Jews believe that one person’s death cannot atone for the sins of another.
IN SHORT… The Bible is clear, and it is consistent: one person cannot die for the sins of another. In other words, the sins committed by one person cannot be wiped out by the punishment given to another. In Exodus 32:30-35, Moses asks Gd to punish him for the sin committed by the people in regards to the Golden Calf. Gd tells Moses that the person who committed the sin is the one who must receive the punishment. Then, in Deuteronomy 24:16, Gd simply states this as a basic principle, ‘Every man shall be put to death for his own sin.’ This concept is repeated in the Prophets, in Ezekiel 18:‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die… the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.’ The prophet Jeremiah looks to the day when the mistaken belief that one man’s death atones for another man’s sins shall no longer be held by anyone: in Jeremiah 31:29-30, the prophet says: ‘In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.’
|A MORE COMPLETE EXPLANATION… The Christian understanding is that Jesus, the one they believe to be the messiah, died for the sins of all humanity. In this view, the messiah is supposed to be the blood sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of sin; in other words, a human sacrifice. However, not only is this concept of the messiah not found in our Bible, but we are also taught quite clearly and consistently that no one can die for the sins of another, that one person’s guilt cannot be forgiven because of another person’s death. In Exodus 32:30-35, Moses tries to offer himself as an atonement for the sins of the People, by being written ‘out of Thy book which Thou has written.’ To be written out of Gd’s book means to be written out of the Book of Life; therefore Moses is asking to die for the sins of the People. Gd’s response is that it does not work that way, each man dies for his own sin:And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Etrnl; perhaps I shall make an atonement for your sin. And Moses returned unto the Etrnl, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin…and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Etrnl said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. And the Etrnl plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made. [Exodus 32:30-35]
Please note that the text tells us that the one who sins is the one who receives the punishment, and no one else. The point is made again in Deuteronomy 24:16, where it explicitly says that no one can die for the sins of another:
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the father. Every man shall be put to death for his own sin. [Deuteronomy 24:16]
The whole of Chapter 18 of the Book of Ezekiel expands upon and clarifies this principle. Furthermore, this chapter teaches that all we have to do to gain Gd’s forgiveness is to stop doing the Bad and start doing the Good. Nowhere does it say that we must have a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Please see Essay #2, ‘A blood sacrifice is not required for forgiveness of sins.’
The word of the Etrnl came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Etrnl Gd, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Etrnl Gd: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die. When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. [Ezekiel 18:1-4; 20-24; 26-27]
Again, this same principle is stated in the Book of Jeremiah. In the 31st chapter, Gd tells of a time in the future when no one will continue to believe in such a thing.
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge. [Jeremiah 31:29-30]
This is nothing but a restatement and elaboration on Deuteronomy 24:16: ‘Every man shall be put to death for his own sin.’ The simple and literal meaning of the biblical text needs no interpretation. It is clear and it is consistent:
No one can die to atone for the sins of another.
This is why Jews do not believe there was any redemptive power at all in Jesus’ death. Such a belief is unbiblical; it has no basis in the sacred text and no justification in Jewish theology. This doctrine can be seen as an invention for the sake of post-event rationalization, in other words, to give meaning and purpose to the crucifixion after the fact.
Some Christians may choose to interpret other verses in the Bible to indicate the opposite, that one CAN die for the sins of another. If that were the case, this would mean that Gd changed His mind, or that He did not mean what He said in Deuteronomy 24:16: ‘Every man shall be put to death for his own sin.’
But Gd does not change either His mind or His nature, as we read in Malachi 3:6,
For I am the Etrnl, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
In a newer technique, some Christians are now quoting rabbinic writings to make it seem as if the rabbis accepted this concept of vicarious atonement. However, even if several respected rabbis did agree with this idea, we must still go by what the Bible states, and the Bible states, in no uncertain terms, ‘Every man shall be put to death for his own sin.’