Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Very Interesting Omission

I was struck by a very profound nothing last night.

No, I was not in the midst of existential despondency. I noticed a very interesting "which one of these things is not like the other" situation.

Taking a look again at those Levitical sacrifices, we see many of them were in response to specific sins people did. There is a standard progression:
1) Someone realizes a sin (one way or the other)
2) Someone brings a sacrifice to the temple
3) The sacrifice is made
4) The priest "makes atonement" for the person
5) The person "is forgiven."

This plays out over and over again in Leviticus 4 and 5:

Sin by the entire community: Leviticus 4:13-20
Sin by the leader: Leviticus 4:22-26
Sin by the common person (Goat) : Leviticus 4:27-31
Sin by the common person (Lamb): Leviticus 4:32-35
Slate of specific sins: Leviticus 5:1-6
Slate of specific sins (poorer): Leviticus 5:7-10
Slate of specific sins (poorest): Leviticus 5:11-13
Sin against holy things: Leviticus 5:15-16
Guilt offering regulations: Leviticus 5:17-18
Fraud: Leviticus 6:2-7
pseudo-adultery offering: Leviticus 19:20-22
Offerings for sin in Canaan (Community): Numbers 15:22-26
Offering for sin in Canaan (Individual): Numbers 15:27-28

In every one of these examples, the text specifically says the priest will "make atonement" and it also specifically says (with one exception) that the person will be "forgiven." [Though our understanding of what "forgiven" means is actually probably rather off-base.]

But there is one example of sin where an offering is made, but neither of these is claimed. In the very first sin offering regulation, the one for the high priest, there is no such text. There is still an offering commanded, but there is nothing about "the priest will make atonement for him and he will be forgiven."

I think this bolsters my view of propitiation-through-merit. I would claim that the "forgiveness" described in all these rituals have more to do with the intercession of the high priest than they do with the sacrifice. That the merit and purity of the priest is leaned on to gain forgiveness [just how prophets and righteous men pray for pardon and forgiveness throughout the Bible...without any sacrifice around]. So, in the case of the high priest, there is no such righteous person around to lean on.

The sacrifices (among other things) would mark the confession and contrition of the parties rather than be primary instruments of propitiation. At least in the case of the High Priest, that seems to be the case. For it appears there was no forgiveness or atonement to be had, but yet a sacrifice was called for to mark his recognition of sin.

I also find Leviticus 4:3 particularly interesting, for it shows that the Priest's sin can bring guilt upon the people. As I pointed out in my last post, the priests generally "bear" or "bear away" the sins of the people.

This suggests that, rather than transfer, there is more of an association going on here. The priests are willing to be associated with the rest of Israel in their guilt, allowing them to shoulder the load by virtue of their greater righteousness and purity. However, in the odd case where the High Priest sins, it ends up somewhat backfiring.

Note that this "association" is already present in Moses' intercession with God and in Daniel's intercession as well. In Moses' case, he does not take on the sin or guilt, but is willing to be associated in their punishment. [Exodus 32:32 --- But now, if You will, forgive their sin--and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!]

I think this notion of association is highly prevalent in the cultic rituals, with perhaps the Temple being in association with the land and the priests being in association with the people...
Another possible link-up is that the altar itself is a representation of the Temple, while the area around the altar is a representative of the nation. [one major set of sacrifices cleansed the altar itself while another set cleansed the area around it.]

In any event, extrapolating to Christ would give tangential support to what was the dominant view prior to Augustine (but after Origen), where Christ shared in human suffering so that humans could share in His glorification. In particular, Athanasius claimed atonement occurred via Christ suffering the same death humans do so that humans could enjoy the exaltation that rightfully only belongs to Him. [This was before people started thinking of atonement in terms of deliverance from God's eternal wrath. Back in the early church, the question was how can there be bodily life after death at all? not How can God allow someone imperfect into heaven?]


Bev said...

David, I think you might find the book I'm reading now to be interesting. The Temple and the Church's Mission by G.K. Beale. I'm only a short ways into it, but he shows how the Garden of Eden was the first temple and Adam the first priest. For instance, there is a Hebrew word pair that is used to describe Adam's work in the Garden (to "keep and cultivate it") that are paired together elsewhere in the OT only when describing the priests' temple duties. Also, there's the proliferation of Garden symbolism throughout the temple design.

Now, after typing all this, I can't remember what in your article reminded me of this book, but I'm sure a connection was there! LOL...

David Rudel said...


Josh said...


Morna Hooker has espoused a "sharing" view of the atonement (rather than a substitutionary view) in her book Paul: A Short Introduction (pp. 93-102).