Jesus is unnecessary for the forgiveness of sins due to God’s omnipotence, His eternal edicts regarding purification offerings, and His scriptural forgiveness of sins without Jesus. Whether forgiveness is even required for salvation is questioned by the ascension of an imperfect man, Elijah.
Perhaps one of the more perplexing areas of Christian doctrine revolves around the Crucifixion and it’s importance for the forgiveness of man’s sins. Regardless of the questionable ethics of vicarious redemption, if God is omnipotent, why would He need to brutally mutilate Himself incarnate to forgive anyone? An omniscient God could simply forgive sins if He so chose.
The retort may be that though God could forgive sins, He may also impose any requirement He wants. True, though the historic requirements for purification had nothing to do with human sacrifice, and had well defined parameters of animal sacrifice, crop offerings, and social customs. Leviticus specifically details “purification offerings” to follow wrongdoing. For inadvertent sin, a priest “shall offer to the Lord an unblemished bull” [Leviticus 4:3], the community “shall offer a bull of the herd” [4:14], the tribal leader “shall bring as his offering an unblemished male goat” [4:23], and the commoners “shall bring an unblemished she-goat as the offering for the wrong committed” [4:28]. For refusing to testify, touching unclean animals or people, or rashly uttering oaths, you were to sacrifice “a female animal from the flock, a ewe lamb or a she-goat, as a purification offering” [Leviticus 5:1-6]. The list continues with more poor conduct and restitutive acts, but the point is made.
God established other sacrificial customs, such as the bi-daily oblation of “two unblemished yearling lambs each day as the regular burnt offering” [Numbers 28:3]. These sacrifices were also made out to be eternal, for the Lord said in Jeremiah “David shall never lack a successor on the throne of the house of Israel, nor shall the priests of Levi ever be lacking before me, to sacrifice burnt offerings, to burn cereal offerings, and to make sacrifices” [Jeremiah 33:17-18]. That God’s edicts in general were permanent is evidenced by verses in Psalm: “Your every word is enduring” [Psalm 119:160], Deuteronomy: “In your observance of the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am commanding you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it” [Deuteronomy 4:2], “Cursed be anyone whose actions do not uphold the words of this law!” [Deuteronomy 27:26], Exodus: “you will celebrate it as a statute forever” [Exodus 12:14], and Ezekiel: “Whatever I say is final; it shall be done—oracle of the Lord God.” [Ezekiel 12:28], “The lamb, the grain offering, and the oil you must bring every morning as a perpetual burnt offering” [Ezekiel 46:15], among others.
To those who think His “law” or “commandments” exclusively refer to the Ten Commandments, an explanation of Deuteronomy 27:6-8 is in order, where sacrifices are explicitly referred to as the law:
You shall build this altar of the Lord, your God, with unhewn stones, and shall offer on it burnt offerings to the Lord, your God. You shall also offer communion sacrifices and eat them there, rejoicing in the presence of the Lord, your God. On the stones you shall inscribe all the words of this law very clearly.
So Jesus’ execution as a final sacrifice [Hebrews 7:27] directly contradicts God’s previous edict that sacrifices will last forever, even if He did unnecessarily decide to require sacrifice for sin.
There is then the additional Christian position stating that since Jews believed souls dwelled in Sheol, and since God is Just, He would require a perfect sacrifice (Jesus as God incarnate) to admit men into a perfect heaven. Sheol is certainly where Jews believed most souls dwelled, as it is described in Job as a place where:
The wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master. [Job 3:17-19]
However, Jews did not believe every soul resided there; if one looks to extrabiblical sources, the belief that Moses bodily ascended to heaven was common in the first century [Zetterholm, 26]. From the Biblical perspective, Elijah ascended directly into heaven on “a fiery chariot and fiery horses” [2 Kings 2:11]. The Christian must therefore contend between three positions: 1) Elijah was imperfect and therefore heaven is imperfect, 2) Elijah was imperfect but God forgave his sins without Jesus, 3) Elijah was perfect, mere mortals can be perfect, and Jesus was not the only perfect human. All 3 instances are considerably damaging to orthodox Christian teaching about the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice. The accompanying flowchart visually represents this deductive argument:
The nonessentiality of Jesus intensifies further; while sacrifices were conducted to atone for sin, it is not mentioned that they led to the “forgiveness” of sins. Thus, the Christian remarks, is the difference between Jesus and animal sacrifices. But, in Jeremiah, God actually forgives men of their sins without Jesus, or any sacrifice whatsoever:
I will purify them of all the guilt they incurred by sinning against me; I will forgive all their offenses by which they sinned and rebelled against me. Then this city shall become joy for me, a name of praise and pride, before all the nations of the earth, as they hear of all the good I am doing for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the prosperity I give it. [Jeremiah 33:8-9]
The guilt of Israel may be sought, but it no longer exists, the sin of Judah, but it can no longer be found; for I will forgive the remnant I preserve. [Jeremiah 50:20]
All must admit the pure illogical unnecessity of an omniscient and omnipotent God sending Himself incarnate, to pray to Himself [Matthew 14:23], and to torture and kill Himself to forgive sins, when he already had established purification practices encoded in an eternal law and historically forgave men, and admitted imperfect men into heaven.
As a final point, there is absolutely no requirement that Jesus be a god for the Father to use him to forgive sins. As an omnipotent being, he could forgive sins for any reason; if we assume that He did desire a perfect human sacrifice, God could guide an imperfect man through His spirit, without that man being part of the trinitarian Godhead. Therefore God could get a perfect sacrifice without any of the complications of homoousion doctrine. To deny this reality is to either place restrictions on God’s standards for forgiveness, implying the standard exists independently from God, in which case he is not the sustainer of everything, or to state that he lacks the ability to forgive outside of specific circumstances, eradicating His omnipotence.