While reading through Hebrews I came upon the following Scripture:

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb 10:4 ESV)

However, in my recent studies, I came across the following,

Thus shall he do with the bull. As he did with the bull of the sin offering, so shall he do with this. And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven . (Lev 4:20 ESV)

Taken out of context or being unaware of the existence Lev 4:20, it would seem that we as Christians have a better forgiveness than the Jewish OT believer.

“Well, their sins were just covered over but ours are completely removed” I have heard it said more times than I can remember.

But this is quite simply not true as it is abundantly clear that the Jew under the old system of Law and animal sacrifice WAS FORGIVEN according to Lev 4:20. As a matter of fact there are quite a number of Scriptures in Leviticus that use the words “and they shall be forgiven” in relation to sin and animal or other sacrifice and offering.

I am well aware of the difference between atonement and propitiation so that is not the issue here. Taken in context I’m sure that this must refer to conscience, so my question is this, in which way does the blood of bulls and goats NOT take away sin from the conscience ?

  • I don't think forgiven necessarily means justified--per my answer.
    – LCIII
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 17:56
  • @LCIII could one be forgiven by God and not be justified before God? Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 18:56
  • @jlaverde I've often wondered this but I need to stop being so lazy and pour over the word to finally get an answer. I can forgive you out of love for a crime but you still have to pay the penalty of the law. Jesus gives us forgiveness AND justification. That's my theological stance right now.
    – LCIII
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 19:14
  • @LCIII very interesting answer and I concur, especially in light of 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." It definitely makes a difference between forgiveness and justification (cleanse us of all wickedness), however I think they go together. I believe you can't have one without the other. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 20:20
  • I disagree, you can't be forgiven yet remain unjust before God. Forgiveness and justification happens simultaneously (though they are not the same) and one can't happen without the other
    – One Face
    Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


The answer to your question is further on in the chapter.

Hebrews 10:11-14 ESV And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Christ's sacrifice was fundamentally different than those of the animals. A person's sins were forgiven by the animal's sacrifice, but they would become immediately guilty again because of their sinful nature. This is why the animals had to be sacrificed over and over again.

Christ's single sacrifice not only forgives us of all of our sins but it also gives us his righteousness so that we are fully justified before God. The forgiveness gained from the sacrifice of animal is temporary--but Christ's sacrifice is permanent and all-encompassing.

1 Peter 3:18 ESV For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

Romans 6:10-11 ESV For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:20-22 ESV For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

  • Thank you so much for that clear explanation, this just elevates Christ so much more in my thinking.
    – Anthony
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 18:44

It was different. They looked at Jesus through the symbols and shadows of the sacrifice, nevertheless that is all they were symbols and shadows of the

"Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world"

John 1:29

They were forgiven on credit, while we look back to His sacrifice are forgiven as He now intercedes with us before the Father as the True High Priest, which the priests of old represented. Jesus is the antitype of the priests and sacrificial lamb.

  • Can you please support the last paragraph with biblical citations or published commentary? Thank you!
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 16:57
  • @Andrew No problem! An example of this would be in Genesis 15:6 and it is very clear in the NIV. You know this is talking about the forgiveness of Abraham's sins, because of Romans 4:3-8. As for Jesus being the antitype of the priests and the high priest, Hebrews 4:14 explains this, and Hebrews 7:25 says He intercedes for us. Let me know if this is what you were looking for. Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 17:58

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