Podcast Episode

What Is Atonement?

A God who wants nothing more than to dwell with humanity, a way forward to a repaired relationship between Heaven and Earth, atoning sacrifices meant to communicate grace (not punishment)—you’ll find all of this in Leviticus. While the laws governing Israel’s sacrificial system can be some of the most challenging parts of the Bible to read, they’re an integral part of the unfolding story of the Bible. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the surprising beauty of sacrifice and atonement in the opening movement of Leviticus.

Episode 2
1hr 14m
Jun 6, 2022
Play Episode
Show Notes


In this story, death is a result of the human failure to trust God, to live by his wisdom and by his word. In this narrative, death is the result of our choices, and it’s about God giving us over and then enforcing the consequences of our choices. The wages, the outcome, of sin is death … God will accept the death of a blameless representative on behalf of sinful people, and that’s not fair. But that is God’s gift in the form of these offerings.


  • Leviticus describes five offerings God commanded Israel to make regularly: the ascension offering, the gift offering, the peace offering, the purification offering, and the guilt offering. Each of these offerings is about correcting a wrong that’s been committed by Israel and re-entering the relationship with Yahweh in a posture of humility and surrender.
  • The animals chosen to enter God’s presence as sacrifices were not the animals upon which Israel’s sin was ceremonially bestowed. In fact, the sin-bearing animals were sent away from Israel and Yahweh, while the animals who would enter into God’s presence acted as blameless representatives on Israel’s behalf.
  • The Hebrew word for atonement, kippur, means two things: to repay a debt and to purify. Whether we’re talking about levitical sacrifices or Jesus’ death on the cross, atonement is not simply an event that happens when a blameless one dies—the life of a blameless representative is atoning too.

The Crisis of Communion

In part one (00:00-8:01), Tim and Jon remind us of the issue the Leviticus scroll addresses: God has drawn near to dwell with humanity, and his holiness is both good and dangerous. So what should the people God is dwelling with do? How should they respond? Leviticus addresses these questions and the obstacles that keep humans from dwelling with God.

A Solution to a Problem

In part two (8:01-17:00), Tim and Jon begin exploring Leviticus 1-7, which is presented as the solution to the danger of a holy God dwelling amidst an unholy people. These chapters tell us what humanity must do to enter God’s presence: come to him with a posture of total humility and self-surrender.

Leviticus 1-7 describes the five offerings God commanded Israel to make regularly: the ascension offering, the gift offering, the peace offering, the purification offering, and the guilt offering. Each of these offerings is about correcting a wrong that’s been committed by Israel and re-entering the relationship with Yahweh in a posture of humility and surrender.

Sacrifices in Israel and the Ancient Near East

In part three (17:00-46:24), the guys discuss the nature of animal sacrifice in the ancient Near East.

Animal sacrifices were a common worship practice among ancient Near Eastern peoples. However, for all other people groups, sacrifices were necessary because the gods were seen as fickle, aloof beings in need of appeasing if you had any hope of catching their attention and favor. This inspired the common practice of self-mutilation in pagan worship rites too—if an animal sacrifice didn’t catch the gods’ attention, then harm to oneself was the next step.

But the sacrifices detailed in Leviticus derive from and achieve a different goal. And they’re an integral part of the unfolding story of the Bible. In the opening movement of Leviticus, the Hebrew word for sacrifice (tzava) actually is only used sparingly. The Hebrew word corban is what’s used most frequently, and it means “to bring near” or “that which is brought near.” As God instructs Israel to come near, they must bring a corban, a “coming near thing.”

Every animal used for sacrifices had to be unblemished, tammim. This word is often applied to people in the Bible, but it’s usually translated as “blameless” in those instances and refers to someone able to reenter Eden (Ps. 15). Notably, the animals chosen to enter God’s presence as sacrifices were not the animals upon which Israel’s sin was ceremonially bestowed. In fact, the sin-bearing animals were sent away from Israel and Yahweh, while the animals who would enter into God’s presence acted as blameless representatives on Israel’s behalf.

So why would these blameless animals die in Yahweh’s presence, if not for sin? This death communicates a powerful reality to us: Humanity’s choice to do what’s right in our own eyes has so estranged us from Yahweh that the only way to re-enter his presence is to lay down what we call life and receive the life that is truly life.

What Is Atonement?

In part four (46:24-1:13:16), Tim and Jon discuss atonement, the goal of several of the levitical offerings. Within the English word atonement is the result of atoning sacrifices, “at-one-ment.” Through these offerings, humans and Yahweh were unified, joined together as one again.

The Hebrew word for atonement, kippur, means two things: to repay a debt and to purify. Whether we’re talking about levitical sacrifices or Jesus’ death on the cross, atonement is not simply an event that happens when a blameless one dies—the life of a blameless representative is atoning too.

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.

Rather than being a way to gain favor with God, atonement is actually a gift from God to humanity. The sacrificial system is evidence of God’s grace.

Referenced Resources

  • The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now, Joshua Berman
  • Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus, L. Michael Morales
  • Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews, David M. Moffitt
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Pieces (Instrumental)” by I AM FRESH MUSIC
  • “You Can Save Me” by Beautiful Eulogy
  • “The First Day (Instrumental)” by Hear the Story

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Tyler Bailey. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman and Ashlyn Heise.

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Scripture References
Exodus 32
Genesis 4:1-16
Isaiah 53
Genesis 8:20-22
Genesis 3:24
Genesis 6:1-7
John 3:16
Matthew 5:48
Exodus 34
Genesis 6:9
Romans 6:23
Leviticus 1-7
Leviticus 17:11
Matthew 16:24-26
Hebrews 4:14
Leviticus 1
Leviticus 1-3
Leviticus 9
Leviticus 16:21
Numbers 27:18
Numbers 8:10
1 Timothy 4:14
Leviticus 17:14
Exodus 21:30
Leviticus 8:15
1 John 1:7
Leviticus 1:1-2
Psalms 15
Exodus 21:28-36
Malachi 1
Leviticus 16:6-10
Leviticus 16:18-19

What Is Atonement? 

Series: Leviticus Scroll E2

Speakers in the audio file: Jon Collins, Tim Mackie

Jon: God created humanity to be near to him. In fact, that's how the story of the Bible begins, Adam and Eve walking with God in an abundant garden. But this doesn't last long. Adam and Eve choose death over life, and God banishes them from his presence. And the story wants to let you know that to go back into God's presence is dangerous. God stations two spiritual beings called cherubim at the entrance [00:00:30] of the garden and there's a flaming sword of death guarding the way back in.

And this should be ringing in our ears when we get to the book of Leviticus because the tabernacle isn't just a tent. It is a place that mimics Eden. It is a place where God and humanity can dwell together again. But is it safe?

Tim: The dangerously good holiness of God is gonna stake an outpost in their midst. How do you make things right?

Jon: Welcome to the book of Leviticus answering that [00:01:00] question. How do we draw near to God?

Tim: So Leviticus 1 through 7 is presented as the thing that will provide the resolution for Israel to be able to enter into and be in God's presence.

Jon: Now, in the ancient world, animal sacrifices were a common way to try to appease a god. But in the Bible, sacrifices are God's gift to humanity so that we can know how we can come near. And while reading them, you can feel kind of strange and [00:01:30] even grizzly, we're invited to sympathetically enter into these rituals and see what these sacrifices are teaching us.

Tim: So all these offerings, think of them as each one is little variations on a theme. It's teaching me that to come into greatest or closest proximity to God will mean utter surrender of life. That is, in essence, what these offerings are all about. Surrender.

Jon: Now, we no longer make animal sacrifices, but these offerings are here in the Bible [00:02:00] as Torah, instruction, teaching us that the stakes are high. And even though we failed, God wants to create a path back to life.

Tim: Death is the result of our choices. The wages, the outcome of sin, is death. But God will accept the death of a blameless representative on behalf of sinful people. And that's not fair. But that is God's gift in the form of these offerings.

Jon: I'm Jon Collins, and you're listening to BibleProject podcast. Today, Tim Mackie and I continue [00:02:30] discussing the first movement of the scroll of Leviticus, looking at the five tabernacle offerings. Thanks for joining us. Here we go.

Hey, Tim.

Tim: Jon, hello.

Jon: Hello. Hello.

Tim: Yep.

Jon: We are in the scroll of Leviticus. It is the third scroll in the Bible. And we are walking through the whole Torah, which is first five scrolls of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, [00:03:00] Deuteronomy.

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: And Leviticus is right in the center of that unit of scrolls. And it also has its own symmetry. And in the last episode, we talked about the whole composition of the Torah and how the Torah as five books has kind of this outer frame, Genesis and Deuteronomy.

Tim: Both of those scrolls end in a really parallel way that sets up their kind of matching nature as the outer frame.

Jon: Yeah. So that's the like outer bread of this sandwich.

Jon: And then [00:03:30] the—

Tim: The Torah sandwich.

Jon: The Torah sandwich.

Tim: (laughs) It's unleavened bread ...

Jon: It's unleavened bread.

Tim: ... on the outside [00:03:35].

Jon: It's like the cracker bread.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: In the center is what we call three scrolls, which is one kind of literary structure.

Tim: It's one ... It's the center of the Torah.

Jon: It's the center.

Tim: But it's made up of three scrolls.

Jon: It's made up of three scrolls.

Tim: Yeah. Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers have a really tight unified narrative sequence and design to them. It's a one big mega unit that has three scrolls.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: [00:04:00] We won't go any further than that.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Go back. Listen to that episode if you wanna ...

Tim: If you're into that kind of thing.

Jon: ... geek out about that. Yeah. But what Leviticus is jamming on is how can a people be in proximity to a holy God? And you helped me kind of imagine holiness.

Tim: Mm-hmm. Jon, can I, can I tweak that just a little bit?

Jon: Oh, yeah, yeah, tweak it.

Tim: It's a little bit more dialed in than that.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: It's not about people going to be in God's presence. It's that God [00:04:30] is so committed to becoming one with the human family that God has come from the Heavens down to Earth.

Jon: Ah, we're not going to him.

Tim: Mm-hmm. Yeah, it's—

Jon: He came to us.

Tim: Yeah, but the crisis of Leviticus, what it's jamming on is, what should people do ...

Jon: God is here.

Tim: ... when God shows up to dwell in our midst?

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Because that is both a great gift because he's the source of all life, and it's a crisis.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Because it is good and dangerous. [00:05:00] So what are we gonna do, God has shown up? That's what Leviticus is jamming on.

Jon: Cool. And the biblical vocabulary is holiness to describe that, that God is both good and dangerous, that God is the source of all life. He is the transcendent other. That is what it means to be holy.

Tim: Yep.

Jon: And there is a sense that then we need to be holy in order to be meeting with God in communion.

Tim: Yeah, and this is all kind of [00:05:30] back to garden of Eden as fundamental kind of theme, melody, music, humming in our ears here, that tree of life, the place where God's life and power can become communicated ...

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: ... to his people. It's a very special sacred place full of abundance and life. And so once humans betray God or foolishly, you know, break the divine command, they're exiled. And so when God shows up again in the form of a tent ...

Jon: [00:06:00] In a tent, right?

Tim: In a tent.

Jon: But you said in the form of a tent.

Tim: Oh, got it. Well, I guess, hosted by the sacred tent ...

Jon: Okay, uh-huh.

Tim: ... for the purpose of God inviting his people to come near him. But we're gonna have to solve some problems, we have to work out the things that keep people exiled from proximity to God. We're gonna have to overcome those obstacles in some way. And that's, yeah, Leviticus is aimed at overcoming those obstacles.

Jon: And we've already been trained to sense and see the obstacles, [00:06:30] what they are, and the solution—

Tim: Yeah. That—

Jon: What that is.

Tim: Yes, that's exactly right.

Jon: We've been trained to see it because it's been repeating. Moses was in God's presence. And Moses goes up on Mount Sinai into God's presence. But then down below, the people create a false God, say that it's Yahweh, say that … it's our deliver.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: And it's just this just blatant, just horrible moment of idolatry. And God is like, "This is [00:07:00] a problem. This is a big problem."

Jon: And Moses says, "Make me the atoning sacrifice."

Tim: Yeah, I will give up my life as an atoning sacrifice for their sins. Now, what that means is what we're gonna talk about in this conversation.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: But it is what he says that I'm gonna offer my life to provide atonement for this thing that you did. But in the narrative, it's what makes God change his plan from destroying the people because of their idolatry to choosing [00:07:30] to forgive them and maintain a covenant partnership with them.

Jon: [00:08:00] This is an ancient Bronze Age, Semitic people in the Middle East doing rituals that made perfect sense ...

Tim: Yes.

Jon: ... for that time and place. But for us, 3,500 years later, looking back, we are kind of like, "What? What's going on?"

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: But all these rituals are getting at this idea that was very real, which is God is holy and [00:08:30] we're being invited to be in God's presence. He's come to be with us, we're invited into his presence. And we need to alter ourselves. And we need to live in a different way. And we need something or someone to atone for us in order for us to be in God's presence.

Tim: Yep. All of these rituals happening in and around the tabernacle, they have meaning. They’re Torah, they are instruction. And it turns [00:09:00] out the things that they are teaching is exactly what the rest of the Hebrew Bible is teaching through poetry and through narrative, but here, now, it's teaching through ancient ritual symbolism and nothing for it. We just gotta, we gotta move towards it.

So what I wanna focus on as ... Think of this part of our conversation as an introduction to, like, the basic categories of meaning of these sacrifices, the animal sacrifices. So Leviticus 1 through 7 is presented as [00:09:30] the thing that will provide the resolution for Israel to be able to enter into and be in God's presence in a way that is safe, and that gives them life instead of destroying them. That's the narrative context of Leviticus 1 through 7.

Jon: What do you need to do to be in God's presence?

Tim: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And so what Leviticus chapters 1 through 7 tell us is, you need to come to God with a posture of complete and utter [00:10:00] humility and self-surrender. That is, in essence, what these offerings are all about. Surrender. Surrendering.

Jon: When you say these offerings in this movement.

Tim: Yeah, in this movement in Leviticus. Yeah.

Jon: And this is five offerings.

Tim: Yes. Yeah. Okay. So let's get to it. So in ... Here's just a quick list right here. In Leviticus chapters 1 through 3, you get three offerings that often happened in a sequence.

Jon: “Offering” [00:10:30] is also a religious word. I never say that.

Tim: Oh, yeah, we'll talk about it.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: But it ... Basically, you're giving, you're surrendering something over. We'll talk about it.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: There's three sacrifices or offerings that are listed here. One is called the ascension offering. This is Leviticus chapter 1. It is sometimes translated as the burnt offering, the whole burnt offering. We'll talk about it.


Tim: The second is called the gift offering, the minchah, sometimes [00:11:00] called the cereal or grain offering. That's not an animal. That's—you're offering food. And then third is what's called the peace offering or sometimes translated as the fellowship offering. That's the first three.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Out of those three, only the first is one that is said to provide some kind of atonement that can release God's forgiveness ...

Jon: Okay.

Tim: ... for somebody's failure. And then after that come two more, one is called the purification offering, usually translated [00:11:30] as the sin offering. And that is said to provide atonement that releases God's forgiveness. And then the fifth and final one is called the guilt offering or could be translated as the reparation or restitution offering. And that one also provides atonement for sins.

There's five offerings, four of them involve animals. And then three of them are said to provide ...

Jon: Provide atonement.

Tim: ... atonement. That's right. Yeah. [00:12:00] So instead of starting out by talking about the word “atonement,” here's what I have found, is that it's best to get into the meaning of these from the inside.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: And walking our way through the description of what it'd be like to bring one of these. And what I'm gonna invite us to do is to kind of walk through it, we're gonna imaginatively walk our way through ...

Jon: The five offerings?

Tim: ... the offering. No, just of the ascension offering, the first, the first one.

Jon: Oh, the first one.

Tim: And [00:12:30] we're gonna walk through and kind of offer commentary on each step.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: And here let me just highlight two works that have been so helpful for me. One is by an Israeli Jewish scholar named Joshua Berman, who wrote a book back in the early '90s. But it's so good. It's called The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now. It's a book actually aimed at a modern Jewish [00:13:00] reading audience.

But if you're a follower of Jesus, you're part of the messianic Jewish family. And you're a part of the larger audience of the extended family of Israel. And it is immensely illuminating because he doesn't work in Christian vocabulary. He works primarily in the vocabulary of the historic Jewish tradition. So illuminating.

And then another scholar is a scholar who is a follower of Jesus, Michael Morales, who wrote an amazing theology of Leviticus [00:13:30] called Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? If you wanna take a deeper dive into everything we're gonna do now and the next conversation, those are two great places to start.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So the first three offerings in Leviticus are the ascension offering, then the gift offering, then the peace offering, and then you get the two purification offerings, and then the guilt offering. What's interesting about that list is that they don't reflect the order of the actual [00:14:00] liturgies. When you read the narratives of how the liturgy is worked, they don't work in that sequence.

Jon: Like when you give these offerings in the week, or whatever, or the day.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. What's cool is just this list reflects their logical priority that the ascension offering is some, is kind of the offering par excellence. It's the one in which all the others are variations of ...

Jon: Okay.

Tim: ... that. But in Israel's actual [00:14:30] liturgy, here's how the order goes. And you know this by just turning to Leviticus 9, which is the inauguration of the tabernacle.

Jon: Okay. And they actually do it.

Tim: Yeah, we watch Aaron and Moses walk up there, and they first offer a purification offering. Then they offer an ascension offering. Then they offer a gift offering.

Jon: That's only three.

Tim: That's only three. Yeah, that's right. That's the three that are named in Leviticus, Leviticus 9.

Jon: They forgot a couple.

Tim: Well, in this ... Because [00:15:00] the other ones, the guilt offering and the peace offering, are about other occasions.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So this is the fundamental liturgy of the offerings. So purification is about repairing a broken relationship, atoning for sins, and purifying the relationship from the harm that's been done. That is followed up by the ascension offering, which is about total surrender to God. And the ascension offering is offered along [00:15:30] with a gift offering, which is about as you surrender to God, you give back to God what God has given to you.

So all these offerings, think of them as each one is little variations on a theme. But the goal, there's a story being told about a desire to repair a broken relationship by surrendering totally in a posture of humility and by gratefully giving back to you, God, what God has given to me in the first place. [00:16:00] And that's the story being told. And so if you think about it, even just that right there, what has happened is a rift in the relationship. Israel has given their allegiance to an idol, but God does, the dangerously good holiness of God is gonna stake an outpost in their midst. How do you make things right?

And so these offerings are fundamentally about somehow making right the wrong that's been done. Purification. Now entering the relationship in a posture of humility and surrender [00:16:30] and giving back to God what he's given me in the first place. And that's like ... That's what these are about fundamentally.

Jon: Yeah. [00:17:00] Now, animal sacrifices were common in the ancient world.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: And here's what I understand. Most commonly, they are trying to appease God. Appease a God who's—you don't know is he for you or not?

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Is what's his mood gonna be today? And maybe I can appease him enough ...

Tim: That's right, yeah.

Jon: ... to be kind to me today. And there's even a sense of like, I don't know how many sacrifices I'm gonna have to make. [00:17:30] Maybe I'll even have to, like, scar myself. Or maybe, you know it's just kind of like ... can become pretty gruesome. So that's the setting. That's what all the neighboring nations are doing.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: They’re using that same system in a way.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: But it seems like it's ...

Tim: Repurposed.

Jon: ... repurposed.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah, similar to the way ... Back to our podcast conversations on biblical cosmology. The biblical authors freely [00:18:00] used and adapted creation imagery and themes and motifs from the creation narratives of their neighbors, but they repurposed them, reframed it, and retold the story of creation with those images but in a way that changed or focused their meaning.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And that's exactly what's happening here. Yeah, the meaning of animal sacrifice in Leviticus. The reason why it's often repulsive and [00:18:30] seen as gross or primitive is usually somebody who hasn't yet had the opportunity or taken the time to really sit in the narrative of the Bible and then the, the meaning of how these offerings are framed in Leviticus. So let's do that.

This has been a full reframe for me over the course of the last few years.

Jon: Cool.

Tim: So let's just start first with these two words, “sacrifice” and “offering.” So this section of Leviticus is often described as the list of sacrifices. [00:19:00] What's fascinating is the word “sacrifice” is actually not used very much in this section. The word “sacrifice” is the verb zabach. And then the noun “sacrifice” is zebach. And that word actually is only used to describe one of the five offerings.

The word that is described that it's sort of like the category title of all five of these is not the word “sacrifice.” It's the Hebrew word “corban” [00:19:30], which means offering. Well, actually, it doesn't even really mean offering (laughs).

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So here, here's what it means. So the word “corban” is from the opening line of Leviticus right here, which is “and God called Moses from the tent.” And then Leviticus 1 verse 2, “when anyone among you brings near a corban to Yahweh, bring near your corban an animal either from [00:20:00] the herd or the flock.” So all of these five things that come from animals and also the little pile of grain for the gift offering, they're called corban.

So here's what's interesting about the word “corban” is it's the noun form of the verb that is used here, “bring near.” I'll read the verse again. “When anyone among you brings near,” and it's the verb taqrib, I don't know if you can hear the Q, [00:20:30] the R, and the B in there, taqrib. Taqrib corban.

Jon: So the ta, what's the ta?

Tim: Oh, the ta is the second person singular verb conjugation.

Jon: Second person.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: You.

Tim: Yeah, when you bring near, taqrib.

Jon: Ta. So the taqrib.

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: So qrib being the ...

Tim: It's the root.

Jon: ... the root that could also be pronounced corban.

Tim: That's [00:21:00] right. So in other words, this word “corban “is the noun of the verb to bring something near. So a corban is that which is brought near, the thing that comes near.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So all of these offerings, what they are called in Hebrew is “the thing brought near.”

Jon: Thing brought near.

Tim: When you bring near the thing brought near. So all five of these are called the things brought near. And it's all about [00:21:30] God just landed. Remember, that's the narrative Leviticus is jamming on. God just staked an outpost in our midst and it’s dangerous for us. We wronged Yahweh—

Jon: We can't go near.

Tim: We can't go near. But Yahweh's inviting us to come near. Wow. Wow. He's inviting us to come right in, right up to him.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And what he's inviting us to do is to come near with things brought near. Things that will [00:22:00] bring me near. So ... These are five ways that one can re-commune with the God of Israel, the vehicles of communion. They're the corban. So calling them offerings, you know, kind of gets …

Jon: We don't have another word, do we?

Tim: We don't actually ... I don't know what English word can work here. But that's what they're called, they’re corban.

Jon: In a way, that's how to interpret this, you are bringing something and you're offering it to God.

Tim: You're bringing it near.

Jon: You're bringing it ... Well, [00:22:30] you bring it in here to offer it to God, right?

Tim: Yeah, that's right. But it also is a response to an invitation. When I bring this near, it's because God asked me to bring it near because he wants me to come near. Like, God wants me to come into the tent or come near to it. And so he asked me ... As he invites me to come near, he asked me to bring a bringing near thing.

Jon: a bringing near thing.

Tim: (laughs) Yeah, totally. A corban, that's what corban means.

Jon: Huh.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: You know, I ... We almost [00:23:00] named, um, our first son Corban.

Tim: Did you really?

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Oh.

Jon: I didn't know that's what this word meant.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: That was our favorite name. And I actually liked how it sounded, Corban Collins.

Tim: Mm-hmm. Oh, yeah.

Jon: But then someone in the family said, "Oh, Corby," as a nickname.

Tim: Oh, man.

Jon: And we're like, "We don't like the nickname Corby."

Tim: (laughs)

Jon: And that sounds like an inevitable nickname. So (laughs) we ...

Tim: Yeah, totally.

Jon: ... pulled the plug.

Tim: That's funny. Um, [00:23:30] or not funny. I can't tell.

Jon: (laughs)

Tim: But ...

Jon: Nothing wrong if you're named Corby. That's great.

Tim: No.

Jon: I just wasn't (laughs) … It wasn't jiving for me.

Tim: So just to ... Remember, the coming near imagery is key to how Leviticus fits into the biblical narrative and the pattern of the Eden story at the beginning. So to come near ... This is all about reentry into Eden. This is about entering … God is inviting people to come [00:24:00] back in.

And so when an Israelite brought one of these offerings, brought a corban, you would walk through the little tent fence entrance that takes you into the courtyard, and you would have it like an animal and you would walk up and you would be approaching the tabernacle tent. And what you would really see is a huge blue curtain on the entrance with two cherubim in it. But then if you're approaching [00:24:30] it front on, the altar ...

Jon: Is right in front of it.

Tim: ... would be in front of it. And that altar would be a perpetually burning fire. Okay, so you have a fire, and if you're looking perspective wise, you would be looking forward. And what you see is a doorway into the tent with two cherubim ...

Jon: And fire.

Tim: ... and fire.

Jon: Oh.

Tim: And you're like, "Oh, that's what Adam and Eve walked past when they left Eden in Genesis.”

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Chapter 3, verse 24. God posted two cherubim and a sword [00:25:00] of fire at the door. And so the altar in front of the door of the tent is a symbolic re-creation of the door of Eden. And so to come near is about God's inviting us to reenter Eden.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And I will bring this as a way to repair the relationship. So that's what this story is about. It's remarkable. It's pretty cool.

Jon: Mm-hmm. It also helps you understand the Cain and Abel story, too.

Tim: Yes. They're [00:25:30] offering ...

Jon: They're offering at that spot.

Tim: ... at the door.

Jon: At the door.

Tim: At the door of Eden.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: That's exactly right. Okay. That's the first thing. That's what these are called. So let's say you do want to come near.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: What do you do? Well, Leviticus 1 tells you first you need to select an animal. And it needs to be an animal from the herd or the flock and the differing subtypes. It could be a cow, could be a goat, could be a ram.

Jon: Does a herd refer to—

Tim: Herd [00:26:00] would be cattle.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Or like cattle and flock would be like goats or ...

Jon: Okay.

Tim: ... lambs. But something that is required of any animal offered in sacrifices that it, is tamim. The Hebrew word “tamim.” It's usually translated, when it's applied to animals, as unblemished or without blemish. But this is a word that is also used of people in the Bible. And when it's used of people, it's the word translated “blameless.” And that's the Hebrew word.

Jon: Tamim.

Tim: When this [00:26:30] got translated into Greek in later Jewish history, Greek translators who are Jewish use the word “teleios.”

Jon: Oh, yes.

Tim: And this is the word Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount, which is “be teleios just as your Heavenly Father is teleios.” Be ... In there, in our New Testament it ...

Jon: Perfect.

Tim: ... is translated as perfect.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Without blemish. So this is key. In other words, what we're beginning is we're choosing a animal [00:27:00] that's going to be my substitute, representative before God. Because I'm gonna stop at that altar. I can't go into the tent. It's too powerful.

Jon: If I'm a normal Israelite, this is as far as I go.

Tim: Yeah, I'll die if I go in there.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: But God will accept as my representative an animal that is tamim. For animals, it means in ideal physical form.

Jon: Yeah. And to be more explicit, like what, they don't have patches [00:27:30] of hair gone or they don't have like—

Tim: Oh, yeah, there's actually a list later in Leviticus.

Jon: Oh, okay.

Tim: Yeah. And it's like, essentially, fully functioning.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So no eye damage. No reproductive organ damaged, no malformations, that kind of thing. So it's a ... What is this? It's like dog shows, you know, like—

Jon: (laughs) Yeah, totally, best of show.

Tim: Perfect specimen, something like that, you know. So that's the idea.

Jon: So the winner of a dog show is tamim.

Tim: That's right. But that tamim [00:28:00] animal ...

Jon: Is representing this idea of being blameless.

Tim: Yeah, it's the same word used for someone's moral integrity.

Jon: Moral integrity.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Yeah. So Noah is said to be righteous and tamim among his generation. And that's why God delivers them from the generation of the flood.

Jon: He was tamim.

Tim: That's what we're told, he was righteous and tamim. And he was delivered from death.

Jon: Well done, Noah.

Tim: Yeah, totally. And he walked with God. So you choose an animal that is tamim. [00:28:30] Now, we know that Israelites were often tempted to make shortcuts here. And Malachi, the prophet, lays into his generation of Israelites. This is in chapter 1. He describes Israel's priest as showing contempt for God's name. And then when he describes it more, he says, "Listen, you're offering animals that are blind, and lame, and that are diseased."

Jon: Oh, okay.

Tim: And then he says, "Try taking that offering to your Persian governor.” Like [00:29:00] the Persian governor who rules around here. “Would he accept that?"

Jon: (laughs)

Tim: So you wouldn't offer it to the Persian governor, but you're gonna bring it to the creator God and think that he won't notice that it's a diseased animal?” Anyway. So it's kind of classic ...

Jon: Got it.

Tim: ... prophetic scene here. But also, speaking of the return to Eden, this is within the theology of the Psalms. Tamim is used to describe someone who can return to Eden.

So in Psalm 15, famous, well, I don’t know if it's a famous psalm. [00:29:30] It's a well-known psalm if you know the Psalms. But it begins, “Lord, who can dwell in your sacred tent?”

Jon: Oh, yeah. Who can enter the tabernacle?

Tim: “Who can live on your holy mountain? One whose walk is tamim, who does what is righteous, who speaks truth in their heart,” and it goes on. They don't take bribes. They don't lend with interest to their neighbor. They do righteousness and justice. Tamim. Tamim.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: So the tamim one—

Jon: It's a person you want to live next to, for [00:30:00] sure.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. And I think, yeah, ideally, the person you would wanna become.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Tamim. So tamim people can come near. Tamim things come near.

Jon: Tamim things can come near.

Tim: Yeah, yeah. And ... But here, a tamim person could go right into that tent. Wow. It's a high bar. Okay. So that's you bring a tamim animal, it's first thing. So let's say you walk up to the fire of the altar and you have your tamim animal. And then what you're told is that [00:30:30] the worshiper would take their hands and samak their hands on the head of the animal. It means “to press.”

Jon: Okay.

Tim: It's usually translated to lay their hand on the animal.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: It means to press firmly down.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: It's clear there's the symbol. This ... And this happens with all the animal offerings. The offeror presses their hand down on the animal. And the descriptions in Leviticus don't tell you what it means. It's just, like, what does it [00:31:00] mean? So there's been two main interpretations throughout history. One is that this is a moment where you're offering it ... If you're offering at a sacrifice of atonement is cuz you're apologizing. It's essentially a way to say I'm sorry.

And so there are some people who think that this is about transferring your wrongdoing on to the animal. And there's a good reason for thinking that could be what it means. Later in Leviticus on the Day of Atonement, we're told is the high priest of Israel takes [00:31:30] two tamim goats and takes one of them and puts both hands on the animal and confesses all the sins of Israel and places them on the goat's head.

Jon: This is the day ... That's the Day of Atonement.

Tim: That's what it says. Yeah.

Jon: Yeah, okay.

Tim: That's Leviticus chapter 16 verse 21.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: The priest puts two hands, samaks them on the head, confesses.

Jon: The double press.

Tim: Double pressed.

Jon: (laughs) Yeah.

Tim: (laughs) Yeah, totally. It's the double press, confession, symbolic placing [00:32:00] of sins on the head.

Jon: And there explicitly ... He announces the sins of Israel or what he—

Tim: Yeah, he just says them out loud.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: He says a prayer of confession for the sins of Israel.

Jon: Got it.

Tim: So there are many people who think, "Well, that's what it means on the Day of Atonement." Or at least that's ... The laying on of hands is involved in that part. So that's probably what it means here.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Um ...

Jon: I could buy that.

Tim: But there's problems.

Jon: Oh.

Tim: Many problems without interpretation because the laying on of hands is used [00:32:30] for sacrifices that are not atonement sacrifices.

Jon: Oh. So in what way are you transferring guilt if ...

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: ... it's not an atoning sacrifice.

Tim: That's right. So the third offering in Leviticus, a peace offering, does not atone for sins.

Jon: You press that one.

Tim: And you do the single hand press on that one. Yeah.

The other thing is the same word is used to describe rituals where you do it to people. This is the phrase laying on of hands.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: That is used even in the New Testament. [00:33:00] That's ... It's this simple. It's the same ritual right here.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So when Moses appoints Joshua as his representative leader who will take over in his place, he lays his hands on him. When the Israelites commissioned the Levites to work in the tent and around the tabernacle on their behalf, they lay their hands on them. So that's one thing is you do this to animals and people. And you do it to animals that are not being offered in atonement.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: And that the other thing is kind of [00:33:30] nerdy, but this is significant is that it seems like the transfer of sin onto the goat in the Day of Atonement, this happens to the goat that stays alive and to the goat that is exiled out into the wilderness.

Jon: Yeah, there's two goats.

Tim: There's two goats.

Jon: One's killed.

Tim: That's right.

Jon: One's exiled.

Tim: Yeah. And the one that's killed is not the one that has the sins confessed over it.

Jon: Oh.

Tim: And here, this is super important. The goat that is killed and whose blood is brought into the [00:34:00] tent is not a symbol of sin. It would actually be contradicting the whole point of the symbol of the tabernacle …  

Jon: You're not gonna sprinkle sin all over.

Tim: … to take sin into the tent. The whole point is to keep sin outside. And so the goat that bears the sins of Israel, it becomes like a trash, like a garbage truck (laughs).

Jon: An outcast.

Tim: And you send it outside.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Not into the tent. So the laying on of hands, it doesn't [00:34:30] make logical sense.

Jon: So, okay, the Day of Atonement, which is a different ... We haven't gotten there yet, but there's—

Tim: And we'll talk about that later.

Jon: But there's two animals. One is sacrificed, one is sent out. That's the famous scapegoat.

Tim: That's right.

Jon: And the one ... Between those two animals, one, the sin is confessed over it. And it's the one that goes out.

Tim: And that's the one that stays alive and the one that is exiled ...

Jon: Exiled.

Tim: ... from camp, it's outside.

Jon: So get the sin out of the camp.

Tim: Get the sin out of here.

Jon: But another one is sacrificed ... and it's blood is [00:35:00] still in some sense atoning, it's purifying.

Tim: That's right. And we'll get there.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: We'll get there.

Jon: All right.

Tim: But I just wanna draw attention to that. So it's more likely that the pressing of the hand on the animal's head means the same thing for the animals that it does when Moses does it to Joshua. When the Israelites do it to the Levites, it's you're appointing a representative. You're saying, "This person is now me."

Jon: Oh.

Tim: Moses appoints [00:35:30] Joshua as a new Moses, who takes the people through ... Joshua takes the people through the waters of the Jordan, just like Moses took them through the waters of the sea. New Moses.

Jon: Does that jive with how the New Testament uses it with laying on the hands? You're appointing people.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, you're appointing representatives. Paul appointed Timothy ...

Jon: Oh.

Tim: ... as a leader over the church. And that happened through the laying on of hands.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: It's a commissioning so that you act now on behalf of those who have appointed [00:36:00] you. That's what it means with humans. And that's what it likely means with all these animals.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So you're appointing a substitute. You're appointing a representative.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. Who will go in. So now this animal becomes your blameless representative before God. And it's gonna get a little ... It's gonna go even more near to God than you can go.

Jon: But watch what happens when it goes near to God.

Tim: Okay. So here's the next thing you do after you appoint it as your representative. [00:36:30] You kill it. Or the priest kills it.

Jon: Well.

Tim: The animal's throat is slit. And what's interesting is the moment of the animal's death is described in all these rituals just with—uses just one word, shachat, just to slit the throat.

There's not a huge emphasis on how the animal dies or—just its throat was slit and its life is given in the place of the one offering it. So remember, this [00:37:00] animal is not bearing the sins. So in other words, the laying on of hands is this thing is now blameless on my behalf and it's going to come even nearer to God than I can. So what's the first thing that happens as it comes nearer to God?

Jon: It dies.

Tim: Yes, it dies.

Jon: But you're saying the death isn't because of the sin, because it's blameless.

Tim: Yeah, yeah.

Jon: The death is for another purpose.

Tim: Yeah. So in the same [00:37:30] way, if an Adam and Eve were to go back into Eden, they would give up their lives, that fiery sword would take them out on their way in. So there's a symbol being communicated, something very important. There's Torah being given to us here. That for humans, because of what we have all done here outside of Eden in creating Babylons and Egypts, and the world that we've created outside of Eden by doing what's good in our own eyes has so estranged us from the character [00:38:00] and goodness of God that the only way for us to become fit for God's presence is the surrender of what we call life. So that we can enter into the life that is truly life, means a surrendering of life.

You surrender the life of a blameless one, who will go nearer to God than I could in my current state.

Jon: Adam and Eve were not tamim after they ...

Tim: [00:38:30] No.

Jon: ... left ...

Tim: No. That's right.

Jon: ... the garden.

Tim: That's right.

Jon: And so because they were not tamim, they were not blameless. The fiery sword keeping them out. You're saying the logic of that is they go in, they're gonna lose their life.

Tim: Yes, whatever a fiery sword is, it’s keeping you out of something, I think pretty much it's a symbol that you'll die.

Jon: Can slice you in half.

Tim: It'll die ... You'll die if you try to go by it.

Jon: Now, in the logic of this offering (laughs), [00:39:00] the going near thing is that though it is tamim, it is blameless.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah.

Jon: And so a blameless thing can enter ...

Tim: Yep, that's right.

Jon: ... Eden.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: But you're saying even a blameless thing is gonna have to die.

Tim: Yeah, yeah. It's teaching me that death is somehow this boundary, yeah, this boundary line, that [00:39:30] to come into greatest or closest proximity to God will mean utter surrender of life.

Jon: Whether I'm blameless or not blameless.

Tim: Yeah, it is blameless. It represents ... Well, it represents me and it's blameless but, yeah, it dies.

Jon: So by representing me, I'm not blameless.

Tim: Correct.

Jon: But it is blameless.

Tim: It is blameless.

Jon: So is the idea that a ... And sorry if this is too—

Tim: It's okay. Yeah, it's good. Because you're [00:40:00] saying, "Well, if it's blameless, then it shouldn't have to die."

Jon: Right.

Tim: Okay.

Jon: And it does.

Tim: Exactly, yeah. So it's blameless and it dies.

Jon: Because?

Tim: So this is Torah, it's teaching me something.

Jon: Noah was blameless and he was saved from death.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, that's right. However, when Noah got off the boat, God said, "You know what I know about humans is they're just gonna do this all over again."

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: So what Noah offers [00:40:30] is the sacrifice of atonement. And God sees the death of that tamim animal. And he accepts it as a representative substitute for a compromised humanity. So I'm with you. I'm just trying to sit with the actual language ...

Jon: Yes.

Tim: ... because where I'm—

Jon: So. But ...

Tim: It's teaching us—

Jon: ... it's a substitute for me. It represents me in a blameless state?

Tim: It is blameless.

Jon: [00:41:00] It is blameless.

Tim: And it is my representative. And it dies on my behalf.

Jon: A blameless thing that represents me. Dying on my behalf.

Tim: That's right. It's not fair that that thing should die.

Jon: I see.

Tim: It's not fair.

Jon: That's not fair.

Tim: That thing shouldn't have to die.

Jon: That thing should be able to enter.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah.

Jon: Because it's blameless. Because now the blameless thing represents me it is gonna die.

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: Oh.

Tim: It's not fair that Moses should die up there giving his life for sinful people.

Jon: I see.

Tim: [00:41:30] But God accepted the … Even the offer of a blameless life, God didn't even take Moses' life and accept it. And he accepted that. So the image communicates its own meaning. God will accept the death of a blameless representative on behalf of sinful people. And that's not fair. But that is God's gift in the form of these offerings.

Jon: It seems like you're also meditating on just the access to God's life. There is an entering through death.

Tim: [00:42:00] Yeah, yeah.

Jon: And when you say that was ringing my ears was just Jesus saying like, "You wanna follow me?"

Tim: Yeah, that's right. The one who wants to save their life will lose it. But it's the one who will give up their life ...

Jon: Who will find it.

Tim: ... that's the one who will find true life.

Jon: And if you wanna follow me, take up your ...

Tim: That's right.

Jon: ... crucifixion death trap device.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, carry your execution rack and follow me. Death is the way to life. [00:42:30] So let's keep going.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Because the next part of the ritual will bring us deeper into this mystery. And this is once the blood is drained from the animal, the priest puts it in some kind of basin or bowl, collects it in some way, and then picks it up and then goes and does something with the blood. And depending on what type of thing has been done wrong or who did it, it's gonna start getting sprinkled on things. [00:43:00] So the priest will dip their fingers in the blood and then maybe sprinkle it on the altar.

Jon: The altar being the thing that you just sacrificed the animal on.

Tim: The thing it ... Yeah, that the animals are going to be burned on.

Jon: Oh, okay.

Tim: But first is just now a dead animal with its drained blood in a bowl.

Jon: With ... Okay. Yeah.

Tim: And you're standing there, and the priest sprinkles it on the altar. Or let's say it was the whole congregation of Israel or a king or ruler that did something wrong is offering it, then the priest takes the blood and goes into the tent, disappears behind [00:43:30] the fire in the cherubim, and starts sprinkling it on things inside the holy place.

So what's this about? So later in Leviticus, we're gonna be told two times over in chapter 17 that the blood of the animal doesn't as such represent death. It represents life.

Leviticus 17:11, “the life of the creature is in the blood. And I have given it to you to make [00:44:00] atonement for yourselves on the altar.” And then a couple of verses later, verse 14, “because the life of every creature is its blood.”

This is why I've said to the Israelites, don't eat blood because the life of every creature is its blood. So it's very clear, the blood is life. So this blood, representing the blameless life of the creature.

Jon: The life that the creature just lost.

Tim: Life of the creature just lost and gave up for me.

Jon: Is still present in this blood.

Tim: [00:44:30] Still present. Yeah, it's still alive. That's right.

Jon: Interesting.

Tim: Even though it died, the blood is its life. And you take the life into the tent and it comes nearer to God's presence than I ever could. And it symbolically comes into contact with God's presence for me. And what I get is forgiveness as the blameless representative goes into the tent on my behalf. Here, I'll just quote this Michael Morales, and it is very helpful here. [00:45:00] He says on page 130 of his book, “while the slaughter ritual signifies death to oneself,” so the killing of the animal is like the surrender of the animal's life, “it's critical to understand the blood ritual in relationship to life. That is the worshiper's own life. The blood represents the life of the creature. And so through the blood manipulation,” sprinkling, “the life of the worshiper, [00:45:30]” which is now identified with the animal through the hand pressing ritual, “the life of the worshiper is brought into contact with the divine, the blood symbolically conveys the offering up of one's life to God.”

So through this animal and the surrender of its life, I, through it, get to go into the tent. 

[00:46:00] Here then is where the word “atonement” gets brought into the mix.

Jon: That is atonement.

Tim: This is called [00:46:30] atonement. So the Hebrew word used for atonement ... This whole ritual is called atonement. Our English word is actually a compound that you can still see: at-one-ment.

Jon: Oh, really?

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Huh.

Tim: At-one-ment. The English word “atonement,” in its etymology, is referring to the repairing of a relationship between two who were at odds but now can become [00:47:00] at one, the making of two to be at one. That's what's underneath the word “atonement.” Now, funny, you don't hear that when you look at it as atonement, but when you say at-one-ment ...

Jon: Yeah, you're like, "Oh, I see it."

Tim: ... you get it immediately. Yeah, that's great. No, that's not quite what the Hebrew word means.

Jon: Oh.

Tim: In other words, at-one-ment in English is about the two becoming one.

Jon: Yes. Okay.

Tim: And that the Hebrew ...

Jon: Oh, okay.

Tim: ... word has a different metaphor ...

Jon: Okay.

Tim: ... underneath it. So the Hebrew word is “kapparah.”

Jon: Kipper.

Tim: Well, yeah, yeah. On the Day of Atonements, yeah, on [00:47:30] Yom Kippur.

Jon: Oh, Yom Kippur.

Tim: Yom Kippur.

Jon: I was thinking of the dog, the cartoon.

Tim: Okay (laughs). Totally. Okay. It does look like Kipper ...

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: ... when you transliterate it in English.

Jon: I wonder if there’s something there.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So kapparah.

Jon: Kapparah.

Tim: So kapparah means two things. And people debate these, and much of the modern atonement debates in modern theology is trying to say, is that this [00:48:00] word “kapparah” gets used in two ways that many people see as different. And, essentially, I think this is right. I might be wrong here. But there's two ways kapparah gets used. And often, one of the meanings of kapparah gets more emphasized and the other deemphasized.

And ... But you just follow it right on through. And the word somehow means ...

Jon: Both?

Tim: ... two things ...

Jon: Okay.

Tim: ... that for us, it's difficult [00:48:30] to see how they could—one word can mean both these things at the same time, but they're deeply connected.

Jon: Right.

Tim: So the first thing, first nuance of meaning is a ransom from death, ransom referring to an actual payment that you give to somebody that you've wronged so that you are no longer in their debt. So this kapparah is connected to the Hebrew noun, kopher, which literally means a payment that you owe somebody that you have wronged.

Jon: [00:49:00] That's a kopher.

Tim: It's called a kopher. Yep.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: So, you know, some of the famous laws in the Torah about the goring ox ... you know, if your ox gores somebody, kills somebody.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. So, um, this is Exodus 21.

Jon: That's running someone over on the street.

Tim: If you have an ox ... Yeah, run somebody over, it spears them with its horns or something. So if you have an ox and it gores somebody to death, but let's say that it's never done that before. [00:49:30] Nobody knew it was a dangerous ox. Your ox escapes and it tramples somebody. So the ox will be killed, but the owner of the ox shouldn't have to die.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: But if this ox has threatened somebody before, if it's almost killed somebody a couple of times and the owner just let it roam freely, and then it kills somebody, then that person [00:50:00] needs to be held accountable. A life for a life. The owner is liable to capital punishment.

But this is Exodus 21 verse 30, “if a kopher is demanded of him,” right, if the family member of the someone who died says, "You know what ...”

Jon: You owe me.

Tim: “... I'm not gonna make you die. But you owe me a kopher for, you know, my son's life that the ox gored. I'll take a kopher.” “Then he shall [00:50:30] give the redemption or the kopher of his life, whatever is demanded.” So that's what this word means, to ransom from death. So this is one of the main meanings of kapparah is that you give this offering, this substitute life is a ...

Jon: Is a way for you to not die.

Tim: Yeah, it's a payment. And this is a fairly well-known meaning, you know, from like ... the apostle Paul names this when he says, “the wages of sin [00:51:00] is death,” you know, in Romans chapter 3. But he's reflecting here on the fact that humans—

Jon: The fact that you're not blameless means that you should die.

Tim: Well, okay. So here, when you just state it like a scientific fact (laughs).

Tim: So here, we have to live in the story that began with the Eden failure.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: So humanity was lifted out of the dust and put into proximity of eternal life. Through folly [00:51:30] and moral failure, they forfeited that life, exiting, right, the human family in the story into the realm of death. So in this story, death is a result of human failure to trust God, to live by his wisdom and by his word. So in this narrative, death is the result of our choices. And it's about God giving us over and then enforcing the consequences of our choices. The wages, the outcome [00:52:00] of sin ...

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: ... is death.

Jon: Yes.

Tim: I am under a death sentence. And so are you.

Jon: Yeah. I'm gonna return to dust.

Tim: Yeah. And that's how the biblical authors see reality. We're all dying.

Jon: Okay. I see.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Existence is a death sentence.

Tim: Yes. To be human outside of Eden is to be under a death sentence.

Jon: Under the curse.

Tim: Yeah, from that perspective, it's the most intuitive thing you could imagine.

Jon: Sure.

Tim: Cuz I'm dying and so are you.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: [00:52:30] And why are we dying? Yeah, God is letting us die.

Jon: Our violence and folly.

Tim: Yep. Look around. However, God has given the life of this creature, made it available as a substitute. And if its blameless life, which is allowed because the blameless thing can go in, surrenders its life on my behalf, then God will accept that life as a kopher.

Jon: Now, when they did this, they weren't expecting [00:53:00] to live forever. This wasn't some fountain of youth exercise.

Tim: That's, that's true. Yeah, that's right.

Jon: They're very well aware that I'm gonna die still.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: But in a sense, what they're realizing is I can still be in God's presence. So I'm like reentering Eden, even though I shouldn't be here.

Tim: Yeah, cuz we wanna keep playing host to the God of Israel. And if he's in our midst, he'll rescue us from death. He rescues us from our enemies. He'll provide manna for us. [00:53:30] So God's presence is life. And so we wanna keep that source of life around us. And so he has given us these creatures as a way to pay him back for the ways that we wrong him, even though he's living in our midst.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: That's the first main meaning.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Okay. But here's what's interesting is that this word, “atone,” or kapporet, is also used not of people but of things. So [00:54:00] the day that the tabernacle gets inaugurated, this is Leviticus chapter 8, Moses takes a bull. He slaughters it. He takes its blood, puts his finger in some of it, and then he puts it on the horns of the altar.

Jon: He’s sprinkling the blood.

Tim: Sprinkle in the blood in the altar. And what we're told is it purifies the altar. Then he pours the rest of the blood at the base of the altar and makes it holy. And makes atonement [00:54:30] for it.

Jon: Atonement for the altar.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: That's the word.

Tim: It's the same word, kapparah.

Jon: Kapporah.

Tim: So the ransom doesn't really work here.

Jon: The altar doesn't owe its life in any meaningful sense. 

Tim: The altar doesn't owe its life. Yeah, yeah. And what you're told in terms of the literary design of this sentence, he puts the blood on the horns of the altar and purifies the altar. Then he pours out the blood at the base of the altar. He makes atonement for the altar. In other words, atonement [00:55:00] is in parallel ...

Jon: With purifying.

Tim: ... to purify. Yeah. And this happens, too, on the Day of Atonement, when the blood of the blameless goat, not the one that got sins put on it, that one went out at the side of the camp, but the goat that is blameless and—

Jon: Presumably dies.

Tim: And dies. And then its blood is taken not just inside—

Jon: Sorry, the one that goes outside the camp presumably dies.

Tim: It'll die one day.

Jon: Yeah. But that's not the point. The point is getting cast out.

Tim: Point is exile.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: That's the goat with the sins on it.

Jon: [00:55:30] Okay.

Tim: The goat that is blameless that represents righteousness and blamelessness, that one is killed.

Jon: They do the double press.

Tim: No.

Jon: No?

Tim: Oh, oh, well, it doesn't say.

Jon: Oh. I thought this animal got the double press.

Tim: No, the double press and the confession of sins was on the goat—

Jon: Oh, that got sent out. That's right.

Tim: They get exiled.

Jon: I got them mixed up. Okay.

Tim: That's right.

Jon: That one gets exiled.

Tim: There's two goats.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: That's right. The one that gets exiled gets the double press confession of sins.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: The one that gets the single press, [00:56:00] representative, commissioned as a representative, that one has killed. Its blood is taken in, not just to the altar and not just inside the tent, but into the holy of holies.

And here's what we're told about that goat's blood. The high priest, when he takes the blood, he will sprinkle it on the atonement lid. It's called a kapporet, the place of atonement. And he will make atonement for the holy place.

[00:56:30] “Because of the impurities of the sons of Israel, because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins, this is what he will do for the tent of meeting which lives in the middle of them and in the middle of their impurities.” So here, we're in a different narrative. Well, an overlapping narrative. And the narrative is sin is like pollution and vandalism. It both puts me in God's debt [00:57:00] because I'm wronging other people. But sin and evil, moral evil, is like a wrong against creation itself. It pollutes creation. It fills it with pain, and violence, and the blood of the innocent spilled on the ground. And so here is ... It's like the furniture of the tabernacle is slowly building up piles and marks of vandalism throughout [00:57:30] the year. And one day a year, all of it gets washed away. And so all of this metaphorical imagery about the washing with the blood it comes from this meaning here.

Jon: Oh, when New Testament authors say Jesus’ blood washes away sins.

Tim: Yeah, it’s the word “purify.”

Jon: I see.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Which is the word “atonement.”

Tim: It's the word “atonement.” Yeah. 

Jon: But it's a different aspect of atonement.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: [00:58:00] Atonement has two different aspects is what you're saying.

Tim: At least the word, the meaning of the word.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: It gets used in two ways. One is ransom, to pay a debt. The other is to wash something that has been made dirty and impure. It makes dirty things pure.

And dirty not just in the sense of cleanliness, but here, we're in another key symbolic way of the biblical authors see the world that'll connect with stuff going on later in the book of Leviticus. [00:58:30] But impurity is a state of being that's similar to what we would call being sick. It's being in a state of death or nearness to death. 

And it's connected to things like skin disease or losing bodily fluids or touching blood or dead bodies. These are all ways you become impure, ritually, but Israel's moral failings and injustice and oppression actually [00:59:00] slowly begins to pollute and vandalize the temple in their midst.

And if that builds up too much, God's just gonna say, "I'm done ... I'm out of here. Like, you're just like throwing trash in my living room.”

Jon: It's the same idea of the flood washing creation.

Tim: Yes, yes, that's exactly right.

Jon: So there's this biblical logic of when humans are violent against other humans. Like, I slaughter a [00:59:30] fellow human, fellow image bearer of God, their blood, there's actually ... The Bible talks about the blood soaking into the ground and the ground itself is now defiled.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: And that there was so much violence.

Tim: Yes. Yeah.

Jon: So much blood being shed. So much just horrible violence that God washed it away with the flood.

Tim: Yeah, he allows creation [01:00:00] to ... It's, it's as if creation rebels against human evil.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And God allows the order that he placed on creation to recede, and the waters become a purifying agent that washes clean. Yeah.

Jon: And when the waters are the purifying agent that washes clean, you're going with them.

Tim: Yeah, totally.

Jon: (laughs)

Tim: Yeah, you die.

Jon: You die.

Tim: That's right. But when the blood is a purifying agent, you stay alive because the blood is of an [01:00:30] animal that's blameless that God will accept as a substitute for me who is not blameless.

Jon: So the blood can purify the land.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Purify creation that I've defiled through my violence.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Our violence. And it's such a weird, it's a hard mental space to be in to think about that my corruption, [01:01:00] our collective corruption, is creating an environment that needs to be reckoned with. The biblical imagination was a flood washing it clean.

Tim: Yeah. Here's the thing, though, it's not that hard to imagine, in one sense.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: I mean, I know that, you know, climate change is a hugely politicized ...

Jon: Sure.

Tim: ... issue. So let's just keep it local. But if through human greed, you know, like [01:01:30] the sewage plant is poorly run and has a negligent manager, those moral failings will start to result in the malfunction of the sewage plant that will start to spill sewage into the local streams and so on. And that's very similar to what's happening here. Human moral failings actually degrade the environment, such that creation will rebel against us [01:02:00] and destroy us. And God will let it as the natural course of action and consequence.

Jon: So the same word kapporeth is used to describe that, the purifying of the land of the way that we're corrupting it.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: In a way that protects me.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Because the flood, the waters, will purify it, but it will destroy me.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: This will purify it.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: But also protect me.

Tim: That's [01:02:30] exactly right.

Jon: And so you pair that with the same logic of this word, kippur, meaning a blameless one thing experiencing death on my behalf to protect me.

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: What was that protecting me from death?

Tim: Correct.

Jon: But one through this idea of purifying and one through the idea of ...

Tim: Payment.

Jon: ... being a payment.

Tim: That's right. And the payment and the purifying, you could say they're different metaphorical ... Remember all the way back [01:03:00] to our conversations years ago on metaphorical schemes, the word “kapparah” has two different stories underneath its meaning, but they both overlap. And one is about I wronged you and I owe you now. I offer this as a payment to make right what has been done wrong. The other metaphorical story is I've wronged you and that has polluted the environment of [01:03:30] our relationship such that this environment is—

Jon: Yeah, just being in your presence is like triggering me (laughs).

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Kind of thing.

Tim: Yeah. So the life of this animal will clear the air (laughs).

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: It's—

Jon: Okay.

Tim: And they're overlapping. The whole point is that these are not separate.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: The biblical authors had one word ...

Jon: Right.

Tim: ... to refer to both of these things.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And we find them difficult. And I think our modern atonement debates are a reflection of my inability [01:04:00] to sympathetically enter into the imagination of the biblical authors. And so the blood purifies and the blood repays. And that is what the word “kapparah”means.

Jon: When the New Testament authors talk about the blood purifying, washed me in the blood it's about me, not the environment.

Tim: Ah, sometimes.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: But in Hebrews, the act of atonement that Jesus accomplishes [01:04:30] is not primarily when he dies. It's when he ascends into the heavenly temple and presents his blameless life and i.e. blood into the heavenly temple before the Father. That's the moment of atonement in Hebrews. Yeah, there's a work of a New Testament scholar—David Moffitt wrote important work called, I think, Resurrection and the Logic of Atonement in the Letter to the Hebrews.

Thrilling. It's really great but, no, I learned so much. [01:05:00] But it, what's interesting is primarily we think of atonement in the New Testament is happening when Jesus dies.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: In one element, that's true. But even in this ritual here in Leviticus, atonement happens not with the animal's death. That's a—

Jon: Yeah, with the animal's life being brought into the holy place.

Tim: It's about when the life ... Exactly.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah, it's about—

Jon: Okay. So that's what Hebrews is written on.

Tim: Hebrews ... Yeah.

Jon: Jesus' life is brought up into the holy place ...

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: ... and becomes the atonement. And that's purifying the environment, [01:05:30] the creation ...

Tim: Yep.

Jon: ... in a way that's not gonna take my life.

Tim: Yep, that's right. That's right.

So here, let me tie this up with another quote from Michael Morales here. He summarizes this way. He says, “the blood served as a purging agent,” a purifying agent, think of it like a detergent almost.

Jon: Okay. Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. So “the blood served as a purging agent purifying the sacred objects from the pollution of the Israelite worshipers' sin, [01:06:00] wiping away that sin from God's eyes,” because this is the stuff, right, near God's presence.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: “Both ransom from death and purification from pollution are tied to the underlying logic that the blood is life. It's a life that is ransom from death and it's a life that wipes away the stain of death. The basic point that an utterly blameless life can obliterate [01:06:30] death is the rationale underlying the sacrifices of atonement.”

Jon: Say that last sentence again.

Tim: So the basic point is that an utter, a blameless life offered on my behalf can obliterate death by repaying what I owe and by purifying the effects of sin and death. And that's the rationale that underlies the sacrifices of atonement.

And so this leads to just a final note. And to me, this is actually the most important one, back [01:07:00] to the one explanation of atonement given in Leviticus, where, in Leviticus 17:11, God says, "The life of a creature is in the blood. And I," God says, "I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar."

Jon: That's interesting cuz you would think the person is bringing it to God.

Tim: Yes. You would think what it says that the life of the creature is in the blood so you have to give it to me, give me the blood. And that's the opposite of what God says.

[01:07:30] And you're paying attention to exactly the ... Remember how you began this conversation, like the way most people think about offering ...

Jon: Yes.

Tim: ... animal sacrifices is to appease God.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And this is saying that atonement in the Bible is the opposite.

Jon: It's a gift.

Tim: It's a gift ...

Jon: From God.

Tim: ... from God to us.

Jon: Oh, wow. Yeah.

Tim: I'm giving you the way to become right with me.

Jon: Yeah. Well, and then John 3:16.

Tim: Yeah, that's—

Jon: God loved the world that he gave ...

Tim: Yeah, that's exactly right.

Jon: ... [01:08:00] he gave his son.

Tim: That's right. So, yeah, I think for a lot of years, I have such a huge stack of books on atonement in my library. And I really tried to figure out the atonement debates. And this is a raging topic.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Theological studies.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And I decided at some point to just kind of let that debate sit because the categories of the debate were capturing my imagination.

Jon: Oh.

Tim: And then all I could do was read Leviticus in light of the debate.[01:08:30] And so for me, what I'm—

Jon: Now you're trying to read the debate in light of Leviticus.

Tim: I'm trying to read the debate in light of understanding the deep logic of atonement just within the biblical story and, which is I know what the debates are about, but I had to put the debates aside and just inhabit the story and do lots of deep word studies. And it's completely reshaped how I think about the whole thing. It's beautiful. Biblical ... Like Israelites thought of this as beautiful, [01:09:00] even though it involved the death of a very valuable animal. They viewed it as an act of God's grace. 

Like, they approach the tent and experience God's grace. They didn't see it as whatever else you might, you know, appeasing a God who is about to hammer me. They saw it as a gift of God that he wants me to come near and he's given it to me.

Jon: Yes.

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: And [01:09:30] if that doesn't happen, I will die.

Tim: That's right. Like, totally, I will die. That's right.

Jon: So it is saving me from death.

Tim: It saves me from death. That's right. Yeah.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: But, but the death that I will experience and how, what death means, means what it means in light of the story that began with the garden of Eden.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: And what we often do is abstract it out into some new story that we make up, which is God [01:10:00] is perfect. You're not perfect so God has to kill you because you're not perfect. But he'll kill something ... You can kill something in your place and then God will accept you. And you can see the elements of what the Bible is saying are there.

But when you abstract it and shorten it to that little formulation, you're just really missing, I think, what the richness of what the story is saying. It's like ... That little summary that I just [01:10:30] gave is not, it's not that it's entirely wrong. It's just ... It's a remade narrative that I don't think is emphasizing what the biblical authors are trying to emphasize.

And this last point, God makes perfectly clear, this is my gift to you not you trying to appease me. It's I've given you a way. And dude, okay, I'm so sorry. But here, let, let me just ... This is a part of how the Hebrew Bible is messianic literature.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Because this is in the same collection of scrolls that has [01:11:00] the suffering servant of Isaiah that talks about God's servant who will give his life as a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of Israel and, therefore, for all humanity.

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: So this section of Leviticus is trying to give us the categories that will prepare us for the messianic hope of the suffering servant, who is God's gift to humans.

Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of BibleProject podcast. Next week [01:11:30] we're concluding the first movements of Leviticus looking closer at the offerings.

Tim: The more I've learned about these offerings, the more I see that their meaning is working on themes that are developed all throughout the rest of the Bible, self-surrender, purification from sin, making right, loving God, loving your neighbor, thanking God for what he's given to me. That's the meaning of all these offerings. These are ideas deep in the heart of the biblical story that comes out everywhere.

Jon: Today's show is [01:12:00] produced by Cooper Peltz and edited by Dan Gummel and Tyler Bailey. Our show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Also, Ashlyn Heise provide the annotations for our annotated podcast in the app.

BibleProject is a crowdfunded nonprofit. We exist to experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus. Everything that we make is free because of the generous support of thousands of people just like you. So thank you for being a part of this with us.

Chad: All right, I think we're recording. Here we go. G’day, this is Chad, and I'm from South Australia. [01:12:30] I first heard about BibleProject in 2018 when I was helping our church read through the Bible in a year. My favorite thing about the BibleProject is their commitment to presenting the Bible's big picture story in an approachable and meaningful manner. We believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.

We're a crowdfunded project by people like me. Find free videos, study notes, podcasts, classes, and more at bibleproject.com. All right, [01:13:00] thanks, fellas.

10 Episodes

Episode 10
What Does Leviticus Teach Us About Jesus?
How do you clean a tabernacle? What does “laying of hands” represent? Is the scapegoat a hyperlink to Cain and Abel? How was it even possible for Israelites to follow the law? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to your questions about the Leviticus scroll. Thanks to our audience for your insightful questions!
59m • Oct 12, 2022
Episode 9
The Law of the Blasphemer
Blasphemy, principles of restitution, jubilee, exile, and the mercy and justice of God—it’s all there in the final lines of the scroll of Leviticus. Join Tim and Jon as they talk about the great gift and responsibility of carrying Yahweh’s name and discuss the wisdom and surprising hope of the Law that’s finally fulfilled in Jesus.
1hr 9m • Jul 25, 2022
Episode 8
What Israel's Feasts Teach Us
Are there specific times humans can meet with God in special ways? For ancient Israel, the answer was yes. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they explore the final movement of Leviticus, talk about the Sabbaths and festivals ancient Israelites celebrated every year, and discuss the significance of rituals and liturgies that allow us to see our time as a significant part of God’s story.
1hr 1m • Jul 18, 2022
Episode 7
Why Is the Sabbath So Important?
Throughout the Leviticus scroll, Yahweh instructs Israel, “Be holy as I am holy.” But what does that actually mean? As we enter into the third and final movement of Leviticus, we’ll find that living holy lives had everything to do with how Israel treated others and utilized their time, a theme reinforced by the continual command to honor the Sabbath. Join Jon and Tim as they explore the wisdom we can find in these ancient laws.
1hr 9m • Jul 11, 2022
Episode 6
What Is the Day of Atonement?
At the center of the center of the Torah is the Day of Atonement. What is the significance of this day the biblical authors have placed at the heart of the Torah? What does this day accomplish? And what’s with the sacrificial goat and the scapegoat? In this episode, Tim and Jon explore the Day of Atonement and the ultimate atonement accomplished by Jesus on the cross.
1hr 9m • Jul 4, 2022
Episode 5
Purity and Impurity in Leviticus
Childbirth, non-kosher food, sex, death, disease—they’re all considered impure in the book of Leviticus. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they discuss the levitical laws of purity and impurity and how they create a way for humanity to share in God’s own life and form a surprisingly beautiful backdrop for Jesus’ miraculous healings.
1hr 6m • Jun 27, 2022
Episode 4
The Dangerous Gift of God’s Presence
In the second movement of Leviticus, Aaron and his sons agree to the terms of their covenant with Yahweh, signing up to be the gatekeepers of Heaven and Earth. But then Aaron’s sons offer unholy fire before Yahweh—and then they die. What’s going on here? A seven-day ceremony of consecration and celebration ends with everything going terribly wrong. Join Tim and Jon as they kick off the second movement of Leviticus, discussing the theme of holiness and a very difficult part of the story.
1hr 4m • Jun 20, 2022
Episode 3
What Did the Burnt Offerings Really Mean?
What is the significance of the offerings described in Leviticus? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they walk through the five offerings ancient Israelites made to Yahweh and see how the purpose of these practices sound a lot like the teachings of Jesus. Even here in Leviticus, Yahweh’s hope for his people is the same: love God and love your neighbor.
53m • Jun 13, 2022
Episode 2
What Is Atonement?
A God who wants nothing more than to dwell with humanity, a way forward to a repaired relationship between Heaven and Earth, atoning sacrifices meant to communicate grace (not punishment)—you’ll find all of this in Leviticus. While the laws governing Israel’s sacrificial system can be some of the most challenging parts of the Bible to read, they’re an integral part of the unfolding story of the Bible. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the surprising beauty of sacrifice and atonement in the opening movement of Leviticus.
1hr 14m • Jun 6, 2022
Episode 1
How God Reveals Himself in Leviticus
"Holiness" is a word we frequently associate with the Bible, but what does it mean? As we pick up the story from where we left off in Exodus, we find even Moses unable to enter God’s presence—and a whole bunch of laws about situations many of us have never considered. What is going on in the scroll of Leviticus? And why is it important? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they dive into the first movement of the Leviticus scroll, where we’ll trace the theme of sacrifice.
1hr 5m • May 30, 2022
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