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Answering The Atheist
July 10, 2005 / Volume 5, Issue 28

THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Does the blood of animal sacrifices take away sin? Some texts say yes (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 16, 18; 6:7; 17:11; Numbers 15:27-28; 29:5). Other texts say no (Hebrews 10:4, 11). Is there a contradiction?

RESPONSE:
The list of verses from Leviticus and Numbers do indicate that atonement was available to those who brought the sacrifices. However, as with many other Old Testament things, we need to go to the New Testament to have a full understanding of what was spoken of.

Hebrews 9:9 speaks of "...both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience..." The offering of the sacrifices did not affect the conscience. A few verses later, we find, "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sactifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, clease your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (13-14). The Old Testament sacrifices could not clean the conscience. Those who offered were ceremonially clean, their atonement through the animal sacrifices was fleshly. It is the sacrifice of Christ which cleanses the conscience, which provides true, complete atonement.

Note again, as we continue in Hebrews 10, "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." (10:1-4). Again, the Old Testament sacrifices only sanctified for the purifying of the flesh, they did not cleanse the conscience. Rather, the conscience was reminded year after year of their sin. It is in the sacrifice of Christ where the conscience is made pure.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible