Issue: Is the shedding of blood the only way to atone for sins?
Here is an argument I recently heard:
“Hashem [a title for God] knows what is on our hearts and that is all that matters. We ask for forgiveness and it is there.”
That’s a wonderful thought but it is contrary to Scripture. We’ll take a look at what the Tanakh and the Talmud have to say on the subject. But first, back to the question. According to Hebrew Scripture, how exactly are one’s sins forgiven?
Since there’s no longer a temple, today’s rabbis say that the blood atonement is no longer necessary for the forgiveness of sin. They say that doing good deeds and the giving of tzedakah (charity) will get you into heaven. The argument I referenced earlier goes a step further and says that simply asking God for forgiveness is sufficient. Here’s what the Talmud, Zevahim 6a says about Vayikra (Leviticus 17:11): “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.’” That’s pretty cut and dry.
Another argument that actually seems to have some scriptural backing for the absence of blood sacrifice is that atonement can be received by a flour offering. Leviticus 5:11 says, “But if he is not able to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he who sinned shall bring for his offering one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering.” This argument is addressed by simply reading the next two verses. “Then he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take his handful of it as a memorial portion, and burn it on the altar according to the offerings made by fire to the Lord. It is a sin offering.” The flour was only effective when added to the top of the blood offering of the community.
That brings us to Yom Kippur. The idea of Yom Kippur in the Scriptures comes from Leviticus 23. “…and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord.” The climax of Yom Kippur was the Azazel or the scapegoat. Oh man, I get excited about the scapegoat. Maybe I’ll write further about the scapegoat later this week. Anyways, two goats would be brought before the high priest, lots were drawn, one goat would be sacrificed as an offering before the Lord, and the other would be released after the high priest symbolically transferred the sins of the nation onto the living goat by the laying on of his hands. That’s where we get the term “scapegoat” since this literal innocent goat was blamed for and punished for the sins of the people. The goat would then be sent into the wilderness to die.
Therein lies the problem. There’s no longer a temple and thus no blood sacrifice. Is tzedakah (charity) and mitzvoth (good deeds) enough to abolish the requirement of the blood sacrifice? Or, as my friend recently argued, is simply asking for forgiveness from one’s heart enough to atone for sin? The Jews around the world hope so but how can they be sure? There’s absolutely no reason to think that God changed his requirement since there’s no scriptural backing for such a conclusion. Isn’t there a lot riding on the assumption/hope that God will forgive sins without the blood sacrifices that he so carefully and articulately ordained?
Let’s get back to basics for a moment. Ezekiel 18:4 says “The soul who sins shall die.” Again, very straightforward. The bottom line that we would all agree with is that the barrier between God and I is sin and only God can take away that sin. How can this be done today? Many Jewish people argue that we should be more concerned about ethics and doing what is right rather than ancient tradition and ritual. Tell me though, when did God change the idea from Leviticus that there must be an “exchange of life?”
He didn’t. Malachi 3:6 says “For I the Lord, I change not.”
So what then? Has God left all of mankind without a way to have sin atoned for ever since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD? No, God has provided. Remember the story of Abraham and Isaac? God told Abraham to offer Isaac up as a sacrifice but then stopped Abraham’s hand at the last minute. God provided a ram as a substitutionary sacrifice. That story speaks prophetically of the day in which God would provide Himself as the sacrifice for the world. Messiah became the scapegoat and thus provides atonement for all who will believe. It is through His substitutionary blood sacrifice that the “exchange of life” takes place and sin is atoned for according to original Hebrew scripture. Yes, Jesus fulfilled Yom Kippur perfectly. Let me leave you with a passage from the book of Hebrews. Read it slowly and think it through..
“Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” Heb 9:11-15