein he has sinned.
This Asham sacrifice offers us a perfect example of how the above principle is demonstrated in the Torah. For example, in Leviticus 5:20-26 (in a Christian Bible these verses appear as Leviticus 6:1-7) the Torah declares that a person who acts deceitfully by causing a loss of property to another must pay the victim the principal plus a fifth and in addition must bring an Asham offering.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:21 “When a person sins and commits a trespass against the Lord by dealing deceitfully with his fellow in the matter of a deposit or a pledge, or through robbery, or by defrauding his fellow, 22 or by finding something lost and lying about it; if he swears falsely regarding any one of the various things that one may do and sin thereby – 23 when one has thus sinned and, realizing his guilt, would restore that which he got through robbery or fraud, or the deposit that was entrusted to him, or the lost thing that he found, 24 or anything else about which he swore falsely, he shall repay the principal amount and add a fifth part to it. He shall pay it to its owner when he realizes his guilt. 25.Then he shall bring to the priest, as his penalty to the Lord, a ram without blemish from the flock, or the equivalent, as a guilt offering. 26 The priest shall make expiation on his behalf before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for whatever he may have done to draw blame thereby.”
(Leviticus 5:20-26 – Leviticus 6:1-7 in a Christian Bible)
So why revisit the issue of theft when it was already addressed by the Torah in Exodus 22, where Scripture declares that a thief has to pay the victim double, and in the case of a sheep or an ox, he must repay four and five times, respectively? Well, which is it? Is it two, four or five times the theft as prescribed by Exodus 22, or is it one and a fifth plus an Asham sacrifice, as commanded in Leviticus 5:20-26? Is this a contradiction in the Torah?
There is, of course, no contradiction between these passages. In Exodus 22, the thief was caught red-handed, and therefore must pay his victim an exorbitant fine for his transgression. For the brazen sinner, no blood offering is sufficient to make himself right with God – the sacrificial system will not avail him. In Leviticus 5, on the other hand, the thief was not caught. Rather, after originally swearing falsely that he was innocent, he came forward on his own, admitted his guilt, and amended his crime. In this unique case, the Torah teaches us that in a number of unique cases, the person who confessed his sin is perceived an unwitting sinner in that he may bring a sacrifice to atone, albite his original transgression was deliberate. In the case of the unrepentant sinner who was caught stealing in Exodus 22, however, no sacrifice can undo his iniquity. An animal offering was insufficient to atone for his deliberate sin. No blood offering can expiate this iniquity.
Jews for Jesus:
What then about the intentional sin in Numbers 15:30-31 (the sin “with a high hand”) which is apparently unforgivable? That verse reads “But the soul that doeth aught with a high hand, whether he be home-born or a stranger, the same blasphemeth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken His commandment; that soul shall utterly be cut off, his iniquity shall be upon him.”
We present Exhibit B, the Talmudic and medieval commentators. According to the sages, repentance could turn an intentional sin into an unintentional sin and so be eligible for sacrifice. This is explained by the original sources and by modern commentators on those sources: Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 86b
R. Simeon b. Lakish said: Great is repentance, which converts intentional sins into unintentional ones.
As cited by Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 373. The Soncino Talmud edition translates: “Resh Lakish said: Great is repentance, for because of it premeditated sins are accounted as errors.”
Rashi (11th c.), on Numbers 15:31, explaining the phrase “his iniquity is upon him.”
Only at the time when (under the circumstances that) his iniquity is upon him shall he be cut off, i.e., in the case that he has not repented
(Sanh. 90b). Rosenbaum-Silbermann edition (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company)
This literary image [of the “high hand”][/of] is most apposite for the brazen sinner who commits his acts in open defiance of the Lord (cf. Job. 38:15). The essence of this sin is that it is committed flauntingly. However, sins performed in secret, even deliberately, can be commuted to the status of inadvertencies by means of repentance…
I submit that the repentance of the sinner, through his remorse…and confession…, reduces his intentional sin to an inadvertence, thereby rendering it eligible for sacrificial expiation….
(Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 373)
…The early rabbis…raise the question of how the high priest’s bull is capable of atoning for his deliberate sins, and they reply, “Because he has confessed his brazen and rebellious deeds it is as if they become as unintentional ones before him” (Sipra, Ahare par. 2:4,6; cf. t. Yoma 2:1). Thus it is clear that theTannaites attribute to repentance – strikingly, in a sacrificial ritual – the power to transform a presumptuous sin against God, punishable by death, into an act of inadvertence, expiable by sacrifice.
(Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 373.)
Is unintentional sin the least significant kind of sin?
Rabbi Singer maintains that unintentional sin is the least significant kind, implying that the sacrifices offered in the Tenach were for insignificant transgressions; real sins would be atoned for in other ways. In fact, the very opposite was true in Biblical times: unintentional sin was if anything considered more grave than intentional sin, simply because one could never know if one had transgressed in such a case.
We summon to the stand:
Unwitting sin as the cause of disaster is widely attested in the ancient world. The sin of unwitting sacrilege against the deity is especially feared….In the early rabbinic period, the “suspended ‘asham” (5:17-19) played a more central role. It was brought frequently by the pious, who were certain that they could deter conscious sins but were in dread over the possibility of committing sins unconsciously.
(Milgrom, Leviticus, pp. 361-362)
THIS COURT IS IN RECESS… TO BE CONTINUED
It is difficult to respond here, because the above statements furnished by Jews for Jesus so perfectly support our point. In fact, if I had not restricted myself to using the Bible alone in the audio series, I could have cited any of Jews for Jesus’ quotes to further strengthen my teachings in my presentation on Sin and Atonement.
Let’s examine this profound statement of this great Amorah21 Resh Lakish.
“Great is repentance, which converts intentional sins into unintentional ones.”22
(Talmud Yoma 86b)
What is the meaning of this profound statement? Why is repentance great? Because it transforms an intentional sin into an unintentional sin. Does this mean that intentional sins are greater or weaker than unintentional sins? Obviously, if unintentional sins were more grievous, this statement would make little sense. Clearly, this statement by Resh Lakish is telling us that a sin committed intentionally is far more grave than a transgression committed unwittingly.
Despite the clear provisions of the Jewish Scriptures that heartfelt repentance, charity, as well as blood sacrifice atone for sin, Jews for Jesus continues to insist that sin can only be forgiven through the sacrificial shedding of blood.
Moreover, we have shown that Ezekiel, speaking in the name of God, condemns the notion of human vicarious atonement. He therefore encourages his nation to turn to God through repentance alone for a complete atonement. Through this bloodless atonement, he promises, all sin would be forgotten. Throughout his sermon on atonement, Ezekiel never mentions the sacrificial system. The prophet only assures the Jewish people that the Almighty does not wish to punish the wicked, but rather “that they turn from their ways, so they might live.”23
Furthermore, the prophet Hosea predicted that the children of Israel would spend their bitter exile without the sacrificial system,24 and encourages his beloved nation to fill their lips with confession of penitence for their atonement so that the lips of the sinner would become as bulls of the sin offerings.25
In conclusion, every source cited by Jews for Jesus is taken completely out of context and does nothing to support the Christian doctrines they desperately seek to sustain. In essence, their arguments are filled with white noise, and therefore fail to satisfy the reasoned mind. It is therefore no surprise that not one of the individuals quoted by Jews for Jesus has ever spent a moment of their Jewish lives believing in Jesus.
CASE IS REALLY CLOSED
Hebrews 9:22 ↩
Romans 3:9-18; Ephesians 4:18; I Corinthians 2:14 ↩
Hebrews 9:22 ↩
Chapter III ↩
Leviticus 4:1-35 ↩
Deuteronomy 4:26-31; I Kings 8:46-50; Isaiah 55:6-9; Jeremiah 7:3-23; Ezekiel 18:1-23; Hosea 6:6; 14:2-3; Micah 6:6; Psalm 40:7-9 (6-8); 51:16-19; ↩
Proverbs 10:2; 11:4; 16:6; Daniel 4:24; II Chronicles 6:36-39 ↩
This biblical principle is laid out in Leviticus 4:1-35 and Numbers 15:27-31. As will be discussed below, there is a unique case when the Torah tells us that, under certain circumstances, an individual who sinned intentionally is accorded the benefit of the unintentional sinner’s ritual blood expiation with an Asham (guilt) offering. ↩
The Torah therefore commands us in Leviticus 17:13 – only three verses later – that when the animal is slaughtered, the blood must be poured on to the floor and covered with earth, rendering it useless. See also Deuteronomy 12:16, “You shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it on the earth like water.” ↩
I Samuel 15:22; Micah 6:6-8; Psalms 40:7 (6); Hosea 6:6, 14:2-3; Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 16:6; Proverbs 21:3 ↩
Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 4:35; 6:14; 32:39; Hosea 13:4 ↩
Exodus 32:33; Ezekiel 18:1-23 ↩
Hebrews 10:4 claims that the animal sacrificial system had no lasting value. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins,” the epistle insists. This was a necessary assertion for the author of Hebrews because if the animal sacrifices really worked, why was Jesus’ death necessary? It should have been sufficient to keep bringing animal offerings. ↩
Hebrews 10:1 ↩
Jeremiah 33:17-18; Zachariah 14:21; Ezekiel 43:22, 44:27-31, 45:4, 17-25.
Missionaries frequently seek to sidestep this glaring problem by claiming that the reason animal sacrifices will return is to somehow point back to Jesus. This response, however, is completely contrived, and is opposed by the New Testament, because it thoroughly contradicts the above statements in Romans 6:10, Hebrews 9:12, 10:10, and 10:18.
Moreover, the prophet Ezekiel explicitly explains why the sin sacrifice will be restored in the messianic age, and it has nothing to do with pointing back to any crucified savior. In Ezekiel 45:20-22, the prophet states that the sin sacrifice will be offered by the messiah (“the prince”) on behalf of himself and the people for unintentional transgressions, not as a memorial of the past. ↩
This verse appears as Numbers 16:46 in a Christian Bible ↩
A Baraisa is a statement made by a Tanna which was not included by Rabbi Yehudah Ha’nasi (Approximately 200 C.E.) in the Mishnah. ↩
Deuteronomy 4:26-31; I Samuel 15:22; I Kings 8:46-50; Isaiah 55:6-9; Jeremiah 7:3-23; Ezekiel 18:1-23; Hosea 6:6; 14:2-3; Micah 6:6; Psalm 40:7-9 (6-8 in A Christian Bible); 51:16-19; Proverbs 10:2; 11:4; 16:6. ↩
The term Amora refers to those sages that were contributors to the Talmud. Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish, or Resh Lakish as he was better known, lived in the land of Israel during the third century C.E. ↩
Yoma 86b discusses the greatness and efficacy of repentance. Resh Lakish states that for those who repent out of fear, “Great is repentance, which converts intentional sins into unintentional ones.” For those who repent out of love, “Great is repentance which converts intentional sins into merits.” ↩
Ezekiel 18:1-23 ↩
Hosea 3:4-5 ↩
Hosea 14:2-3 ↩