By now all my readers know that I disagree with a good portion of evangelical tradition. I am not bashful about writing against those traditions. When I do so, I expect evangelicals to look at the verses and explanations I give, then provide a reasonable reply. My expectation is usually dashed to the ground, but occasionally I get a Berean (Acts 17:10-11).
If I am looking for Bereans, those who will honestly examine the Scriptures, then I need to be one.
There are verses that evangelicals throw at me after reading what I write. I admit to using “throw” pejoratively. When I give a verse in answer to an argument, I am prepared to examine that verse with my opponent and hopefully discuss it reasonably to achieve a consensus on what it says. Most of the time evangelicals throw verses at me like a monkey or chimpanzee throws poop at spectators. Monkeys don’t want to discuss anything. They want the spectators, the ones that are bothering them, to go away. If an evangelical sticks around to discuss the verses he brought up, I am happy to say he or she “presented” verses rather than throwing them at me. Usually, the verses are just thrown. No subsequent discussion is expected or wanted.
One verse that has been validly presented to me is Hebrews 9:22:
According to the law, nearly everything is cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission. (WEB)
I argue that God forgives sin without sacrifice. I teach that God forgave sins and was marvelously merciful before Jesus died, and there was no change in his mercy after Jesus died. Hebrews 9:22 begs to differ.
It may beg, but I am not going to allow it to differ.
Hebrews 9:22 is not talking about sins being “forgiven.” It is talking about sins being “released.” The word translated remission in the World English Bible is the Greek aphesis. I wrote a post on aphesis last January.
Aphesis primarily means “release” (reference). Jesus said that he came to bring aphesis to the captive and brokenhearted in Luke 4:18. It is not forgiveness that captives need, but release. Aphesis can mean forgiveness, but that is only a secondary meaning.
The writer of Hebrews is not giving an opinion in Hebrews 9:22. He is stating something he sees as a fact. His “according to the law” tells us that he has looked at the Old Testament sacrifices, and he concludes that “release” always requires blood.
We can know what release he is talking about. As I said last year, “I want to remind everyone, all the time, that the Greek word aphesis was used to translated the Hebrew word for ‘Jubilee’ (Lev. 25) and the Hebrew word for ‘scapegoat’ (Lev. 16). It is also used to translate the release of debts that happened every seven years in Israel (Deut. 15).”
“Aphesis is far more than forgiveness. It is a return to our true home in the kingdom of God (Jubilee); it is the release of all our debts (the 7-year release); and it is the sending of our sins far from us (the scapegoat).”
Jesus died for aphesis. That is true. His blood was shed for aphesis (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). When Jesus lifted the cup at the last supper, he said his blood was shed for everyone for the aphesis of sins (Matt. 26:28).
As said, aphesis is much more than forgiveness.
Forgiveness happens throughout the Old Testament without blood. In fact, after David sinned, he said, “For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. O God, you will not despise a broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51:16-17). God has always forgiven those who repent, with or without sacrifice. As David said, his desire is a broken and contrite heart, not sacrifice.
One of the most astonishing passages in the Old Testament along these lines is Jeremiah 7:22-23.
For I didn’t speak to your fathers or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying, “Listen to my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. Walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.”
The astonishing thing about this passage is that God did talk to Israel about sacrifices when they came out of Egypt (e.g., Ex. 20:24; 22:20; 23:18). The point being made, of course, is that God did not want sacrifices, he wanted obedience. This is why Samuel said, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22). Hosea adds, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6).
God forgives sin without sacrifice. Aphesis, complete release, required blood because it pre-figured the blood of Christ which would bring us aphesis, release from slavery to sin.
As far as the purpose of Jesus’ death, a slow and honest read of Romans 6 through 8 and Titus 2 will produce very accurate atonement theology.