Salvation and forgiveness – comparing the Jewish Bible with the NT

I wrote this years ago, but I thought I could share it here. It originally contained my attempts at saying the special name of God. Hopefully I rooted all of that crap out.

So, without further ado.

What is salvation?

The actual Hebrew word comes from the word yasha meaning to help, free, deliver, or save. In the Torah, it is not used in the same way the new testament uses it, since it is not used in the context of sin, just deliverance from some sort of trouble (physical, “real” trouble) like the Israelite deliverance from Egypt (Exo 14:13), or from the Philistines (1 Sam 14:45). Even with the rest of the Jewish Bible, “salvation” isn’t really viewed as someone’s being saved from sin. Now one can say that someone is “saved” from sin, but to be honest, the Jewish Bible doesn’t really talk about sin like that. It deals more with righteousness, atonement, and forgiveness.

What is forgiveness?

When it comes to sin against God, forgiveness is where he frees a person from their debt of sin, and normally involves sparing them from his wrath and blame. There are three Hebrew words that involve forgiveness.

The word “salach” simply means to pardon or spare.

The word “nasa'” means to bear, lift, take. This is where God takes the sin from you, or he bears your sin. It is interesting how the Torah speaks of accountability for wrong. When a person is guilty of doing a wrong, then it says, “he shall bear his sin” (e.g., Lev 5:1; 20:17; 5:31). But when forgiven, God bears their sin (Exo 32:32; 23:21, Gen 18:24; Psalm 32:5). I believe it could mean, on the part of the person sinned against, to bear the cost and not apply it to the person who has sinned. Or it could mean to take away, or lift from the sinner the guilt or blame of the crime. On the part of the person who has sinned, it means to bear the responsibility, blame, and cost of the crime, until it has been paid or forgiven.

The final word is kaphar, which means to cover according to Strongs Hebrew Dictionary (number 3722), and also has the meanings of “to placate, pacify, expiate, make reconciliation, make atonement, condone or cancel”. This was compiled from both Strongs Dictionary and Brown Driver Briggs (BDB) Abridged Hebrew Dictionary.

How was such forgiveness obtained?
As said before, “salvation from sin” is not the emphasis of the Jewish Bible. It speaks more of forgiveness and atonement for sin, while salvation is used for physical deliverance.

So how did a person get forgiveness for sin? How did one get atonement? We need to be honest with this question. There are people who may misuse our answer, but we must remain faithful to scripture. What is the first incidence of a way of forgiveness?

I wouldn’t say that this first example is a strong example, but I believe it is a good one, nonetheless.

Gen 4:3-7 As time passed, it happened that Cain brought an offering to God from the fruit of the ground. Abel also brought some of the firstborn of his flock and of the fat of it. God respected Abel and his offering, but he didn’t respect Cain and his offering. Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. God said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why has the expression of your face fallen? If you do well, will it not be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.”

Cain’s offering to God was not acceptable. Cain was angry. But the almighty said if you do better, if you do well, if you do good, then you will be exalted. But if not, sin is ready to devour you. The message here is that if Cain wants to, he can rule it. If he does better and does good, then he can overcome wrong-doing and make up for acts that are unacceptable to the Almighty.

As I say, that was possibly a weaker scripture, but the principle in it is still strong. If we do what is unacceptable, we can find elevation and forgiveness (from the same Hebrew root word, nasa’) in doing better and making a change for the better.

OK, the next way of getting forgiveness is through sacrifice, but not on its own. The section dealing with sacrifice extensively is in Leviticus, specifically chapters 4-6, but the chapters around it are very informative. But the fact that more is needed than simple ritual, a mindless, heartless action in sacrifice can be seen by some of the actions done during the ceremony, also by the prophetical statements later in the Jewish Bible.

In the actual ceremony, the person who is bringing the sin offering normally puts his hand on the head of the animal, normally a sign of confession of wrongdoings and failures, or some sort of transferral where the animal somehow represents the man (compare Lev 1:4; 4:4; 16:21). The act of the laying on of hands is used in different ways. In Genesis 48, Jacob lays hands on the sons of Joseph in order to bless them. In Leviticus 24:14, in the case of blasphemy, the people who heard the offender blaspheme lay hands on the head of the person who had cursed the name of God before they kill him for it. It seems to be a symbol of personal responsibility and accountability against the offender. This is a fearful act, because if a person has been wrongly accused and executed, the false witnesses will be held accountable. In Numbers 8:10 the community of Israel lay hands on the heads of the Levites, setting them apart for their distinct office amongst Israel, and giving them over to God. Moses lays hands on Joshua to set him apart as the next leader of the people of Israel, transferring his authority to Joshua (Num 27:18,23).

So as was said before, the primary meaning in the act of the laying on of hands in the rite of animal sacrifice is the transferral of something from the offender to his sacrificial offering. If it were connected with what happens in Yom Kippurim (Day of Atonement, Lev 16), then it would be accompanied with confession. Or it could be the act of devoting the animal to God, or both.

Look at each occurrence of this laying of hands and you will see that there was a severity with each case. Laying hands on the animal on Yom HaKippurim in order to confess sins, blessings, setting apart, all these things could not be real to the Almighty if the basis of them was false. What authority could be conveyed to Joshua if Moshe had none from God? How severe would it be for false witnesses who consigned an innocent man to death for blasphemy? So when the man lays hands on the animal in order to offer it to God, he cannot be doing it for false reasons, with fake intent, NO HEART REPENTANCE, or else the sacrifice means nothing and the man still bears his sin, and that is a fearful thing (see Isaiah 1, Hoshea 6:6).

The animal, once devoted, would be ritually slaughtered and this would bring the forgiveness of God. The man would receive atonement, a ritual covering/cleansing/ransom for his sins (Lev 4:20,26,31, etc.), the life of the animal for his (see Lev 17:11). Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, this sacrifice would be useless if there is no repentance from the person who sinned. Based on the Torah, you cannot use an already dead animal, or spilt blood for atonement. You need to put your hands literally on the ANIMAL (there is NO human sacrifice in Torah), with the truth of your repentance, and then you can obtain forgiveness. If there are sins done by the whole congregation, or on Yom HaKippurim, a representative, like the chief priest or the head of the congregation would put his hands on the sacrifice, showing everyone’s repentance for the sin.

There was also a bloodless sacrifice for those who couldn’t afford to give an animal according to Leviticus 5:11-13, which counters any idea that blood is NECESSARY for forgiveness and atonement. The key ingredients of a true sacrifice appear to be devotion and true repentance. This is seen in other parts of scripture (e.g. Psalm 51:19 [17 in Christian bibles]).

When reading these parts of scripture that talk of sacrifices, you can see that the rituals were very specific. It wasn’t just a case of slaughtering anything anyhow, whatever you liked, as long as it was bloody, without a care of who was doing the sacrificing. Not anyone could offer a ritual animal sacrifice. In the Torah, only Levitical priests could offer sacrifices. The blood and the fat of the animal had to be dealt with in a specific way. If it was a bloodless offering, it had to be treated in a special way. You couldn’t bring any-any animal, like a donkey or horse or tadpole. It had to be what the Torah specified, like a bull of the first year that was unblemished. Even the type of flour was specified. The blood of the animal sacrifice was sprinkled IN the temple, on or near the altar. This was not just a simple show of butchering, but a specific ritual with a specific meaning.

Sacrifices and offerings didn’t cover ALL sins. The early chapters of Leviticus specifies what sorts of sins they covered. They only cover inadvertent sins and I don’t believe it covered every possible inadvertent sin either. Sins done with a high hand (defiantly, not necessarily “presumptuously”) could not be forgiven by sacrifice according to Numbers 15:30-31 (see context).

Now what about if a person has no sacrifice to offer? According to Deut 12, sacrifices can’t be done anywhere. It has to be done in the place where God chooses to place his name, which according to 1 Kings 8 is the temple of God in Jerusalem. That temple has been destroyed a number of times and now it is in a ruined state. There have been situations where people live too far from a temple, and they still fail and do wrong. What about gentiles? They do wrong as well according to the bad stuff that happened in Genesis and in some of the prophetic writings. What does the Jewish Bible say?

First, let me give an analogy before I give scripture. This doesn’t mean that the analogy is more important than scripture, but it will help with understanding.

If you commit a wrong against your father or someone who you respect a lot and you can’t see a way to repay them for the wrong, what do you do? Well, most decent people would go to that person humbly and ask them for forgiveness. It is up to the person that you’ve wronged and the relationship you have with the person whether they’ll forgive you or not. If there is love there, then you’ll probably get forgiven.

How much more is this true for our heavenly father?

Now when it comes to our creator, God, let’s see what his character is like (because as shown in the above analogy, it depends on the person).

Exo 20:5,6 you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, God your Deity, am a jealous deity, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exo 34:6,7 God passed by before him, and proclaimed, “God! God, mighty in compassion and grace, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth, keeping loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and disobedience and sin; but not utterly acquitting, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third and on the fourth generation.”

I think there is something wonderful about these verses, yet something so scary. People may see a contradiction between a forgiving deity who doesn’t utterly acquit a person. I’ve noticed that a similar Hebrew phrase is used in Jeremiah 30:11 and 46:28. You can see what that says. I was reading a book called “Who needs God?” by Harold Kushner. It showed how necessary it was that when a person is forgiven for a sin, they needed to know that it is taken seriously. With a person very close to me, they said if they ever cheated on me, they couldn’t take it if I just gave them forgiveness so easily. That would make it too cheap. There has to be some reaction, some “punishment”. Some try to make out that when God says that he will not totally acquit a person he means that that person still needs to give a sacrifice. That isn’t really what the text is saying. Looking at the other usages of the Hebrew phrase, it may just point to chastisement on God’s part on the person who has failed or done the crime or that the crime will not be totally unpunished. The definition of that word in hebrew translated “totally acquitting” according to my hebrew lexicon at home (A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament: Based upon the Lexical Work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner) is “to leave unpunished”. So this agrees with the conclusion that the statement is really saying that God will not leave a sin totally unpunished. You don’t get off scott-free.

We must still remember that God is merciful, gracious, and compassionate (which will lead me to my next point). He has mercy on those that try their best for him, on those that try to turn back to him from their evil ways. He may lighten the chastisement in his loving kindness, or even see the state of a person’s broken heart and spirit (remember Psalm 51) and choose to leave out the punishment since in a way the lesson is learned. This can be seen in some significant scriptures (Ezekiel 18:27-28; 33:14-16; Psalm 51). God, in his mercy, even accepts righteous prayer and fasting and repentance in order to forgive sins (2 Chronicles 7:14; Hoshea 14:3 [2 in Christian bibles]; Proverbs 16:6; Psalms 32:5).

Please note that repentance doesn’t mean simply to be sorry for sin. It may be part of the equation but not the whole thing. Remember that although the Almighty knows our hearts, he also expects a change in our actions. True repentance is where a person stops DOING the wrong, and thus turns (teshuvah) from it and turns towards DOING what is right and good. See Isaiah 1 and Isaiah 58 and compare it with Deut 10:12-13 and Exodus 20:6. Loving God isn’t simply a feeling or simple “faith”. It is a lifestyle. It is in what you DO. Look in the scriptures in Isaiah (and all over the place) and I hope you will see that although God wants a good heart, he is telling people to change your lives and actions and says little about “have faith” and “believe”. He wants obedience, which is what he says through his prophet, Samuel (1 Samuel 15:22). Don’t worry. He doesn’t leave gentiles out (1 Kings 8:41-43; Isaiah 56, Jonah 2).

So you should see from all this that sacrifice IS one way to get forgiveness. If a person is in the position to give a sacrifice to God in the proper way (through a Levite at the temple) he should do so. The other means of obtaining forgiveness do not negate that, in the same way that sacrifice (especially blood sacrifice) is not the SOLE means of asking and receiving God’s forgiveness. Remembering the above analogy where you sin against your father or a person you respect, if you don’t have the means to repay them you shouldn’t just forget asking for forgiveness, thinking that you are forever in sin against them. It is necessary that you must ask so that you show them that you understand and admit your guilt. It’s up to them to forgive you. Knowing God, he is more than capable of forgiving when a payment or sacrifice is not possible, when asked sincerely for forgiveness. He is not as rigid as people make out, where he MUST have blood in order to be appeased. Anyone saying that must be mistaking him for a vampire or a pagan deity who not only enjoys animal blood, but also enjoys human blood too. He is wise, merciful, and righteous. He can see our hearts enough to see our repentance (which is key to almost all forgiveness), and has enough love and strength to take away our sins when he sees that we are but dust, and when we recognise that we are dust compared to his excellent glory.

What about righteousness?

Of course we have the Torah to show both Jew and Gentile God’s standard for righteousness. Although different parts of the Torah apply to different people, God still requires that we do what is right towards him and each other. Here is a summary of his standards.

Lev 18:5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances; which if a man does, he shall live in them: I am God.

Deu 6:4,5 Hear, Israel: God is our Deity; God is one: and you shall love God your Deity with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Deu 6:13,14 You shall fear God your Deity; and him shall you serve, and shall swear by his name. You shall not go after other deities, of the deities of the peoples who are round about you;

Lev 19:18b but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.

Mic 6:8 He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does God require of you, but to act justly [do judgment], to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your Master?

Although these were taken from the Hebrew scriptures, I believe that these principles have worldwide connotations and can be obeyed by any human. An example of a righteous man can be seen in Ezekiel 18. The Torah and the Jewish Bible has much more to say on this, but from what has been shown before, you should be able to love God, that means to keep his laws, teachings, and principles. That means in your actions as well as in your heart. Sin (or maybe more properly failure/wrongdoing, since the Hebrew word normally translated sin means to miss the mark) is when you disobey God’s principles. According to Proverbs 16:6 you can avoid or leave sin by fearing (revering or respecting) God and thus by doing his will. It’s already been seen how to obtain forgiveness in your own situation.

I hope you read scriptures like the Psalms and other places to show you how to deal with our own failures. Knowing that God forgives and can throw your sins into the sea of forgetfulness (Micah 7:18) and take your sins far away from you (Psalm 103:8-14), turn away from your wrongdoing and try your best to do right. Give it your all. God is like a father who will help you when you try and have mercy on you if you slip up and miss the mark. Be strong in God and in the power of his might!

Remember, God wants righteousness. If you ain’t perfect, and slip, here’s some encouragement, especially for those who are told that God expects total perfection.

Pro 24:16 For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises up again; But the wicked are overthrown by calamity.

Comparison with “new testament” doctrine

Although this article was inspired by William Gaddam, who was asking people about their journey out of Christianity and how they see forgiveness and atonement now, and also by Raine Miller who pointed me to some statements in the Christian “new testament” which would be good to address, I realise that the main point in this article is none of these things. Believe me, they are great secondary reasons and I appreciate the two people for pointing me towards this effort. But I realise that when a person has left Christianity and yet holds on to the promise of the Hebrew Scriptures, they need to know how to deal with life and its harshness in light of the Jewish Bible. One harsh thing we have to deal with is the fact that we fail ourselves and God. I hope you don’t mind the order I put that in, and I pray that God doesn’t think I am putting him in second place objectively. But subjectively speaking, in our personal selfish world, when we fail God, we fail ourselves and although God can forgive us, it is sometimes an ordeal to forgive ourselves. I just want to show you how God forgives and how his love is great enough to forgive you. With love so great, you have no right to hold on to your past sins. I’m that passionate about it. With such love, who can deny it by saying “Lord, I know you’ve forgiven me, but I see myself as a better judge, so I won’t forgive myself”? You may not be saying that consciously, but by rejecting his forgiveness, what do you think you are saying about his judging skills? Are you any better than him for holding onto the guilt of your sin? When God forgives you, accept it, put your sins behind you. You will have a memory of your sin, but don’t let it hold you back. Turn away from your sins and focus on the righteous path (or the path of the righteous). If you want inner healing, then acknowledge your sins, ask forgiveness, and then turn from those sins, praise God, and move on towards righteousness.

I also want you to see that you don’t need a messiah figure to obtain forgiveness. Look to the Almighty Father alone, since it is written, “God is near to all that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). He loves you enough to forgive your sin. Have a one-on-one with your heavenly master, and admit to him your sins. Rely on his mercy by giving a TRUTHFUL, SINCERE prayer.

OK, let’s take a look at a few statements that the new testament makes and compare and contrast it with what we’ve learnt by asking several questions.

Acts 4:12 Salvation only in the name of Yeshua or Jesus (I’ll just use Yeshua from here on it, as if the pronunciation of his name matters, as if he really matters).

Heb 5:9 Yeshua called the author/causer of eternal salvation.

John 3:36, Rom 10:9, Mark 16:16 If a person believes in Yeshua, he is saved. If not, he is damned.

Eph 2:8,9 Saved by grace, not works.

Rom 3:25; 5:9, Heb 9 Forgiven by the sacrifice/blood of Yeshua.

Questions:

1) According to the Jewish Bible what is salvation and forgiveness?

2) What ways are there to obtain either?

3) Is Yeshua’s sacrifice a valid way to either?

4) How does the idea of salvation only through Yeshua’s name or sacrifice compare with the Jewish Bible?

5) How does the Jewish Bible, God’s word, describe a life and relationship with him?

Now questions one and two have been answered already, but what about the other questions?

Now let’s look at Yeshua’s sacrifice in light of Torah. According to Christian doctrine, Yeshua’s death pays for our sins, but he also died to “fulfil” the Torah. To fulfil means to obey. Now there is nothing in the Jewish Bible that states that the sacrifices had any sort of prophetic quality. I believe that is read into scripture rather than taken from it. If Yeshua was born “under the Torah” (Galatians 4:4), then his death is subject to the law.

Did the Torah prescribe human sacrifice? No! Does the Torah say that human blood can atone for sin? No! Was Yeshua’s blood taken to the altar in Jerusalem, the place where God had placed his name? No! Was his fat burned? No! Did Yeshua die on an altar? No! A cross is definitely not an altar. Did Yeshua die of blood loss, like sacrificial animals? No! Crucificixion causes slow death by fatigue and asphyxiation (suffocation) with a lot of blood clotting in the person’s body. Were the sinners repentant when Yeshua died? Did they give Yeshua up to death with a repentant heart? No, there was no repentance! As was said before, you can’t hope for a sacrifice or death in the past to help you when you sin in the future. That simply means you have to either give another sacrifice or use other means of obtaining forgiveness. Did Levites slaughter Yeshua ritually? No, pagan Romans did!

So judging Yeshua’s death by the Torah that he was under, is it valid in any way? No!

An important question is: was it really necessary for Yeshua to die? Since there are other means of obtaining forgiveness and atonement other than blood sacrifice, then no, not really. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, every person is responsible for their own failures and wrongdoings (Deut 24:16; Ezek 18:20). No matter how righteous Yeshua was, he could “save” or atone for no one by dying. So they can go to God and obtain forgiveness.

What about question four, about salvation in Yeshua’s name? According to the Jewish Bible, God is the ultimate saviour (Isaiah 43:11; Hoshea 13:4). He has a special name, the Tetragrammaton or the four letter name, that I won’t attempt to spell out here. There is no other name given in the Jewish Bible by which man can be saved or forgiven so to say that there is another name by which a man can be saved is not fromthe Jewish Bible, and thus is erroneous due to its baselessness.

How does the Jewish Bible talk about a life and relationship with God? I think Micah 6:6-8 deals with that nicely, and it is possible for us all to do?

Mic 6:6-8 How shall I come before God, And bow myself before the exalted Deity? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Will God be pleased with thousands of rams? With tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my disobedience? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does God require of you, but to act justly, To love mercy, and to walk humbly with your Deity?

Don’t let failure and wrong drag you down or back! Don’t accept any cheap imitations of God’s mercy and grace! He can save you from physical troubles and forgive you of sins. Just ask in sincerity, return to the right ways and live your life in the light of his love. Be encouraged.

About hesedyahu

I'm a gentile living in UK, a person who has chosen to take upon himself the responsibility God has given to all gentiles. God is the greatest aspect of my life and He has blessed me with a family. I used to be a christian, but I learnt the errors of my ways. I love music. I love to play it on the instruments I can play, I love to close my eyes and feel the groove of it. I could call myself a singer and a songwriter ... And that would be accurate. What else is there?
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