Can Prayer Replace Sacrifice?

That blood sacrifice is necessary in order to atone for sin is one of the main, and most prominent principles in the Law of Moses. Leviticus 17:11 says: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”

Due to this, we witness the rooster ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) among devout Orthodox Jewish people, who swing a chicken over their heads as a nod to the Old Testament requirements for sacrifice. But since the destruction of the second temple, the ability to offer proper sacrifices no longer exists. Therefore, we are dependant on the ultimate and once-for-all atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, as the foretold by the prophet Isaiah.

Although Rabbi Yehuda Brandes recognizes that the Law requires a blood sacrifice, he claims: “As the ability to offer sacrifices ceased with the destruction of the second Temple, the Sages suggested the solution of ‘we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips’ (Hosea 14:2)… Prayer, as a whole, is the replacement for sacrifices”… “We need to understand that the act of prayer by itself, is a real alternative to the values which the sacrifice represents.” Rabbi Daniel Asor adds: “Prayer replaced the sacrificial system ‘we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips’, meaning, by sacrificing bulls at the Temple while the Temple existed. In its absence, we approach God with our lips.” He added: “‘we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips’, meaning, instead of sin and guilt offerings; prayer, repentance and study”.

Shortly after the time that they rejected the Messiah, the rabbis had to come up with a solution for the fact that the Temple was gone. Therefore, going against the Bible, they based a whole new system of law on the last few words from this verse in Hosea 14:2: “Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips.

The Rabbinical Jewish approach, that prayer replaces the need for sacrifices, is based on this verse. But there are several problems with this approach. The first problem is, that if the rabbinic interpretation is correct, and Hosea is really suggesting that we can atone for sins with prayer, then we get an internal contradiction, since in the Law, God demands a blood sacrifice as atonement for sins.

A second problem is that, close to a third of the Law’s commandments deal with temple worship, altar, and sacrifices. If, starting from the time of Hosea in the 8th century CE, there was no more need for sacrifices to atone for sins, we would expect the sacrifices among the people of Israel to stop at that time. But as any historian knows, the sacrifices continued up until the destruction of the second Temple, right after the coming and crucifixion of Jesus. This fact proves that Hosea didn’t cancel the need to continue offering sacrifices.

And now for the third, and central problem, or more accurately, the twisted and deliberated distortion by the Masoretes, of the biblical text. Until the 10th century CE, the Hebrew Old Testament didn’t have vowels, spaces, or punctuation. Hosea 14:2 looked a bit different in its original form. The Masoretic Translation is the most common translation in Israel today – they decided to space and add vowels to the verse as follows: “we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips.” Meaning that our lips, or our prayers, supposedly replace the bulls, or the sacrifices. Now, you might be wondering how this verse was written in earlier Jewish sources, before the Masoretic text?

The Septuagint, was written only 600 years after Hosea, about 1,200 years before the Masoretic translation. In the Septuagint, there is an even higher level of grammatical accuracy, as it was done long before the time of Jesus, meaning, it was closer to the original language of Hosea, and wasn’t theologically influenced by the appearance of Jesus and the New Testament. The seventy Jewish scholars who translated the Septuagint understood and rendered Hosea 14:2 like this: “For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips”. In other words, with the ‘fruit of our lips’ – in what we say, we will give gratitude. Did you get it? Originally, and up until 1,000 years ago, the words were spaced in a way that they meant “fruit” and not “bulls”. 1,000 years ago, the Masoretes shifted the place of one letter, and by doing so, they created a completely new meaning, on which they based a solution for Judaism without a Temple. “We will offer the sacrifices of our lips” rather than “we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips” is not only found in the Septuagint, but in other ancient sources as well, like the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jewish commentaries on the Old Testament from the 3rd century BC.

To take the point even further, for the Masoretic translation to be accepted as proper biblical Hebrew, the word “bulls”, should have been close to the words “our lips”, meaning “bulls of our lips”; ‘the sacrifices are our prayers’. But this, of course, is not what the text says, and it contradicts the biblical grammar. You will not find this term “bulls of our lips” anywhere in the Old Testament at all. “Fruit of our lips” on the other hand is more common, and is used often in biblical Hebrew. You can find that the Old Testament uses the word “fruit” over and over again, symbolically or as a synonym for “a product of”, just like in modern Hebrew and English too. Actually, Hosea himself does the same thing just a few sentences earlier in chapter 10.

So suggesting that prayer is an acceptable substitute for sacrifice to take away sin is based on a reinterpretation of this one verse, which has been twisted to say something that Hosea did not write.

This is just another way that the rabbis are hiding Jesus from you.

Eitan Bar

Eitan Bar is a native Jewish-Israeli who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel (1984). Graduated with his B.A. in Biblical Studies from Israel College of the Bible (Jerusalem, 2009), his M.A. in Theology from Liberty University (2013) and is now pursuing his Doctorate with Dallas Theological Seminary. Eitan currently serves as ONE FOR ISRAEL's Director of Media & Evangelism. (From 2006 to 2013, Eitan worked for CRU, in which his roles included serving as Israel's VLM-SLM leader.)

Eitan's professional background is in "Multimedia Design and Visual Communications" working for various secular advertising agencies in Tel-Aviv.

Eitan is the producer of:
1) I MET MESSIAH (Jewish testimonials).
2) Answering Rabbinic Objections to Jesus.

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