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It is virtually impossible to understand the literal,  prophetic, and symbolic  meanings of the Day of Atonement  and  the   special rituals  performed  on this day without first  understanding  the concept and meaning of sin.


In past centuries there has been much debate and confusion as  to exactly what sin is and is not. Notice how sin is defined in  the New Testament:

"Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is  the transgression of the law" (1.Jn.3:4 KJV).

All unrighteousness is sin (1.Jn.5:17 KJV).

"Do  you have faith? Have it to yourself before God.  Blessed  is the  one who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But the  one who has doubts, if he eats, he has been condemned, because what he does is not of faith. . . and all that is not of faith is sin" (Rom.14:22-23 Para.). See also Jms.4:17.

In  the New Testament sin is simply defined as the  violation  of God's law: sin is lawlessness. Sin is any   physical, spiritual,  or  moral deviation from  God's righteous  laws,  precepts,  and  principles that define how people should live their lives before God.

God's Holy Law

The  law of God is eternal, empirical, self-regulating  and  sustaining;  God's  law  does not depend on an  outside  force  to empower its action. The law of God that controls the  interaction between God and humanity functions automatically.

Humanity cannot remain neutral to the law of God that is designed to  govern relationships between God and people, people and people,  and people and their physical environment. People are either in compliance and in harmony with God's law, or they are not.

Any physical, spiritual or moral violation of God's law is  considered sin, whereas strict obedience to these laws is  considered righteousness.

Upon obedience of the law, the promised benefits are automatically credited to the individual who faithfully practices the law. Upon violation  of the law, the assignment of guilt and punishment  is automatically assigned to the violator of the law.  It is  at  the point of the assignment of guilt and punishment that there is a great  difference  between the agreements God made with the  Patriarchs and  ancient Israel and the agreement he makes with people today.

The Law

In  order to clearly understand the Day of Atonement, it  is  extremely important to understand that there is a great  difference between  the terms and conditions of the various agreements  that God made with different people concerning their salvation. The  methods and procedures by which a person could worship and fellowship with God prior to Christ were  very  different from the methods that exist today.

Under the terms and conditions of the agreements with the  Patriarchs and ancient Israel, a person was required to go through the sacrificial system in  order to worship and fellowship with God.

Under  the agreement with the elect children of God  today,  each individual  stands before God as a righteous son and can go  to him  anytime they want to fellowship and worship  through  the office of Jesus Christ, our high priest in heaven.

Under the terms and conditions of the agreements with the  Patriarchs  and  with ancient Israel, the violation of God's  law  required  a physical punishment.

Under the agreement with the elect children of God today, the end result of violating the law of God is eternal (Rom.6:23), because the  Savior has come with a new agreement  that  is eternal.

Those  under this new agreement have the spirit of  God  dwelling within  them, which makes it possible for them to remain in a  sinless condition. This condition did not exist under the agreements with the  Patriarchs  or  with ancient Israel;  therefore,  the  major difference  between  the  old and new  agreements  concerns  the  setting  aside of sin through the sacrificial blood of an  animal verses the forgiveness of sin by the sacrificial blood of  Jesus Christ. For more details about these differences, see  our study  papers concerning God's spirit, the New Creation, and the various agreements with God.

Is All Sin The Same?

"For  whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend  in  one point, he is guilty of all" (Jms.2:10 KJV).

Under  the new agreement, any violation of the law is viewed as  a violation  of every point of the law, because all of the  law  is the  same law for those who come under the sacrificial  blood  of Christ.  However, this was not so for those under the old  agreements;  all violations of the law were not the same to them;  all sins were  not atoned for by the same method and  all  sins did not warrant the same punishment.

Under the agreement with ancient Israel, there were two categories of  sin: physical sin and spiritual and moral sin. There was a strong distinction  made between the two types of sin and each type had a  specific set of rules concerning atonement and punishment.

When  reading an English translation of the Old Testament  it  is very  difficult  to determine the differences between  these  two categories  of sin. The main reason for this difficulty  is  that there are many different Hebrew words used to define a  violation of God's law and its associated atonement process. Most of  these Hebrew  words are translated into one English word 'sin,' which cannot possibly convey the meaning of  the many  different Hebrew words that define the violation of God's law.

Another  reason for this confusion is that, since  the  writing  of the Bible, the concept of  sin  has been  narrowly interpreted by Bible Scholars as being only a  spiritual or moral violation of the Ten Commandments.


The laws concerning physical defilement (i.e., ceremonial/physical  impurity)  and its covering or removal  under  the  sacrificial system were necessary for two primary purposes:

1. For the  physical protection of people and things that  were to  come into close contact with God while he was in  his  spirit-form or spirit- presence.

2. To make it possible for God in his spirit-form or spirit-presence to dwell within the tabernacle or temple.

The  scriptures  clearly  show that the  physical  and  spiritual dimensions  of existence can only interact with each other  under certain  circumstances and conditions that are governed by  very strict laws.  If the laws that govern these  circumstances  and  conditions  are  violated in the physical existence,  the  result of coming into contact with God is the destruction of  whatever has  violated these laws. Therefore, strict adherence to the  law that governs  this interaction between the physical and  the spiritual  had  to be maintained in Israel in order  to  make  it possible for God's presence to dwell  within the tabernacle or temple.

Physical  defilement (ceremonial and physical impurity)  prevented  a person or a thing from safely coming into close contact with God. Therefore,  this defilement had to be canceled, covered,  or removed in order for a thing to be used for a holy purpose, or  for a person to come into close contact with  God for the purpose  of fellowship or worship.

The laws concerning physical defilement under the agreement  with ancient Israel had nothing  to do with  spiritual and moral  sin; they had  to do with maintaining  God's  presence  in Israel  and being able to worship and fellowship with him  in  a formal way.

Conditions of Defilement

There  were  basically  two conditions of physical defilement (ceremonial and physical impurity) under the law of defilement:

Becoming physically defiled could occur in several ways:

Physical defilement rendered a thing or a person ceremonially and physically impure, which made it impossible to safely come into the  presence of God.

The  physical dimension of existence is always in a condition  of impurity  as  far  as its ability to interact  with  pure  spirit-energy. Because no person or thing is inherently in a condition  of ceremonial or  physical purity, each must be purified before coming  into  close  contact  with  the power  of God's  spirit-presence.

The following two examples of the purification  of things and people provide more insight into how purification was accomplished and why  it  was necessary.

Purification of the Altar

Moses was told to build an altar on which to perform  sacrifices. Because this altar was a physical thing and was made  by men, it was in a condition of ceremonial and physical impurity. Therefore, it needed to be purified before being used  within  the tabernacle where God's spirit-presence was to dwell:

"Sacrifice  a bull each day as a sin offering to make  atonement. Purify  the  altar by making atonement for it, and anoint  it  to consecrate  it. For seven days make atonement for the altar  and consecrate  it.  Then the altar will be most  holy,  and  whoever touches it will be holy" (Ex.29:36-37 NIV).

Seven bulls were to be sacrificed in order  to eliminate  physical  defilement from the altar. Only after this ritual of purification was successfully completed,  the altar could be used for its intended purpose. See also Ex.29:10-20; 30:1-10.

Notice also that whatever touches the altar of sacrifice must  be holy (i.e., set apart for holy use).

Purification of Women

Leviticus 15:25-30 NIV

"When  a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at  a  time other  than her monthly period or has a discharge that  continues beyond  her  period, she will be unclean as long as she  has  the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any  bed  she  lies on  while  her discharge continues will be  unclean . . ..  Whosoever touches them will be unclean . . ." (vs.25-27).

Notice that this condition of  impurity can be transferred from one thing to another or from one person to another.

"When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count of seven days, and after that she will be ceremonially clean. On the eight day  she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring  them to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The  priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a  burnt offering.  In this way he will make atonement for her before  the Lord for the uncleanness of her discharge" (vs.28-30).

This condition of physical impurity is considered sin and must be atoned for by the sacrifice of two birds.

Do  women commit  spiritual sin by having a menstrual  cycle?  No they  do not. Their sin is clearly a natural  physical  condition that  violates  the  law of purity  surrounding  the  sacrificial system of worship at the tabernacle and temple.

Punishment for Remaining Defiled

"He that touches a dead body of any man shall be unclean  seven days.  He shall cleanse himself on the third day,  and  on the  seventh  day he shall be clean. But if he does  not cleanse himself the third day, then on the seventh day he shall  not  be clean.  Anyone who touches a dead body, a body of a  man  who dies,  and  does not cleanse himself, he shall have defiled  the tabernacle  of the Lord; and that person shall be cut  off  from Israel,  for the water of impurity  shall not be sprinkled  upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness shall be still on  him" (Num.19:11-13 Para.). See also verse 20.

These  scriptures show the extremely serious nature of  remaining in an unclean condition within the camp of Israel.

"You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean,  so  that  they will not die in  their  uncleanness  for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them" (Lev.15:31 NIV). See also chapters 12; 13; 14.

A major  key to understanding the Day of Atonement is  to  understand that a condition of ceremonial and physical  purity had to be maintained in order for God to dwell among  the Israelites.

Spiritual and Moral Sin

Within  the category of spiritual and moral sin, there were two  basic types  of  sin that could be atoned for: unintentional  sin  and intentional  sin.  These types of sin violated  the  foundational spiritual and moral laws that govern the interpersonal  relationship between one person and another or between God and humans; these sins were  violations of God's spiritual and moral code of behavior for people.

Unintentional Sin

Numbers 15:22-26 NIV

"Now  if you unintentionally fail to keep any of  these  commands the Lord gave Moses—any of the Lord's commands to you through him,  from the day the Lord gave them and continuing through the generations to come—and if this is done unintentionally without the community being aware of it, then the whole community  is to  offer a young bull for a burnt offering as an aroma  pleasing to the Lord, along with its prescribed grain offering and  drink offering and a male goat for a sin offering" (vs.22-24).

Because  the  nation was to represent God's way of life,  if  any individual  sinned, the sin was laid to the charge of the  nation as  a whole; therefore, the sin had to be atoned for as if  the  whole nation had sinned.

"The priest is to make atonement for the whole Israelite community,  and  they will be forgiven, for it was not  intentional  and they have brought to the Lord for their wrong an offering made by fire and a sin offering. The whole Israelite community  and  the aliens living among them will be forgiven, because all the people were involved in the unintentional wrong" (vs.25-26).

Unintentional  sins were all called sins of ignorance. This  type of  sin was not premeditated and was done  in  ignorance:

"And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sins ignorantly, when he sins by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. You shall have one law for him that sins through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourns among them" (Num.15:27-29 KJV).

Intentional Sin

This  type of sin can either be  premeditated  or  unpremeditated. Errors in judgment, plain stupidity, lying, stealing, and etc. can be considered intentional sin.

Leviticus 6:1-7 NIV

"The Lord said to Moses: 'If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord  by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to  him or  left  in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or  if  he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears  falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do" (vs.1-3).

"When he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen  or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to  him,  or the  lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore  falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to  it  and give it all to the owner on the day he  presents  his guilt offering" (vs.4-5).

"And  as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is,  to  the Lord,  his  guilt  offering, a ram from the  flock,  one  without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will  make atonement for him before the Lord, and he will be  forgiven [i.e., atoned for] for any of these things he did that made him guilty" (vs.6-7).

These sins are of a spiritual and moral nature and violate the Ten Commandments.  The setting aside of these sins was  granted through repentance, restitution, and  the sacrificial system of atonement.

Whether they  were  committed accidentally,  through  ignorance,  plain stupidity, errors in judgment, or weakness of the  flesh, all physical or spiritual and moral violations of God's law could be atoned for through the sacrificial system under the  first agreement with ancient Israel. However, this could only happen  if there was no premeditation, malice, or intended rebellion against God. Nevertheless, God did set aside some intentional sins because of his  mercy and his promise   to forgive those who are honestly  repentant.  The only exceptions were sins that were considered capital crimes against God or humanity; for these types of sin there was no atonement; there was only punishment.

A Distinction Between Sins

Under  the agreement with ancient Israel, a  tremendous distinction was made between sins of ignorance, sins concerning the weakness of the flesh, and sins committed in haughty, defiant rebellion against God and  his  commandments:

"But the soul that does ought presumptuously, whether he be  born in  the  land, or a stranger, the same reproaches the  Lord;  and that  soul shall be  cut off from among the people.  Because   he has  despised the word of the Lord, and has broken  his  commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall  be upon him" (Num.15:30-31 KJV).

Sins  that  were committed in  an  attitude  of rebellion  against God could not be atoned for in order to  have the  punishment  set aside. These violations of  God's  law  were considered  capital  crimes, and the violators were to be  punished  by execution.

All  of  the offenses for which no atonement could be  made  were either  directly or in principle covered under the  Ten  Commandments, which is the foundation of the  spiritual and moral law of God. Because these offenses were contemptuous, intentional, and premeditated  and they struck at the very foundation of God's law  (Matt.22:36-40), they  constituted rebellion against God's way of life. The following are some of these capital violations of the law:

Murder, adultery, incest, bestiality, sodomy, fornication,  rape, perjury,  kidnapping,  witchcraft, human sacrifice,  striking  or cursing one's father or mother, blasphemy against God, desecration  of the Sabbath,  prophesying falsely, idolatry, sacrificing  to false gods, and refusing to abide by the decision of the court.

Because the terms and conditions of the new agreement are  better than  the first agreement with ancient Israel,  all sin except  for blasphemy against the holy spirit can be forgiven through repentance and the application of the sacrificial blood of Christ.

Becoming Aware of Sin

"When a person is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned. . . and the priest shall make atonement for his sin. . . In this way the priest will make atonement for him for any  sins  he  has  committed,  and  he  will  be   forgiven. . ." (Lev.5:5,13 NIV).

Leviticus  5:1-13 shows that, although people became guilty  of sin  the moment they committed an act in violation of  God's  law, they  were only obligated to make an offering for atonement  when they   became  aware  of their guilt. These are all  sins  of  an unintentional  nature, which were performed  by  accident, through ignorance, or poor judgment, and they could be atoned for because there was  no premeditated rebellion intended against God. However, just because a violation of God's law was done  unintentionally,  by accident, through ignorance, or through poor judgment and was never discovered by the guilty  person,  it does not mean that the act was dismissed as if it  had not happened.

The law of God operates independently of personal awareness.  The law of God dictates that, when it is violated, the violator is  automatically guilty.

Atonement  for unrecognized sins was accomplished by the  special rituals  of the Day of Atonement through which all types of sins,  except capital crimes, were covered, removed or set aside  from God's sight.

Three Different Sins

In chapter five of Leviticus, there is a list of  three  completely different types of sin for which a person had to make atonement. It is  important  to note that all three are  considered violations of God's law, yet in the temple system of worship, each had a different atonement ritual for its expiation.

1.  The Witness:

"If  a person sins because he does not speak up when he  hears  a public  charge  to  testify regarding something he  has  seen  or learned about, he will be held responsible" (Lev.5:1 NIV).

A person who was in the possession of  knowledge  (i.e., evidence) had a moral obligation to  reveal it,  but if he decided to conceal it for whatever reason, he violated the law of God concerning being a witness. This was sin caused by  making an error in judgment and had to be atoned for when the person became conscious that he had  violated the law concerning being a witness.

2.  The Unclean:

"Or if a person touches anything ceremonially unclean—whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock  or of unclean creatures that move upon the ground—even though he is  unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty, he  shall also be unclean and guilty. Or if he touches  human  uncleanness—anything that would make him unclean—even though  he  is unaware of it,  when he learns of it he will be guilty" (Lev.5:2-3 NIV).

Whether  a person intentionally or unintentionally  touched something unclean or  was completely unaware of breaking this law, that person was still ceremonially unclean and  guilty of the sin of defilement.

3.  An Oath:

"Or  if  a  person thoughtlessly takes an oath  to  do  anything, whether good or evil—in any matter one might carelessly swear about—even though he is unaware of it, in any case  when he learns of it he will be guilty" (Lev.5:4 NIV).

If a person said things carelessly out of foolishness and  swore an oath without realizing this is what he had done,  he was guilty of  sin. Because this act was not premeditated and was done out  of foolishness,  the  sin  (i.e., error) was in the  category  of  an unintentional sin.


God to Dwell Among the Israelites

"And  let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among  them. According to all that I show you, after the pattern of the tabernacle,  and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even  so shall you make it" (Ex.25:8-9 Para.).

The Morning and Evening Sacrifices

"This  is what you are to offer on the altar regularly each  day: two  lambs a year old. Offer one in the morning and the other at twilight. . . For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting  before the  Lord. There I will meet with you and speak to you;  there  I will also meet with the Israelites, and the place will be  consecrated  by my glory. . . Then I will dwell among the Israelites  and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their  God,  who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. . ." (Ex.29:38-46 NIV).

Maintaining a condition of physical purity made it possible for God's presence to dwell within the tabernacle and temple and  for the priesthood to safely carry out their duties before God  without being killed by the power of his presence.

The Key

The key to the mystery  surrounding  the reason  for  the atonement rituals on the Day of Atonement, is that  it was necessary to maintain a condition  of  ceremonial, physical, spiritual, and moral purity in order for God to dwell among the Israelites.

God knew that it was impossible for humans to remain in a  condition of ceremonial, physical, spiritual, and moral purity for very long, because the entire physical existence is contaminated with physical defilement and humans lack the character  to continually obey his spiritual and moral laws. Therefore,  he showed them the laws and methods  by  which they  could accomplish purification and have their spiritual  and moral sins set aside. Thereby, he  provided them with protection from the power of his spirit-presence while he dwelled among them.

The Accumulation of Sin

Sacrifices had to be made daily  for  the  priesthood,  the nation as a whole, and the tabernacle and temple in order to remove  sin (i.e., physical and spiritual defilement). Moreover, sacrifices could also be made on an individual basis to remove sin. However, even with the daily sacrifices for individual and collective sin, defilement and sin continued to accumulate and needed to be removed in order  for God to continue to dwell among the Israelites.

The  removal  of  the accumulated sin from  the  priesthood,  the nation  of  Israel,  and the tabernacle was accomplished  once  a year through the sacrificial system on the Day of Atonement.

Maintaining  a  condition of purity  made it possible  for  God's presence  to  dwell  within the tabernacle and temple  and  for  the priesthood  to safely carry out their duties before  God  without being killed by the power of his presence.

No  Forgiveness for Sin

Although  the sacrifices for sin under the sacrificial system  did accomplish the purpose of placing individuals and the nation into harmony  with God so that he could dwell among them  and  commune with them, these sins were never totally forgiven.

Under  the first agreement with ancient Israel, the  sacrifice  for physical  sin (defilement/impurity) and spiritual sin  (violation of moral law) could not permanently  remove sin (the violation of God's law); they could only cover the sin, set it aside, and hide it away from God's view for a short time.

Looking to the Future

The sacrificial system with its attending priesthood was prophetic of the  time when Jesus Christ would be sent to be the final atonement for sin.