By Clinton D. Hamilton
The question for this column is a broad one dealing with the subject of forgiveness, especially in relation to the idea of forgiveness in the Old Testament system. Whole theories that actually contradict what the Scriptures teach are built on misinterpretation of the concept of forgiveness. Some of these theories would, if true, make the sacrificial death of Christ unnecessary. This is because the theory is that the sacrifices under the Law of Moses actually re-moved sins. When the Old Testament speaks of forgiveness, one needs to understand these statements in relation to what is taught about the sacrifice for forgiveness; this sacrifice is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Question: Discuss the subject of the forgiveness of sins in the Old Testament with the 10th chapter of Hebrews where it states that there is no forgiveness under the Old Testament.
Response: It would be helpful to enter into a study of the words used in both testaments for. forgiveness. There three terms in the Old Testament that convey the idea of forgiveness: kapar, to cover; nasa, to bear or take away; salah, to pardon. The following terms occur in the New Testament: apoluo, to put away or send away; aphiemi, to send forth, send away (from apo, from, and hiemi, to send); charizomai, to bestow a favor such as forgiveness. It is easy from the sense and meaning of each of these words to understand basically what is embodied in the idea of forgiveness.
The Law of Moses had a show of good things to come, and not the very image of things (Heb. 10:1). Accordingly, the law can never with those sacrifices which the Israelites offered year by year continually make the corners thereunto perfect (Heb. 10:2). Had those sacrifices been effective in the removing of sins, they would have ceased to be offered; furthermore, had they been purged of their sins, there would have been no consciousness of sins (Heb. 10:2). However, they were made conscious of their sins every year at the time of the atonement.
Every year, at the atonement sacrifice, there was a remembrance of sins (Heb. 10:3). Sometimes, it is said that their sins were “rolled forward” every year. There is nothing in this passage that even hints at, much less states, this. When the sacrifice of atonement was made annually, it reminded them that sins had not been removed. The reason that their sins were not removed is that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sins (Heb. 10:4). The repeated offering of a sacrifice for sin demonstrated that it was not effective in the removing of sin because if it were effective, there would have been only one offering made. Jesus was offered once (Heb. 10:10). The writer of Hebrews affirms that where there is remission of sins there is no more offering for sins (10:18).
Someone might be ready at this point to inquire about how people before Christ are to be saved. By his own blood. Christ entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). Under the Old Testament, the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sanctified to the purifying of the flesh (Heb. 9:13). The blood of Christ which he offered will cleanse the conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:14). Accordingly, “… for this cause he is the mediator of the new covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15).
Those persons under the first covenant or testament who walked by faith in observing what God had commanded in connection with the first covenant’s typical system would on the basis of their faith in observing God’s will, have their sins actually remitted by the blood of Christ. The life of the flesh is in the blood is what God told Israel (Lev. 17:11). God stated, “and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement by reason of the life” (Lev. 17:11). This blood did not remove sins as we have already learned but it foreshadowed the blood that would atone for sins, the blood of Christ. The typical significance of the system under the first covenant is not one of mean value. It abundantly and clearly pointed to the vicarious sacrifice of Christ and his cleansing blood. It was only prospective of, and foreshadowing, the new covenant system in which only one sacrifice was made for sins once.
When the sacrifice of Christ occurred, it is stated of him, “Whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25-26). It is clear from these statements that it is on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ in the shedding of his blood that sins are removed. God declared in the new covenant why he was just in passing over sins done aforetime in the forbearance of God. Whether one may under-stand every aspect of this declaration is not an issue with a person of faith.
Paul also dealt with both the Gentile world and the Jews in these words: “For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law; for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:12-13). Parenthetically, he proceeded to explain this in verses 14 and 15. Then he commented that this will be the case “in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:16). Additionally, Paul dealt with the same issue about the Gentiles in Acts 17:30-31.
Looking at the word of God as a total message, it is not hard to understand that sins under the first covenant when spoken of as being forgiven are only thus typically by a blood sacrifice foreshadowing the blood that would actually remove sins. Seen in this light, one should not have difficulty understanding the idea of forgiveness under the first covenant.
I believe that one must look at the implication of saying that sins were actually removed through the blood of bulls and goats. If this statement is true, then there was no need for Christ to die. It also follows as a consequence that the sacrifice made by Christ is not the one made for sins once.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 18, p. 5-6
September 16, 1993