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Essay donated by Gerald Ostroot

Transferring sin: "What do we believe," as
interpreted from an Evangelical viewpoint

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"When you know a thing, to hold that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it; that is knowledge." Confucius, Analects

What a marvelous revelation it is to understand that true knowledge of any subject includes both what we know and the realization that we may not know everything about that subject. It’s a revelation that seems to be lacking in many prestigious groups in our world today. When the subject involves the ancient past, our knowledge is dwarfed by the vast storehouse of information that we do not have. Yet the temptation is always there to make judgments about that past and the people who lived there, from the little information we do have. That is especially true when the information we have comes from a very well known book—the Bible. Let’s spend a few moments reviewing the most basic knowledge we get from the Bible.

  1. God is! He is the creator and the sustainer of this Universe. He is involved with what is happening within it. In times of stress we may ask if He is still with us, but not whether or not He is. The Bible gives us this assurance. (Revelation 22:13)
  2. The Bible also tells us His attributes. His attributes do not depend upon translation, interpretation or our point of view when we read the Bible. They are truths that transcend all of those variables. Those attributes and a Scripture references are listed below:
    bulletImmutability – James 1:17
    bulletOmnipresence – Psalms 139:7-12
    bulletSovereignty – Ephesians 1:8
    bulletOmnipotence – Matthew 11:21
    bulletJustice – Acts 17:31
    bulletLove – Ephesians 2:4,5
    bulletTruth – John 14:6
    bulletMercy – James 5:11
    These attributes are the standards for all other Scripture. If our understanding of Bible passages does not agree with these standards, our translation, interpretation or point of view is faulty. We need to look carefully, with the help of the Holy Spirit, at all the evidence to see where we went wrong. If we can find no additional evidence, it’s time to admit that our understanding of that passage is beyond our knowledge at this time. Don’t be surprised when that happens. God says that His ways (course or action) are higher than our understanding. (Isa. 55:8,9)

In the first four essays we have looked at instances where sin seemed to be transferred to the innocent. None of these transferred the guilt of sin. The punishment for sin can be transferred with sufficient justification. (Essay 2: Jesus on the Cross) The guilt remains with the sinner. Only the sinner can repent and seek forgiveness for their own sin. That condition must hold for all cases of individual sin, thus the guilt of individual sin can never be transferred.

We also recognized a second category of sin—that of "congregational" sin. (i.e., group sin) It was illustrated by the punishment of the nation of Israel that also included women and children. We see another example in the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy. 23:1-2: "If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis has been cut off, he shall not enter the assembly of the Lord.

A bastard
(heathen mother) may not enter the assembly of the Lord, even after the tenth generation." (NIV)

Other Bibles translate this word, "assembly", from the Hebrew as "congregation." The same Hebrew word is translated both ways. The NLT Bible goes one step beyond the full meaning by translating "assembly of the Lord" as "Sanctuary." That is how we think today. However, the Hebrew language has 3 different words that can be translated as "congregation" or "assembly" that refer to different groups of people. The word used here seems to refer to an assembly of all the men of Israel for any reason. The women, children and strangers are excluded. Note what the Bible says about Joshua.

Joshua 8:34-35: Joshua then read to them all the statements of blessings and curses that Moses had written in the book of God’s laws.

Every commandment Moses had ever given was read before the entire assembly , (same Jewish word) including the women, children and the foreigners who lived among the Israelites. (NLT)

Note that the statement specifically included women, children and foreigners along with the assembly. (the men of Israel) Although it was held around the Ark, it was an informational meeting, not one of praise and worship.

We might ask, along with the Jews, "What sin have the men specified in Deuteronomy committed that justifies this punishment?" The answer is "none." The circumstances of their lives have relegated them to the same status as women in the Jewish society. They were not to be in a position of leadership, possibly because their outlook on life might be compromised by their condition. But they did not lose their relationship with God. Isaiah. 56:3-8 declares that every one of these men who join themselves to the Lord will get a special reward from Him. Read the story of Jephathah, the Gileadite, in Judges, chapter 11. These men are not punished for their sin or for the sin of someone else. Rather, they are restricted from normal leadership positions for the good of Israel and will receive recompense from the Lord in due time. Once again we see a Lord that is in keeping with His attributes. He does not transfer another person’s sin to them. Is this just an isolated incident or is it an illustration of God’s love and mercy for all the innocents who have suffered for the sake of His Kingdom? Review the Beatitudes for an answer.

Matthew 5:10: "Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of right; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs." (NEB)

There are other passages in the Bible that may seem to imply a contradiction and are currently being questioned. But there is a more important decision that will answer all these issues.

Which of the following do we believe?

bullet"Do we believe that the Lord, God, is who He says he is?" If so, we believe He has the attributes listed earlier and always operates within those parameters. When a question arises, we confront our translation, our interpretation or our understanding of His judgments and actions. (Previous essays 1 – 4) We recognize that we do not have full knowledge and may not have full understanding at this time. We affirm our faith that God is who says He is!

"Do we believe that the Lord, God, is who we say He is?" If so, we believe that our understanding of biblical events is truth and, when contradictions seem to occur, we question the actions and judgments of God. We make decisions based upon what we "know" and make assumptions for the things we don’t know. Our faith in ourselves exceeds the faith that we have in Him!

Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (NIV)

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Originally posted: 2007-NOV-11
Latest update: 2007-NOV-11
Gerald Ostroot, at: [email protected]

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