#174. Sin can only be atoned through sacrifice OR not? (Lev 4-5; Num 15 vs Deut 4, 17, 23-24, 28; Gal 2-4; Rom 4-7)


There are significant differences, indeed contradictions, between the views and precepts of the Aaronid-led priestly guild who wrote the book of Leviticus and the Levite-led scribes who wrote the book of Deuteronomy. These are large sweeping theological differences that existed between ancient Israel’s rival priestly schools (see also #30, #151, #152, #153-154).

The Priestly literature is centered around its most important cultic and theological institution: the Tabernacle. The sacrificial cult was the center of priestly ideology and the Aaronid priests functioned as sole mediators, via the sacrificial cult, between the people and Yahweh. Accordingly, any transgression, the inadvertent contact with the impure/unclean, had to be atoned/expiated via sacrifice—as outlined in Leviticus 4-5. That is to say, sacrifice was the only means to atone for sin. There was no room for contrition or forgiveness in the priestly theology. This is not only contradicted by Deuteronomy, but the whole New Testament as well.

The sacrificial cult is completely absent in the book of Deuteronomy. Rather, Deuteronomy’s communal ideology is secular in nature, not composed of sacred space and time as is the case for the Aaronid priestly guild. As such, there is a conscious absence of sacrifice and sacrificial language in the book of Deuteronomy. In most cases, transgressions result in death or the loss of land, i.e., exile (Deut 4, 28). This is in fact a retrojective theology—a theological interpretation of the loss of land (Israel in 722 BC or Judah in 587 BC) after the fact. Other cases speak of atonement through a simple act of verbally declaring one’s innocence and washing one’s hands (Deut 21:1-9). Death, however, is often the immediate punishment of many transgressions (Deut 23-24). And of course there is the notorious flogging of the sinner (Deut 25:1-3). But the Deuteronomist does not advocate atoning sins via sacrifices!

Obviously the same is true when we get into the religion of the New Testament, where repentance and forgiveness are often seen as the appropriate form of atoning for a sin. But even in the Priestly literature where repentance, or the acknowledgement of one’s guilt is spoken of (e.g., Lev 4), it is nevertheless the ritual dashing of the blood on the altar that actually, and only, atones for the sin. The atonement and expiation of sin, or the impure/unclean, cannot happen without sacrificial blood is the Priestly writer’s adamant and inflexible theological position.

In this respect, Paul shares much in common with the sacrificial theology of the Priestly writer. Paul argues in Romans and Galatians that it is the blood of Christ, as a sacrificial offering, that actually atones for the sins of those who have accepted faith in Christ. There is actually much in common between Paul’s Christology and the Priestly writer’s sacrificial theology of atonement. I hope to explore more of this at a later date. One thing worth noting here, however, is that whereas only inadvertent sins, sins made by mistake, can be atoned in the Priestly sacrificial cult, all sins are atoned in Paul’s Christology.

One thought on “#174. Sin can only be atoned through sacrifice OR not? (Lev 4-5; Num 15 vs Deut 4, 17, 23-24, 28; Gal 2-4; Rom 4-7)

  1. God told me there was no atonement. That Jesus death and blood buy us nothing. That unless we overcome all things even as Christ overcame all things we dont get to go where Jesus is.
    I wrestled with this for a long time and set to investigate. After thorough investigation I had to admit that much of Christianity acts like a cult worshipping Jesus death and many ignore his more pertinent teachings and expectations.
    (and I am still a Christ follower, but Christianity has yet to complete its full and necessary reformation in my view.)

    Please keep up your work. Those who have gone no further than zealous belief in the Bible as the infallible word of God need to be shown, (they are young, they are many, they don’t know how to seek truth, they love their comfort zone, and they are self righteous, holding their blind zeal as a virtue) and only the sort of work that you are doing will help show them the Bibles more correct place in our lives and walk of faith.
    Many Thanks, I will use your site as a reference and study guide.

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