The misuse of Hebrew Scriptures to “prove” Christian claims, and the Jewish response to LEVITICUS 17:11
For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
Christians believe that in order for one to be forgiven of one’s sins, there has to be a blood sacrifice. This is how they interpret Leviticus 17:1.
Taken out of context, one could understand this quotation in the same way as the Christians. However, when you read the entire passage from Leviticus, you will see that this verse is part of a whole passage that is simply trying to say that one is not to drink the blood of any sacrifice, as the pagans of that period used to do. Let’s look at the surrounding verses to see the context.
And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. [Leviticus 17:10-12]
Often, when Christians use verses to try to convert Jews, they will only show a single verse. Always look at the entire context in which that verse is found, because the context may show that the Christian interpretation is simply a misinterpretation.
At the time in which Jesus lived, 80% of all the Jews in the world lived outside the land of Israel, away from Jerusalem, away from the Temple, without the ability to perform any animal sacrifices. They did not live in the fear that their sins were not forgiven by Gd. The reason for this is quite simply that the Jews never felt that animal sacrifices were the only means to forgiveness.
Christians claim that one must have a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. However, if one can see even one place in the Hebrew Scriptures where Gd forgives sin without a blood sacrifice, then one does not have to have a blood sacrifice to be forgiven. And there are many, many quotations throughout the entire Bible that prove this point. For the sake of brevity, we will only look at a very few.
It is in the Book of Leviticus where the whole of the sacrificial system is discussed. And in Leviticus, right in the midst of the description of the sacrifices, we have a quotation that proves that blood sacrifices are not necessary for the forgiveness of sin.
But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he shall bring, as his offering for the sin which he has committed, a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for the sin offering…And he shall bring it to the priest…Thus the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven. [Leviticus 5:11-13]
Thus we see that if someone could not afford any of the animals, that the offering of flour would attain for him the same forgiveness that the animal sacrifices would bring. Flour has no blood, flour has no life to be sacrificed, and yet with the sacrifice of the flour the sinner would still be forgiven. If, in fact, a blood sacrifice was absolutely necessary for the forgiveness of sin, then the use of flour would not have been possible, even if it was only for the poor.
We have another example of the forgiveness of sin without the need of any blood sacrifice. In the Book of Jonah we read how Jonah was told by Gd to go to the Ninevites to get them to repent of their sins. I am sure that you are familiar with the story. Jonah did not like the people of Nineveh. He knew that they would repent if he warned them, but he preferred their destruction. Jonah tried to run away from Gd, but instead was brought back to the land in the belly of the great fish. Jonah then obeyed Gd and came to Nineveh. There, he warned them of Gd’s intent to destroy them if they did not seek atonement for their sins. The people, from the King on down, prayed to Gd for forgiveness, fasted by neither eating nor drinking, and they stopped their evil ways. And then what happened?
When Gd saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, Gd repented of the evil which He had said He would do to them; and He did not do it. [Jonah 3:10]
The people of Nineveh did not perform any sacrifices. They did much the same as the Jews do all over the world on the Day of Atonement, spending the day in prayer and fasting. The People of Nineveh were forgiven for their sins without the need of any blood sacrifice, just as we, now, are forgiven for our sins without the need of any blood sacrifice.
Most people are aware of the function of the scapegoat described in Leviticus 16:20-22. The sins of the people were symbolically placed on the head of the goat who was then banished to the wilderness. Even though the ritual described in the Bible does not call for the goat to be killed, even though there was no blood sacrifice, the sins of the people were forgiven.
Similarly, most people know that the blood sacrifices were to take place only in the Temple which was built by Solomon. In I Kings 8:44, Solomon dedicates the Temple to the One True Gd, the only Temple on Earth dedicated to the One True Gd. At that dedication, Solomon states that there would come a time when the Jews, as a result of their sins, would be exiled from the Promised Land. He prayed that when they were in the land of their enemies, that all they would have to do to be forgiven of their sins was to pray, and to pray towards the Temple (which is why Synagogues and Temples face East, when they are in the West), to repent of their sins, and to stop sinning, just as we learned above from Jonah.
If they sin against thee, (for there is no man that sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives unto the land of the enemy, far or near; Yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; And so return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto thee toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name: Then hear thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven thy dwelling place, and maintain their cause, And forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee, and give them compassion before them who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them. [1 Kings 8:46-50]
The interesting thing about the above verses is that Solomon, who offered this prayer at the dedication of the very place where the blood sacrifices were to be offered, had to have known that a blood sacrifice was not necessary for atonement. Had he felt that a blood sacrifice was, in fact, necessary, he would not have bothered praying this prayer. Indeed, Gd does forgive our sins and grant us atonement when we repent, when we confess our sins, when we pray for forgiveness, and when we do not do the sin, again, when given the chance.
There are many other places in the Bible where the sins were forgiven without the need of a blood sacrifice of an animal. For example, if you wish to look up in the Bible these nine quotations you can read this for yourself: Numbers 31:50; Hosea 6:6; Hosea 14:1-2; Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 18:1-8; Jeremiah 29:10-14; Psalm 51:15-17; Psalm 69:30-32; and Ezekiel 18:20-22.