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Sin Offering (in the Bible)


A form of expiatory sacrifice prescribed by the Pentateuchal priestly writers of the Old Testament (Heb. aāt ). The date of its origin is not known with certainty, but Ezekiel mentions it as a familiar practice (Ez 40.39; 42.13), a fact that disproves a postexilic origin. Its purpose was to make expiation [see expiation (in the bible)] for material, not formal, sin [see sin (in the bible)], i.e., infractions against God's commandments or against the laws of ritual purity (see pure and impure). For a sin committed with a "high hand" (defiantly) there could be no atonement by a sin offering. The distinction between a sin offering and a guilt offering (Heb. āšām ) was not always clear (cf. Lv 5.1719 with Nm 15.2229), and at times the expiatory rite was called indifferently either a sin offering or a guilt offering (e.g., Lv 14.1020; Nm 6.912).

Chapters 4 and 5 of Leviticus enumerate the different victims to be offered by various classes of the people. A priest and the whole community must offer a bull (Lv 4.3,14); a ruler, a male goat (4.23); the ordinary citizen, a female goat (4.28); the poor, two turtledoves or two pigeons (5.7); and the destitute, a very small amount of flour (5.11). No one was exempt from offering at least some small sacrifice in expiation for his sin.

The place for expiatory sacrifice was the forecourt of the tent of meeting on the north side of the altar. The slaughtering was performed by the offerer (an indication of the primitiveness of the practice), except for national offerings (2 Chr 29.24). The offerer's action of placing his hands on the head of the victim was not intended (contrary to an opinion that has now been almost universally abandoned) to signify the transfer of the sin to the victim, for this would only have made the victim impure and, therefore, unsuitable for sacrifice. The action signified rather that the offerer initiated the sacrificial rite and thus confessed his guilt and sorrow. The manipulation of the sacrificial blood (see blood, religious significance of) formed the most important part of the sin offering, since Yahweh Himself had designated it as a proper means for cleansing the person, place, or thing made unclean even by inadvertent sin, thus for reestablishing communion with the holy God (Lv 17.11). On the Day of atonement (Yom Kippur) the Holy of Holies was entered and the sacrificial blood of the national sin offering was sprinkled on the ark of the covenant, where Yahweh was invisibly enthroned, in order to have it come as close to Him as possible in its cleansing power.

In the New Testament Christ is identified as the ultimate sin offering in Rom 8.14; 2 Cor 5.2021, and especially throughout the Epistle to the Hebrews (see Heb 10.118).

See Also: sacrifice, iii (in israel); sacrifice, iv (in christian theology).

Bibliography: r. de vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, tr. j. mchugh (New York 1961) 418421. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 223941. l. moraldi, Espiazione sacrificale e riti espiatori (Analecta Biblica 5; Rome 1956) 133157.

[r. j. kujawa]

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