Does God Require Bloodshed to Forgive Sins? No!

A sheep, reminiscent of what was used at temple sacrifices.
Does this sheep have to die for God to like you? Photo by Sam Carter / Unsplash

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"Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." Hebrews 9:22

This verse has been used to justify a bloodthirsty view of God. That God had no choice but to punish Jesus on the cross in order to forgive sins.

But this is a pagan view of God. The idea that we have to throw an innocent person into a volcano (or nail them to a cross) to appease the gods comes from pagan religions, not Christianity or Judaism.

God the Father did not kill God the Son in order to appease God the Father's wrath. No, God became incarnate in the person of Jesus to show us what true Love looks like — and humanity killed Him.

Reading Hebrews 9:22 as justification for an angry-volcano-god is an excellent example of reading a verse without context. However, the way Hebrews 9:22 starts is "under the Law." Under the Law there's no forgiveness without bloodshed. It's not a statement about God's true intentions, but a statement about the failure of the Sacrificial System.

Indeed, the whole point of the book of Hebrews is that the law system didn't work. It was an inferior way of understanding what God has always been like. The truth about God (that God has ALWAYS been capable of forgiveness, even without sacrifice and bloodshed) was something that humans were generally* incapable of understanding — until Jesus.

Jesus didn't come merely as a better sacrifice to appease the gods. Jesus came as something better than sacrifice itself.

  • I say generally because faithful Jews actually did understand this. There were hundreds of years between the Yahweh worship of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Tabernacle and Temple—God did not require sacrifice to credit Abraham's faith to him as righteousness.
  • The Temple itself wasn't God's idea at all (see 2 Samuel 7 where God is basically like, "Um, thanks but no thanks.").
  • And the prophet Jeremiah says that God didn't even say a word about a sacrificial system when God brought Israel out of Egypt (Jeremiah 7:22). Rather, Jeremiah says, Israel went "backward and not forward" (verse 24) in their understanding of God.
  • This all resonates with what the Jewish Christian writer Paul says in Galatians—that it was not Yahweh God who delivered the Law, but rather a mediator/messenger/angel (Gal 3:19). The Sacrificial system was an abberration from God's intent. Many Hebrew Scripture writers understood this (e.g. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" Hosea 6:6). But humans are so bent towards bloodthirsty sacrifice that even when God shows up, they sacrificed Him too.

I'm grateful for the writings of Bradley Jersak and Chris Green for helping me grasp this.