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I'm trying to make sense and reach a deeper understanding of the concept of blood shedding for the atonement of sins. I'm particularly interested in the why aspect of it.

Hebrews 9 is an intriguing chapter where keywords such as blood, sacrifice and covenant appear a lot. In particular, verse 22 says:

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. [Hebrews 9:22 ESV]

Question: What is it about blood shedding that makes it such a crucial element in both the OT and the NT? Why does blood have to be shed for purification and forgiveness of sins? Why not a different way of atonement? Is there a logic behind it, or is it just an arbitrary atonement mechanism chosen by God that we just have to accept and are nobody to question?

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  • The life is in the blood. Leviticus 17:11.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 13 at 3:27
  • "Is there a logic behind it, or is it just an arbitrary atonement mechanism chosen by God that we just have to accept and we are nobody to question it?" That would make Jesus' sacrifice really head-scratching. God is just arbitrarily requiring the death of His own Son? Mar 13 at 18:59
  • @AnthonyBurg - Good point. So there must be a reason. What is it? Mar 13 at 20:12
  • Don't have a solid answer for this but just want to point out that Heb 9:16 says the death of the sacrifice makes a covenant binding - and in this particular case the covenant under consideration regards forgiveness of sins.
    – colboynik
    Mar 30 at 3:58
  • +1 beautiful question
    – Robert
    Aug 12 at 7:57

12 Answers 12

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+50

Actually, the NT uses a technical word for this blood-atonement usually translated, "propitiation". Propitiation or expiation (Greek: “hilasterion”) denotes the act of appeasing a deity by sacrifice to incur divine favour (it is only an analogue, metaphor or figure of speech!). Thus, Jesus’ sacrifice is described as propitiation in:

  • Rom 3:25 - whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood, for a showing forth of His righteousness, because of the forbearance of the sins having taken place beforehand
  • 1 John 2:2 - And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

These are direct references to the same word used in the Septuagint in Ex 25:17-22 (and repeated in Heb 9:5) where the “atonement cover” or “mercy seat” of the Ark of the Covenant is described. That is, the covering of the Ark provided both atonement and mercy at the same time!

  • 1 Cor 5:7 - Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
  • 1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
  • John 1:29 - The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
  • John 1:36 - When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!"

This metaphor of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb acting as a propitiation is taken from the Levitical practices in the OT. However, it is just one of many metaphors of the what the atonement of Christ means and how it works. See the appendix below.

The reason that blood is so significant in the Hebrew mind is the connection consistently made in the OT, namely that the soul/life is in the blood.

  • Lev 17:11 - For the life [literally "soul"] of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for your souls upon the altar; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
  • Lev 17:14 - For the life [literally, "soul"] of all flesh is its blood. Therefore I have told the Israelites, ‘You must not eat the blood of any living thing, because the life [Literally, "soul"] of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it must be cut off.’
  • Gen 9:4 - But you shall not eat flesh with its life [Literally, "soul"], that is, its blood.
  • Deut 12:23 - Only be sure not to eat the blood, because the blood is the life ["soul"], and you must not eat the life ["soul"] with the meat.

This idea is carried over into the NT idea of justification. Shedding blood was equivalent of removing the life or "soul" of a creature. Jesus used this to show that we must, "drink His blood" to have eternal life.

  • John 6:53, 54 - So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

APPENDIX - Atonement metaphors in the NT

  • Christ’s robe of righteousness provided a covering to hide the sinner’s wretched state. Job 29:14, Ps 132:9, Isa 11:5, 59:17, 61:10, 64:6, Zech 3:4, 5, Matt 22:1-14 (wedding garment parable), Rev 3:4, 6:11, 7:9, 19:8. This robe is a counterpoint to the “filthy rags” of Isa 64:6 and Zech 3:4, and immediately and completely hides them.
  • The Greek verb “aphiemi”, to forgive or give remission, means (literally) to send forth or send away. It is used of sins in Matt 9:2, 5, 6, 12:31, 32, 26:28, Mark 14:24, Acts 8:22, Rom 4:7, James 5:12, 1 John 1:9, 2:12, etc. That is, our sins are sent away or banished. See also Mark 3:29, Acts 5:31, 13:38, 26:18, Eph 1:7, Col 1:14. Again, Jesus accomplished this great work on the cross.
  • Justify and Justification (Greek cognate root: “dike”) means to pronounce righteous or acquit and is obviously a legal term. Paul, in Romans, tells us that God has freely justified all sinners (Rom 3:23-27) and that this occurred while we were still sinners (Rom 5:5, 8, 9) by His death on the cross. This “declaring right” is clearly what God does and is His initiative and something that cannot be earned (Rom 3:20). In Gal 2:16 we are emphatically told that we are justified by trusting God and not by works of the law.
  • The Bible also uses the idea of Jesus’ death being a kind of penal substitutionary execution to satisfy the requirements of “the law”; thus, His death was an essential part of our salvation. Isa 53:5, 6, 11, 12, Matt 20:28, Rom 5:19, 2 Cor 5:21, Gal 1:4, 3:13, Heb 9:15. Again, the extent to which this is literally true is highly debated – is it only a metaphor to demonstrate God’s great love and grace? Or did Jesus’ death actually change something about God’s attitude to us (recall that Jesus is also God!) Obviously Jesus’ death did not change God’s mind because God gave His Son and God did not give something in order to change His own mind! Jesus death was to demonstrate His justice (Rom 3:22-28).
  • In Rev 12:7-10 the process that leads to atonement is depicted as a war which Jesus wins. His victory obtains atonement for mankind (Col 2:15, 1 Peter 3:22). In this warfare, sinners are God’s enemies that He must capture in the war (Rom 5:10). This metaphor is extended for the Christian life (Eph 6:10-17, 1 Thess 5:8, 2 Cor 10:3-5, Isa 59:17) with “the armour of God”. See also Rev 19:11-21.
  • The atonement is also presented as a kind of recapitulation: Jesus became the second Adam and succeeded where Adam failed. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Rom 5 discusses this idea at some length but the idea of sacrifice and the gift of salvation are never too far away even in this passage.
  • “Credit”, “account”, “imputed”, or “reckoned” (Greek: logizomai) is a financial or accounting term used in the market place but was employed by Paul to denote the act of God in crediting Abraham (and sinners generally) as righteous when they trusted in God, apart from the works of the law, as a free gift. The idea is based upon the assumption that sin creates a debt to God which must be repaid (Col 2:13-15, Matt 6:12). Again, it is only an analogue, metaphor or figure of speech and so is not literally true. (Rom 4:3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24, 2 Cor 5:19, Gal 3:6, James 2:23. See also Gen 15:6.) That is, the righteousness of God is “imputed” to the undeserving sinner, freely. Thus, God “cancels the debt” (Matt 18:21-35).
  • Gift” is used to convey the idea that atonement is absolutely free and the initiative of God. Rom 4:4, 5:15-17, 6:23, 2 Cor 9:14, 15, Eph 2:8, 3:7, Heb 6:4.
  • Redemption, Ransom, or most correctly, Manumission: Two Greek words are translated “redeem” (“exagerazo” and “lutroo”) with almost exactly equivalent meanings. Both speak of Christ redeeming sinners as slaves (Luke 1:68, 24:21) by paying a ransom (Matt 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Tim 2:6, Heb 9:15), but, Scripture is silent about to whom the manumission fee was paid (it is only an analogue, metaphor or figure of speech!). 1 Cor 6:20, 7:23, Gal 3:13, 4:5, Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 1:18, Rev 5:9. This manumission idea emphasizes God’s free gift of salvation because both Greek verbs were commonly used to buy freedom for a slave or hostage, without any contribution of the slave. Perhaps the most touching example of redemption is contained in the enacted parable of Hosea and Gomer – see Hosea 3:1-3. The New Testament also presents several things from which the sinner needs freedom: (a) Freedom from the devil, Heb 2:14, 15 (b) Freedom from death, 1 Cor 15:56, 57 (c) Freedom from the power of sin that enslaves, Rom 6:22 (d) Freedom from the condemnation of the law, Rom 3:19-24, Gal 3:13, 4:5
  • Reconciliation describes the process of reuniting an estranged family member. It is predicated on two Biblical assumptions that (a) Jesus is our brother (Heb 2:11-13, Ps 22:22, Isa 8:17, 18, Matt 12:48, 49, John 20:17, Rom 8:29), and (b) sin separates us from Jesus our brother (Isa 59:2, Gal 5:4, Eph 2:12, Ps 22:1, Eze 14:5, Jer 6:8). Reconciliation is found in only a few places but they, again, emphasise that atonement is God’s initiative without any input from us. In 2 Cor 5:18, 19 we find that Christ reconciled the world to Himself by “not counting our sins against us”. Rom 5:10, 11 teaches that sinners were reconciled to God by Christ’s death. Further, a comparison with v9 shows that justification and reconciliation are used in parallel.
  • Rescue (save): The Greek verb, “sozo” means literally to rescue or deliver from danger (Matt 8:25, Mark 13:20, Luke 23:35, John 12:27, 1 Tim 2:15, 2 Tim 4:18). Thus, when the New Testament discusses salvation, it is using the figure of someone in immanent mortal danger being rescued by a “rescuer” (Acts 2:47, 16:31, Rom 8:24, Eph 2:5, 8, 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Tim 19, Titus 3:5, etc). This a perfect figure of our relationship with Jesus who delivers us from the danger of sin (Phil 2:12) and eternal loss (Rom 13:11, 1 Thess 5:8, 9 2 Thess 2:13, Heb 1:14, 9:28, 1 Peter 1:5, 2 Peter 3:15, etc). See also Eph 6:17 where salvation is described as a helmet to protect from spiritual danger. This figure also emphasises that salvation must come from outside the person.
  • The absolving of sin is sometimes represented as a “washing away” of sin, or “cleansing”. Lev 16:30, Num 19:9, Ps 51:2, 7, 10, Isa 4:4, Eze 36:25, Zech 13:1, 1 Cor 6:10, Eph 5:26, 1 John 1:7, 9. The practice of Baptism is built on this vivid metaphor and thus depicted as washing away of sin (Acts 22:16) as well as death to the old life and resurrection to a new life in Christ.

The above does not include another metaphor sometimes called, “The Divine Exchange” and is illustrated in the following texts:

  • 2 Cor 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Gal 1:4, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
  • Gal 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.
  • John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • 2 Cor 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor…
  • Isa 53:4-6, Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

That is, Jesus was treated as we deserve so that we can be treated as He deserved.

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  • I'm not sure if this answers the question. Are you saying the reason why there is blood shedding is because it's for propitiation, and propitiations by definition require blood shedding? If that's the case, I have two objections: 1) I checked the definition of the word 'propitiation' in several dictionaries, but didn't find the requirement of blood shedding in any of them. 2) Even if it's part of the definition, that still doesn't explain why the term is defined that way, as opposed to any other way. I still don't understand why blood has to be shed. Mar 13 at 11:08
  • But it's fine if the right answer is "we don't know, it's a mystery, as many other things". Mar 13 at 11:09
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - propitiation (ἱλασμός = sacrifice of atonement) is a metaphor meaning a blood sacrifice to appease an angry God. This is clearly not reality but a metaphor as is "paying the price" to whom??
    – Dottard
    Mar 13 at 21:07
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - The shedding of blood has to do with killing and the "soul" as shown above - it anticipated the shedding of Christ's blood. Christ died because He was crushed by sin and the sacrifices simply were a prefiguring of that. There is a direct link! I cannot put the dots any closer.
    – Dottard
    Aug 31 at 22:11
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As stated above life is in the blood. Now, I will try and give VERY EASY CONCEPT of blood atonement for you to understand. Let's go:

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” — Genesis 2:17 (KJV)

From the beginning we learn that the penalty of sin is death. Adam and Eve ate the fruit but NEVER DIED ON THE SPOT PHYSICALLY, why was that? The reason is everything happens in the spiritual first then is made manifest in the physical. We first die spiritually, or in the eye of God, whenever we sin.

Ephesians 2 (KJV) ¹ And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; ² Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:

After we have understood the concept of death, let's go to reconciliation. As Leviticus says, life is in the blood of an animal, it means that blood gives life. Because when we sin we become dead spirituality, we need NEW BLOOD to RENEW our life.

WHY ANIMAL BLOOD? When God looks at the sinner He sees him dead because of sin. Now, in order to bring him back to life, blood from a sinless human must be used to cleanse the sinner and make him alive. But who can do that among men?

Psalms 53 (KJV)

² God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. ³ Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

There was none among humans who was sinless to shed their blood to cleanse us (and give life back). Now, because humans sinned and blood is the ONLY thing that can bring back life, God instituted animal sacrifice. Why? Animals are sinless, their blood is always spiritually clean.

When animal blood is offered as substitute for sins, the animal dies because blood has been taken out of it, in other words LIFE has been removed. The animal dies on behalf of sinners while it's blood is used to bring back to life those who were dead in sin.

At this stage when God looks at the sinner He doesn't see them dead instead He see life in them through the blood of the animal. This is why the blood DIDN'T CLEANSE but only COVERED the sins for a period of time. How? Once the animal dies it never comes back to life again. This means that the blood will only cover the sinner for as long as there's life in the blood. The blood will eventually loose it's life and the sinner is again back with sins. That's why animal sacrifice had to be offered periodically, for it only covered for the period of its life.

COME JESUS. Any human to atone for sins had to be pure, blameless without sin. Because no human could atone for sinners God Himself had to take human form and offer His life for us. He was sinless, hence His blood became a perfect sacrifice for our sins. In His blood is LIFE EVERLASTING because unlike animals, He died and after three days He came back to life. His blood was still alive when He was resurrected, that's why no need for another sacrifice. His blood is still with life for as long as He lives. That's how death is defeated, when one is in Christ, they are covered by the blood of Jesus, hence death has no power over them.

You can now apply this concept to other scenarios like the blood of Abel, virgin etc. By the way, once you understand this concept, you will view marriage very differently and it will make sense to you why marriage is the covenant and why no divorce untill death.

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The goal of Hebrews is not to explain why

I think to answer the question of why, we need to turn Hebrews on its head, because in this passage, the goal of the author is to teach, going from the natural to the spiritual, the principle of forgiveness of sins:

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:

But the pedagogical process is not the right one to use when asking why. Questions of why are for the mature. E.g. we know that children need to obey their fathers, and from this pattern we learn to obey our Heavenly Father, but once we are mature we understand that it is because we must obey our Heavenly Father that children need to obey their natural fathers.

That is, the natural is a shadow of the spiritual, the spiritual is not a shadow of the natural. The natural is how we come to understand the spiritual, but it never explains why. And this type of teaching can only be for the mature, otherwise they will go off the rails trying to learn to love their natural fathers by an incomplete knowledge of their Heavenly Father and they will learn neither the natural nor the spiritual.

But the book of Hebrews was written for jews who wanted to be told how many steps they were allowed to walk while still keeping the Sabbath. They were not mature, they were slaves of a robotic literalism and so the author of Hebrews patiently taught from metaphors using animal sacrifices and the shedding of blood in order to teach the spiritual principle of forgiveness of sins, which is really nothing more than a loving Father being merciful to his own children, which is the true "why".

Hosea 6.6

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

The shedding of blood is a shadow for Christ's devotion to the Father

All the various sacrifices and principles of atonement are shadows of Christ's sacrifice, and so the reason why the shedding of blood was required in the sacrificial system is because Christ laid down his life in obedience to the Father. It is not the other way around - that Christ needed to lay down his life because he is a type for the animal sacrifices. They are a type for his sacrifice.

So then we ask -- why did Christ shed his blood? Because the voluntary laying down of his life was the total expression of love for the Father. He gave all to the Father, even his own life. Why would the Father require this? Because the purpose of creation is to be the crucible in which things are made holy through testing. God creates and then separates. He put Adam into the garden so that Adam would be tested.

Zech 13.9

And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

Proverbs 17.3

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.

Isaiah 48.10:

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

The Scriptures are clear that what Christ went through was a trial, and the purpose of every trial is to reveal what you are made of. It is not for another purpose. 1 Peter 4.12-13

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

It is the Father's love for the son that is the source of forgiveness

By passing this trial, the incarnated Christ demonstrated his love for the Father in creation. E.g. he brought that love into creation. This love was met by a perfect love from the Father back to the Son. It is the mutual love between the Father and the Son that is the true spiritual mechanism by which creation can access forgiveness, as love keeps no record of wrongs

And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4.8

A judge imposes a law on the accused, but a loving father is merciful to his children (Luke 15.20-24).

We participate in that love (and thus forgiveness) by identifying with the Son

This is also why more than just the shedding of blood is required. There are other requirements, such as the animal being without defect, and very importantly, the priest needed to lay hands on the animal being sacrificed or otherwise identify with it. Without the laying on of hands, it would not carry away the sins of the people. Also in the sanctification of priests, the blood needed to touch their ears, feet, etc. In communion, e.g. peace offerings, it is required to eat the sacrificed animal. Thus identification with the sacrifice is required, it was not enough just to shed the blood.

In the same way, as the spiritual source of forgiveness is the Father's love for the Son, we need to apprehend the Son, that is, a process of being born again representing Christ becoming our identity. This identification allows us to be joint heirs with Christ, and thus subject to the love of the Father rather than to His judgement. This is what allows us to escape punishment for our sins.

At the same time, that identification with Christ also drives us to lay our life down just as the Son did. So that supreme act of devotion, the cross, becomes the center of the whole creation. By that point we would have moved long past animal sacrifices just as we would have moved long past trying to count how many steps one is allowed to walk on Saturdays in order to be at rest.

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  • Best answer so far. This is more or less my view & perspective. I appreciate the commentary about creation being a crucible. I might also include some commentary about how Christ's test proves he is fit to be the new Adam who would never lose the new creation to sin. We are covered as a result of Christ's rule. Notice that sin didn't come into the world through Eve, but through Adam, because he was the chief ruler. Also when God was mad with Israel, it was necessary for David to sin before God would exact punishment (1 Sam 24).
    – Austin
    Aug 13 at 17:58
  • @Austin thanks, Austin. Yes, I agree with these points as well. I wanted to add more but fear I already added too much and the answer is too lengthy as it is
    – Robert
    Aug 13 at 18:13
  • Well, you saved me from struggling with the same problem of length. Thanks for your answer.
    – Austin
    Aug 13 at 18:19
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Forgiveness of Sins

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22 ESV)

There are two divine works described: purification and forgiveness of sins. Blood is mandatory for forgiveness of sins but not necessarily the sole means of purification.

The best explanation for the necessity of the shedding of blood is found in Isaiah:

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55)

God in His sovereignty, decided the shedding of blood would be the only means for the forgiveness of sins. As God, He has the right to decree how His creation will function. So the answer is simply "God said so:" as it is for many things. For instance. why is sex outside of marriage a sin? Because God said so. There are many aspects of creation where it could be asked "why" which the only answer is "God said so." Essentially, that is the foundation of God's answer to Job.

We don't need to know "why" in order to believe and receive the forgiveness of sins God offers. In this way the process will remain solely a matter of faith.

In God's answer, Job was denied some key information. Nowhere is Job told there is an adversary who challenges and accuses God and how the afflictions were rooted in these challenges. This conflict suggests an explanation for God's decree on the shedding of blood.

There is a spiritual battle between God and the Accuser, HaSatan/The Satan and we know from Revelation the Accuser is still at work even offering a counterfeit system to God's. However, try as he might, there is one thing which he is unable to counterfeit: the blood of the μονογενὴς θεὸς. The Word who becomes flesh has a physical substance, His blood, which cannot be counterfeited or reproduced. By making the shedding of blood a necessity, there is only one blood "type" which brings forgiveness of sins:

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55)

We do not need an explanation to believe, but there is some logic behind a system which demands something which only God is able to supply.

Purification
"...under the law almost everything is purified with blood..." In other words, there are things under the law which may be purified without the shedding of blood. For example:

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1)

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. (John 15:3)

The shed blood of the Word of God offers forgiveness of sins and the Word of God who was raised to life has the words of eternal life which purified those who believed before His blood was shed and continue to have the same efficacy today.

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Blood is arguably one of the most important symbols of both the Old and New Testament. From the very first account of fratricide in the OT, blood plays a significant role in both the literal and symbolic sense:

  • The LORD said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. (Gen 4:10-11)

The imagery is vivid – the personified blood of Abel cries out to God for justice. Justice in turn requires restitution. In the covenant that God makes with Noah and his descendants, God declares that when human blood is shed, restitution must also be made in blood:

  • ‘Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind. (Gen 9:6)

This principle of blood for blood or “life for life” is key to the system of justice and the rituals of atonement in the Old Testament. Blood represents both the life that is taken, as well as the life that is offered for the atonement of sin.

  • Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution – life for life. (Lev 24:17-18)

Figuratively, blood represents death, or sin and separation from God, on the one hand; and new life, or restitution and reconciliation with God, on the other. And just as sin can be said to leave the stain of blood, the blood that is offered in atonement washes away the stain of sin.

  • But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. (Is 59:2-3)

  • “He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites. (Lev 7: 18-19)

But in the NT, the blood of Christ represents both the sin and the offering, both the life that is taken and the life that is given and offered for the forgiveness of sins. His blood, alone unstained by sin, reconciles all who sin with God. Unlike the blood of Abel that cried out for justice, the blood of Christ opens the way for God's mercy. It is the blood of the new covenant and brings to fulfillment God’s ultimate vision of peace for mankind.

  • But you have come to… Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does. (Heb 12:22-24)
  • For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos 6:6)
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Why does blood have to shed for purification and forgiveness of sins? Hebrews 9:22

God our creator the giver of life stated his decision:

Leviticus 17:11-12 NASB

11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’ 12 Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any stranger who resides among you eat blood.’

God in other words has put a value on blood, setting it aside as sacred- its only use was for sacrifice as a sin offering in order to make atonement. It was not to be eaten and when an animal was killed its blood was to be poured on the ground, thus in a sense it was given back to God.

Leviticus 4:20 NASB

20 He shall also do with the bull just as he did with the bull of the sin offering; he shall do the same with it. So the priest shall make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven.

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Lev 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.

We can infer from the overall Biblical theology that the reason, blood is central to the concept of sacrificial atonement is because it reminds us the value of life. Sin leads to death, and by giving an institution of blood sacrifice, God enforces the value of his law that we remember the severity of sin as he said repeatedly that the soul that sins The soul that sinneth, it shall die and sin leads to death, eternal death. By offering substitutionary blood sacrifice, we may fear the wrath and law of God. We do not purchase more sins by offering blood sacrifice, but offer repentant reparation and restitution to God. The ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God also aims only to snatch us away from sin, that the world may know the severity of sin, and how much God wants to save the sinners.

The purpose is to call man to holiness, this is the whole Gospel of Christ:

[1Pet 1:15-20 ESV] 15but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

Few quotes from Dr. Michael Brown, explaining the reason behind blood sacrifice:

As Rashi explained [on Lev 17:11], “for every creature is dependent on blood, therefore I have given it to you on the altar to atone for the life of man; let life come and atone for the life.” In other words, the reason that blood sacrifices played such a central role in the Torah is because the operated on the principle of substitution, i.e., on the principle of life for life. Thus, an ancient midrash on Leviticus 1:2 states: “When you voluntarily offer a korban olah [i.e., a burnt offering] and it is slaughtered and its blood sprinkled upon the altar, I consider it as if you have offered your very selves.” 170 Similarly, Rabbi J. H. Hertz, commenting on Leviticus 17:11, observed, “The use of blood, representing life, in the rites of atonement symbolized the complete yielding up of the worshipper’s life to God, and conveyed the thought that the surrender of a man to the will of God carried with it the assurance of Divine pardon.” 171 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 107

  1. It is in the context of animal sacrifices – specifically, the wording of Leviticus 1:4 {“He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him”) – that the Talmudic rabbis asked, Does the laying on of the hand [on the sacrifice] make atonement for one? Does not atonement come through the blood, as it is said: For it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life! [Lev. 17:11]…Does the waving [of the offering] make atonement? Is it not the blood which makes atonement by reason of the life” [again, Lev. 17:11]? B. Yoma 5a, as translated in the Soncino Talmud; cf. also the virtually identical wording in b. Zevahim 6a; b. Menahot 93b; Sifra 4:9). 175 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 108

Footnote 175: Jacob Neusner, in his American translation, renders the key words as “atonement is only through the blood.”

  1. Thus, Oxford professor Geza Vermes, one of the foremost Jewish scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls, stated that “according to Jewish theology, there can be no expiation without the shedding of blood: ‘en kapparah ‘ella’ bedam.” 176 Similarly, Professor Baruch Levine, in his commentary on Leviticus for the Jewish Publication Society wrote, “Expiation by means of sacrificial blood-rites is a prerequisite for securing God’s forgiveness. As the rabbis expressed it, ein kapparah ‘ella’ be-dam, ‘There is no ritual expiation except by means of blood.’” 177 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 109

Footnote 176: Geza Vermes, “Redemption and Genesis xxii: The binding of Isaac and the Sacrifice of Jesus,” in his Scripture and Tradition in Judaism, Studia Post-biblica 4 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1961), 193-227 (here, 205) with reference to b. Yoma 5a. Interestingly, Vermes adds, “The antiquity of this Talmudic rule is attested by the Epistle to the Hebrews ix. 22: xoris haimatekxusias ou ginetai aphesis, ‘without the shedding of blood there is not remission’” (ibid., 205, n. 4).

  1. This concept is so ingrained in the Jewish psyche that to this day many Orthodox Jews around the world still offer a blood sacrifice on the eve of Yom Kippur (or in some circles, the eve of Rosh Hashanah), taking a live rooster (for men) or hen (for women) and waving it around their heads three times as they say, “This is my substitute, this is my vicarious offering, this is my atonement [kapparah]. This rooster (or hen) shall meet death, but I shall find a long and pleasant life of peace.” 179 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 109
  1. To further emphasize the vital connection between blood and atonement, let me cite the observations made by the two most important Talmud commentaries (Rashi and Tosafot) to this Rabbinic dictum that “there is no atonement without blood.” Rashi states that “the fundamental principle (‘iqqar) of atonement is in the blood” (b. Yoma 5a). Tosafot, also discussing the Talmudic statement that there is no atonement without blood, makes reference to a passage found elsewhere in the Talmud (b. Pesahim 59b) that indicated that the priests had to eat certain specified sacrifices if those offering were to have their atoning effect. 180 Tosafot then concludes, “But in any case, the fundamental principle [again, ‘iqqar] of atonement doesn’t exist without blood.” (b. Zevahim 6a). – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 109-110
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Blood is life, both literally and figuratively.

The result of sin is death, the opposite of life.

Adam and Eve sinned (they disobeyed God), they believed the Serpent's lie that they would not "surely die", and as a result they earned death.

Blood sacrifices symbolize this relationship: only death (shed blood) can atone for sin.


Consider the offerings of Cain and Abel:

… Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD.
Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.
— Genesis 4:3–4

… the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. …
— Genesis 4:4–5

Cain sacrificed a living breathing soul (נֶפֶשׁ, nep̄eš) to God, while Abel offered some vegetables.

Cain too could have offered a lamb, simply by trading some of his crops with his brother, but he didn't. He personally gave up just as much as Abel, but he failed to understand the true meaning of blood sacrifices.

For God, it isn't one's intentions that count; it is one's actual deeds.

Good intentions aren't good enough.

The Christian scriptures make this concept quite clear:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
— Matthew 7:21–23


Noah was reminded of the significance of blood:

But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.
— Genesis 9:4–6

This is considered one of the Noahide Laws, applicable to all mankind:

And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. ‘For the life [soul] of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’ Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.’
— Leviticus 17:10–12

Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life; you may not eat the life with the meat. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it on the earth like water. You shall not eat it, that it may go well with you and your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.
— Deuteronomy 12:23–25

Blood must be returned to the Earth, symbolically returning life to the God that created it.


Look at the original Passover:

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. … Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
— Exodus 12:5–13

The blood of the sacrificial lamb symbolized life, and offered salvation from certain death to those that made use of it.


The word "sacrifice" occurs hundreds of times in the Bible, almost all of them referring to the literal killing, by bleeding, of a living breathing soul.

And you shall offer your burnt offerings, the meat and the blood, on the altar of the LORD your God; and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God, and you shall eat the meat.
— Deuteronomy 12:27

These sacrifices act not only as as an admission of one's sins, but acknowledgement that all life belongs to God, and that sin (disobeying God) will ultimately require returning one's own life to him:

Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die.
— Ezekiel 18:4


The Talmud (Jewish commentary and records of oral tradition) makes frequent references to the fact that "there is no atonement without blood".

From a Christian perspective, Jesus shed his blood (i.e. died) as the ultimate sacrifice, to pay the death penalty for anyone that asks:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 6:23

That the sacrificial animals had to be "without blemish" etc. symbolizes Jesus's own perfect life.

All previous animal sacrifices merely served as symbolic foreshadowing of this single momentous event.

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Very simple. I appreciate you are after a lengthy apologetically presented argument, but it’s not needed.

First, there is this … the only penalty for ‘sin’ is ..

ROMANS 6:23 For the wages of sin is death[snip]

Second, there is this …

ROMANS 3:23 for all have sinned [snip]

Third, all committed ‘sin’ is committed by the flesh. It’s what you do. So the flesh has to pay the penalty - death.

And lastly, the way we signify that the flesh has paid the price (death) is by shedding its blood.

LEVITICUS 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

The end. That’s it. Can stop reading here.

—————————

However if you want a deeper answer (not that it’s needed) …….

Blood and it’s relationship to ‘sin’. The verse you quoted relates to the ceremonial practices related to the Law.

HEBREWS 9:22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.

Your translation uses the word ‘forgiveness’ for ‘aphesis’, but most translations use remission - ‘aphesis’ means ‘release from bondage or imprisonment’, or ‘remission from penalty’

Under Law, there was a Penalty for ‘sin’. One. And it was death. Fullstop. That was the penalty, and only penalty. All ‘sin’ is [done/committed] in the flesh, and, the life of the flesh is in the blood.

LEV 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’

So ‘blood’ represented that the penalty for ‘sin’ had been paid.

As for purification by blood, this is actually a different aspect of the blood. Here the blood covered ‘sin’ (‘kaphar’). And in some respects, this covering prevented the ‘sin’ from being ‘seen’. The person/object would be protected from both being defiled by ‘sin’, and/or protected from the penalty for ‘sin’.

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The answer is actually simple.

Blood represents life, but the shedding of blood represents death.

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. (Hebrews 9:22, KJV)

Put another way, without death, there is no payment in full for the sin.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. (Leviticus 17:11, KJV)

The penalty has not been paid if the sinner has not paid with his life; that is to say, he or she has not yet paid if death has not been the reward for the sin. This is because the law requires perfect obedience, and the penalty for transgression is death. And sin is defined as being the transgression of the law, God's perfect law.

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (1 John 3:4, KJV)

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23, KJV)

Because the lawful wages for sin was death (shedding of blood), the law could not be fulfilled without this penalty being meted out. That law could not be changed, but Christ could take that penalty in our place. This is what most refer to as the atonement, expiation, or propitiation.

The shedding of Christ's blood does not actually provide forgiveness, for God is so good and loving that He would want to forgive us regardless; but Jesus' death is what makes God's forgiveness legitimate/legal. God's law is immutable (unchangeable), and even God could not have changed it. But by taking the penalty in our place, the requirement of the law is fulfilled and He can then offer forgiveness and life in place of the wages we have earned.

And this is why Jesus Christ had to shed His blood to fulfill the law for us, taking our penalty, that He did not deserve, so that we might live--which we did not deserve.

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Can fruit be offered instead of blood for the forgiveness of sins? - Yes. - Qayin קַ֜יִן asked this exact question, after offering Pri to YHVH in Genesis 4:3.

Genesis 4:3

Now it came to pass at the end of days, that Qayin brought from the fruit of the soil an offering to YHVH. ( וַיְהִ֖י מִקֵּ֣ץ יָמִ֑ים וַיָּבֵ֨א קַ֜יִן מִפְּרִ֧י הָֽאֲדָמָ֛ה מִנְחָ֖ה לַֽיהֹוָֽה )

And YHVH said to Qayin וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־קָ֑יִן in [Genesis 4:7] : "Surely, if you do right, There is uplift. But if you do not do right Sin couches at the door; Its urge is toward you, Yet you can be its master." ( הֲל֤וֹא אִם־תֵּיטִיב֙ שְׂאֵ֔ת וְאִם֙ לֹ֣א תֵיטִ֔יב לַפֶּ֖תַח חַטָּ֣את רֹבֵ֑ץ וְאֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָת֔וֹ וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשָׁל־בּֽוֹ )

Did אֱלֹהִ֔ים Elohim ever require blood to atone for sins? - Only If a man or an animal sheds the blood of mankind, then blood is required to atone for their sins.

Genesis 9:5

But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man! ( וְאַ֨ךְ אֶת־דִּמְכֶ֤ם לְנַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶם֙ אֶדְרֹ֔שׁ מִיַּ֥ד כָּל־חַיָּ֖ה אֶדְרְשֶׁ֑נּוּ וּמִיַּ֣ד הָֽאָדָ֗ם מִיַּד֙ אִ֣ישׁ אָחִ֔יו אֶדְרֹ֖שׁ אֶת־נֶ֥פֶשׁ הָֽאָדָֽם )

Genesis 9:6

Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image did Elohim make man. ( שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹהִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם )

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  • Qayin offered wine (or more likely pure alcohol which makes a great cleanser) and Abel offered milk.
    – R. Emery
    Mar 13 at 3:25
  • Qayin = wine = Yayin. blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=H3196
    – R. Emery
    Mar 13 at 3:27
  • Those were not sin or guilt offering for atonement by Cain Abel but gift offering. Gen 9 is about death of man for murdering a man. Not about blood sacrificial atonement which is central to the Torah. See my answer and the link.
    – Michael16
    Aug 14 at 3:40
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These passages seem to set forth clearly lex talionis aka "the principle of retaliation," at least in the case of bodily harm or murder:

[Exo 21:24 NLT] (24) an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot,

[Lev 24:20 NLT] (20) a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind.

[Gen 9:6 NKJV] (6) "Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.

So when David had, by proxy, murdered Bathsheba's innocent husband Uriah the Hittite, he accrued bloodguilt. The Torah said that he must be killed. However, he was not killed. Instead, he was freely forgiven and went on to be a celebrated hero of the LORD.

Thus, God became open to the charge of injustice, and being derelict in his duty:

[Gen 18:25 NKJV] (25) "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

And Jesus set aside the whole concept of lex talionis:

[Mat 5:38-42 NLT] (38) "You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' (39) But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. (40) If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. (41) If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. (42) Give to those who ask, and don't turn away from those who want to borrow.

In the Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement, the death of Christ satisfies justice by saying that the death of the son of God was so "valuable" that it was "worth the bloodguilt related to every sinner's guilt, so when Jesus suffered and his blood was shed, it "paid for" and "vicariously suffered" the punishment of every sinner's crimes.

However, this does not accord with lex talionis because in that jurisprudence, it is the sinner that receives the payback. So instead of "the principle of retaliation," substitutionary atonement is an example of the principle that "two wrongs make a right". It is a jurisprudence that says that justice can be served either by the sinner being punished and the righteous rewarded OR by the righteous being punished and the wicked rewarded. Thus Substitutionary Atonement is a nonsensical approach to justice. I like to summarize its logic like this:

"You raped my daughter? Okay, well then how about if you kill my son and then we'll call it even." Absurd, of course. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Paul explains that God's plan of salvation is not about justice at all. It is about mercy triumphing over justice:

[Jas 2:13 NKJV] (13) For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

How so?:

[Act 17:29-30 KJV] (29) Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. (30) And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

[Rom 3:23-26 KJV] (23) For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (25) Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (26) To declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

To unpack that...

  • God freely forgave David and others
  • He set forth his crucified Son before his subjects as a propitiation, not to satisfy justice and not to make himself more disposed to forgive, but satisfy his subjects - especially those like Uriah, who were victims of the forgiven - that the Judge had Himself borne the murder of his beloved Son and forgiven his murderers, just as he asks them to do, so that God can be counted merciful and kind rather than negligent and feckless as the Judge.
  • in this way he is vindicated as Judge and as Forgiver In Chief of all who trust in Jesus.

The body and blood of Jesus also was the requisite bloody corpse that was used to seal an ancient blood covenant, in the case of the New Covenant. It seems to indicate that if God fails to forgive sins, he becomes subject to being killed just as the corpse was and if his subjects do not keep covenant, they too will be destroyed.

There is also the suffering of Jesus himself which, though measured and very limited compared to many people's deaths, did show that he had "skin in the game" so to speak, making him a qualified and compassionate high priest, to intercede on behalf of the sinner that approaches his mercy seat.

In the OT, though, the blood of the sacrifices served primarily as an atonement. IE: An expression of remorse, an appeal for mercy and a commitment to turn from that behavior.

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