The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way

The Old Testament presents two major understandings about sin. Sin was primarily thought to be disobedience of the nation of Israel or transgression of God’s many detailed rules (legalism). The solution to taking away sin and guilt was participation in the temple rituals of offerings and animal sacrifice.

Essentially, sin was offense against God.

The Jewish Temple

Sin as Offense Against God in Christian Thinking

Many believers today believe, as most Old Testament writers did, that sin is violation of God’s laws (legalism), so sin is still understood as offense against God. Many also believe that the solution to sin and guilt is blood sacrifice, though the sacrifice is not that of temple ritual but is the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

It is often expressed something like this:

God is so holy he cannot even look at us because of our sin. And because we are guilty of sin against an infinite God, we must receive an infinite punishment. Therefore we are all on our way to eternal suffering in the fires of hell, and there is nothing we can do to avoid it.

However, God himself made a remarkable provision. He sent his own son to take our sin upon himself. At the crucifixion, God poured all his wrath from our sin upon Jesus, who was infinitely righteous; Jesus suffered the penalty of sin for all of us.

We will address this harmful and misguided perspective another time, but Jesus had a differing perspective on what sin is—it includes our alienation from an assumed angry God but with more emphasis on alienation from each other which leads to pain and suffering. Sin has to do with relationships, but it is no longer a case of offense against God—sin is expressed in the way we treat people. We will see that, to Jesus, sin is human offense against each other.

Jesus also differed on the remedy for sin: forgiveness was available to people directly and did not require temple sacrifices or any ritual whatsoever. Jesus abandoned the sacrificial system as a remedy for sin, but his attitude toward the sacrificial system was not a unique idea that started with him. Long before Jesus came, some of the Old Testament prophets begin to talk about sin in a new way.

The Prophets Introduce a Different Emphasis on Sin

While much of the Old Testament is taken with legalism, punishment for disobeying God, and solving sin through ritual temple sacrifice, some of the prophets take an entirely different view toward law, sin, and temple ritual. For example, the author of Isaiah 1 decries the condition of the state of Judah and includes these lines:

“The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.”

Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Amos 5 says this,

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Sin is still understood as relationship, but it is no longer primarily relationship between people and God. It is relationship among people.

The Old Testament is filled throughout with concern for the marginalized, such as Deuteronomy 27, Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge; or Proverbs 22, Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court.

This concern for the marginalized is pervasive, but Isaiah and Amos introduce a new orientation—justice for people INSTEAD OF ritual sacrifice.

And the poet of Psalm 40 chimes in:

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—but my ears you have opened—burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.

Jesus Builds on the Old Testament Prophets

Jesus stands in continuity with these prophets. In Matthew 9, in defending against the accusation of the Pharisees that he fraternizes with sinners, he quotes Hosea 6 in saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” And he quotes these words again in Matthew 12 in regard to eating grain on the Sabbath:

I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

And when Jesus announces his mission, he does so by reading from Isaiah 61. Luke 4 reports his words,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In doing this, Jesus declares his priorities: they are with the marginalized of society—and they do not include reliance on the inadequate ritualistic religious system.

In a final example, in Mark 12 Jesus approves the teacher who answers,

You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Jesus does not follow the Old Testament in seeing ‘sin’ as offense against God to be remedied by ritual sacrifice. Instead, Jesus is concerned about broken people and the way we treat each other. Next time we will look at what else Jesus says about sin.

Articles in this series: Sin and Forgiveness

The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV)
What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?
Addressing Sin in the Old Testament
The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way
What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much!
The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’
What Does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us?
How Substitutionary Atonement Fails
Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18?
Are Sins Primarily Sins against God?
“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”
Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer
What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin?
We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam
Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness?
Who Does God Refuse to Forgive?

See also:

What Does Jesus Think of Sinners Today?


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33 Responses to The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way

  1. sheila0405 says:

    Slaughtering animals in the name of God is still practiced among some Samaritans in the Middle East–I saw it in a documentary. It’s a relic of the stone age. I wonder how this superstition got started. Human relationships are definitely the way people express morality now. Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sheila, I don’t know how this practice started, but I have a theory. Early cultures thought gods controlled the weather (and weather catastrophes) and also the general welfare of a people like leading them and protecting them in war and in life in general.

      Of course it was important to stay in their good graces with gifts. One of the most important gifts was a living thing. Sacrificing an animal represented a loss to the sacrificer and a benefit to the god as food and a sign of devotion.

      Or not…

      Liked by 1 person

      • When Abraham and God sign the covenant, they do so among the the quartered pieces of an animal. Some think this is the beginning of ritual sacrifice in the Hebrew culture; I think rather the theme is that God deigned to used covenant terms human beings understood in a certain time and place. Likely this practice was used to sign peace treaties in the ancient near East in and before Abraham’s time. Usually, both parties would walk through the quartered pieces, each “signing” their pledge. In the case of Abraham, God alone completes the circuit, taking on Abraham’s part of the pledge as well as God’s own. It would be interesting to parse the influences of the traditional historical-critical redactors as they relate to the telling of this story, and to the the understanding of ritual sacrifice, and sin, in the Hebrew Scriptures.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. gcleaver2014 says:

    Your commentary is, as usual, right on the mark Tim. Best, Gerald

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks Gerald! I read the beginners series on string theory that you suggested. I was just what I needed. I plan to read more later.

      Liked by 1 person

      • sheila0405 says:

        String theory will blow your mind. I’m falling in love with quantum physics, even though it is so so SO way over my head!

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Sheila, they are both over my head, too. That’s why I am looking for a gentle introduction.


        • Chas says:

          String theory cannot be right. God’s way of working is simple, though it might not be easy to understand.

          Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas, I think you might be right that God’s way of working is simple. I have no opinion on the accuracy of string theory. Even physicists do not yet fully understand the details. I agree it is not easy to understand, but when we do understand it I suspect it will then seem simple.


          • Chas says:

            Tim, DNA is a good example of God’s working. The building blocks are simple (although each protein making up the two pars is complex), yet this molecule is capable of a near-infinite number of variations, which enable life to survive and reproduce despite all of the hardships that the actions of destruction on the earth throw at them.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. mark says:

    I have read some of the work of a Karite Jewish scholar by the name Dr.S Asher, and in his works he lays out the reason why blood sacrifice was forbidden. Nothing was to be consumed with the blood…what did the temple priests do with the sacrifice? His lineage and his work with leave you with your jaw gaped and saying “duh”. Sin was and still can be atoned with wave or sheave grain offerings, The MOST HIGH declared HE desired Obedience and not sacrifice.

    If any of you get or have the chance, check out what this “no-establishment Jewish Biblical Scholar” has to say on Judaism…the Tal-mud…and the Masoretic texts…’s an eye opener.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mark, I am aware of the Karites but I am not familiar with their thinking. Thanks for sharing this information and reference with us. However, it seems that atonement is still seen in terms of ritual. Any thoughts on that?


  4. Ben says:

    Nice – Jesus’ sacrifice tore the veil, we are no longer required to make sacrifice, his blood paid the price.


  5. Mark says:

    What those pre-Masoretic and pre-Babylonian texts tell is a very different story about sin and redemption than what we have been led to believe. The current OT that we use today was compiled and written much later than the NT. And as being so, was compiled with an “agenda”.

    We believe the Jews use the OT as their “religious” book, But they DO NOT. They use the Talmud primarily, and that was written much later than the Constantine decided canons.

    The Karaite Jews were tasked with faithful reproduction of the scrolls and texts. A task that carried very heavy responsibilities. A meticulous and extremely accurate chore, down to the last jot or tittle..even more so as those decidedly conveyed the “actual” meanings of the passages. Precision of meaning that was and is not possible with the Greek nor the English.

    Many if not most Karaite scribes were side lined or marginalized by the more modern Jewish Talmudic scribes during the 500 to 650 AD era.

    Cut to the chase here..The faithful published and republished scrolls and parchments of OT works, condemn killing and blood sacrifice. The requirement for shedding of blood as an atonement was never sanctioned nor required by the MOST HIGH…indeed it was even condemned and equated with Baal/Mollec worship of pagan child sacrifice.

    Also the concept of”Original Sin” was unheard of. Every person was responsible for their own actions and were not held to account for the “Sins” of the “fathers”.

    Our FATHER required “Obedience and Right Ruling”..forgiveness and compassion..The GOLDEN RULE…not bloodshed!

    The supposed sayings of CHRIST via the NT mimic the same meme..thus the extensive friction between HIS teachings and “Temple Priests” (Pharisee and Sadducees) Babylonian laws.

    A bit long winded I’m sure, but this abstract only barely touches the subject and much much needs to come to light that space here will not afford. I urge people to dig into this as deeply as opposed to apologetics over which church doctrines they support…It’s time to come out from the deception….seems we all have been sold a “Pig in a Poke” .

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mark, this sounds like an interesting study. Thanks for sharing it with us. It is apparent that you are correct that it can’t be encapsulated within the limited space of comments.


  6. consultgtf says:

    1.If God accepted, Blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as bargaining for our sins. No one should have died after 33 AD

    2.He sent his own son to take our sin upon himself. At the crucifixion, God poured all his wrath from our sin upon Jesus, with 3 nails, thorn crown, hanging on cross…then for whom were the beheaded people account for?

    Alien, fatherless of justice, widow, poor…do we know the real meaning of this.

    Sin is human offense against each other,forgetting THEY ARE CREATIONS OF GOD

    Liked by 1 person

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