Sin Requires a Sacrifice

With ancient Jews under the Mosaic Law, Christianity sees the biblical need to atone for sins. Sacrifices must be accompanied by genuine repentance. In Temple days, sacrifices were a normal part of Jewish practice. Christians see the final sacrifice to have been accomplished through Jesus the Messiah.

Modern Jews believe that on Rosh Hashonah the book of life is opened, and on Yom Kippur, our fate is sealed. If that fate is deemed by God to be for hardship and sorrow, Jews hope to change God’s mind through fasting and praying. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the Bible requires more. An atonement is mandatory. Consider this interesting definition of atonement.

the means by which the guilt-punishment chain produced by violation of God’s will is broken, as well as the resulting state of reconciliation (“at-onement”) with God. For most ancients, violation of the world order led to punishment by divine powers; only atonement could prevent or end such punishment. . . .

. . . The ot (Hebrew Bible) viewed a number of offerings and sacrifices as atoning. The best known were the elaborate sacrificial/priestly rites of atonement developed mainly in the postexilic period. . . . . . . The rites of atonement were carried out by the high priest through prescribed sacrifices in the Temple. . . . . . For early Judaism, the atonement base was broadened to include the sacrifice of martyrs whose achievements were calculated and deemed meritorious for others[23]


A Jewish Martyr For Sins?

It might be of interest to some of my readers to evaluate an ancient Jewish work attributed to that period of history known as the intertestamental era. This term describes the formative time in Jewish history between the writing of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Judaism was enduring tremendous religious and political struggles. Christianity had not yet blossomed from the root of Judaism. These texts are admittedly not canonical, yet the deep truth, abiding wisdom, and faith-building testimonies enveloped in the ancient apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings of pre-Christian Judaism are invaluable. One scholar concludes:

It is not too much to say that no modern can intelligently understand the New Testament, unless he is acquainted with the so-called “Apocrypha,” and with the “Pseudepigrapha” as well.[24]

For the purposes of this discussion, consider a text from the century before Jesus that details the testimony of Eleazar the Jew. He was tortured to death by Antiochus Epiphanes during the Syrian persecution. Eleazar was commanded to eat the flesh of swine. He refused to break the Jewish Law. At the threat of death he chose martyrdom over compromise. The text of his moral battle holds one of the most inspiring tales ever written. The conclusion reached by the ancient Jewish writer is even more astounding. Eleazar’s dying words are as follows,

Thou, O God, knowest that though I might save myself I am dying by fiery torments for thy Law. Be merciful unto thy people, and let our punishment be a satisfaction in their behalf. Make my blood their purification, and take my soul to ransom their souls (4th Macc. 3:17).[25]

Original Judaism?

The Jewish people had a very different view of atonement in antiquity than is discernible by modern Jewish practices. This is true for the era of the First Temple before the Exile. It was also true for later Judaism of the Second Temple era. Modern rabbinic Judaism does not adequately resemble the faith of our forefathers. Perhaps that is why the High Holidays are altered to the point of being unrecognizable when compared to ancient practices. This comment is not intended to downplay the beauty of modern Judaism. Rather, it questions the adequacy. Who gave the rabbis of the early Christian era the right to determine God’s standard on sin, sacrifice, and atonement?

Within both Judaism and Christianity, “tradition” and “biblical mandates” are not always synonymous. I submit that the claims by Orthodox Jews to an unbroken stream of revelation and authority from Moses through the Oral Law (Talmud) is flawed. It is no more credible than the claims of the Pope’s connection to Peter. Just as Protestants reject papal authority, throughout rabbinic history, opposing views were prevalent. Millions of Karaite Jews rejected the final authority of the Oral Law in antiquity. They believed the written Torah was sufficient and did not trust their opponents to re-interpret the written law with a new oral law. Consider one Jewish historian and thinker:

Through the power of interpretation the Jews were able to free themselves from laws of the Torah which they found difficult, unethical, harsh, or unreasonable, but they would rarely admit that they were overturning the sacred text. They would insist that they were merely interpreting it. [26]

Rabbis of the early Christian era sought and found a way to do exactly what the previous Jewish author suggested. Through interpretation, they freed “themselves from laws of the Torah which they found difficult.” When questioned, many modern Jews reject the Oral Law. They realize it does not belong in the canon of Scripture. It is wrong to reinvent the Bible. Some wisely avoid a tradition that grants each generation the right to tailor a standard to suit a situation. The Supreme Court “tailors” the law via interpretation. The Bible is higher and must remain constant. The Constitution was designed to be changed by men. The Bible was intended to change men. God does not change!

The rabbis believe that they are the bearers of a sacred tradition revealed by God to Moses, and the direct heirs of the communal leaders of the Jews throughout the generations.

The same historian called that tradition a “myth,” by which “the rabbis legitimated themselves.”[27] Many Reform and Conservative Jews would likely agree.

What Happened to the Sacrifices?

There is no doubt that my people fell into disobedience during biblical times. The Exile described in Scripture bears witness that God responded by bringing violent enemies against us. We oppressed one another, we practiced different forms of idolatry, and we refused to submit to the words of the prophets. Simply put, we failed to conform to Torah (biblical) standards. When our Temple was lost, we lost our method for obeying God’s word. We lost our ability to maintain the Levitical priesthood, the sacrificial system, and the only method to obtain forgiveness.

After the destruction of what is called the Second Temple (Herod’s), no sacrificial system existed within Judaism. The altar of the Temple and the trained Levitical priests disappeared. Christians readily identify that the prophecy of Jesus correctly foretold the Temple’s destruction by Rome. This event forever changed the face of Judaism shortly after the death of Jesus. The Christian world finds atonement in Him--their sacrificial lamb.

He was wounded because of our transgressions, He was crushed because of our iniquities . . . And the LORD has made to light on him the iniquity of us all . . . As a lamb that is led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:5a, 6b, 7b).

Modern Jews are forced to seek atonement in a new tradition without their substitutionary sin-bearer of Scripture.   As a result, an odd array of dysfunctional alternatives have crept into the tradition. Those first century Jews who failed to recognize God’s purposes in The Messiah were forced to find alternative methods for forgiveness. The rabbinic movement was left with a vacuum to fill that was devoid of the ability to fulfill prescribed Temple sacrificial services.   This dilemma called for new thinking on the part of the rabbis. Their actions were brilliant. By the third century, they were effective in gathering a consensus. Although many modern Jews resent the need of a sacrificial system, it was the system ordained by God. Nonetheless, it is ignored by modern Jews.