Chapter 26 – Hebrews Atonement Passages

Author: Kevin George

This book is a work in progress. Posts on this blog are to enable readers to examine the manuscript and make commentary. These blog posts are NOT the final version!

Hebrews 1:3 “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” ESV.

The phrase “After making purification for sins” breaks down as, “poiēsamenos”, the verb of the phrase, meaning “having caused”; “katharismon”, meaning “cleansing or purification”; “hamartiōn”, meaning, “of sin”. (The word “After” is not in the Greek.) When re-written, the phrase is saying that, “…having caused the cleansing of sins…”. The point of the verse is not that Jesus paid for sin, or cleansed sin from our lives by purchasing them, but rather that Jesus is the cause that gave rise to us cleansing sin from our lives, and having done this, “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”.

Hebrews 2:9 “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone ESV.

The word “for” in the phrase “for everyone” is the Greek “hyper”, which means “over, regarding, in behalf of”. It is not “for” in the sense of “this for that”, or an exchange. No payment is involved here. Jesus tasted death for the sake of everyone.

Hebrews 2:17 “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” ESV.

The supposed PSA portion of this verse is the phrase, “to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” The Greek word translated as propitiation is “hilaskomai”, and has a variety of possible definitions, such as to show mercy, to show favor, and to appease. Showing mercy, or favor, is not penal and not substitutionary. If propitiation is seen as appeasatory, then it would be the only passage in the Bible to say this, as God never asked the people to do anything appease Him, except perhaps to stop sinning. This passage can certainly be understood as within the topic of atonement, but the word “hilaskomai” most likely has the meaning of to “show mercy” or “reconciliation”, as translated in the King James version and others.

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

This verse has been modified by the translators by adding the last two words “of sins”. Another translation problem is the word “forgiveness”, which is the Greek word “aphesis”, which means “to let go, to release”. “Aphesis” is only forgiveness in a derivative, secondary sense.

The author of Hebrews is attempting to explain to a Jewish audience that there is now a new and better covenant than the old Mosaic covenant. The problem a Jew would have with this claim is that there cannot be two covenants. They can’t just flippantly abandon the Mosaic covenant for a new one; something and someone must authorize the setting aside of the old to be superseded by the new. A new covenant must be introduced by a high priest and there must be a mechanism to inaugurate the new covenant, just as there was a priest and a process for inaugurating the Mosaic covenant. This scenario is the context of Hebrews 9.

Verse 1 of this chapter starts with, “Now even the first [Mosaic] covenant had regulations…”. Then the writer explains that the tabernacle of that system had limitations in that it only allowed the high priest to enter the holiest place once each year. Now there has been a change because Christ, God’s anointed, is introduced in verse 11: “But when Christ appeared as a high priest…”, he entered the holiest place with his own blood, not animal blood. “For this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant…”, verse 15. And, just as the Mosaic covenant was dedicated with blood, verses 18-21, it was also necessary that the heavenly things that are the original heavenly pattern for the earthly things, should be purified, or dedicated, with better sacrifices than animals, by the blood of Christ, verses 23-24.

The summary of verses 1-24 is that Moses inaugurated the first covenant on earth with animal blood and an earthly tabernacle, while Christ inaugurated this new superseding covenant with his own blood in the heavenly tabernacle, in the very presence of God.

Verse 22 is a parenthetical statement indicating the legal principle involved, and has two claims: 1. under the law almost everything (but not everything) is purified (set apart, dedicated) with blood, and 2. without the shedding of blood there is no release (aphesis) of the prior covenant for inaugurating a second. Hebrews 9:22 “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no release.” Once the entire context is understood, at least in the big picture, it becomes clear that verse 22 has nothing at all to do with sin; this verse is about the transition between covenants.

The result of this blood covenant is seen in verses 26 and 28, “…put away [eliminate] sin by the sacrifice of Himself” and he will “…appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” The context indicates that these for whom Jesus returns have put away sin, released sin, or stopped sinning, not those who merely got their sins paid for. Furthermore, the context of verses 15-28 indicate that the blood of Christ which establishes the new covenant is superior to the blood that established the previous covenant. It is this better blood that releases us from the transgressions of the old covenant.

In summary, the Mosaic covenant was instituted and became effective when the animal died and its blood was sprinkled on the people and the altar, thus binding them under a blood covenant. The blood covenant of Jesus is superior and it releases the people from the inferior Mosaic covenant. Verse 22 is saying that according to the law there was no release of the former covenant without first shedding blood.

As to why the heavenly things even needed purifying or sanctifying, we are not told and must resort to plausible speculation. It may have something to do with the original heavenly worship that was in some way spoiled when Satan and his angels rebelled. It was as if a new leader needed to be appointed over these things, someone who passed a test to prove his loyalty. Jesus is that one who was faithful and sinless unto death.

Hebrews 10:3-4 “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

The Greek word for translating “take away” is “aphairein”, which means “to remove.” The reason the blood of bulls and goats do not take away or remove sin is because slaughtering animals for food was a common practice and it was too easy to dismiss the animal and its blood as something common. It gave little motivation for the offeror to stop sinning, to remove sin from his life. In contrast, the blood covenant of Jesus is far more sacred and for those who understand what a blood covenant means, it is far more powerful. (You can read in context about the blood covenant in Hebrews 10:29.)

Hebrews 10:11-12 “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time…”

In verse 11 the words translated as “take away” is the Greek word “perielein”, which means to “cut around, to separate”. The old animal sacrifices did not give much motivation for people to cut sin out of their lives. But the blood sacrifice of Jesus is much more precious and does provide a motivation to stop sinning.

In verse 12, the phrase “He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” has the Greek word “hyper”, translated as “for”, which indicates the reason, the cause. “Hyper” is literally “above, over, regarding”. As our high priest, “He…offered one sacrifice because of sin, for all time.” No literal substitution is given, as this idea would have to be assumed and forced into the text.

Related to this is Acts 13:38-40, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man the release of sins is proclaimed to you, and from all things which you could not be set right by the law of Moses, in him all that believe are set right. Therefore beware lest the [judgment] thing spoken of in the Prophets come upon you.” Interestingly, many translations use the word “justification” in verse 39, but many other versions use “free” instead, as they recognize that when reading this verse in context with the prophetic warning of verse 40, this is not about justification as typically used in PSA doctrines. The Old Testament prophets all warned that God would not forgive those who would not stop their sin. The prophets never even hinted that someone else would pay God for sin.

Hebrews 10:18 “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, an offering for sin is no longer required.” NASB

The word “forgiveness” is the Greek word “aphesis”, which literally means “to send away.” Verse 18 should have been translated as, “Now where there is release of these [sins], an offering for sin is no longer required.” In other words, there is no need of a sin sacrifice if no sins are committed. This is like what Jesus said in Luke 5:32, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”