The Substitute Atonement of the Torah, Foreshadow of New
By F. M. Perry, July 5, 2002.
Some time ago while perusing the "Jews for Jesus" web site I found an article by
Dr. Louis Goldberg entitled "Whatever Happened to the Substitute Atonement of
the Torah?" In this article Dr. Goldberg, a Jewish Christian, pointed out the
erroneous thinking of the many present day religious Jews who have rejected the
atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah, to which the Old Covenant animal sacrifices
of the ancient Temple worship so clearly pointed. Dr. Goldberg's article presents
an excellent study in itself and I recommend it be read, perhaps even before delving
further into my article below. It sets the stage for important points I want to make
concerning the place of baptism in the lives of God's New Covenant people.
Although I briefly review Dr. Goldberg's article below, if the reader wishes to read
it now, please
Dr. Goldberg based his article on Leviticus chapters four and five where Moses laid
down specific steps to be taken by an Israelite to be forgiven by God for a specific
sin he had committed. This section of Leviticus is often referred to as the Law of
Sin Offerings. Several variations of the Law of Sin Offerings were enumerated by
Moses to accommodate the sinner according to his economic status,, the type of his
sin, etc. However, regardless of who brought which offering there was a certain
common procedure to be followed. This procedure is illustrated in the following
excerpt from Leviticus four.
"(27) Now if anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any of the
things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and becomes guilty, (28) if
his sin which he has committed is made known to him, then he shall bring for his
sin offering a goat, a female without defect, for his sin which he has committed.
(29) And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and slay the sin
offering at the place of the burnt offering. (30) And the priest shall take some of its
blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and all
the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar. (31) Then he shall
remove all its fat, just as the fat was removed from the sacrifice of peace offering;
and the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar for a soothing aroma to the
Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven."
(Leviticus 4:27-31, NASB).
In his article Dr. Goldberg points out "Four Major Principles" derived from the
procedures required by the Law of Sin Offerings. I quote the "Four Major
Principles" as identified and explained by Dr. Goldberg in his article:
"1) SUBSTITUTION. God's specific instruction to Moses was that as each
Israelite came to present the offering in accordance with his station in life, he was to
regard this animal as his personal substitute.
"2) IDENTIFICATION. The Israelite next placed his hand upon the head of
the animal and confessed his sins which were then, in a symbolic sense, imputed or
transferred to the animal. The animal-substitute became identified with the sin of the offerer.
"3) THE DEATH OF THE ANIMAL. God wanted the offerer to kill the
animal so that he would be reminded that the penalty of sin is death. The prophet
so aptly comments, '...The soul who sins will die.' (Ezekiel 18:4). God extended
His mercy by providing the substitute to die in place of the offerer.
"4) EXCHANGE OF LIFE. While the passages in Leviticus chapter four do
not explicitly say so, I (Dr. Goldberg) do suggest that a fourth principle is present.
When the animal died because the sin of the offerer was upon it, its life was then
transferred to him. There is the hint of an exchange, for the sins of the offerer were
placed upon the animal, causing it to die; thus, when the animal died, it gave its life
up to the one who stood in need of it."
Dr. Goldberg explained in his article that all this which took place under God's
Mosaic covenant with Israel was symbolic fore-shadowing of that which took place
when God later fulfilled the expectations of these Principles by giving the "Lamb of
God", the Messiah, to be the final, all inclusive "substitution", "to identify" Himself
with the offerer, "to die in place of" the offerer, and to die so that "in exchange for
His life" the offerer might have a death to, and forgiveness for, sin and a new
eternal life in the Messiah.
A major point to me, as I read Dr. Goldberg's article, was that God, through Moses
and the Prophets, called upon the Israelites not only to carry out many invisible
spiritual actions inwardly in their souls and spirits, but also to carry out certain
outward physical actions which were intended to be symbolic of future spiritual
truths. For instance, the Israelites were called upon to literally take an animal to the
Temple altar and to literally kill it under the auspices of the priests, and to engage in
certain physical acts with the sacrifice while they discerned the spiritual
significance of the symbolism of the acts. Dr. Goldberg pointed out that,
historically, some Israelites refused altogether to obey the physical acts, others
refused to give them any symbolic spiritual significance but observed them only
ritualistically, while only a remnant practiced them seeing symbolic spiritual
significance in them as God intended.
A conclusion was drawn in the article that the failure of the Jews to recognize the
symbolic spiritual significance of the animal sacrifices as sin offerings was
responsible for their rejection of the crucified Jesus as the promised Messiah. And
then, especially after the destruction of the Temple in the year AD 70 and the
impossibility of further offering of animal sacrifices there, even most religiously
inclined Jews abandoned entirely that part of Mosaic Law that called for animal
sacrifices as sin offerings, substituting what they call spiritual sacrifice through
prayer in synagogue worship. Dr. Goldberg points out that the failure of modern
day Jews to realize the significance of the "substitute atonement of the Torah"
(taught in Leviticus four) still prevents them from recognizing Jesus as the promised
It occurred to me as I considered the "Four Major Principles" involved in the sin
offerings of the Old Mosaic Covenant that the same principles apply also to baptism
(immersion in water) involved in the obedience of faith of the New Covenant.
Under the Old Covenant a believer was to "act out" in a symbolic way (through
sacrifice of an animal as a sin offering) the coming sacrifice of the Son of God for
the believer's sins. Under the New Covenant today a believer is to "act out" in a
symbolic way (through baptism, or immersion in water) the completed sacrifice of
the Son of God for the believer's sins.
The Apostle Paul made very clear the symbolism and meaning of the baptism which
characterized the conversion of people to Christianity. He said in his letter to the
Romans, chapter six:
"(3) Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ
Jesus have been baptized into His death? (4) Therefore we have been buried
with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from
the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of
life. (5) For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His
death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, (6)
knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our old body of
sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; (7)
for he who has died is freed from sin. (8) Now, if we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with Him, (9) knowing that Christ, having
been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master
over Him. (10) For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but
the life that He lives, He lives to God. (11) Even so consider yourselves to
be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:3-11, NASB).
Although all of the symbolism of baptism may not be fully known to every person
when he is baptized into Christ, he is equipped to grow in understanding of the
symbolism of his baptism as he matures in Christ.
The "Four Major Principles" enumerated and defined in Dr. Goldberg's article as
applicable to the physical offering of animal sacrifices under God's Old Mosaic
Covenant with the Israelites seem clearly to apply also to the physical act of baptism
under God's New Covenant with the people of the earth.
1) SUBSTITUTION. One's submission to baptism clearly identifies one
who regards Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb, his substitute.
2) IDENTIFICATION. In the symbolic act of baptism, Jesus, the Son of
God, becomes identified with the sin (He took upon Himself the sin) of the one being baptized.
3) DEATH OF THE ANIMAL (God's perfect Lamb). God extended His
mercy by providing an aspect of Himself, the only possible substitute to effect a
"once for all" propitiation of the sins of the believer.
4) EXCHANGE OF LIFE. As the Christ died, was buried, and was
resurrected, so the one who is baptized symbolically dies with Him to sin and to the
world and is symbolically buried and raised with Him to walk in a new life no
longer under the condemnation of God's judgement for sin.
In contemplation of these four major principles it becomes clear that, although
animal sacrifice is quite a different action from baptism, there is much similarity in
the symbolic meaning of the two actions. The main difference in the meanings of
the two actions was that the animal sacrifice of the Old Covenant sin offering was
looking to future promises of God whereas New Covenant baptism looks back on
fulfilled promises of God. In both cases the person performing the symbolic action
publicly was (or is) confessing sin, repenting, and rendering obedience of faith in
action specified by God. Moreover, he was (or is) immediately giving himself to
God's service and receiving the spiritual blessing of a good conscience toward God
and God's gift of hope for things not seen. All this suggests that the animal
sacrifice sin offering was an Old Covenant type of which New Covenant baptism is
Dr. Goldberg pointed out in his article that many Jews today, although professing to
be religious, reject the thought that actual physical observance to the Law of the Sin
Offering calling for animal sacrifice was ever necessary even in ancient times.
Instead, they hold that all that was and is required is spiritual sacrifice through the
avenue of prayer in synagogue worship. This attitude has its evil counterpart in the
denominations of Christianity which hold that only inward submission of one's soul
to God is necessary and the practice of the physical symbolic act of baptism is not
necessary. This cannot be true when God's Word in both the Old and New
Testaments calls for submission of both body and soul, and obedience in both
outward and inward actions.
As a part of the gospel message, baptism was preached to the entire world
immediately after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The resurrected
Messiah Himself declared to the whole world just before He ascended to Heaven,
"He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has
disbelieved shall be condemned." (Mark 16:16). In obedience to this commission,
the Lord's apostle Peter declared in the first gospel sermon delivered on the Day of
Pentecost immediately after the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah,
"Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the
forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts
2:38). From then on there is clear implication, as one reads the book of the Acts of
the Apostles, that no gospel sermon was preached that omitted the requirement not
only of belief and repentance but also baptism as necessary in one's response to the
Lord's offer of forgiveness of sins. And in this new baptismal birth of water, the
Holy Spirit of Jesus the Christ was given to impart new and eternal spiritual life to
the convert. It was only after one's belief, repentance, and baptism that it was
reported that the Lord added anyone to His spiritual body, the church. (Acts 2:41).
It became so clearly understood that one's conversion to Christ included belief,
repentance, and baptism, that converts were often simply called "believers" with the
understanding that all true believers had also repented and been baptized. (Acts
11:26, Romans 6:3).
True New Covenant baptism which occurs at the time of one's conversion to Christ
should not be subject to the debate that often occurs concerning salvation by grace
versus salvation by works of merit. The argument that baptism is a work of merit,
and therefore not legitimate, can no more be allowed than the same argument against
the practice of animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Covenant. Baptism is simply
not a work of merit but is a passive submission to a requirement of the Lord. The
Apostle Peter said of baptism in submission to the Lord's direction, "Baptism now
saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good
conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ". (1st Peter 3:21). Baptism
takes its place in the New Covenant as a part of man's wholehearted "obedience of
faith" response to God's gracious offer of salvation. (Romans 1: 5; 16:26). It's
place in the New Covenant appears to be much like the place of the animal
sacrifices God required in the "obedience of faith" under God's Old Mosaic
Covenant with the Israelites.
© F. M. Perry, 2002