Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Ezekielian Sacrifices

The Memorial View of the Ezekielian Sacrifices

We have seen earlier that Prabhudas Koshy, together with John Walvoord and most dispensationalists, believes that the animal sacrifices in the millennium serve as a memorial of Christ’s death, and do not possess any expiatory value whatsoever. Whitcomb agrees that this is the prevalent view amongst Dispensationalists,

“Without doubt, the large majority of dispensational premillennialists do interpret the Zadokian priesthood and animal sacrifices of the millennial age literally. They also attempt to modify the supposed clash between the OT prophecies of the New Covenant and the book of Hebrews by viewing these animal sacrifices strictly as memorials of the death of Christ, like the Church eucharist of the bread and cup.”[1]

In other words, most Dispensationalists do not interpret the function of these animal sacrifices literally. There is no exegetical basis at all, according to the consistently literal hermeneutics of dispensationalism, to understanding these sacrifices as merely memorial. Dispensationalist John Whitcomb concedes that the Ezekielian sacrifices are to be understood as making atonement if interpreted literally. He writes,

“Ezekiel, however, does not say that animals will be offered for a “memorial” of Messiah’s death. Rather, they will be for “atonement” (45:15, 17, 20 ; cf. 43:20, 26 ).”[2]

The plain or prosaic understanding of the Ezekielian animal sacrifices suggests that they are a reinstitution of the Levitical ritual of sacrifice, which has the legal function of actually making reconciliation for sin (Lev. 6:30; 8:15; 16:6, 11, 24, 30; Num. 5:8; 15:28; 29:5). Whitcomb elaborates that,

“Animal sacrifices could never remove spiritual guilt from the offerer. The book of Hebrews is very clear about that (10:4, 11). But it is equally erroneous to say that the sacrifices were mere teaching symbols given by God to Israel to prepare them for Messiah and his infinite atonement. Such a view is contradicted by precise statements in Exodus and Leviticus. From God’s perspective, this was surely a major purpose of animal sacrifices; but it could not have been their exclusive purpose from the perspective of Old Covenant Israelites.”[3]

Old Testament animal sacrifices do possess expiatory value, but this is limited to the ceremonial, external, and temporal realms. They serve to cover the sins of the offerer, while he anticipates the final, infinitely efficacious sacrifice of the Messiah.

The animal sacrifices, however, do not possess any soteriological value. Only Christ’s death provides atonement for sins in the eternal, infinite, and soteriological sense.

Contrary to Koshy’s memorial view, Ezekiel 45:15, 17, 20 specifically state that the sacrifices “make reconciliation” or “atonement” for the people. Beale emphasizes the fact that “Ezekiel does not call these sacrifices ‘memorials’, but puts them on a par with the Levitical typological sacrifices of atonement.”[4]

Concerning the expiatory significance of the Ezekielian sacrifices, Anthony Hoekema writes:

“Even to suggest, however, that these will be memorial sacrifices violates the principle of the literal interpretation of prophecy. For the Hebrew word used to describe the purpose of these sacrifices in Ezekiel 45: 15, 17, and 20 is the piel form of kaphar (rendered “to make reconciliation” [KJ] or “to make atonement” [ASV, RSV]). But this is precisely the word used in the Pentateuchal description of the Old Testament sacrifices to indicate their propitiatory or expiatory purpose (see Lev. 6:30; 8:15; 16:6, 11, 24, 30, 32, 33, 34; Num. 5:8; 15:28; 29:5). If the sacrifices mentioned in Ezekiel are to be understood literally, they must be expiatory, not memorial offerings.”[5]

It is, consequently, indubitably clear that Koshy’s understanding of the Ezekielian animal sacrifices violates the principle of the literal interpretation of prophecy. According to the plain reading of Scripture, these offerings are not memorials. They are expiatory in nature and design.

A Hermeneutical Dilemma

According to Hebrews 9:23-28, “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.” Why, then, is there the need for sin offerings, burnt offerings, and a return to Old Testament types and shadows? Despite their insistence upon a consistently literal hermeneutics, dispensationalists are forced to spiritualize the terms “sin offerings,” “burnt offerings,” “reconciliation,” and “atonement” used in passages such as Ezekiel 45:15, 17, and 20. They postulate that a “sin offering” is not offered for sin in the millennium, but is only memorial in nature.

Dispensationalist Charles Ryrie, commenting on the literal hermeneutics of Dispensationalism, writes:

“If literal interpretation is the correct principle of interpretation, it follows that it would be proper to expect it to apply to all the Scriptures. This, as we have tried to show, is the reason the matter of consistency in the application of plain interpretation is so important. The nonliteralist is the nonpremillennialist, the less specific and less consistent literalists are the covenant premillennialist and the progressive dispensationalist, and the consistent literalist is a dispensationalist. . . . In other words, consistent literalism is the basis for dispensationalism, and since consistent literalism is the logical and obvious principle of interpretation, dispensationalism is more than justified.”[6]

Louis Goldberg goes further, claiming that those who reject a literalistic hermeneutics are actually imposing their theological framework upon Scriptures. Goldberg writes that the “two established rules of interpretation are as follows: 1) “When scripture makes common sense use no other sense;” 2) “Prophecy  . . .  must be interpreted literally . . . The reason a non-literal method of interpretation is adopted is, almost without exception, because of a desire to avoid the obvious interpretation of the passage. The desire to bring the teaching of scripture into harmony with some predetermined system of doctrine instead of bringing doctrine into harmony with the scriptures has kept this practice alive.” The point is that we have to let the prophetic scriptures speak on their own without reading into them!”[7]

So, in accordance with Koshy’s, Ryrie’s, and Goldberg’s “literal hermeneutics,” exegetes must avoid the “desire to bring the teaching of scripture into harmony with some predetermined system of doctrine.” Contrariwise, we must “let the prophetic scriptures speak on their own without reading into them.” In order to avoid reading a preconceived theological grid into the visions of Ezekiel, the dispensationalists must admit that the “literal, normal, or plain interpretation” of the expressions “sin offerings” and “make atonement (Ezek. 45:15, 17, NIV)” must mean exactly that – sin offerings for sins, and the atonement for sins. If the sacrifices mentioned in Ezekiel’s visions are to be understood literally, they must be expiatory, not memorial offerings.

With regard to the dispensationalists’ insistence upon a consistently literal interpretation, Vern Poythress makes an astute, critical observation. He writes,

“I suspect, however, that dropping the phrase ‘literal interpretation’ might prove difficult for some dispensationalists, because ‘literal’ has become a watchword or banner. It is a useful watchword, I suggest, precisely because it can become a vehicle for sliding into a flat interpretation or plain interpretation when it is convenient to do so.”[8]

Apparently, Dispensationalists and Bible Presbyterians understand Scripture literally only when the literal, natural reading of such passages conforms to their theological grid. The consistently literal hermeneutics of Dispensationalists is “consistently literal” only when their Dispensationalism allows their interpretation to be literal. It must, therefore, be agreed that the term “literal interpretation” is “a confusing term, capable of being used to beg many of the questions at stake in the interpretation of the Bible.”[9]

Bible Presbyterian Options

If one rejects Koshy’s memorial view as being inconsistent with the general tenor of Scripture, at least two options remain. Ironically, the New Scofield Reference Bible gives an alternative, non-literal interpretation of the Ezekielian sacrifices,

“The reference to sacrifices is not to be taken literally, in view of the putting away of such offerings, but is rather to be regarded as a presentation of the worship of redeemed Israel, in her own land and in the millennial temple, using the terms with which the Jews were familiar in Ezekiel’s day.”[10]

Even Todd Mangum, a progressive dispensationalist, argues for this view, and he prefers to understand the Ezekielian references to animal sacrifices as “typological references to the eternal worship of the crucified and risen Lord God Jesus Christ.”[11]

In response to such an understanding of the Ezekielian sacrifices by the editors of the New Scofield Reference Bible, Hoekema exclaims,

“These words convey a far-reaching concession on the part of dispensationalists. If the sacrifices are not to be taken literally, why should we take the temple literally? It would seem that the dispensational principle of the literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is here abandoned, and that a crucial foundation stone for the entire dispensational system has here been set aside!”[12]

Therefore, as Ellison reminds us, “make the sacrifices symbolic and the temple becomes symbolic too.”[13]

To concede that the Ezekielian animal sacrifices are typological or symbolical in nature is to admit, albeit tacitly, that the temple visions of Ezekiel (chapters 40-48) can be interpreted with the “typo-prophetic hermeneutical principle” proposed by Mangum and progressive Dispensationalists.[14] This would result in an understanding of the Millennial Temple which is closer to the interpretations of Daniel Block and G. K. Beale.

The other option for Bible Presbyterians is the view adopted by John Whitcomb, but it soon becomes clear that this view has its inherent weaknesses.

Whitcomb’s View and Far Eastern Bible College

It is notable that Whitcomb’s paper, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” constitutes part of the supplements and syllabus for the course “Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology: A Basic Theology for Everyone Course” organized by Far Eastern Bible College.[15]

Concerning the millennium temple, Jeffrey Khoo’s reliance upon Whitcomb’s paper is evident in the following statement:

 “As regards the millennial temple and sacrifices, read Gary Cohen, “Ezekiel’s City: A Millennial Vision,” Zion’s Fire (July-August 1998): 18-23; Prabhudas Koshy, “The Millennium Temple,” The Burning Bush (January 2000): 23-31; and John C. Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” Grace Theological Journal 6 (1985): 201-17.”[16]

It is apparent that Khoo has not arrived at a conclusion as regards the Ezekielian sacrifices. Koshy’s view contradicts Whitcomb’s view. Nevertheless, both views are offered to the students of Far Eastern Bible College for consideration. Concerning the Millennium Temple and its animal sacrifices, one can, however, be assured that students of Far Eastern Bible College are directed to the writings of rank Dispensationalists for answers.

The Passing of Types and Shadows

In his paper “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” Whitcomb criticizes Anthony Hoekema for assuming, “along with many nondispensational theologians, that animal sacrifices in the millennium would involve a reinstitution of the Mosaic economy, just as if Christ had never died. Oswald T. Allis, another Reformed theologian, stated, for example: “Literally interpreted, this means the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood and of the Mosaic ritual of sacrifices essentially unchanged.’”[17]

Reformed theologians are in general agreement that the Old Covenant types and shadows, together with its ceremonial and Jewish peculiarities, have been forever abolished with the advent of the antitype, Jesus Christ - our Priest, Prophet and King.

Although Whitcomb tries to convince his readers that “Ezekiel’s picture of millennial worship and the Mosaic system which had been established nine hundred years earlier exhibit fundamental differences,”[18] Allis is correct to say that such a restitution of ceremonial practices and animal sacrifices is essentially similar to the literal restoration of the Aaronic priesthood and the Levitical ritual of sacrifice.

As explained above, the reinstitution of the Aaronic-Zadokian priesthood, the Jewish Temple worship, the Jewish rite of circumcision, the Jewish feasts and animal sacrifices, goes against the redemptive teachings of the New Testament. It would mean a restitution of the “weak and beggarly elements (Gal. 4:9),” the types and shadows of the Old Covenant dispensation. The Aaronic priesthood has been fulfilled by its antitype - Jesus Christ, High Priest of the Melchizedekian Priesthood. Likewise, the Levitical ritual of animal sacrifice has been abolished by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our substitutionary atonement for sin. It is indisputable that the reintroduction of essentially similar rituals and Jewish ceremonial practices is a retrogressive step towards Old Testament shadowy forms and typological entities.

Allis answers his critic – John Whitcomb – with this well-worded paragraph,

“To make use of the “beggarly elements” before the reality had come, and to do this when directly commanded to do so, was one thing. To return to them after the reality has come and when expressly commanded not to do so, would be quite another thing.”[19]

Fairbairn, in his Exposition of Ezekiel, provides Jeffrey Khoo and the faculty of Far Eastern Bible College with the reasons why a professedly Reformed institution must not embrace Whitcomb’s view of the Ezekielian sacrifices:

“The vision of the prophet, as it must, if understood literally, imply the ultimate restoration of the ceremonials of Judaism, so it inevitably places the prophet in direct contradiction to the writers of the New Testament. The entire and total cessation of the peculiarities of Jewish worship is as plainly taught by our Lord and his apostles as language could do it, and on grounds which are not of temporary, but of permanent validity and force. The word of Christ to the woman of Samaria - “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father” - is alone conclusive of the matter; for if it means anything worthy of so solemn an asseveration, it indicates that Jerusalem was presently to lose its distinctive character, and a mode of worship to be introduced capable of being celebrated in any other place as well as there. But when we find the apostles afterwards contending for the cessation of the Jewish ritual, because suited only to a Church “in bondage to the elements of the world,” and consisting of what were comparatively but “weak and beggarly elements,” - and when in the Epistle to the Hebrews we also find the disannulling of the old covenant with its Aaronic priesthood and carnal ordinances argued at length, and especially “because of the weakness and unprofitableness thereof,” that is, its own inherent imperfections, - we must certainly hold either that the shadowy services of Judaism are finally and for ever gone, or that these sacred writers very much misrepresented their Master’s mind regarding them. No intelligent and sincere Christian can adopt the latter alternative; he ought therefore to rest in the former.”[20]

It is clear from the New Testament teachings that the local churches established and distributed all over the world have replaced the localized, Jewish worship at the temple in Jerusalem. The inauguration of the New Covenant has forever disannulled the “carnal ordinances” of the Mosaic economy. Therefore, “to regard the prophet here as exhibiting a prospect founded on such an unnatural conjunction, is to ascribe to him the foolish part of seeking to have the new wine of the kingdom put back into the old bottles again; and while occupying himself with the highest hopes of the Church, treating her only to a showy spectacle of carnal superficialities. We have far too high ideas of the spiritual insight and calling of an Old Testament prophet, to believe that it was possible for him to act so unseemly a part, or contemplate a state of things so utterly anomalous.”[21]

Progressive Revelation and Redemptive Regression

Whitcomb argues that “after [the Lord] comes, animal sacrifices within a New Covenant structure, endorsed . . . by the living Lamb of God, will constitute a gigantic step forward for Israel [in the Millennium].”[22]

He reasons,

“The concept of progressive revelation guarantees that the New Covenant theocracy will begin with more knowledge than the Church did at Pentecost. Yet this theocracy will retain its distinctive Israelite characteristics—a promised land, a temple, appropriate animal sacrifices, and an earthly Zadokian priesthood . . . These [Ezekielian] sacrifices, illumined by a corporate understanding of the true significance of the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, will be appreciated all the more for what they can and cannot accomplish for the offerer.”[23]

As we have discussed above, these “distinctive Israelite characteristics” are part of the Old Covenant typological forms, and as such, have forever been abolished with the institution of the New Covenant administration. In accordance with the principle of progressive revelation, Whitcomb ought to interpret Ezekiel’s vision in the light of New Testament teachings. Instead, he attempts to harmonize apostolic, redemptive doctrines with Old Testament types and shadows. In so doing, he inadvertently infuses the Mosaic shadowy elements into the New Covenant dispensation, and perhaps even confounds the teachings of the New Testament.

Whitcomb contends that, according to the principle of progressive revelation, “the two witnesses (Revelation 11), the 144,000 (Revelation 7), and the Zadokian teaching priests functioning in the millennial temple (Ezekiel 40–48 ) will therefore know considerably more than John the Baptist, Apollos, the apostle Paul (who probably never read the book of Revelation), and even the apostle John. They will know about the full and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. They will see no conflict between Ezekiel and Hebrews.”[24]

But after making the point “that millennial Israel will have the entire NT available to them, including the Book of Hebrews,”[25] we read in the conclusion of his paper that animal sacrifices will once again serve as a “pedagogical” or “instructional” resource for millennial Israel.

Whitcomb’s reasoning seems to contradict the Reformed doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, but this is surely not what he intended to convey to his readers. If, according to the principle of providential preservation of Scripture, millennial Israel will have the all sufficient Word of God available to them, why would a restitution of animal sacrifices be necessary “as an instructional and disciplinary instrument for Israel?”[26]

The Bible as we have it today - consisting of 66 books and a closed Canon - is the all sufficient pedagogical resource, both for the church and, according to Whitcomb’s dispensationalism, millennial Israel. Reformed theologians have acknowledged that the written Word is the principium cognoscendi.[27] Therefore, in the spirit of Sola Scriptura, we have to maintain with the Reformers that Scripture is the all sufficient revelation of God to man. There is no necessity within the New Covenant structure for “weak and beggarly elements (Gal. 4:9)” to serve as instructional or pedagogical instruments.

Reformed theologians, who acknowledge the sufficiency of Scripture, should all the more repudiate Whitcomb’s reasoning found in his paper.

Whitcomb’s View of the Ezekielian Sacrifices

We recall that Whitcomb is correct in stating that the Levitical sacrifices are not merely a symbolical-typological means of foreshadowing Christ’s death. With regard to animal sacrifices under the Mosaic order, Kurtz elaborates that “the EXPIATION . . . of the person sacrificing [the offering] is what we meet with everywhere [in Scripture], not only as the first intention, but to a certain extent as the chief and most important end of the bleeding sacrifices in general. When the sacrifice of animals is mentioned in the law, making atonement . . . is nearly always expressly mentioned, and for the most part this alone, as being the purpose, end, and fruit of the sacrifice.”[28]

Likewise, Grabbe observes that “the text [of Scripture] makes it clear that the blood of the sacrifices did take away sin (Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18, 26 [Eng. 6:7]; 19:22; Num. 15:25, 26, 28). One of the main rituals of expiation was the ritual with the two goats on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16).”[29]

Despite the inherent expiatory value of the Levitical animal sacrifices, Whitcomb rightly perceives that even in the Old Covenant economy, salvation was by grace through faith in Christ alone, and in His redemptive work alone. He explains:

“In the covenant at Sinai, God provided a highly complex and rigid structure for his “kingdom of priests.” Within that structure, national/theocratic transgressions would receive national/theocratic forgiveness when appropriate sacrifices were offered to God through legitimate priests at the tabernacle/temple altar. This “forgiveness” was promised regardless of the spiritual state of either the offerer or the priest. However, such sacrificial blood could never cleanse the conscience or save the soul (Heb 10:1–2), so God repeatedly sent prophets to call his people to love and obey their God from the heart. Apart from such genuine faith, all the ceremonially “kosher” animals in the whole world would avail nothing in the spiritual realm (Ps 50:7–15; Isa 1:12–20; Amos 4:4–5; 5:20–27; Hos 5:6; Mic 6:6–8; Jer 6:20; 7:21–23 ). It was not to be either faith or sacrifices; rather, it was to be both faith and sacrifices (cf. Ps 51:19).”[30]

Consistent with the theology of the writer of Hebrews, Whitcomb recognizes the inferiority of the Levitical ritual of animal sacrifice, and that “all the ceremonially “kosher” animals in the whole world would avail nothing in the spiritual realm.”[31] “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins (Heb 10:4).” Neither can such animal sacrifices “cleanse the conscience or save the soul.”[32]

Whitcomb’s view of the Ezekielian sacrifices is also more consistent with the literal hermeneutics of Dispensationalism, especially when compared to Koshy’s “memorial” view. Whitcomb believes that the Ezekielian sacrifices are not “primarily memorial” in nature, but serve to provide “temporal cleansing and forgiveness” within the theocracy of Israel. He restricts the expiatory value of the animal sacrifices within the boundaries of “ceremonial forgiveness.” Whitcomb elucidates:

“Now what does all of this indicate with regard to animal sacrifices in the millennial Temple for Israel under the New Covenant? It indicates that future sacrifices will have nothing to do with eternal salvation which only comes through true faith in God. It also indicates that future animal sacrifices will be “efficacious” and “expiatory” only in terms of the strict provision for ceremonial (and thus temporal) forgiveness within the theocracy of Israel. Thus, animal sacrifices during the coming Kingdom age will not be primarily memorial (like the eucharist in church communion services), any more than sacrifices in the age of the Old Covenant were primarily prospective or prophetic in the understanding of the offerer.”[33]

Whitcomb is careful to contrast Christ’s atonement for “infinite and eternal guilt” with the “purely temporal cleansing and forgiveness” provided for by the animal sacrifices. According to Whitcomb, “what happened [to the offerer] was temporal, finite, external, and legal - not eternal, infinite, internal, and soteriological.”[34]

However, the weakness in Whitcomb’s reasoning lies in his attempt to differentiate “ceremonial and spiritual atonement.”[35] In order to avoid the clear theological implications of Christ’s perfect atonement for all the sins of the elect, Whitcomb categorizes atonement for sins into two artificial partitions: ceremonial (or the “temporal, finite, external, and legal” atonement for sins) and spiritual (or the “eternal, infinite, internal, and soteriological” atonement for sins). He claims that this distinction is “by no means a minor one, for it is at the heart of the basic difference between the theocracy of Israel and the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ. It also provides a more consistent hermeneutical approach for dispensational premillennialism.”[36]

This theological division of the atonement derives its validity from a strict dispensational, hermeneutical distinction between Israel (“the theocracy of Israel”) and the Church (“the Body and Bride of Christ”). But with a Reformed hermeneutical-theological grid, there is no basis for such a division. The book of Hebrews clearly teaches that Christ is the perfect sacrifice and atonement for all the sins of His elect. How, then, can Whitcomb justify his thesis that God requires the restitution of animal sacrifices in the millennium for ceremonial cleansing and atonement?

Beale reminds us that,

“Numerous commentators have pointed out that this [that is, the restitution of animal sacrifices] would violate the principle of Hebrews: the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to Christ’s ‘once for all’ sacrifice (Heb. 9:12, 26, 28; 10: 10-18), so that to go back to those sacrifices would indicate the insufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for sin (cf., e.g., Heb. 10:18: ‘Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin’). This would appear to amount to a reversal of redemptive history and, more importantly, a denial of the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice.”[37]

Whitcomb reasons that these sin and burnt offerings in the Millennium Temple do not function “on the level of Calvary’s Cross,” but yet, on the “quasi-physical” level provide for ceremonial cleansing and forgiveness. In the conclusion to his paper, he writes:

“Before the heavens and the earth flee away from him who sits upon the Great White Throne (Rev 20:11), God will provide a final demonstration of the validity of animal sacrifices as an instructional and disciplinary instrument for Israel. The entire world will see the true purpose of this system. Of course, the system never has and never will function on the level of Calvary’s Cross, where infinite and eternal guilt was dealt with once and for all. But the system did accomplish, under God, some very important pedagogical and disciplinary purposes for Israel under the Old Covenant (Gal 4:1–7). There is good reason to believe that it will yet again, and far more successfully from a pedagogical standpoint, function on the level of quasi-physical and thus purely temporal cleansing and forgiveness (cf. Heb 9:13) within the strict limits of the national theocracy of Israel during the one thousand years of Christ’s reign upon the earth in accordance with the terms of the New Covenant.”[38]

We note that Whitcomb quotes Hebrews 9:13 in the aforementioned paragraph. But let us peruse this passage of Hebrews in its entirety, “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:13-14)?”

If, indeed, Christ has perfectly purged our “conscience from dead works to serve the living God,” why would it be necessary for “the blood of bulls and of goats” to purify the flesh all over again in the millennium? As we are cleansed from sins in the spiritual, internal, infinite and eternal realm by the blood of Christ, why should there be any further necessity for the fleshly, external, finite and temporal cleansing by the blood of animals?

Within the administration of the New Covenant, Christians are not required to offer up any animal sacrifices for ceremonial cleansing. Our sacrifices are now spiritual in nature (Rom. 12:1-2, Heb. 13:15-16, 1 Pet. 2:5). These spiritual sacrifices, such as the sufferings of God’s people for Christ sake, and even the sacrifices of praise (Heb. 13:15-16), are acceptable to God by virtue of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sins.

Spiritual cleansing is afforded by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, not by the blood of animals. Cleansing in the New Covenant economy is from the works of the flesh (2 Cor. 7:1), not from ceremonial uncleanness. “Indeed, Paul’s understanding of the beginning fulfillment of the temple described in Ezekiel 37:26-28 involves an ongoing need to ‘not touch what is unclean’ (2 Cor. 6:17) and to ‘cleanse’ oneself ‘from all defilement of flesh and spirit’ (2 Cor. 7:1; so also 1 Cor. 6:18-19). Perhaps, Ezekiel’s enigmatic sacrifices also could be understood along these lines.”[39] Nevertheless, there will no longer be any need of ceremonial cleansing as alleged by Whitcomb.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment,

“His blood, offered by Himself, purifies not only outwardly, as the Levitical sacrifices on the day of atonement, but inwardly unto the service of the living God (vv. 13, 14). His death inaugurates the new covenant, and the heavenly sanctuary (vv. 15–23). His entrance into the true Holy of Holies consummates His once-for-all-offered sacrifice of atonement (vv. 24-26); His reappearance alone remains to complete our redemption (vv. 27, 28).”[40]

Whitcomb cannot escape the theological implications of a literal understanding of the Ezekielian expiatory sacrifices. In the temple vision of Ezekiel, we read that the blood of the sacrificial animal will once again be sprinkled onto the altar of the Millennium Temple (Ezek. 43:18). But Kurtz argues that,

“Any blood which was sprinkled upon the altar, and therefore “every sacrifice in which blood was applied to the altar,” was intended as an expiation; and also, that, as blood was applied to the altar in connection with every animal sacrifice, expiation took place in connection with them all; and, so far, every kind of animal sacrifice might be designated as an expiatory sacrifice. But it does not follow from this, that expiation was the sole object in every case, or all equally important object in them all. The words, “to make atonement for him,” are expressly used, in fact, not only in connection with the sin-offering (Lev. iv. 20, 26, 31, 35, etc.) and trespass-offering (Lev. v. 16, 18, vi. 7, etc.), but in connection with the burnt-offering also (Lev. i. 4).”[41]

As Christ has made the ultimate expiatory sacrifice on Calvary’s cross, it is difficult for Whitcomb to insist upon a reinstitution of such animal sacrifices – which include the sprinkling of blood upon the altar of the temple - without sacrificing the precious Reformed doctrine of Christ’s atonement.

Also, a recurring phrase in connection with both the sin and the guilt offer­ings in the Book of Leviticus is, “the priest shall make an atonement for him . . . and it shall be forgiven him (Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35, 5:10, 13, 16, 18, 6:7).” It is apparent that before any reconciliation can take place between the offerer and Yahweh, there must be atonement for sin. The atonement for sin must precede forgiveness; God does not forgive sins for which no atonement has been made. In a similar way to the Levitical sacrifices, these Ezekielian sacrifices are undoubtedly expiatory in nature if understood literally, in that they provide for temporal, ceremonial cleansing and cover for sins. Therefore, such sacrifices represent a regression towards Old Testament typological, shadowy forms.

Christ death has secured for us eternal, perfect atonement not only from all our sins, but also from all ceremonial impurities. Therefore, being clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we can “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).” We can now, by virtue of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, approach the Throne of God, let alone the alleged Millennium Temple on earth.

The writer of Hebrews continues:

“It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Heb. 9:23-28).”

Christ offered Himself once, “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” In Hebrews 10:12-14, the writer reaffirms our faith in Christ’s atonement for sins, “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”

We have previously discussed the theological difficulties encountered when one believes in the restitution of animal sacrifices. One wonders how Whitcomb reconciles the “temporal cleansing and forgiveness” effected by the Ezekelian expiatory sacrifices with clear, NT redemptive teachings (e.g. Hebrews chapter 10)? “He [Christ] taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:9b-10).”

Hebrews 9:13 states clearly that animal sacrifices “sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh”. If Jesus Christ has sanctified the elect “once for all” (Heb. 10:10), the insistence upon a restoration of animal sacrifice is tantamount to a blatant rejection of NT revelation. If the exegete is not cautious, he might even be found guilty of rank heresy, that is, to suggest that animal sacrifices are necessary for “cleansing and forgiveness” in the millennium, after Christ “had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever (Heb. 10:12).”


From the New Covenant perspective, John Frame is correct to observe that,

“The new form of the people of God [that is, the church] involved many new things. No longer was there a literal tabernacle or temple; Jesus himself was the temple, and he dwelt, by his spirit, within his people, so that in a sense they became the temple (John 2:19ff.; 1 Cor 3:16f.; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16). Nor was the new people of God identified, even roughly, with a particular group of clans or tribes; it became an international body destined to cover the globe (Matt 28:19f.). . . . No modern nation, or its government (state), then, will ever play the distinctive role filled by OT Israel. God’s purposes now are wider and broader; the whole world is the promised land (Matt 28:9ff.; 1 Cor 3:21ff.; Eph 6:3; cf. Exod 20:12). We need no longer the types and shadows of the tabernacle and temple, for we have the reality in Christ (Hebrews 8–10).”[42]

A correct understanding of the New Testament enables us to appreciate the superiority of the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant administration, we no longer have to worship in temples made of stone. We are the very temple of the Holy Ghost, and we are to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Neither is there any need of the Jewish sacrificial cult, nor the blood of innocent animals upon the altar. “When Christ’s blood has been shed there can be no further sacrifice for sin. For a generation the temple remained while, beginning in its courts, the gospel of a better sacrifice was preached. Because Christ fulfilled and did not destroy the law, the disciples did not leave the temple until they were forced to do so - even Paul worshiped there in a vain effort to show his continuing love for his people. But the issues were made plain to that generation and to all that follow. No animal sacrifice can be offered that is acceptable to God, who has given his own Son as the Lamb. To offer such a sacrifice cannot repeat or symbolize Christ’s sacrifice, for Christ has appointed another memorial of his death till he come.”[43]

How can a Reformed theologian even begin to embrace Whitcomb’s or the “memorial” view of Ezekielian sacrifices, and yet retain his faithfulness to the Reformed faith? Due to their adherence to the dispensational sine qua non, Jeffrey Khoo and Prabhudas Koshy have sadly compromised dogmatic NT redemptive teachings with the faulty, literalistic hermeneutics of dispensationalism.

Consistent with the analogy of faith and the principle of progressive revelation, Khoo and Koshy should understand Ezekiel’s vision with the revelation of Jesus and the apostles, and not vice versa. Whether one perceives the Ezekielian sacrifices as merely memorial, or reinstituted for the ceremonial, temporal forgiveness of sins, one must affirm with the apostles that there is no longer any necessity of sacrifices for sins, “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:14).” We must assert that, “If there is a way back to the ceremonial law, to the types and shadows of what has now become the bondage of legalism, then Paul labored and ran in vain - more than that, Christ died in vain.”[44]


[1] Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” 208.
[2] Ibid., 211.
[3] Ibid., 208-209. Whitcomb continues, “The Scriptures tell us that something really did happen to the Israelite offerer when he came to the right altar with the appropriate sacrifice; and he was expected to know what would happen to him. What happened was temporal, finite, external, and legal—not eternal, infinite, internal, and soteriological. Nevertheless, what happened was personally and immediately significant, not simply symbolic and/or prophetic. When an Israelite “unwittingly failed” to observe a particular ordinance of the Mosaic Law (in the weakness of his sin nature [Num 15:22–29], not “defiantly,” in open rebellion against God himself [Num 15:30–36]), he was actually “forgiven” through an “atonement” (a ritual cleansing; cf. Heb 9:10, 13) made by the priest (Num 15:25–26).” See Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” 209. Whitcomb believes that these animal sacrifices provide for ceremonial cleansing, rather than having any salvific efficacy.
[4] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 344.
[5] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 204 n. 16.
[6] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 90, emphasis mine.
[7] Louis Goldberg, “Whose Land Is It?,” Issues 4, no. 2 (n.d.); available from; Internet; accessed 10 October 2005, quoting Pentecost, Things to Come, 60.
[8] Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, 86, emphasis mine.
[9] Ibid., 96.
[10] Cyrus I. Scofield, ed., New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 888, emphasis mine. See commentary on Ezekiel 43:19. This volume, a revision of the 1909 edition, has been edited by a committee of nine leading dispensationalist theologians, and is therefore somewhat representative of contemporary Dispensationalism.
[11] Mangum, “Can We Expect a Restoration of Levitical Animal Sacrifices? A Progressive Dispensationalist Opinion,” 13.
[12] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 204.
[13] H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message (London: Paternoster, 1956), 140, quoted in Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 344.
[14] Mangum, “Can We Expect a Restoration of Levitical Animal Sacrifices? A Progressive Dispensationalist Opinion,” 8.
[15] See Khoo, Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, 47. The discerning reader will quickly notice that the supplementary articles provided are at the very least sympathetic to, and most of the time defend, the dispensational understanding of animal sacrifices in the Millennium Temple. Not a single article supplied is critical of these erroneous views.
[16] Khoo, Hebrews, 35.
[17] Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” 212-213, quoting Allis, Prophecy and the Church, 246.
[18] Ibid., 213.
[19] Allis, Prophecy and the Church, 247.
[20] Fairbairn, Exposition of Ezekiel, 440-441.
[21] Ibid., 441-442.
[22] Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” 216.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid., 217.
[27] Scripture is the “principle of knowing” or the cognitive foundation of Christians. Epistemologically, the Word of God is also the principium theologiae, the foundation for theology and the knowledge of God.
[28] J. H. Kurtz, Offerings, Sacrifices and Worship in the Old Testament, trans. James Martin (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 66.
[29] Grabbe, Judaic Religion in the Second Temple Period, 130-131.
[30] Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” 209-210.
[31] Ibid., 210.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid., emphasis mine.
[34] Ibid., 209.
[35] Ibid., 211.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 343-344.
[38] Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” 217, emphasis mine.
[39] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 349-350.
[40] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 555, emphasis mine.
[41] Kurtz, Offerings, Sacrifices and Worship in the Old Testament, 73-74.
[42] Frame, “Toward a Theology of the State,” 220.
[43] Clowney, “The Final Temple,” 188-189.
[44] Ibid., 189.