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Blood Is Not An Atonement For Sin

Repentance, not blood

It is an important teaching and a vital principle of the Israelite prophets, that no amount of sacrifice will forgive sin or make expiation for an unrepentant heart. If a person was not sorry for what they had done, and made no effort to repent, then even if all the blood of all the sin offerings was poured out onto the altar from now until eternity, then that unrepentant person would still never be forgiven.

In my experience, no amount of definitive, logical or rational proof can convince someone otherwise, who believes that black is white and white is black; if someone wants to continue to believe that their god invented a rule, whereby their god is only capable or willing to forgive sin if blood is shed, then they will continue to believe it.

Expiation, not ‘Atonement’, and the mechanics of Expiation

The English word ‘atonement’ (from the notion of ‘at-one-ment’ – that is, being made at one with God again) is specifically a Paullist Christian word, and should be avoided when talking in an Israelite / Jewish context. Paul believed that human beings are separated from God through sin, and we can only be forgiven and reconciled to God (‘made one with God’) through the blood and death of ‘Jesus Christ’.

This is completely different from Jewish and Israelite theology. We prefer the term ‘expiation’ to ‘atonement’, since it means something entirely different. While Paullist Christian ‘atonement’ is about being reconciled and made one with God, expiation is all about being cleansed, purified, healed, restored, made whole and made into a new being by God.

Jewish theology (post-Exile) on this matter is also quite different from the original Israelite theology (pre-Exile). Jewish theology focuses solely on repentance – that both forgiveness and expiation are achieved through repentance, prayer and good works.

Pre-Exile Israelite theology is different. Once you grasp it, you’ll understand all the symbolism in the rituals described in Torah. Before I explain, I have to make you aware of a particular Israelite concept: in the Israelite way of thinking, both physical illness and moral sin make you sick – physical illness causes the body to deteriorate, and moral sin causes the soul to become sick and injured; the soul is diminished.

If we don’t repent of our sin before approaching God for forgiveness, the fire of God’s Glory and God’s Holiness will do more damage – this is the theology underlying the reason why Israelites could not approach the altar in a state of ritual unfitness, and why they believed it was dangerous to do so; the fire of the altar symbolises the fire of God’s cleansing Glory, and approaching God’s Holiness while still unrepentant will hurt us spiritually.

The person who perpetually draws near to God’s Presence, while all the while denying their wrongdoing with head held high, will suffer real harm by doing so. Such a person becomes a cold and uncompassionate individual. The practice of their religion is harsh and cold, they have no humility of spirit, and the fount of their empathy within them dries up and becomes as barren as iron. You have probably met this type of religious person.

Repentance brings about immediate forgiveness, and then we can safely draw near to God’s Holiness for purification (forgiveness and expiation are two separate parts of the process). This is the background to all the times in the Hebrew Bible when it talks about ‘drawing near’ or approaching God.

Here’s where Israelite theology differs from modern rabbinic Jewish theology – this is the part that modern Judaism is mostly unaware of. Even though we have repented, and have been forgiven, the emotional and spiritual damage that sin has done to our souls still needs to be healed. In order to be healed, we draw near to the Holiness of God and the fire of God’s Glory (that is, the fire of God’s Divine Radiance); that is what heals us and renews us. It is the fire of God’s Glory which brings about the expiation; we are cleansed, purified, healed, restored, made whole and made into a new being by the fire of God’s Glory.

This is the imagery behind biblical references to being cleansed by fire, such as Zech 13:9 – “And I will put this third into the fire, refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My Name, and I will answer them. I will say, “They are my people”; and they will say, “YHVH is our God.”

The incredible and enormous power of God’s Glory is the thing that Habakkuk prophesied that one day, the whole world would come to know about: “the earth will be filled with the KNOWLEDGE of the Glory of YHVH, just as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14). In the Hebrew Bible, whenever it speaks of ‘the Glory of YHVH’, it is not speaking of God’s splendour; instead, it is speaking of the purifying fire of God’s Divine Radiance; that is what ‘Glory’ means in a Hebrew context when talking about God.

The fire of God’s Glory is the central core belief of pre-Exile Israelite expiation-theology. It is not blood that cleanses us, it is the fire of God’s Glory that cleanses us and makes us into new beings. This is our robust response to the Christian belief that only by the death of ‘Christ’ can our sins be forgiven.

Examples where blood is not required for expiation

There are a number of examples where blood is not required for expiation. The best example is on the Day of the Expiations (Yom ha-Kippurim), the holiest day of the Israelite year itself, when two goats were selected. All the sins of Israel were placed on one of the goats, which we call the scapegoat. In Torah, we are told to send this goat out ALIVE into the wilderness. The Oral Law insisted that someone be sent out with it to kill it, in order to ensure that it did not come back, but the essential thing was, it was to be sent out alive (Lev 16:21-22).

The second instance is of the concession to poor people with regard to the sin-offering. If they could not even afford a dove for the sin offering, then they were allowed to simply offer a measure of coarse flour (Lev 5:13). If blood were needed to make expiation for sin, then poor people would never have their sins forgiven!

And there are other examples:

  • The half-shekel offering made expiation for the souls of the Israelites (Ex 30:11-16);
  • Aaron’s incense made expiation for the people, and halted the plague (Numbers 17:11-13);
  • The practice of merciful loving-kindness makes expiation for sins (Proverbs 16:6);
  • Obedience to YHVH’s teaching is preferable to sacrifices (1Sam 15:22);
  • Prayer is an acceptable substitute for the blood sacrifice (Hos 14:3).

I have seen websites devoted to refuting these verses, but they all rely on assuming that those who are reading their arguments are already Christians, are devoted followers of Paul’s corrupted pagan theology, know no Hebrew, and know nothing of Hebrew culture.

Why shed blood in a sin-offering at all?

If blood is not needed for sin to be forgiven, then why shed the blood of animals at all?

When Moses came down from Mt Horeb, he saw how the Israelites were worshipping the golden figure of an Apis Bull – an Egyptian god. He saw how they still understood religion and God in the way that pagan religions understand their gods, who needed blood sacrifices in worship. Abolishing sacrifices was not going to stop the Israelites from offering them – they would simply abandon YHVH and turn to other gods. So, as a concession to their human weakness, God allowed blood sacrifice, but under the condition that they would only be offered to YHVH (e.g. Lev 17:7).

In time, Israel would be weaned off blood sacrifice, in the meantime, YHVH only tolerated blood sacrifice under sufferance:

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? says YHVH: I am fed up of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fattened beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. . . . . They have become a burden to Me, I cannot endure them.” (Isa 1:11, 14b).

What does YHVH require to forgive sin?

If YHVH Himself is sick of the blood of sin-offerings, what does God require instead? Well, the answer is given to us, if only people would read whole passages instead of selectively picking out stuff that suits their argument:

“Wash yourselves clean by putting away your evil things from My sight. Cease to do evil; learn to do good; devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged; uphold the rights of the orphan, and defend the cause of the widow . . . . then even though your sins be like crimson, they can turn snow white; be they red as dyed wool, they can become like a new fleece.” (Isa 1:16-18)

“If I shut up the heavens and there is no rain; if I command the locusts to ravage the land; or if I let loose pestilence against My people, then when My people, who bear My Name, humble themselves, pray, and seek My favour and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear in My heavenly abode and forgive their sins and heal their land.” (2Chronicles 7:13-1).

“It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.” (Jeremiah 36:3)

and most unequivocal of all,

“By mercy and truth iniquity is purged…” (Proverbs 16:6)

The Hebrew scriptures teach that if a person has sinned, then what is acceptable to YHVH is repentance – turning from one’s sinful ways and returning to YHVH’ ways. Repentance of the heart was the way to obtain forgiveness. Nowhere in these passages is there any prerequisite either for blood to spilled, or for any pagan god-man to be sacrificed.

Even the prophet Yeshua` taught the human responsibilities for salvation,  and said that on judgment day the righteous are separated from the wicked, on the basis of who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, etc. (Matt 25:31-46), and not on the basis of who believed in the pagan Christ-god and who didn’t.

The prophet Yeshua` taught that sacrifice was not constructive (Matt 9:13, 12:7), and effort was made throughout the Hebrew Bible to replace the pagan blood ritual of sacrifice with morality: Isaiah 1:11, Jer 7:22, Hosea 6:6, Psalms 40:7, 50:8-15.

Misunderstanding blood sacrifice

Christians will use the passage that shows how God was pleased with the blood sacrifice of Abel, but displeased with the grain sacrifice of Cain. However, God was displeased with the grain sacrifice simply because it was half-hearted; God was pleased with the blood-sacrifice because it was taken from the best of the flock, but the grain offering was taken only from what Cain could spare.

Christians will also use Lev 17:10-11 as proof that the purpose of blood is for ‘atonement’:

“And if anyone of the house of Israel, or of the foreigners resident among them consumes any blood, I will set my face against that person who partakes of the blood, and I will cut him off from amongst his kin. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it to you for making expiation for your lives upon the altar; it is the blood which effects expiation for one’s life.”

What is immediately obvious is that these verses are concerned first and foremost with the prohibition against consuming blood. The subject of expiation here is secondary. We are told that the reason for this prohibition is that the blood contains the life of the animal. Another reason, is that consuming blood was a very important part of the idolatrous pagan practices of the people surrounding Israel. Israel was clearly instructed by YHVH through Moses not to imitate this abhorrent pagan practice – not to be like the other nations or religions. The verses imply that, since blood symbolises the very life of the animal, it may be used as one way of making expiation for our lives.

However, Christianity forces the belief that only blood can make expiation for sin. Now, there was no Temple between 586 BCE, and when the Jews returned and Zerubbavel rebuilt the Temple in 516 BCE. No blood sacrifices were offered to make expiation for sin during that period of 70 years. Does that mean that the Israelites could not be forgiven of their sins during that period? The firm answer is NO; YHVH is not weak or incapable, unlike pagan god-men who are so weak and impotent that they can only forgive sin if blood is shed. There is no pagan god like YHVH, the one, true, living God of Israel. The prophets taught us that prayer and faithfulness to God’s ways made expiation for sin, and that God forgave the truly penitent.

A pagan god-man’s blood sacrifice is not acceptable under YHVH’s laws

Notice the instructions set forth in the Torah concerning sacrifices:

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make expiation upon the altar for your souls…” (Lev. 17:11)

Only blood spilled on the altar is acceptable, and the blood of the pagan Christ-god was not spilled anywhere on the altar in the Temple.

According to the Hebrew Bible, blood sacrifices held only limited expiation capabilities. Foremost among its limitations was that blood sacrifices were only brought for unintentional sins. If a person committed some sin out of ignorance, then expiation could be made through a sacrificial sin offering. Sacrifices did not effect expiation for sins that were done intentionally (Leviticus 4:1-7); only repentance could make expiation for such sins. Most Christians don’t know this.

There are many other factors that would render the crucifixion of ‘J-s-s’ an unacceptable sacrifice according to Hebrew Scripture. According to the Biblical rules in the whole of Leviticus, all sacrifices had to be offered by a Levite Priest, i.e. a direct male descendant of Aaron (if you are ‘supposedly’ a direct male descendent of David – a Judahite – you cannot at the same time be a direct male descendent of Levi). According to the NT accounts, ‘J-s-s’ was killed by pagan, Gentile Roman soldiers.

Only a kosher animal could be used as a sin-offering; last time I checked, neither human beings nor God can be classified as kosher.

Biblical law also prohibited any sacrifice that was blemished or maimed: (Leviticus 22:19-21). The NT clearly states that ‘J-s-s’ was beaten and whipped, which would have made him blemished and maimed, and therefore an unfit sacrifice.

When confronted with the clear Biblical instructions on how acceptable sacrifices were to be offered, however, Christians will complain that this is just unnecessary, legalistic nit-picking. But this is the pot calling the kettle black. Paul’s Believers nit-pick when it suits them; if anyone else does it, it is dismissed as legalistic.

One person cannot pay for another person’s sins

In any case, the death of one man cannot pay for the sins of many (Deut 24:16, Jer 31:30, and most of all, Ezek 18:20). Even Ps 49:8 (Christian bibles 49:7) says,

“No man can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him.”

In addition, the pagan Christ-god is supposedly portrayed as a Passover sacrifice for the remission of sins; this shows Christian ignorance of what the Passover was actually for – not a sin offering, but a remembrance of the Exodus, a sacrifice which was supposed to ward off the plague (of the death of the firstborn).

The Christian claim that only through bloodshed can ‘atonement’ be made, shows that Christians are unfamiliar with how wondrously compassionate and merciful YHVH our God really is. Sometimes, YHVH forgives us for no other reason that God loves us – simply because God is infinitely kind, loving, compassionate and merciful. Even when we don’t seek our Heavenly Father in quite the right way, YHVH always knows the true intentions of our hearts, and has the ability to reach out to us with abiding love and forgive us:

“Who is the [pagan] god like you, who is able to pardon sin, and remit transgression; God has not maintained God’s anger for ever, because God delights in mercy.” (Micah 7:18)

Finally: There is no God like YHVH!

To emphasise that false pagan gods, and YHVH the true God, forgive sin in two completely different ways, I want to end with a parable:

“There were two moneylenders, a Roman moneylender, and a Jewish moneylender. Now, the Roman moneylender was the most notorious throughout all the Mediterranean. One day, one of his debtors came to him and said, ‘The debt that I owe you can never be paid off in my lifetime; I beg of you, please have pity on me.’

So the Roman moneylender said to him, ‘I will forgive your debt, even though you are unworthy and don’t deserve it, but only if the debt is paid in blood, and the price exacted in someone’s death.’

The debtor was incredulous, but the Roman moneylender said further, ‘Yes, and I am sending my henchman to make sure that you wash yourself in that person’s blood. That’s the only way I am able to forgive your debt – my rules; I am after all the son of an Empire built on blood and death.’

Now that same day, a debtor came to see the Jewish moneylender. In great distress he said, ‘The debt that I owe you can never be paid off in my lifetime. Please, I beg of you, help me – I don’t know what to do.’

Seeing the depth of his anguish, and the gravity of his need, the Jewish moneylender had great pity on him, so he took the bill of debt, and tore it up.

Surprised, the debtor said, ‘But what about my debt?’

The moneylender replied, ‘I will remember your debt no more. Now go; your debts are forgiven.’

There is no God like YHVH!”