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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Sin Offering

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(חִטָּאת, chattath; Sept. ἁμαρτία, τὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας, περὶ ὰμαρτίας; Vulg. pro peccato). The sin offering among the Jews was the sacrifice in which the ideas of propitiation and of atonement for sin were most distinctly marked. It is first directly enjoined in Leviticus 4, whereas in ch. 1-3 the burned offering, meatoffering, and peace offering are taken for granted, and the object of the law is to regulate, not to enjoin, the presentation of them to the Lord. Nor is the word chattath applied to any sacrifice in ante-Mosaic times. Its technical use in Genesis 4:7 is asserted, and supported by high authority But the word here probably means (as in the Vulgate and the A.V.) "sin." The fact that it is never used in application to any other sacrifice in Genesis or Exodus alone makes the translation "sin offering" here very improbable. It is therefore peculiarly a sacrifice of the law, agreeing with the clear definition of good and evil, and the stress laid on the "sinfulness of sin," which were the main objects of the law in itself. The idea of propitiation was, no doubt, latent in earlier sacrifices, but it was taught clearly and distinctly in the Levitical sin offering. The ceremonial of the sin offering is described in Leviticus 4, 6. The animal a young bullock for the priest or the congregation, a male kid or lamb for a ruler, a female kid or lamb for a private person, in all cases without blemish was brought by the sacrificer to the altar of sacrifice; his hand was laid upon its head (with, as we learn from later Jewish authorities, a confession of sin, and a prayer that the victim might be its expiation); of the blood of the slain victim some was then sprinkled seven times before the veil of the sanctuary, some put on the horns of the altar of incense, and the rest poured at the foot of the altar of sacrifice. The fat (as the choicest part of the flesh) was then burned on the altar as a burned offering; the remainder of the body, if the sin offering were that of the priest himself or of the whole congregation, was carried out of the camp or city to a "clean place" and there burned; but, if the offering were that of an individual, the flesh might be eaten by the priests alone in the holy place, as being "most holy."

The "trespass offering" (אָשָׁ ם; πλημμέλεια, τὸ τῆς πλημμελείας; pro delicto) is closely connected with the sin offering in Leviticus, but at the same time clearly distinguished from it, being in some cases offered with it as a distinct part of the same sacrifice, as, for example, in the cleansing of the leper (ch. 14). The victim was in each case to be a ram. At the time of offering, in all cases of damage done to any holy thing, or to any man, restitution was made with the addition of a fifth part to the principal; the blood was sprinkled round about upon the altar, as in the burned offering, the fat burned, and the flesh disposed of as in the sin offering. The distinction of ceremonial clearly indicates a difference in the idea of the two sacrifices. The nature of that difference is still a subject of great controversy. Looking first to the derivation of the two words, we find that חִטָּאת is derived from חָטָא, which is, properly, to "miss" a mark, or to "err" from a way, and, secondarily, to "sin," or to incur "penalty;" that, אָשָׁ is derived from the root, אָשִׁ, which is, properly, to "fail," having for its "primary idea negligence, especially in gait" (Gesenius). It is clear that, so far as derivation goes, there appears to be more of reference to general and actual sin in the former, to special cases of negligence in the latter. Turning next to the description, ill the book of Leviticus, of the circumstances under which each should be offered, we find one important passage (Leviticus 5:1-13) in which the sacrifice is called first a "trespass offering" (Leviticus 5:6), and then a "sin offering" (Leviticus 5:7; Leviticus 5:9; Leviticus 5:11-12). But the nature of the victims in Leviticus 5:6 agrees with the ceremonial of the latter, not of the former; the application of the latter name is more emphatic and reiterated; and there is at Leviticus 5:14 a formal introduction of the law of the trespass offering, exactly as of the law of the sin offering in 4:1. It is therefore safe to conclude that the word, אָשָׁ is not here used in its technical sense, and that the passage is to be referred to the sin offering only (See TRESPASS OFFERING).

We find, then, that the sin offerings were

A. REGULAR.

(1.) For the whole people, at the New Moon, Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, and Feast of Tabernacles (Numbers 28:15 to Numbers 29:38); besides the solemn offering of the two goats on the Great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 15).

(2.) For the priests and Levites at their consecration (Exodus 29:10-14; Exodus 29:36); besides the yearly sin offering (a bullock) for the high priest on the Great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 15).

(3.) To these may be added the sacrifice of the red heifer (conducted with the ceremonial of a sin offering), from the ashes of which was made the "Water of separation," used in certain cases of ceremonial pollution (Numbers 19).

B. SPECIAL.

(1.) For any sin of "ignorance" against the commandment of the Lord, on the part of priest, people, ruler, or private man (Leviticus 4).

(2.) For refusal to bear witness under adjuration (Leviticus 5:1).

(3.) For ceremonial defilement not wilfully contracted (Leviticus 5:2-3), under which may be classed the offerings at the purification of women (Leviticus 12:6-8), at the cleansing of leprosy (Leviticus 14:19; Leviticus 14:31) or the uncleanness of men or women (Leviticus 15:15; Leviticus 15:30), on the defilement of a Nazarite (Numbers 6:6-11) or the expiration of his vow (Numbers 6:16).

(4.) For the breach of a rash oath, the keeping of which would involve sin (Leviticus 5:4).

The trespass offerings, on the other hand, were always special, as

(1.) For sacrilege "in ignorance," with compensation for the harm done, and the gift of a fifth part of the value, besides, to the priest (Leviticus 5:15-16).

(2.) For ignorant transgression against some definite prohibition of the lawn (Leviticus 5:17-19).

(3.) For fraud, suppression of the truth, or perjury against man, with compensation, and with the addition of a fifth part of the value of, the property in question to the person wronged (Leviticus 6:1-6).

(4.) For rape of a betrothed slave (Leviticus 19:20-21).

(5.) At the purification of the leper (Leviticus 14:12), and the polluted Nazarite (Numbers 6:12), offered with the sin offering.

From this enumeration it will be clear that the two classes of sacrifices, although distinct, touch closely upon each other, as especially in B (1.) of the sin offering, and (2.) of the trespass offering. It is also evident that the sin offering was the only regular and general recognition of sin in the abstract, and accordingly was far more solemn and symbolical in its ceremonial; the trespass offering was confined to special cases, most of which related to the doing of some material damage, either to the holy things or to man, except in (5.) where the trespass offering is united with the sin offering. Josephus (Ant. 3, 9, 3) declares that the sin offering is presented by those "who fall into sin in ignorance" (κατ᾿ ἀγνοίαν ), and the trespass offering by "one who has sinned and is conscious of his sin, but has no one to convict him thereof."

From this it may be inferred (as by Winer and, others) that the former was used in cases of known sin against some definite law, the latter in the case of secret sin, unknown, or, if known, not liable to judicial cognizance. Other opinions have been entertained, widely different from, and even opposed to, one another. The opinions which suppose one offering due for sins of omission, and the other for sins of commission, have no foundation in the language of the law, Others, with more plausibility, refer the sin offering to sins of pure ignorance, the trespass offering to those of a more, sinful and deliberate character; but this does not agree with Leviticus 5:17-19, and is contradicted by the solemn contrast between sins of ignorance, which might be atoned for, and "sins of presumption," against which death without mercy is denounced in Numbers 15:30. A third opinion supposes the sin offering to refer to sins for which no material and earthly atonement could be made, the trespass offering to those for which material compensation was possible. This theory has something to support it in the fact that in some cases (see Leviticus 5:15-16; Leviticus 6:1-6) compensation was prescribed as accessory to the sacrifice. Others seek more recondite distinctions, supposing, e.g., that the sin offering had for its object the cleansing of the sanctuary or the commonwealth, and the trespass offering the cleansing of the individual; or that the former referred to the effect of sin upon the soul itself, the latter to the effect of sin as the breach of an external law. Without attempting to decide so difficult and so controverted a question, we may draw the following conclusions:

First, that the sin offering was far the more solemn and comprehensive of the two sacrifices.

Secondly, that the sin offering looked more to the guilt of the sin done, irrespective of its consequences, while the trespass offering looked to the evil consequences of sin, either against the service of God or against man, and to the duty of atonement, as far as atonement was possible. Hence the two might with propriety be offered together. Thirdly, that in the sin offering especially we find symbolized the acknowledgment of sinfulness as inherent in man, and of the need of expiation by sacrifice to renew the broken covenant between man and God.

There is one other question of some interest, as to the nature of the sins for which either sacrifice could be offered. It is seen at once that in the law of Leviticus most of them, which are not purely ceremonial, are called sins of "ignorance" (see Hebrews 9:7); and in Numbers 15:30 it is expressly said that while such sins can be atoned for by offerings, "the soul that doeth aught presumptuously" (Heb. with a high hand) "shall be cut off from among his people.... His iniquity shall be upon him" (comp. Hebrews 10:26). But there are sufficient indications that the sins here called "of ignorance" are more strictly those of "negligence" or "frailty," repented of by the unpunished offender, as opposed to those of deliberate and unrepentant sin. The Hebrew word itself and its derivations are so used in Psalms 119:67 (Sept. ἐπλημμέλησα ); 1 Samuel 26:21 (ἠγνόηκα ); Psalms 19:13 (παραπτώματα ); Job 19:4 (πλάνος ). The words ἀγνοημα and ἄγνοια have a corresponding extent of meaning in the New Test.; as when in Acts 3:17, the Jews, in their crucifixion of our Lord. are said to have acted ignorantly (κατ᾿ ἀγνοίαν ); and in Ephesians 4:18; 1 Peter 1:14 the vices of heathenism, done against the light of conscience, are still referred to. ἄγνοια The use of the word (like that of ἀγνωμονεῖν in classical Greek) is found in all languages, and depends on the idea that goodness is man s true wisdom, and that sin is the failing to recognize this truth. If from the word we turn to the sins actually referred to in Leviticus 4:5, we find some which certainly are not sins of pure ignorance; they are, indeed, few out of the whole range of sinfulness, but they are real sins. The later Jews (see Outram, De Sacrificiis) limited the application of the sin offering to negative sins, sins in ignorance, and sins in action, not in thought, evidently conceiving it to apply to actual sins, but to sins of a secondary order.

In considering this subject it must be remembered that the sacrifices of the law had a temporal as well as a spiritual significance and effect. They restored an offender to his place in the commonwealth of Israel; they were, therefore, an atonement to the King of Israel for the infringement of his law. It is clear that this must have limited the extent of their legal application; for there are crimes for which the interest and very existence of a society demand that there should be no pardon. But so far as the sacrifices had a spiritual and typical meaning, so far as they were sought by a repentant spirit as a sign and means of reconcilement with God it can hardly be doubted that they had a wider scope and a real spiritual effect, so long as their typical character remained. (See SACRIFICE).

For the more solemn sin offerings, (See DAY OF ATONEMENT); (See LEPROSY), etc.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Sin Offering'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/sin-offering.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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