All You Need is Blood

September 3 2021 - 27 Elul 5781

All you need is blood... blood is all you need.

Does the Torah say that the only way to be forgiven for aveiros (sins) is to bring animal sacrifices? This is an important question for Jews because many Christians make this argument as a case for Jesus.

What may surprise some is that the Torah lays out several ways to achieve genuine atonement, and the majority of them do not require animal sacrifices. The following are a few sources in the Tanakh describing how people achieve atonement bringing animal sacrifices.

Leviticus 5:11 - But if he cannot afford two turtle doves or two young doves, then he shall bring as his sacrifice for his sin one tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering. He shall not put oil over it, nor shall he place frankincense upon it, for it is a sin offering.

Jonah 3:8-10 - And they shall cover themselves with sackcloth, both man and beast, and they shall call mightily to God, and everyone shall repent of his evil way and of the dishonest gain which is in their hands. Whoever knows shall repent, and God will relent, and He will return from His burning wrath, and we will not perish. And God saw their deeds, that they had repented of their evil way, and the Lord relented concerning the evil that He had spoken to do to them, and He did not do it.

Hosea 14:2-3 - Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take words with yourselves and return to the Lord. Say, "You shall forgive all iniquity and teach us [the] good [way], and let us render [for] bulls [the offering of] our lips.

Hebrews 9:22 - In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

One of these things is not like the other. In the ninth chapter in the book of Hebrews in the Christian Bible, Paul clearly states through two metaphors that God will only forgive you through the shedding of the blood of Jesus. Did Paul, the Pharisee, forget to do his homework that day?

The verse in Leviticus tells us that a poor person could bring "one tenth of an ephah of fine flour" as an offering to God. Lest we doubt the meaning of this flour sacrifice, the Torah goes on to tell us explicitly that "it is a sin offering." You heard that right, folks, God is saying that there are ways to atone for sin without blood.

The next verse in Job demonstrates that God forgave the sins of the city of Nineveh without even one drop of animal blood being spilled. In fact, the Torah says here that their deeds and repentance were the catalysts for their being forgiven. Interestingly enough, this can be taken as a proof that only Jews must bring sacrifices for atonement because Nineveh was a city of Gentiles.

The third verse demonstrates that God accepts prayer as a means for forgiveness in the absence of a Temple. The phrase "let us render [for] bulls [the offering of] our lips" refers to the bulls that were sacrificed in the Temple to atone for sins. This verse associates "bulls" with "lips" (prayer), indicating that prayer was to replace sacrifices in the absence of the Temple.

Interestingly enough, God spoke to the prophet Hosea while the First Temple was still standing, which means that the Jews were technically still able to bring sacrifices at that time. Hosea 14:5 then utters the beautiful words, "I will remedy their backsliding; I will love them freely, for My wrath has turned away from them." This is how we atone for our sins today.

Then we have the odd man out, Hebrews 9:22, which insists that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." I am not dying to understand (pun intended) how Paul, the Pharisee, (Acts 23:6) would have understood the three verses that I quoted above.

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