Judaism and Human Sacrifice as a Means of Atonement

Responding to Muslim Appeals to Jewish Polemics

Sam Shamoun

Muslim Polemicist MENJ has posted an article on his website written by a retired Jewish doctor named Dr. JosephG (*).

The aim of the paper is to show why Jesus’ vicarious death is unacceptable from a Jewish perspective. Dr. JosephG seeks to prove that Jesus’ death is contrary to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible as well as to Judaism.

Instead of dealing with all of the objections we will deal with Dr. JosephG’s seventh, ninth and tenth points since these are the most crucial objections, at least from our perspective. Lord Jesus permitting, we will then follow this up with a complete rebuttal of all his other points.

Here, now, are the objections raised by Dr. JosephG and are responses to them.

SEVENTH, the Hebrew Bible states that the sacrificial sin offering could only atone for unintentional sins, with few notable exceptions as stated in Lev 5:1-6, 20-26 [Lev 6:1-7 in Christian Bibles] (e.g., Num 15:27-31).


Dr. JosephG’s comments here are quite ironic in light of his candid admission that the Torah, in a few instances, DOES prescribe atonement for intentional sins. Note for instance what the following passage says:

"The LORD said to Moses: ‘If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by DECEIVING his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he CHEATS him, or if he finds lost property and LIES about it, or if he SWEARS FALSELY, or if he commits any such sin that people may do - when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.’" Leviticus 6:1-7 NIV

Since the Torah does prescribe sacrifices for intentional sins, in what way does Jesus’ sacrifice for willful transgressions contradict the teaching of the Hebrew Bible? Besides, according to Leviticus 16, the High Priest, on the Day of Atonement, made atonement for ALL of Israel’s sins:

"He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull's blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel. Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. 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. When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it ALL THE WICKEDNESS AND REBELLION of the Israelites - ALL THEIR SINS - and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself ALL THEIR SINS to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert." Leviticus 16:15-22 NIV

Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Michael L. Brown comments on this:

Notice carefully what the text says: The High Priest is to confess over the head of this goat "all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites - all their sins" - and "all" means "all." Notice also that the text specifically speaks of the "wickedness" (or "iniquity"; Hebrew, awon) and "rebellion" (Hebrew, pesha‘, meaning willful transgression) of the Israelites, not merely their unintentional sins.

"But what do the rabbis say about this? What is written in the Talmud?"

With regard to the kinds of sins atoned for by the sacrificial goats of Yom Kippur, the Talmud is even more explicit than the biblical text. Here are two different translations of m. Shevu‘ot 1:6, a well-known text in traditional Jewish law:

A. And for a deliberate act of imparting uncleanness to the sanctuary and its Holy Things, a goat [whose blood is sprinkled] inside and the Day of Atonement effect atonement.

B. And for all other transgressions which are in the Torah.

C. the minor or serious, deliberate or inadvertent, those done knowingly or done unknowingly, violating a positive or a negative commandment, those punishable by extirpation [karet] and those punishable by death at the hands of the court.

D. the goat which is sent away [Lev. 16:21] effects atonement.

And for uncleanness that occurs in the Temple and to its holy sacrifices through wantonness, [the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement] and the Day of Atonement effect atonement, and for [all] other transgressions [spoken of] in the Law, light or grace, premeditated or inadvertent, aware or unaware, transgressions of positive commands or negative commands, sin whose penalty is excision or sins punishable by death imposed by the court, the scapegoat makes atonement.

As codified and explained by Maimonides almost one thousand years later (Laws of Repentance, 1:2):

Since the goat sent [to Azazeil] atones for all of Israel, the High Priest confesses on it as the spokesman for all of Israel, as [Lev. 16:21] states: "He shall confess on it all the sins of the Children of Israel."

The goat sent to Azazeil atones for all the transgressions in the Torah, the severe and the lighter [sins]; those violated intentionally and those transgressed inadvertently; those which [the transgressor] became conscious of and those which he was not conscious of. All are atoned for by the goat sent [to Azazeil].

This applies only if one repents. If one does not repent, the goat only atones for the light [sins].

Which are light sins and which are severe ones? Severe sins are those which are punishable by execution by the court or by premature death [karet]. [The violation of] the other prohibitions that are not punishable by premature death are considered light [sins].

Here, then, is a perfectly clear statement from the most authoritative sources of traditional Judaism that the sacrifices offered and the ceremonies performed on the Day of Atonement effected atonement for all the kinds of sins, intentional and unintentional, willful and inadvertent. The only question raised by the Rabbinic sources is to what degree repentance was a necessary part of the equation, a question that all Messianic Jews would answer by saying, "Repentance plays a vital part in the equation!"… (Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000], Volume Two, pp. 129-130)

The NT teaches that the Lord Jesus is the believers’ High Priest:

"For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people." Hebrews 2:17

"Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess." Hebrews 3:1

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin." Hebrews 4:14-15

Thus, it only makes perfect sense that the risen Lord, much like the OT high priest, would atone for ALL the sins (both the intentional and the unintentional ones) committed by his people.

The Hebrew Scriptures also state that the death of the high priest makes atonement for involuntary manslaughter:

"If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him. But if without hostility someone suddenly shoves another or throws something at him unintentionally or, without seeing him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled. He must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil. But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which he has fled and the avenger of blood finds him outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. The accused must stay in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may he return to his own property. These are to be legal requirements for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live. Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death. Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow him to go back and live on his own land before the death of the high priest." Numbers 35:16-32

"Then the LORD said to Joshua: ‘Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When he flees to one of these cities, he is to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state his case before the elders of that city. Then they are to admit him into their city and give him a place to live with them. If the avenger of blood pursues him, they must not surrender the one accused, because he killed his neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. He is to stay in that city until he has stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then he may go back to his own home in the town from which he fled.’" Joshua 20:1-6

Again, even though the preceding passages relate to an involuntary sin, these verses demonstrate that the NT teaching regarding Jesus’ death making atonement is thoroughly consistent with the teachings of the Hebrew Bible, since the risen Lord is the believers’ eternal High Priest.

Furthermore, the high priest also affected the entire nation negatively if and when he sinned:

"And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the people of Israel, If any one sins unwittingly in any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, THUS BRINGING GUILT UPON THE PEOPLE, then let him offer for the sin which he has committed a young bull without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering.’" Leviticus 4:1-3

The preceding passage provides an example of how one person’s bad actions negatively affect those around him, showing that the Old Testament supports the New Testament teaching regarding our sins causing Christ to suffer. More on this below.

NINTH, the Hebrew Bible strictly forbids (human) vicarious atonement (e.g., Exod 32:31-33; Num 35:33; Deut 24:16; II Kgs 14:6; Jer 31:29 [30 in Christian Bibles]; Ezek 18:4,20; Ps 49:7).

TENTH, the Hebrew Bible strictly prohibits human sacrifices (e.g., Lev 18:21, 24-25; Deut 18:10; Jer 7:31, 19:5; Ezek 23:37,39).


It is true that the Holy Bible prohibits human sacrifices, specifically the sacrifice of innocent children in connection with the worship of pagan gods. But the Doctor’s assertion that the Holy Bible "strictly forbids" human vicarious atonement is not only blatantly wrong, it is also thoroughly unJewish! Dr. Michael Brown quotes orthodox Jewish historian Rabbi Berel Wein who wrote of the sufferings of the Jews:

Another consideration tinged the Jewish response to the slaughter of its people. It was an old Jewish tradition dating back to Biblical times that the death of the righteous and innocent served as expiation for the sins of the nation or the world. The stories of Isaac and of Nadav and Avihu, the prophetic description of Israel as the long-suffering servant of the Lord, the sacrificial service in the Temple - all served to reinforce this basic concept of the death of the righteous as an atonement for the sins of other men.

Jews nurtured this classic idea of death as an atonement, and this attitude towards their own tragedies was their constant companion throughout their turbulent exile. Therefore, the wholly bleak picture of unreasoning slaughter was somewhat relieved by the fact that the innocent did not die in vain and that the betterment of Israel and humankind somehow was advanced by their "stretching their neck to be slaughtered." What is amazing is that this abstract, sophisticated, theological thought should have become so ingrained in the psyche of the people that even the least educated and most simplistic of Jews understood the lesson and acted upon it, giving up precious life in a soaring act of belief and affirmation of the better tomorrow. This spirit of the Jews is truly reflected in the historical chronicle of the time:

"Would the Holy One, Blessed is he, dispense judgment without justice? But we may say that he whom God loves will be chastised. For since the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, the righteous are seized by death for the iniquities of the generation" (Yeven Metzulah, end of Chapter 15). (Brown, pp. 154-155)

The following citations further support Dr. Brown’s claims:

When they saw that he [Eleazar] was so courageous in the face of the afflictions, and that he had not been changed by their compassion, the guards brought him to the fire. There they burned him with maliciously contrived instruments, threw him down, and poured stinking liquids into his nostrils. When he was now burned to his very bones and about to expire, he lifted up his eyes to God and said, "You know, O God, that though I might have saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs." And after he said this, the holy man died nobly in his tortures, and by reason he resisted even to the very tortures of death for the sake of the law. 4 Maccabees 6:24-30

For just as towers jutting out over harbors hold back the threatening waves and make it calm for those who sail into the inner basin, so the seven-towered right reason of the youths, by fortifying the harbor of religion, conquered the tempest of the emotions. For they constituted a holy chorus of religion and encouraged one another, saying, "Brothers, let us die like brothers for the sake of the law; let us imitate the three youths in Assyria who despised the same ordeal of the furnace. Let us not be cowardly in the demonstration of our piety." While one said, "Courage, brother," another said, "Bear up nobly," and another reminded them, "Remember whence you came, and the father by whose hand Isaac would have submitted to being slain for the sake of religion." Each of them and all of them together looking at one another, cheerful and undaunted, said, "Let us with all our hearts consecrate ourselves to God, who gave us our lives, and let us use our bodies as a bulwark for the law. Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God. Therefore let us put on the full armor of self-control, which is divine reason. For if we so die, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us." Those who were left behind said to each of the brothers who were being dragged away, "Do not put us to shame, brother, or betray the brothers who have died before us." 4 Maccabees 13:6-18

"They vindicated their nation, looking to God and enduring torture even to death." Truly the contest in which they were engaged was divine, for on that day virtue gave the awards and tested them for their endurance. The prize was immortality in endless life. Eleazar was the first contestant, the mother of the seven sons entered the competition, and the brothers contended. The tyrant was the antagonist, and the world and the human race were the spectators. Reverence for God was victor and gave the crown to its own athletes. Who did not admire the athletes of the divine legislation? Who were not amazed? The tyrant himself and all his council marveled at their endurance, because of which they now stand before the divine throne and live through blessed eternity. For Moses says, "All who are consecrated are under your hands." These, then, who have been consecrated for the sake of God, are honored, not only with this honor, but also by the fact that because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation, the tyrant was punished, and the homeland purified -- they having become, as it were, a ransom for the sin of our nation. And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an expiation, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been afflicted. For the tyrant Antiochus, when he saw the courage of their virtue and their endurance under the tortures, proclaimed them to his soldiers as an example for their own endurance, and this made them brave and courageous for infantry battle and siege, and he ravaged and conquered all his enemies. 2 Maccabees 17:10-24

These passages clearly show what the Jewish attitude was regarding the death of the righteous. These Jews obviously believed that their deaths did have an effect upon the nation, and even beseeched God to accept their martyrdom as atonement for Israel’s sins!

Now part of what motivated these Jews to die as martyrs was Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac:

Yet the sacred and God-fearing mother did not wail with such a lament for any of them, nor did she dissuade any of them from dying, nor did she grieve as they were dying, but, as though having a mind like adamant and giving rebirth for immortality to the whole number of her sons, she implored them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion. O mother, soldier of God in the cause of religion, elder and woman! By steadfastness you have conquered even a tyrant, and in word and deed you have proved more powerful than a man. For when you and your sons were arrested together, you stood and watched Eleazar being tortured, and said to your sons in the Hebrew language, "My sons, noble is the contest to which you are called to bear witness for the nation. Fight zealously for our ancestral law. For it would be shameful if, while an aged man endures such agonies for the sake of religion, you young men were to be terrified by tortures. Remember that it is through God that you have had a share in the world and have enjoyed life, and therefore you ought to endure any suffering for the sake of God. For his sake also our father Abraham was zealous to sacrifice his son Isaac, the ancestor of our nation; and when Isaac saw his father's hand wielding a sword and descending upon him, he did not cower. And Daniel the righteous was thrown to the lions, and Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were hurled into the fiery furnace and endured it for the sake of God. You too must have the same faith in God and not be grieved. It is unreasonable for people who have religious knowledge not to withstand pain." By these words the mother of the seven encouraged and persuaded each of her sons to die rather than violate God's commandment. 4 Maccabees 16:12-24

What makes this rather interesting is that many Jewish sources went so far as to suggest that Isaac actually died, and by his death made atonement for Israel. Even those who didn’t believe that Isaac actually died still appealed to God to recall the binding of Isaac as a means of atonement:

MY BELOVED IS UNTO ME AS A CLUSTER OF HENNA. CLUSTER refers to Isaac, who was bound on the altar like A CLUSTER OF HENNA (KOFER): because he atones (mekapper) for the iniquities of Israel. (Song of Songs Rabbah 1:14:1 — Soncino Midrash Rabbah, volume 9, second part, p. 81)

When the children of Isaac give way to transgressions and evil deeds, do Thou recollect for them the binding of their father Isaac and rise from the Throne of Judgment and betake Thee to the Throne of Mercy, and being filled with compassion for them have mercy upon them and change for them the Attribute of Justice into the Attribute of Mercy! (Leviticus Rabbah 29:9 — Soncino Midrash Rabbah, volume 4, p. 376)

In the course of time ever greater importance was attributed to the 'Akedah. The haggadistic literature is full of allusions to it; the claim to forgiveness on its account was inserted in the daily morning prayer ...

... even in the Talmud voices are raised in condemnation of its conception as a claim to atonement ... These protests were silenced by the persecutions in which Jewish fathers and mothers were so often driven to slaughter their own children in order to save them from baptism. This sacrifice is regarded as a parallel to that of Abraham ... The influence of the Christian dogma of atonement by vicarious suffering and death, it has been suggested, induced the Jews to regard the willingness of Isaac also to be sacrificed in the light of a voluntary offering of his life for the atonement of his descendants. (Rabbi Max Landsberg (1845-1928), "'Akedah," The Jewish Encyclopedia)

There was ... a remarkable tradition that insisted that Abraham completed the sacrifice and that afterward Isaac was miraculously revived… According to this haggadah, Abraham slew his son, burnt his victim, and the ashes remain as a stored-up merit and atonement for Israel in all generations. (Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary [New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], p. 151 n. 5)

{The preceding quotes were taken and adapted from the Jews for Jesus website: http://www.jewsforjesus.org/answers/theology/atonement1}

The NET Bible translators write:

Gen 22:8 is an important passage in the background of the title Lamb of God as applied to Jesus. In Jewish thought this was held to be a supremely important sacrifice. G. Vermès stated: "For the Palestinian Jew, all lamb sacrifice, and especially the Passover lamb and the Tamid offering, was a memorial of the AKEDAH with its effects of deliverance, forgiveness of sin and messianic salvation" (Scripture and Tradition in Judaism, 225). (Source)

The story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved son, foreshadows God’s willingness to sacrifice his own Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus. For more details please read the following articles:


Hence, we find in the story of Abraham and Isaac a deliberate foreshadowing of what God and his Messiah would eventually do on behalf of sinners.

Here are some additional passages which demonstrate that Christ’s vicarious atonement is thoroughly consistent with the Hebrew Bible:

"While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel.’ So Moses said to Israel's judges, ‘Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.’ So Moses said to Israel's judges, ‘Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.’ Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them-through the Israelite and into the woman's body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made ATONEMENT for the Israelites.’" Numbers 25:1-13

Phinehas puts to death two wicked sinners and, by so doing, appeases God’s wrath, making atonement, resulting in God stopping the plague that had fallen upon Israel as a consequence of their sin. The NET translators state:

25sn The atonement that he made in this passage refers to the killing of the two obviously blatant sinners. By doing this he dispensed with any animal sacrifice, for the sinners themselves died. In Leviticus it was the life of the substitutionary animal that was taken in place of the sinners that made atonement. The point is that sin was punished by death, and so God was free to end the plague and pardon the people. God’s holiness and righteousness have always been every bit as important as God’s mercy and compassion, for without righteousness and holiness mercy and compassion mean nothing. (Source)

Phinehas’ act of atonement was commemorated in extra-biblical Jewish writings, such as the apocryphal book of Sirach (written about 132 B.C.):

PHINEHAS too, the son of Eleazar, was the courageous third of his line When, zealous for the God of all, he met the crisis of his people And, at the prompting of his noble heart, ATONED FOR THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL. Therefore on him again God conferred the right, in a covenant of friendship, to provide for the sanctuary, So that he and his descendants should possess the high priesthood forever. Sirach 45:23-25

Phinehas’ act was even reckoned to him as righteousness:

"But Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was checked. This was credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come." Psalm 106:30-31

And, now, another example of humans dying to make satisfaction for others:

"During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, ‘It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.’ The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) David asked the Gibeonites, ‘What shall I do for you? How shall I make amends so that you will bless the LORD's inheritance?’ The Gibeonites answered him, ‘We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ David asked. They answered the king, ‘As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and exposed before the LORD at Gibeah of Saul - the Lord 's chosen one.’ So the king said, ‘I will give them to you.’ The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the LORD between David and Jonathan son of Saul. But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah's daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul's daughter Merab, whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed and exposed them on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning. Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds of the air touch them by day or the wild animals by night. When David was told what Aiah's daughter Rizpah, Saul's concubine, had done, he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had taken them secretly from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up. They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul's father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land." 2 Samuel 21:1-14

The above passage clearly speaks of David wanting to make atonement for the sins committed against the Gibeonites. Here, again, is verse 3 in two different translations which highlight this point:

and David said unto the Gibeonites: ‘What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of HaShem?’ Jewish Publication Society (JPS)

And David said to the Gibeonites, "What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the LORD?" English Standard Version (ESV)

Note carefully that the seven sons from the family of Saul are put to death for the sins of their ancestor. Their death resulted in God answering prayers to relieve the land of Israel from famine, implying that their death made atonement for the land. Therefore, this demonstrates that a person can suffer as a result of the sins of another, and that others can benefit as a result of someone else’s sufferings. In a similar manner, the Lord Jesus suffered as a result of our sins, and believers benefit from his sufferings.

The preceding Jewish sources make it quite evident that Dr. JosephG’s views are not at all representative of what the Hebrew Bible actually teaches, nor do they reflect the teachings of historic Judaism. The Jews clearly did believe that in certain instances human death could make atonement for others.

Now someone may contest our appeal to these OT texts, specifically Numbers 25 and Phinehas. One may wish to argue that Phinehas put to death individuals who were wicked and therefore deserving of death. Yet, the Lord Jesus was sinless and did not deserve to die according to the Hebrew Bible. Thus, there is no parallel with the death of Christ and Phinehas’ act.

This argument fails to take into account the biblical teaching that Christ died on behalf of our sins. According to the testimony of Holy Scripture, the Lord Jesus had our sins imputed to him and was therefore guilty from a judicial perspective. In other words, Christ was viewed as the one who had actually committed these crimes, even though he was absolutely sinless and pure, and was then treated accordingly. Since the Scriptures teach that those who sin are deserving of death, and because Christ was reckoned a sinner, although actually sinless, he suffered death as a result of it.

Likewise, Christ’s perfect obedience and sinlessness was imputed to the believer, whereby the believer is then reckoned as perfectly righteous and receives the benefits which result from it.

This is the glorious truth of the Good News, the Gospel, that Christ died because of our sins and we live because of his perfect righteousness which we receive by faith alone:

"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." Romans 3:21-28

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Romans 5:1, 8-11

"Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." Romans 5:16-19

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:21

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24

For more on this subject, as well as the early Church Fathers’ exegesis of 2 Corinthians 5:21 and how it relates to substitutionary atonement, we recommend the following articles:


We now move to the next OT passage supporting human vicarious atonement.

Isaiah 53 and the Death of the Righteous

The clearest proof that God accepts human vicarious atonement comes from the 53rd chapter of the book of Isaiah the prophet, verses 1-13:

"Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, 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 wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; AND THE LORD HAS LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; FOR THE TRANSGRESSION OF MY PEOPLE HE WAS STRICKEN. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, AND HE WILL BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. FOR HE BORE SIN OF MANY, and made intercession for the transgressors." NIV

It is beyond the scope of this paper to demonstrate that this is a genuine Messianic prophecy, perfectly fulfilled by the Lord Jesus. It is also beyond the focus of this article to address the counter-arguments made by the Jewish ‘anti-missionaries’ against Jesus being the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. At the end of the paper we will present a list of books and articles that thoroughly address these specific issues.

What we would like to focus on here is the anti-missionaries’ position that Isaiah 53 really refers to the nation of Israel. For instance, on the Jews for Judaism website, Gerald Sigal writes:

Moreover, the history of Israel, down through the ages shows that the servant is, none other than Israel personified. Chapter 53 reiterates this fact by providing an historic overview of the tragedies and triumphs of the servant, Israel, throughout its history. Who would believe that this exiled nation, this humiliated loathsome Jewish people would be fated to survive the vicissitudes of its historical sufferings to once more have a future entailing prominence, hope, and joy (Source; bold emphasis ours)


Isaiah 53 provides a model: Israel suffers not only for its own sins but also as a result of the sins of those nations among whom they dwell. The fact is that Jews, because they are elect, suffer. Election carries responsibilities, some of which are not pleasant, but, in the end, faithful Israel will be rewarded. (Source; bold emphasis ours)

The assertion that Isaiah 53 refers to Israel directly contradicts Dr. JosephG’s statement that Judaism doesn’t accept human vicarious atonement. Note carefully what the prophet Isaiah wrote by revelation:

But he was wounded BECAUSE OF OUR TRANSGRESSIONS, he was crushed BECAUSE OF OUR INIQUITIES: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. Isaiah 53:5 JPS

By oppression and judgment he was taken away, and with his generation who did reason? for he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due. Isaiah 53:8 JPS

Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even My servant, who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to the many, AND THEIR INIQUITIES HE DID BEAR. Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because he bared his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; YET HE BORE THE SIN OF MANY, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:11-12 JPS

Assuming for argument’s sake that the prophet Isaiah was speaking of national Israel, we are left with the following conclusion:

  1. Isaiah 53 says that Yahweh’s servant would suffer vicariously for the sins of others.
  2. According to the anti-missionary organization, Jews for Judaism, the suffering servant is national Israel.
  3. This means that, according to so-called (more like modern) traditional Judaism, national Israel suffers vicariously for the sins of others.
  4. Therefore, both historic, biblical Judaism as well as so-called (modern) traditional Judaism teach human vicarious atonement.

Hence, whether Isaiah was speaking of the Lord Jesus (all the evidence conclusively points to him as the suffering servant) or Israel, one thing remains certain: Isaiah provides evidence that God does accept human vicarious atonement.

Also notice that Isaiah says that the servant makes his life a guilt or sin offering ('asham):

Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. Isaiah 53:10 NIV

... when his soul makes an offering for sin, ... ESV

Taking for granted that Dr. JosephG is correct regarding sacrifices having to be presented by the high priest in the temple/tabernacle [his first and second points]{1}, and also assuming that Isaiah is speaking of national Israel, this means that the prophet envisioned the high priest taking the entire nation and slaughtering them before God in the temple/tabernacle! Obviously, no one would accept such an understanding of the passage. This only goes to show that Dr. JosephG’s point does not apply in every context or situation.

In light of all this data we can safely conclude that it isn’t biblical Judaism (or even the Judaisms held by many throughout the centuries) which rejects human vicarious atonement. Rather, it is only the ahistorical Judaism of Dr. JosephG that does.

Recommended Reading

We present a series of books and links which thoroughly refute the arguments of the Jewish anti-missionaries and prove that passages such as Isaiah 53 do point to the Lord Jesus as the Messiah of God. To begin with, we highly recommend the following series of books by Dr. Michael L. Brown:

Answering Jewish Objections To Jesus

Volume 1 - General and Historical Objections
Volume 2 - Theological Objections
Volume 3 - Messianic Prophecy Objections

Dr. Brown answers and refutes the major anti-missionary Jewish objections to Jesus. The last volume deals extensively with messianic prophecies. As we had noted in the article, many of our citations were taken from the second volume of Dr. Brown’s book.

The readers can order these books either from Brown’s own ICN Ministry (http://icnministries.org) or from Amazon. One can also try to purchase them at his/her local Christian bookstore(s).

Another must-read book is William Webster's Behold Your King: Prophetic Proofs That Jesus Is the Messiah, Christian Resources, June 2003. Readers can purchase it here.

And now to the links:



{1} It seems that JosephG is unaware of the fact that even the Hebrew Scriptures speak of a heavenly tabernacle, that there is a temple in heaven which God dwells:

"In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, 'Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.' And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, 'Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.' Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, 'Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.'" Isaiah 6:1-7 NASB

"Hear, O peoples, all of you; Listen, O earth and all it contains, And let the Lord GOD be a witness against you, The Lord from His holy temple. For behold, the LORD is coming forth from His place. He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth." Micah 1:2-3 NASB

There is even a Rabbinic tradition which speaks of the heavenly tabernacle being built around the same time that the earthly one was fashioned:

"When the Holy One, blessed be he, told Israel to set up the tabernacle, he intimated to the ministering angels that they also should make a tabernacle, and when the one was erected below, the other was erected on high. The latter was the tabernacle of the youth whose name was Metatron, and there he offers up the souls of the righteous to atone for Israel in the days of the exile." (Numbers Rabbah 12:12; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Now we obviously do not believe that this is a genuine story, since it is clearly mythical in nature. But it does serve to prove that there were certain strands of Judaism which did believe in a heavenly tabernacle. What makes this tradition even more astonishing is the claim that there is a heavenly angelic high priest who is offering the souls of the righteous as an atonement for the sins of Israel!

In light of the foregoing, what makes Dr. JosephG so sure that the Messiah's sacrifice had to be presented in the earthly sanctuary as opposed to the heavenly one? In fact, according to the NT, the Lord Jesus entered the heavenly tabernacle to present his offering:

"Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, 'See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.' But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second." Hebrews 8:1-7 NASB

"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." Hebrews 9:11-12 NASB

Hence, there is nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures to say that the Messiah's sacrifice must be presented in the earthly tabernacle, as opposed to the heavenly one.

For more on this subject, please consult the second part of the response to Dr. JosephG.

The remaining reasons listed by "Dr. JosephG" are examined in Part 2.

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