Salvation Only For Sins Of Ignorance?

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It is written:

Leviticus 16:16-So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

Many believe that the Bible only allows forgiveness of sins committed in ignorance. However, the truth of God’s Word teaches a different story altogether.

Throughout Leviticus, God speaks about sins that are forgivable and which are sometimes committed in ignorance, sometimes in weakness, and sometimes in rebellion. Consider the following lengthy quotation from Michael L. Brown.

“Before answering your objection, it’s important that I clear up some misconceptions. First, as we have noted previously, Christians and Messianic Jews do not believe for a moment that sacrifices without repentance and faith did anyone any good (see vol. 1, 1.11, and above, 3.8-3.9). Second, we do not believe that after every sin an Israelite had to go to the Temple in Jerusalem (or before that, to the Tabernacle) and offer a sacrifice. Every animal in the land fit for sacrifice would have been slaughtered within days if that were the case, and no one would have had time to do anything except offer sacrifices day and night. Normal life would completely cease if such an impossible scenario existed. Third, we do not believe that God’s people can sin freely, then repent and bring a sacrifice, then sin freely again. Rather, as we pointed out in an earlier discussion, we agree with the Talmudic statement that “he who says, I will sin and repent, I will sin and repent, repentance is not vouchsafed to him” (m. Yoma 8:9, and see above, 3.8). As the psalmist expressed it, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 66:18). Fourth, we believe that for those who continue in willful and defiant sin, there is no forgiveness (we’ll come back to this point shortly). What then was the purpose of sacrifices and offerings in Israel? We must remember that there were different kinds of sacrifices and different functions for those sacrifices in the religious life of our people. Some sacrifices, such as the burnt offerings (Hebrew, ‘olah, also known as the whole offering or holocaust), were offered up as symbols of complete dedication and devotion to the Lord.220 Other sacrifices,, such as the todah, were offered in thanksgiving to the Lord, while other sacrifices, such as the sin offering (Hebrew, hatta’t), were offered to remove ritual impurity (among other things), and still others, such as the fellowship (or peace) offerings (Hebrew, shelamirn), were offered in worshipful communion. As to differences between the sin and guilt offerings (hatta’t and ‘asham respectively), Hebrew professor George Buchanan Gray, lecturing in the 1920s, could state, “The precise distinction between the sin-offering and the guilt-or trespass-offering is not altogether clear, and has been much discussed. “121 More recently, however, R. Laird Harris, a Christian biblical scholar and Hebraist, wrote: The difference between the sin offering and the guilt offering was in the nature of the sin. The former was for what might be called general sins; the latter for sins that injured other people or detracted from the sacred worship. The guilt offering thus involved not only a sacrifice but also restitution plus a fine of 20 percent (6:5 [5:24 in the Hebrew]). The sins for which the sin offering was prescribed are called “unintentional sins” (4:2), or those done “through ignorance” (iuv). The same expression is used in connection with the guilt offering (5:15).222 Or as expressed by Baruch Levine, a leading Jewish authority on atonement and sacrifice: Chapters 4 and 5 [of Leviticus] contain the laws governing expiatory sacrifices, the purpose of which is to secure atonement and forgiveness from God. These offerings are efficacious only when offenses are inadvertent or unwitting. They do not apply to defiant acts of premeditated crimes. Whenever an individual Israelite, a tribal leader, a priest, or even the chief priest, or the Israelite community at large is guilty of an inadvertent offense or of failing to do what the law requires, expiation through sacrifices is required.22’ However, under certain circumstances, the ‘asham could atone for intentional sins. As Levine noted: The offenses outlined here [in Lev. 5:20-26, or 6:1-7 in most English translations] were quite definitely intentional! A person misappropriated property or funds entrusted to his safekeeping, or defrauded another, or failed to restore lost property he had located…. If, subsequently, the accused came forth on his own and admitted to having lied under oath-thus assuming liability for the unrecovered property-he was given the opportunity to clear himself by making restitution and by paying a fine of 20 percent to the aggrieved party. Having lied under oath, he had also offended God and was obliged to offer an ‘asham sacrifice in expiation…. God accepts the expiation even of one who swears falsely in His name because the guilty person is willing to make restitution to the victim of his crime .124 This observation alone shoots a hole in the anti-missionary teaching that only unintentional sins could be atoned for with blood sacrifices.225 “But,” you object, “that’s hardly sufficient proof. If anything, all you’ve demonstrated is that for a very small number of specifically enumerated sins, one particular sacrifice brought atonement. What about all the other sins people commit? Where does the Torah say that sacrifices provided atonement?” The Torah says so explicitly in Leviticus 16, the most important atonement chapter in all of the Pentateuch, the chapter in which the rituals for the Day of Atonement are laid out. However, before turning to Leviticus 16, let me give you an important Talmudic perspective. As noted by the Rabbinic scholar Solomon Schechter in his discussion of sacrifices and atonement, The continual offering was a communal offering, nor is there in the Bible ascribed to it any atoning power; but there is a marked tendency in Rabbinic literature to bestow on all sacrifices, even such as the burnt-offering offering and the peace-offering, some sort of atoning power for certain classes of sins, both of commission and omission, for which the Bible ascribes no sacrifice at all.22 Thus, the rabbis went beyond the Torah in ascribing atoning power for all kinds of sins to all kinds of sacrifices. Again, we see how flawed the anti-missionary position actually is, also exposing that in its zeal to counteract the claims of the New Testament, it will sometimes counteract the claims of Rabbinic Judaism too. And when we read Leviticus 16, we see that the position is not flawed in a minor way. It is fatally flawed. Look carefully at these key verses: When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat [in English, this is commonly known as the “scapegoat”]. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins-and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert. Leviticus 16:20-22 Notice carefully what the text says: The High Priest is to confess over the head of this goat “all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins”-and “all” means “all.” Notice also that the text specifically speaks of the “wickedness” (or “iniquity”; Hebrew, ‘awon) and “rebellion” (Hebrew, pesha, meaning willful transgression) of the Israelites, not merely their unintentional sins. “But what do the rabbis say about this? What is written in the Talmud?” With regard to the kinds of sins atoned for by the sacrificial goats of Yom Kippur, the Talmud is even more explicit than the biblical text. Here are two different translations of m. Shevu’ot 1:6, a well-known text in traditional Jewish law: A. And for a deliberate act of imparting uncleanness to the sanctuary and its Holy Things, a goat [whose blood is sprinkled] inside and the Day of Atonement effect atonement. B. And for all other transgressions which are in the Torah-C. the minor or serious, deliberate or inadvertent, those done knowingly or done unknowingly, violating a positive or a negative commandment, those punishable by extirpation [karet] and those punishable by death at the hands of the court, D. the goat which is sent away [Lev. 16:21 ] effects atonement.22’ And for uncleanness that occurs in the Temple and to its holy sacrifices through wantonness, [the] goat whose blood is sprinkled within [the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement] and the Day of Atonement effect atonement, and for [all] other transgressions [spoken of] in the Law, light or grace, premeditated or inadvertent, aware or unaware, transgressions of positive commands or negative commands, sin whose penalty is excision or sins punishable by death imposed by the court, the scapegoat makes atonement.”‘ As codified and explained by Maimonides almost one thousand years later (Laws of Repentance, 1:2): Since the goat sent [to Azazeil]229 atones for all of Israel, the High Priest confesses on it as the spokesman for all of Israel, as [Lev. 16:21 ] states: “He shall confess on it all the sins of the Children of Israel.” The goat sent to Azazeil atones for all the transgressions in the Torah, the severe and the lighter [sins]; those violated intentionally and those transgressed inadvertently; those which [the transgressor] became conscious of and those which he was not conscious of. All are atoned for by the goat sent [to Azazeil]. This applies only if one repents. If one does not repent, the goat only atones for the light [sins]. Which are light sins and which are severe ones? Severe sins are those which are punishable by execution by the court or by premature death [karetJ. [The violation of] the other prohibitions that are not punishable able by premature death are considered light [sins].230 Here, then, is a perfectly clear statement from the most authoritative sources of traditional Judaism that the sacrifices offered and the ceremonies performed on the Day of Atonement effected atonement for all kinds of sins, intentional and unintentional, willful and inadvertent. The only question raised by the Rabbinic sources is to what degree repentance was a necessary part of the equation, a question that all Messianic Jews would answer by saying, “Repentance plays a vital part in the equation!” (See below, 3.21.) In this context, Jacob Milgrom notes: Even the annual purification rite for the sanctuary and nation requires that the high priest confess the deliberate sins of the Israelites (Lev. 16:21), while the latter demonstrate their penitence, not by coming to the Temple-from which deliberate sinners are barred-but by fasting and other acts of self-denial (Lev. 16:29; 23:27-32; Num. 29:7). Thus, contrition for involuntary sin and confession for deliberate sin are indispensable to the atonement produced by the sacrificial system, and they differ in no way from the call to repentance formulated by the prophets.2 ‘ Returning to the Talmudic discussion, I should also point out to you what the Talmud says about the atoning power of the goat whose blood is sprinkled inside the Most Holy Place. As we read previously in m. Shevu’ot 1:6, “And for uncleanness that occurs in the Temple and to its holy sacrifices through wantonness, [the] goat whose blood is sprinkled within [the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement] and the Day of Atonement effect atonement.” The Talmud explains this with reference to Leviticus 16:15-16: He [i.e., the High Priest] shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering ing for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, ing, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. The rabbis (see b. Shevu’ot 2b; 6b-14a) comment specifically on the words rebellion (transgressions in Hebrew) and sins, explaining that “transgressions” refers to acts of rebellion-which are certainly intentional-while “sins” refers to inadvertent acts.232 And it is the goat whose blood is sprinkled in the Most Holy Place that effects atonement for the people, just as the blood of the bull offered up by the High Priest effects atonement for him (m. Shevu’ot 1:7, following Lev. 16:11, “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering.”). Notice also that it is a sin offering that effects atonement for Aaron and the people of Israel, demonstrating that it is not only the guilt offering that effects atonement for willful sins.-“‘ Let me also remind you of the prayer of Solomon offered up at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 6), in which he asked God to forgive his sinning people when they turned to God in repentance and prayed toward the Temple. The Lord promised that he would, in fact, forgive and restore-because of the sacrifices offered up in the Temple (see 2 Chron. 7:12-16, and the discussion above, 3.9)-and the text makes clear that inadvertent or unintentional sins were not the only things covered by Solomon’s prayer. See, for example, I Kings 8:33-36, 46-50; 2 Chronicles 7:14, clearly referring to all kinds of sins and transgressions. We can also ask why many Orthodox Jews still practice the custom of kapparos (or kapparot) on the eve of Yom Kippur (or Rosh Hashanah) if sacrifices only atoned for unintentional sins. Why then do they take a live fowl and wave it around their heads while confessing that the fowl is their substitute and payment? As described by Rabbi Abraham Chill: A custom that has prevailed in many Jewish communities throughout the world for centuries and which was the cause of a great deal of controversy and apologetics is that of Kapparot, the expiatory offering. This ritual, which takes place during the night and early morning preceding Yom Kippur, involves taking a live white fowl, swinging it around one’s head while reciting: “This is my atonement; this is my ransom; this is my substitute.” As if saying: if on Yom Kippur it is decreed that I must die, then this fowl which will shortly be slaughtered should serve as my substitute.””‘ It’s also fair to ask, What kinds of sins do Jews confess every year on Yom Kippur? The answer-known to all who have ever recited the prescribed prayers and confessions for that day-is that Jews confess to almost every imaginable sin on Yom Kippur, leaving almost no stone unturned. Yet, while the Temple was standing, those were the very sins for which atonement was sought through sacrifice, repentance, and fasting. We could also ask, If prayer and repentance replace sacrifices according to Rabbinic teaching, what are they actually replacing if sacrifices were so ineffective?”‘ The answer is obvious: The sacrifices were anything but ineffective. How then should we understand Numbers 15:22-31 ? These verses seem to teach that sacrifices could be brought to atone for unintentional sins, but for willful, defiant sins no sacrifice was possible. The sinner’s guilt would remain on him. Let’s look at this passage, allowing some Jewish biblical scholars to explain its meaning: Now if you unintentionally fail to keep any of these commands the LORD gave Moses-any of the LORD’s commands to you through him, from the day the LORD gave them and continuing through the generations to come-and if this is done unintentionally without the community being aware of it, then the whole community is to offer a young bull for a burnt offering as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, along with its prescribed grain offering and drink offering, and a male goat for a sin offering. The priest is to make atonement for the whole Israelite community, and they will be forgiven, for it was not intentional and they have brought to the LORD for their wrong an offering made by fire and a sin offering. The whole Israelite community and the aliens living among them will be forgiven, because all the people were involved in the unintentional wrong. But if just one person sins unintentionally, he must bring a year-old female goat for a sin offering. The priest is to make atonement before the LORD for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made for him, he will be forgiven. One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Israelite or an alien. But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’S word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” Milgrom explains: The possibility of sacrificial atonement is explicitly denied to the individual vidual who presumptuously violates God’s law (Num. 15:30-31). This, however, does not mean, as many critics aver, that sacrificial atonement is possible only for involuntary wrongdoers. To cite but one exception, the askant offering is prescribed for that premeditated crime called by the rabbis asham gezelot (Lev. 5:20ff.; Num. 5:5-8). A more correct assertion, then, would be that the priestly system prohibits sacrificial atonement to the unrepentant sinner, for the one who “acts defiantly … it is the Lord he reviles” (Num. 15:30). This is an explicit postulate of post-biblical literature: “the hattat, the asham, and death do not atone except with repentance” (Tosef., Yoma 5:9; cf. Yoma 8:8).-” Or as expressed concisely by Rashi, “Only at the time when his iniquity is upon him shall he be cut off, meaning, as long as he has not repented” making reference to b. Sanhedrin 90b, where the Talmud mud explains that Numbers 15:31 leaves open the possibility that the sinner might still repent. Thus, his guilt remains on him as long as he fails to repent. Interestingly, there is almost an exact New Testament parallel to this warning in Numbers 15:30-31, and it is found-not surprisingly-in in the Letter to the Hebrews: If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge edge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:26-31 The point in both cases is clear: There is no sacrifice, no forgiveness, ness, no atonement for those who commit-and continue in-willful, defiant sin. If they don’t turn back in repentance, nothing will atone for them. As noted by R. L. Harris with reference to Numbers 15:30-31, “Here the NIV has correctly caught the sense of the unpardonable sin-not one done intentionally, but one done ‘defiantly,’ i.e., in rebellion, sinning against light (cf. Matt. 12:31-32).”1″‘ The Hebrew image is quite clear: The sinner transgresses “with a high hand” (bevad ramah)-almost challenging God to punish him or hold him to account. But God is not one to be challenged! As Moses reminded the children of Israel, “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him” (Deut. 7:9-10). But for those who would repent and perform the required Temple service, abundant mercy and pardon was available (see vol. 1, 1.11, and below, 3.21). Looking back, then, at what we have seen so far, we can say categorically that sacrifices were not for unintentional sins only. The sacrifices on Yom Kippur argue against this position, specific sacrifices (the’asham and the hatta’t) argue against it, other scriptural principles argue against it, the Talmud and Law Codes argue against it, the custom tom of kapparot argues against it, and the concept of repentance offered in conjunction with sacrifices argues against it. But there is something else we should look at briefly, namely, the Rabbinic view that through repentance, intentional sins, even quite deliberate sins, could be converted to unintentional sins, and thus covered through normal atonement rites. Dr. Rich Robinson, a research scholar for Jews for Jesus, has put together some important quotations on this subject. He observes that “according to the sages, repentance could turn an intentional sin into an unintentional sin and so be eligible for sacrifice,” offering the following ancient and modern sources in support: R. Simeon b. Lakish said: Great is repentance, which converts intentional sins into unintentional ones (b. Yoma 86b; this is the rendering of Milgrom; as rendered in the Soncino edition, it reads: Great is repentance, for because of it premeditated sins are accounted as errors). This literary image [of the “high hand”; Num. 15:30-31 ] is most apposite for the brazen sinner who commits his acts in open defiance of the Lord (cf. Job. 38:15). The essence of this sin is that it is committed flauntingly. However, sins performed in secret, even deliberately, can be commuted to the status of inadvertencies by means of repentance.” ‘ … I submit that the repentance of the sinner, through his remorse … and confession…. reduces his intentional sin to an inadvertence, thereby rendering it eligible for sacrificial expiation.2i” … The early rabbis … raise the question of how the high priest’s bull is capable of atoning for his deliberate sins, and they reply, “Because he has confessed his brazen and rebellious deeds it is as if they become as unintentional ones before him” (Sipra, Ahare par. 2:4,6; cf. t. Yoma 2:1). Thus it is clear that the Tannaites attribute to repentance-strikingly, in a sacrificial ritual-the power to transform a presumptuous sumptuous sin against God, punishable by death, into an act of inadvertence, expiable by sacrifice.2″ Of course, there are other scholars who reject this Rabbinic concept that intentional sins can be “converted” to unintentional sins through repentance, and I am not fully convinced of it myself.242 I only bring it up because it reflects another problem (from a Rabbinic perspective) with the anti-missionary position regarding sacrifice and atonement. In any case, I have presented clear, definite scriptural evidence, supported by Rabbinic tradition as well, that the sacrificial system instituted by God for the people of Israel, joined, of course, with repentance, provided atonement for intentional as well as and unintentional sins.” (Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections Vol. 2, 126-135 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books)

Barclay also points out this relevant note:

“The sin of ignorance is pardonable; the sin of presumption is not. Nevertheless, we must note that by the sin of ignorance the Jews meant more than simply lack of knowledge. They included the sins committed when someone was carried away in a moment of impulse or anger or passion or was overcome by some irresistible temptation, and the sins were followed by repentance. By the sin of presumption, they meant the cold, calculated sin for which the perpetrator was not in the least sorry, the open-eyed disobedience of God. So, the priest existed to open for sinners the way back to God–as long as they wanted to come back.” (William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews (The New Daily Study Bible), 54-55 (Kindle Edition): Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press)

Will you today repent of the sin in your life and be saved through the Son of God, Jesus Christ?

Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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