Bible: Messiah replaces animal sacrifice?
I don't normally argue Biblical errancy for many reasons. First of all, many Christians are fine accepting that the Bible can contain occasional mistakes because they believe some combination of human error and translation issues accounts for how God's message got distorted. Which is an odd thing to admit when you think about it -- God has an essential message for all mankind, which He allowed to get distorted.
Second, the types of Christians who are absolutely sure that the Bible does not have errors of any kind tend to argue down a kind of spiral if you ever pin them to the ground on an issue. At the end of such an argument, I have more than once heard, "Well, either God made a mistake, or we are somehow misinterpreting what He means. And since God doesn't make mistakes, we must be making the error even if we can't figure out what it is."
With all of that being said, I will commence with the one line of Biblical errancy that I've found really causes a real pause in most of Christians.
Here's the setup. If you regularly engage Christians of various types, you will come across a story that they tell you about how Jesus is the Jewish messiah; who is sent to be sacrificed for the sake of the sins of humanity. Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be what the Jews were expecting. Why not? Well, there was a method for atoning for sin, for one. Animal sacrifice, which eventually fell out of favor.
Of course, for the literalist who thinks that the Messiah was intended to replace this whole notion of animal sacrifice for the atonement of sins, the following passage should be read in full.
Leviticus 16:29-34 (NRSV)
This shall be a statute to you for ever:
In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny yourselves, and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves; it is a statute for ever.
The priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the linen vestments, the holy vestments. He shall make atonement for the sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.
This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the people of Israel once in the year for all their sins. And Moses did as the Lord had commanded him.
God is quoted three times in a row saying that this system of atonement of sins will last forever. Not only that, but the atonement will cleanse all people of Israel of all sin. Worse still, they are clean before the Lord.
When I confront a person with this passage, I ask:
"What was the point of Jesus' alleged sacrifice?"
What did Jesus' sacrifice achieve if not exactly what was achieved by what was accomplished in the Leviticus verses that already atoned for sin and made the Israelites clean before the Lord?
To be honest, if there was a method for the atonement of sin that left believers clean before the Lord, then, Jesus was not the savior of humankind at all even if the claims of the Bible are true. He's the savior of sacrificial animals that no longer have to be killed. If nothing except the hassle of repeatedly doing animal sacrifices, then Jesus' sacrifice was clearly not out of necessity, but out of convenience.
The book of Leviticus is fairly self-consistent, but perhaps you'll be confronted with a person who points out some other verse from a different book written by a different author of the Old Testament that contradicts this section of Leviticus.
Say, "You've quoted where God contradicts Himself. How is this supposed to be impressive to an atheist?"
What is strange, is that people will point out a contradiction as though this improves their position that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. Of course, you may come across a person who argues that having an everlasting statute that is only good for a few hundred years is not a contradiction.
Say, "If 'it shall be an everlasting statute' means 'a statute that lasts for about a thousand years' -- how long do you expect 'everlasting life' last? And when God contradicts Himself in the Bible, how do you decide which thing He says is correct? Do you just flip a coin?"
One way out of the dilemma is to admit that so as far as the Jews were concerned, the Messiah that they were anxiously waiting for was completely unnecessary and redundant at best. The Messiah was a savior of convenience, not of necessity. Jesus is not really the savior of mankind, but the savior of goats and sheep. I haven't found a Christian that is comfortable with this way out.
While I'm on the topic of Biblical errancy, I should mention two websites among many that I have found to be well informed.
There is site Errancy.org that I think approaches Biblical errancy in a useful way. It categorizes errors based on the severity problem. Also, I should give a shout out to the Skeptics Annotated Bible which has the entire Bible, Koran, and the Book of Mormon online and annotated and cross-linked.