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Sin, Sacrifice and Forgiveness: Judaism vs. Evangelicalism

by Dr. Eitan Bar
2 minutes read

Forgiveness of sins and sacrifices are core in all major religions. In Judaism, God’s forgiveness never depended on the act of killing an animal. The God of the living does not take pleasure in death (Ezekiel 33:11) because death is the very opposite of what God is: life. Instead, the sacrifices symbolized generosity, dedication, celebration, peace, forgiveness, etc.

So in Judaism, the forgiveness of sins is not about an animal’s death, as it is about its blood. Why blood? Because “life is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). For Israel, the sacrificial blood, especially that of the Sin Offering, was like a spiritual detergent or sanitizer; it could sanctify and cleanse the sins of Israel.

According to Leviticus, the ritual involved the priest sprinkling the animal’s blood on the altar to purify it symbolically. The blood was also used to purify and consecrate various artifacts associated with the Tabernacle.

In contrast to the view held by fundamentalist-evangelical Christianity, Judaism doesn’t perceive sacrifices as suffering and receiving punishment to appease God’s wrath on our behalf. In fact, the sacrifices were not killed by God but by the priests, and the death was required to be quick and painless (Leviticus 1:15; 3:8; 5:8). In Judaism, it isn’t even about the death of the sacrifice, but rather about its blood, which held the spiritual power to purify and cleanse Israel from sin.

The Hebrew term HATA’AT, often rendered as “Sin Offering” in English, can create confusion for English speakers due to its similarity to the word ‘HET,’ which translates as “sin.” However, HATA’AT derives from the word ‘HITE,’ which means “to disinfect, cleanse, purify, or sterilize.”[1] Consequently, in various English translations of the Bible, HATA’AT has been interpreted in two different ways. Sometimes it appears as a “Purification Offering,” and at other times as a “Sin Offering.”[2]

But Hebrew scholars[3] will point to the fact that the contextual usage and primary application of this offering in the Law strongly indicate a purification process, as it was utilized to cleanse and purify the altar, the sanctuary, and the various instruments. Blood was regarded as a cleansing agent, akin to a sanitizer or detergent. This explains why the blood of the HATA’AT was sprinkled inside the tent and on the artifacts. This act could be likened to sanitizing an operating room and surgical instruments in a hospital or purifying wounds on the body to prevent infection and promote healing. Similarly, the blood of the HATA’AT served as a purifying agent, cleansing the spiritual contamination incurred by Israel. It had nothing to do with absorbing God’s wrath and punishment, as believed by most fundamentalist evangelicals.[4]

This article was written based on my new book: “Why Don’t Jews Believe in Jesus.

[1] For an in-depth explanation, see chapter 3, “Sacrifices,” in part I of my book: ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse.’

[2] For example, the NAB translation translated HATA’AT in Leviticus 4:3 as a “Purification Offering,” while the NIV translated it as a “Sin Offering.” However, the NIV added the following footnote: “Or Purification Offering; here and throughout this chapter.”

[3] Such as: Jonathan Grossman, Jacob Milgrom, Yehezkel Kaufmann, Saadia Gaon, Samuel David Luzzatto, and more.

[4] Based on their interpretation of John Calvin’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement model, the reformed view of Christ’s atonement.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist