Leviticus 17:11 and the Book of Hebrews
The author of the book of Hebrews presents one of the lynchpins of the Christian missionary campaign in the 9th chapter of his work. In that chapter he states that there is no remission (from sin) without the shedding of blood (verse 22). It is on the basis of this statement that the masters of persuasion attempt to frighten their audience. The missionaries contend that since sins cannot be remitted without the shedding of blood then without Jesus’ sacrifice you are dead in your sins.
This lynchpin of the missionary campaign has no basis in reality. You see; the author of Hebrews did not present this statement as a revelation that he received in some secretive encounter. The author of the book of Hebrews presents his statement as a factual conclusion that he arrived at upon studying the Law of Moses.
The Law of Moses is in front of us and we can see that there is no basis for the conclusion that the author of Hebrews arrived at. Moses never says that there can be no remission from sin without the shedding of blood. The path for remission of the national sin that Moses maps out for us is repentance and not the shedding of blood (Deuteronomy 30:2). The prophet Jonah; who presumably also studied the Law of Moses, fully expected the sin of the Ninevites to be remitted on the basis of their repentance and without the shedding of any blood (Jonah 4:2). There are simply no grounds in the Law of Moses for the drastic statement found in Hebrews 9:22.
The missionaries are not daunted by this obvious inconsistency evident at the root of their work of persuasion. These missionaries have developed several imaginative explanations in an effort to justify the teaching presented by the author of the book of Hebrews.
Many missionaries defend this non-Scriptural teaching by quoting Leviticus 17:11. In that verse God explains why He prohibited the consumption of blood. It is because: “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it for you upon the altar to atone for your souls for it is the blood that atones for the soul.” The closing phrase of this verse would seem to indicate that blood has a power to atone that is not found elsewhere. The missionaries seize up on this phrase and present it as if it had said that outside of the shedding of blood there is no atonement.
The fact is that this passage says nothing of the sort. This passage is not contrasting blood over and against other methods of achieving God’s forgiveness such as repentance. This passage is explaining why it is that God allowed us to eat other parts of the animal but prohibited the blood. This passage is contrasting the blood over and against other parts of the animal and is explaining why out of all the components of the animal it is the blood that atones. This passage is not negating the power of repentance to atone for sin.
Other missionaries focus on the Hebrew verb “kaper” (generally translated as “atone”) and contend that this verb is only found in the Jewish Bible in conjunction with a blood sacrifice. The argument assumes that this particular word (“kaper”) represents a complete and absolute cleansing from sin and that this level of cleansing from sin is not represented or described by any other word in the Jewish Bible. According to these missionaries the intent of the author of Hebrews was that this particular aspect of atonement can only be achieved through the shedding of blood.
There are four problems with this fanciful interpretation. First; it is clear that the author of the book of Hebrews was not limiting his statement to this particular aspect of atonement. The Greek word that he uses to describe remission from sin is not a word that is parallel to the Hebrew “kaper” which is translated as “atone”. The Greek word used by the author of Hebrews is more generally translated as “forgiveness” or remission in the sense of rescinding the punishment.
Second; there is no reason to believe that the Hebrew word “kaper” denotes the ultimate form of cleansing from sin. There are other words that the Jewish Bible uses to describe the process of remission from sin such as: “s’lach” (forgive), “no’se” (pardon) and “ratzon” (favor, appeasement). Arguably the most extreme expression used by the Jewish Bible is found in the Book of Ezekiel where God promises that all of the sinner’s transgressions will not be remembered against him (Ezekiel 18:22; 33:16). There is no reason to assume that these expressions describe a lesser remission from sin than does the verb “kaper”.
Third; the missionary argument is simply predicated on a lie. The word “kaper” is found in the Hebrew Bible in conjunction with various actions that atone such as a verbal confession or the offering of incense and is not exclusively used for the shedding of blood as the missionaries would have us believe (Exodus 30:15; 32:30; Leviticus 5:13; 16:6,10,11; Numbers 17:11; 31:50; Proverbs 16:6).
Finally; upon closer examination it will be revealed that the author of the book of Hebrews was not trying to exalt the blood sacrifices described in the Five Books of Moses. In fact this author is attempting to denigrate these offerings. The entire thrust of chapters 9 and 10 in the book of Hebrews is that since the offerings of the Temple needed to be repeated this somehow “proves” that they could never take away sin to begin with. There is no way to say that the author of Hebrews believed that the blood sacrifices of the Temple provided some sort of absolute and complete atonement.
There remains no way to defend the declaration of Hebrews 9:22.
But the inconsistency runs deeper. According to the author of the book of Hebrews we are supposed to read Leviticus 17:11 and conclude that this is the most profound and critical teaching concerning atonement that is recorded in the entirety of the Jewish Bible. Then we are supposed to turn around and say that the blood offerings of the Temple never really atoned to begin with.