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How are sins forgiven without blood sacrifice?

A question received: The shedding of blood for atonement for sin, the transgressing of G-d’s commandments, runs throughout the Hebrew Bible. How do you respond to this?

Answer: The premise of your question is actually incorrect. It also points to an on-going fabrication about the Jewish service of sacrifices to G-d in the Holy Temple. The claim that it brought them forgiveness for willful sins is false. That is a distortion of the true meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The different categories of Temple sacrifices:

First of all, blood sacrifices of kosher livestock (only) are commanded by G-d exclusively for the Jewish people. That commandment applies only when the Jewish Holy Temple is built and functioning in its assigned place in Jerusalem. During times when the Holy Temple is temporarily destroyed, the Jewish service of the blood sacrifices is temporarily suspended. Prayer takes their place, as instructed to the Jews by G-d. See Hoshea 14:3 – “We will render the prayer of our lips in place of the sacrifice of bulls.”

Leviticus chapters 1-3 have nothing to do with “sin” or “guilt” offering sacrifices. Those chapters only speak about “burnt” offering sacrifices, which are brought as worship offerings to G-d. That happens to be the only category of sacrifices that G-d accepts from Non-Jews as a form of worship. For them as well, it has nothing to do with sins or forgiveness. See Genesis 8:20, that Noah (a righteous Non-Jew) sacrificed kosher animals in worship to G-d. He was a righteous man who had no sins, as testified by the Hebrew Scriptures in Genesis 6:9.

Leviticus chapter 4 speaks about the hatas, or so-called “sin” offering sacrifice as it is translated in English. But the Hebrew term hatas means only an *unintentional* (accidental) sin (see Leviticus 4:2). For this, a Jew is not liable to punishment from G-d or a Jewish court, because it happened accidentally!

The categories of “guilt” offering sacrifices are also almost exclusively for *unintentional* (accidental) sins (Lev. ch. 5). Those offerings apply if a Jew doesn’t know if he sinned accidentally, but he became aware that maybe he did. For these also, the Jewish person is not liable to any punishment from a Jewish court or from G-d.

Only one exception

There is one type of “guilt offering” sacrifice that applies for 3 very specific sins if done deliberately by a Jew. They serve as a financial penalty, and not for procuring forgiveness. (Forgiveness comes through personal repentance and making financial restitution.) These are the following. which are all stated explicitly in the Hebrew Scriptures:

(1) If a Jew committed open robbery, and then took a false oath of denial before the judges of a Jewish court. (Lev. 5:21-26; the guilt offering is the penalty for making the false oath.)

(2) A Jew made personal use of an item that had been dedicated to the Holy Temple, to be used for a holy purpose. (Lev. 5:15-16.)

(3) A Jewish man raped or seduced a betrothed half-free Canaanite slave-girl.

What is it that brings G-d’s forgiveness if a person deliberately sins?

Liability to punishment by G-d only applies for deliberate sins (or in some cases, sins due to culpable negligence). Other than the three sins mentioned above, there are no sacrifices prescribed to obtain G-d’s forgiveness for deliberate sins. What is required is personal sincere prayers of confession and repentance to the One G-d alone, and restitution if another person was harmed. Then, G-d forgives. See Numbers 5:6, where there is no mention of a need for blood sacrifice, because it only talks about deliberate sins, for which a person is liable for punishment by G-d.

Please study Psalm 51, which is King David’s prayer of confession and repentance for a deliberate error, for which G-d does not specify nor want any blood sacrifices. Rather, G-d only looks for the sinner’s personal repentance (see Psalms 51:18,19).

What the Hebrew Scriptures teach is the true meaning of the word “atonement” in connection with the hatas offering after an accidental sin, which is something different than repentance. Rather, it means (as it sounds):

“At – One – Ment” = coming back to being united with G-d.

The fact that a Jewish person sinned accidentally (which doesn’t incur any liability to punishment from G-d) means that he had let himself get distracted or forgetful of his personal bond with the One G-d. The purpose of the hatas sacrifice in the Temple was to serve as a gift to G-d, to re-establish that personal bond that was interrupted by the person’s distraction or forgetfulness. Again, in the absence of the Holy Temple, an interruption of the required constant mental bond between a Jew and G-d (to the extent that the Jew could accidentally sin) is re-established by prayer. The “atonement” gift to G-d is accomplished by giving donations of proper charity from one’s income.

How the soul of one who sinned gets to Heaven through repentance:

Question: How does the Holy G-d allow a sinner into Heaven, without atoning for it with blood?

Answer: For a soul to be be admitted into Heaven after life on earth, the deliberate sinner must repent before he dies, because personal repentance is what brings G-d to remove the deliberate sin from the person’s soul (see Psalm 51).

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, there is a three-step formula for “repentance” (in Hebrew, “teshuva” = “return” to G-d by returning to the proper path). Quoting from “Mishneh Torah” by Maimonides, where he summarizes this commandment:

What is repentance? It is when the sinner abandons his sin, removing it from his thoughts [i.e. he will from now on push out from his mind any impulse to repeat the sin], and is completely resolved not to do it again.
Consequently he regrets what happened in the past [i.e. what he sinfully thought, said or did] and accepts G-d, the Knower of secrets, as his witness that he will endeavor to never return to such a sin again. And he needs to confess verbally and state the resolutions that he made in his heart.”

Alternatively, a person may be judged by G-d to be deserving of reward but also deserving of punishment. (Of course G-d takes all the factors of the person’s life into account.) If the person died with some unrepentant deliberate sins still attached, G-d can send the soul into Gehinom (the Purgatory) for a period of time to cleanse those sins from the soul, so it can then enter into the Heavenly realm to receive its reward.

All of this as it pertains to Gentiles is explained in the book Seven Gates of Righteous Knowledge.