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About Animal Sacrifices for Sin

In Matthew 22, Yeshua quotes two verses from the Torah to show that love has always been at the heart of the Torah.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 22:37-40
37 Yeshua said to him, “‘You shall love Yahweh your Elohim with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Leviticus 19:18]
40 On these two commandments hang all the Torah and the Prophets.”

Christian apologists twist this passage to make it sound like love renders the marital covenant null and void, since the marital covenant always depended on love. However, that makes no sense. If a marriage depends on love, how does love do away with the marriage? (And if you love your spouse, does that mean your marriage is now done away with?)

The church tells us that the Torah is too difficult for any human being to keep, even though Moshe (Moses) tells us the opposite. Moshe tells us that the word is very near to us, that we may do it.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 30:11-14
11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you; nor is it far off.
12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”

Christian scholars tell us it was always impossible for Israel to keep the Torah. However, that would make Yahweh out to be a cruel torturer. It would mean He freed the children of Israel from physical bondage in Egypt, only to put them into spiritual bondage in the Torah, requiring something that could never be done so He could reject them cruelly in the end. But does that sound like our loving heavenly Father?

True, Shaul (Paul) did tell the Galatians that the Torah can be a kind of a curse if they mistakenly believe they can earn their salvation by works of the law.

Galatim (Galatians) 3:10-14
10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the Torah, to do them.”
11 But that no one is justified by the Torah in the sight of Elohim is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”
12 Yet the Torah is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”
13 Messiah has redeemed us from the curse of the Torah, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),
14 that the blessing of Avraham might come upon the Gentiles in Messiah Yeshua, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The key to understanding Shaul is to remember that he always labeled people according to how they believe they are saved. When he talks about those who are of the works of the law, he is not talking about Nazarene Israelites who obey the law. Rather, he is talking about those who believe they receive salvation as a direct result of having performed the works of the law as a kind of a “checklist” for salvation. (This is an apt description of our Pharisee/Orthodox brothers.)

Shaul says that if you believe you are saved as a result of doing works with your hands, then you really are under a curse, because you feel compelled to continue doing the works of your hands in the vain hope that this will somehow save you. However, no one is saved as a result of doing things with his hands, for the just shall be saved (and hence, live) by faith. Yet even though the specific points of law in the Torah are not of faith, those who do them (such as the Nazarene Israelites) shall live by them.

If we are willing to receive it, Messiah took the curse (of believing we can save ourselves by doing things with our own hands) upon Himself, having become accursed for us (so to speak), that we might receive the promise that was given to Avraham because of his faith. Yet Shaul cannot mean we should not obey what is written in the Torah, because we will see that he himself obeyed all that was written in the Torah.

Many Christians are astonished to learn that the apostles still performed the animal sacrifices, even many years after Yeshua’s resurrection. To see this, let us start in Acts 18:18, where the Apostle Shaul had shaved his head, for he had taken a vow.

Ma’asei (Acts) 18:18
18 So Shaul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He shaved his head at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow.

The only vow in Scripture which calls for shaving one’s head is the Nazirite vow, found in Numbers 6. When one separates (ends) a Nazirite vow, one shaves one’s head, and then goes up to the temple, where one offers three animal sacrifices, one of which is a sacrifice for sin (verse 14).

Bemidbar (Numbers) 6:13-18
13 Now this is the Torah of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
14 And he shall present his offering to Yahweh: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering,
15 a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings.
16 Then the priest shall bring them before Yahweh and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering;
17 and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of a peace offering to Yahweh, with the basket of unleavened bread; the priest shall also offer its grain offering and its drink offering.
18 Then the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offering.

If we realize that the term go up means to go up to Jerusalem, then we can see that Shaul did go up to Jerusalem after he separated his Nazirite vow.

Ma’asei (Acts) 18:21-22
21 But he took leave of them, saying, “By all means it is necessary for me to keep the coming feast in Jerusalem: But I will come again to you, Elohim willing!”
22 And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up [to Jerusalem] and greeted the ecclesia, he went down to Antioch.

Shaul separated yet another Nazirite vow when he met with the apostles in Acts 21. While those in Jerusalem were elated to hear of Shaul’s successes among the gentiles, they had heard rumors that Shaul was no longer zealous for the Torah of Moshe (as they were)—and they had even heard rumors that Shaul now taught against the Torah of Moshe. Let’s read carefully, and try to visualize the conversation.

Ma’asei (Acts) 21:20-22
20 And when they heard it, they glorified Yahweh. And they said to him, “Behold, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Torah [of Moshe]!
21 But they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake [the Torah of] Moshe, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, nor to walk according to the [Hebraic] customs.
22 What then [is the truth]? The assembly must certainly meet [because it is a pilgrimage festival], and they will hear that you have come.”

Israel can be operationally defined as those believers who diligently strive to keep Yahweh’s Torah—and if Shaul taught against the Torah, it would have been an offense worthy of instant disfellowship. This would be a real crisis, for Jews were coming up to Jerusalem from all over the known world to keep the Pentecost. When the assembly met, they would surely hear that Shaul was there—and if he was found to be teaching against the Torah, then the myriads of Jews who were “zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20, above) would want to put him out of the assembly (perhaps even by stoning).

So what could they do to dispel the misunderstandings of Shaul’s epistles? Ya’akov (Jacob) had a plan. Since Shaul had come up to Jerusalem to separate his Nazirite vow, Ya’akov told him to take four other men who had also separated Nazirite vows, and pay for all of their expenses. This would be a total of fifteen animal sacrifices, which would cost a huge sum of money back in the first century. No one would pay for fifteen animal sacrifices if he did not believe in keeping the Torah—and this would show the world that Shaul also walked orderly, keeping the Torah of Moshe.

Ma’asei (Acts) 21:23-24
23 “Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have [also] taken a [Nazirite] vow.
24 Take them, and be purified with them, and [you] pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads—and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you [teaching against the Torah] are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the Torah.”

This event takes place near the end of Shaul’s ministry, after most of his epistles were already written. If he had really believed that the Torah and the animal sacrifices were abolished, then why did he even have a Nazirite vow? And why did he agree to pay a total of fifteen animal sacrifices, including five sin sacrifices, so that all would know that the rumors concerning him were false—and that he himself also walked orderly, and kept the Torah?

The apostles clearly continued to offer animal sacrifices after Yeshua’s sacrifice. In fact, it seems to suggest that the only reason they stopped is because the Romans destroyed the temple. But many people have a strong reaction to this. They want to know why the apostles would continue to offer animal sacrifices after Yeshua’s sacrifice.

We discuss the animal sacrificial system in more detail in “About Sacrifices” (in Nazarene Scripture Studies, Volume One), but since it is such a critical topic, we will give a brief explanation of it here. First let us look at Hebrews 10:3-4, which tells us that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Ivrim (Hebrews) 10:3-4
3 But in these offerings is a reminder of sins year by year;
4 For it is impossible for blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

The church uses this as an alleged proof-text that the animal sacrifices are done away with—while the truth is the exact opposite.

Israel can be operationally defined as those persons who strive to keep His covenant. Those not striving to keep His covenant were always to be put outside the camp, so that the rest of the camp could be kept pure, untainted, and set apart from the defiling attitudes of the world. Whenever an Israelite became aware that he had sinned, it was always expected that he would be eager to correct himself. This stands in contrast to the judicial systems of all the other nations of the world, which are only able to maintain a false sense of law and order by means of threats of punishment.

A bride who loves her husband never needs to be punished. As soon as she realizes she is not pleasing her husband, she is eager to change (because she wants to please him). This is the same principle upon which Israel was always supposed to operate. Because of this, the sin sacrifices were never intended to take away sin. They were only intended to serve as a gruesome and expensive reminder that the wages of sin is death—and that one had to be careful to obey the marital covenant, or else one would be cut off from eternal life (as Yahweh has no reason to save those who are not diligently striving to obey His instructions).

Even though Yahweh forgives unintentional sin, He still wants a sin offering. However, if one does anything “presumptuously” (i.e., on purpose, or rebelliously), he is to be cut off from among the people.

Bemidbar (Numbers) 15:27-30
27 “And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering.
28 So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before Yahweh, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
29 You shall have one Torah for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them.
30 But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on Yahweh, and he shall be cut off from among his people.”

King David’s infamous sin with Bathsheba was both intentional and premeditated; however, King David was in denial of his sin. When the prophet Nathan helped King David realize his sin, King David immediately repented, and Yahweh forgave his sin in that moment.

Shemuel Bet (2 Samuel) 12:13-14
13 So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against Yahweh.” And Nathan said to David, “Yahweh also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
14 However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of Yahweh to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.”

King David repented, and Nathan immediately told him that Yahweh had put his sin away—yet there still had to be a penalty for sin (in this case, the child of his illicit liaison with Bathsheba had to die). The death of his child served as an awful reminder that the wages of sin is death—which is why Hebrews 10:3 (above) tells us that the animal sacrifices only serve as a reminder of sins year by year—for the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins. Only Yeshua could do that.

As long as a clean temple stood, the apostles offered animal sacrifices as a gruesome and costly reminder of their sins—and yet they still needed to accept Yeshua’s ultimate atoning sacrifice, which took place when He took all our curses upon Himself, hanging upon a tree.

We explain the sacrifices in more detail in Nazarene Scripture Studies, Volume One, but Acts 21 shows us that as long as the temple stood, the apostles still offered animal sacrifices at the appropriate times. This is surely because they knew Yeshua’s words at Matthew 5:17 to be true—that until heaven and earth pass away, not even the smallest part of the Torah will fall away—because it is a marital covenant.

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