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Sacrifice is a complex and comprehensive term. In its simplest form it may be defined as "a gift to God." It is a presentation to a Deity of some material object, the possession of the offerer, as an act of worship. It may be to attain, restore, maintain or to celebrate friendly relations with the Deity. It is religion in action—in early times, almost the whole of religion—an inseparable accompaniment to all religious exercises. Few or many motives may actuate it. It may be wholly piacular and expiatory, or an Offering of food as a gift to God; it may be practically a bribe, or a prayer, an expression of dependence, obligation and thanksgiving. It may express repentance, faith, adoration, or all of these combined.

It was the one and only way of approach to God. Theophrastus defines it as expressing homage, gratitude and need. Hubert and Mauss define it as "a religious act which by the consecration of the victim modifies the moral state of the sacrificer, or of certain material objects which he has in view, i.e., either confers sanctity or removes it and its analogue, impiety.


Zebhach: a "slaughtered animal," a "sacrifice," general term for animals used in sacrifice, including burnt offerings, peace offerings, thank offerings, and all sacrifices offered to the Deity and eaten at the festivals. More particularly it refers to the flesh eaten by the worshippers after the fat parts had been burned on the altar and the priest had received his portion.

`Olah: a "burnt offering," sometimes whole burnt offering. Derived from the verb `alah, "to go up." It may mean "that which goes up to the altar" (Knobel, Wellhausen, Nowack, etc.), or "that which goes up in smoke to the sky" (Bahr, Delitzsch, Dillmann, etc.); sometimes used synonymously with kalil (which see). The term applies to beast or fowl when entirely consumed upon the altar, the hide of the beast being taken by the priest. This was perhaps the most solemn of the sacrifices, and symbolized worship in the full sense, i.e. adoration, devotion, dedication, supplication, and at times expiation.

Chota’ah, chatta’th: a "sin offering," a special kind, first mentioned in the Mosaic legislation. It is essentially expiatory, intended to restore covenant relations with the Deity. The special features were:

  • the blood must be sprinkled before the sanctuary, put upon the horns of the altar of incense and poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering;

  • the flesh was holy, not to be touched by worshipper, but eaten by the priest only. The special ritual of the Day of Atonement centers around the sin offering.
  • ’Asham: "guilt offering," "trespass offering" (King James Version; in Isa 53:10, the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "an offering for sin," the American Revised Version margin "trespass offering"). A special kind of sin offering introduced in the Mosaic Law and concerned with offenses against God and man that could be estimated by a money value and thus covered by compensation or restitution accompanying the offering. A ram of different degrees of value, and worth at least two shekels, was the usual victim, and it must be accompanied by full restitution with an additional fifth of the value of the damage. The leper and Nazirite could offer he-lambs. The guilt toward God was expiated by the blood poured out, and the guilt toward men by the restitution and fine. The calling of the Servant an ’asham (Isa 53:10) shows the value attached to this offering.

    Shelem, shelamim: "peace offering," generally used the plural, shelamim, only once shelem (Am 5:22). These were sacrifices of friendship expressing or promoting peaceful relations with the Deity, and almost invariably accompanied by a meal or feast, an occasion of great joy. They are sometimes called zebhachim, sometimes zebhach shelamim, and were of different kinds, such as zebhach ha-todhah, "thank offerings," which expressed the gratitude of the giver because of some blessings, zebhach nedhabhah, "free-will offerings," bestowed on the Deity out of a full heart, and zebhach nedher, "votive offerings," which were offered in fulfillment of a vow.

    Minchah: "meal offering" (the Revised Version), "meat offering" (the King James Version), a gift or presentation, at first applied to both bloody and unbloody offerings (Ge 4:5), but in Moses’ time confined to cereals, whether raw or roast, ground to flour or baked and mixed with oil and frankincense. These cereals were the produce of man’s labor with the soil, not fruits, etc., and thus represented the necessities and results of life, if not life itself. They were the invariable accompaniment of animal sacrifices, and in one instance could be substituted for them (see Sin Offering). The term minchah describes a gift or token of friendship (Isa 39:1), an act of homage (1Sa 10:27; 1Ki 10:25), tribute (Jud 3:15,17 f), propitiation to a friend wronged (Ge 32:13,18; Heb 14:19)), to procure favor or assistance (Ge 43:11 ff; Ho 10:6).

    Tenuphah: "wave offering," usually the breast, the priest’s share of the peace offerings, which was waved before the altar by both offerer and priest together (the exact motion is not certain), symbolic of its presentation to Deity and given back by Him to the offerer to be used in the priests’ service.

    Terumah: "heave offering," something lifted up, or, properly, separated from the rest and given to the service of the Deity. Usually the right shoulder or thigh was thus separated for the priest. The term is applied to products of the soil, or portion of land separated unto the divine service, etc.

    Qorban: "an oblation," or "offering"; another generic term for all kinds of offerings, animal, vegetable, or even gold and silver. Derived from the verb qarabh, "to draw near," it signifies what is drawn or brought near and given to God.

    ’Ishsheh: "fire offering," applied to offerings made by fire and usually bloody offerings, but at times to the minchah, the sacred bread and frankincense placed on the tables as a memorial, part of which was burned with the frankincense, the bulk, however, going to the priest. The gift was thus presented through fire to the Deity as a sort of etherealized food.

    Necekh: "drink offering," or "libation," a liquid offering of wine, rarely water, sometimes of oil, and usually accompanying the `olah, but often with the peace offerings.

    Kalil: "whole burnt offering," the entire animal being burned upon the altar. Sometimes used synonymously with `olah. A technical term among the Carthaginians.

    Chagh: a "feast," used metaphorically for a sacrificial feast because the meat of the sacrifices constituted the material of the feast.

    Lebhonah: "frankincense," "incense," used in combination with the meal offerings and burnt offerings and burned also upon the altar in the holy place. See Incense.

    Qetorah, qetoreth: "smoke," "odor of sacrifice," or incense ascending as a sweet savor and supposed to be pleasing and acceptable to God.

    Melach: "salt," used in all sacrifices because of its purifying and preserving qualities.

    Shemen: "oil," generally olive oil, used with the meal offerings of cakes and wafers, etc.


    Thusia: The word "sacrifice" (thusia in the Septuagint translates 8 different Hebrew words for various kinds of sacrifice, occurring about 350 times) refers to Christ’s death, once in Paul (Eph 5:2) 5 times in Heb (5:1; 9:23,26; 10:12,26). It refers several times to Old Testament sacrifice and 5 times to Christian living or giving (Php 2:17; 4:18; Heb 13:15,16; 1Pe 2:5). The verb "to sacrifice" (thuo) is used once by Paul to describe Christ’s death (1Co 5:7).

    Lutron': "ransom," the price paid for redeeming, occurring in Septuagint 19 times, meaning the price paid for redeeming the servant (Le 25:51,52); ransom for first-born (Nu 3:46); ransom for the life of the owner of the goring ox (Ex 21:30, etc.)) occurs in the New Testament only twice (Mt 20:28; Mr 10:45). This word is used by Jesus to signify the culmination of His sacrificial life in His sacrificial death.

    Antilutron: "ransom," a word not found in Septuagint, stronger in meaning than the preceding word. Occurs only once in the New Testament (1Ti 2:6).

    Apolutrosis: "redemption," in Ex 21:8, meaning the ransom paid by a father to redeem his daughter from a cruel master) signifies:

  • deliverance from sin by Christ’s death, 5 times in Paul (Ro 3:24; 1Co 1:30; Eph 1:7,14; Col 1:14); once in Hebrews (9:15);

  • general deliverance, twice (Lu 21:28; Heb 11:35);

  • the Christian’s final deliverance, physical and spiritual (Ro 8:23; Eph 4:30).
  • Lutrosis: The simple word (lutrosis, "redemption," 10 times in the Septuagint as the translation of 5 Hebrew words) occurs once for spiritual deliverance (Heb 9:12).

    Exagorazo: "redeem," only once in Septuagint, Da 2:8) in the New Testament means:

  • to deliver from the curse of the law, twice by Paul (Ga 3:13; 4:5);

  • to use time wisely, twice by Paul (Eph 5:16; Col 4:5).
  • Agorazo: The simple verb (agorazo, meaning in Le 27:19 to redeem land) occurs twice in Paul (1Co 6:20; 7:23) and means "to redeem" (in a spiritual sense). katallage, "reconciliation," only twice in the Septuagint) means the relation to God into which men are brought by Christ’s death, 4 times by Paul (Ro 5:11; 11:15; 2Co 5:18,19).

    Katallassein: "to reconcile," 4 times in Septuagint (3 times in 2 Maccabees)) means to bring men into the state of reconciliation with God, 5 times in Paul (Ro 5:10 twice; 2Co 5:18,19,20).

    Amnos: Christ is called "the Lamb," amnos, twice by the Baptist (Joh 1:29,36); once by Philip applied to Christ from Isa 53:7 (Ac 8:32); and once by Peter (1Pe 1:19); arnion, 28 times in Re (5:6,8,12,13; 6:1,16; 7:9,10,14; 19:7,9; 21:9,14,22,23,27; 22:1,3).

    Words Related to Propitiation

    Hilaskomai: "to propitiate," 12 times in the Septuagint, translated "to forgive") occurs twice (Lu 18:13; Heb 2:17);

    Hilasmos: 9 times in Septuagint, Nu 5:8; Ps 129 (130):4, etc.; "atonement," "forgiveness") occurs twice in 1 Joh (2:2; 4:10); (hilasterion, 24 times in the Septuagint, translates "mercy-seat," where God was gracious and spake to man) translates in the New Testament "propitiation" (Ro 3:25), "mercy-seat" (Heb 9:5).

    Sacrifice in the Old Testament

    Origin and Nature of Sacrifices

    The beginnings of sacrifice are hidden in the mysteries of prehistoric life. The earliest narrative in Genesis records the fact, but gives no account of the origin and primary idea. The custom is sanctioned by the sacred writings, and later on the long-established custom was adopted and systematized in the Mosaic Law. The practice was almost universal. The Vedas have their elaborate rituals. Some Semitic peoples, Greeks, Romans, Africans, and Indians of Mexico offered human sacrifices. It is unknown in Australia, but even there something akin to it exists, for some natives offer a portion of a kind of honey, others offer a pebble or a spear to their god. For this practically universal habit of the race, several solutions are offered.

    Theory of a Divine Revelation

    One view maintains that God Himself initiated the rite by divine order at the beginnings of human history. Such a theory implies a monotheistic faith on the part of primitive man. This theory was strongly held by many of the Reformed theologians, and was based mainly on the narrative in Ge 4:4 f. Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice, and, according to Heb 11:4, this was because of his faith.

    Faber makes a strong plea as follows: Since faith was what made the sacrifice acceptable to God, this faith must have been based upon a positive enactment of God in the past. Without this divine positive enactment to guarantee its truthfulness, faith, in Abel, would have been superstition. In other words, faith, in order to be truly based and properly directed, must have a revelation from God, a positive expression of the divine will.

    Fairbairn, in his Typology, goes further and holds that the skins wherewith Adam and Eve were clothed were from animals which had been slain in sacrifices. This is entirely without support in the narrative. The theory of a divine order cannot be maintained on the basis of the Biblical narrative. Moreover, it involves certain assumptions regarding the nature of faith and revelation which are not generally held in this age. A revelation is not necessarily a positive divine command, an external thing, and faith may be just as real and true without such a revelation as with it. That there may have been such a revelation cannot be denied, but it is not a necessary or probable explanation.

    Theories of a Human Origin

    By this it is held that sacrifices were originally presents to the deity which the offerer took for granted would be received with pleasure and even gratitude. Good relations would thus be established with the god and favors would be secured. Such motives, while certainly true among many heathen people, were obviously based upon low conceptions of the deity. They were either: Nature-spirits, ancestral ghosts or fetishes which needed what was given, and of course the god was placed under obligations and his favor obtained, or the god may have been conceived of as a ruler, a king or chief, as was the custom in the East.

    Cicero vouches for such a view when he says: "Let not the impious dare to appease the gods with gifts. Let them hearken to Plato, who warns them that there can be no doubt what God’s disposition to them will be, since even a good man will refuse to accept presents from the wicked" (HDB, IV, 331a). This view of sacrifice prevails in classical literature. Spencer therefore thinks it is self-evident that this was the idea of primitive man. Tylor and Herbert Spencer also find the origin of sacrifices in the idea of a gift, whether to the deity or to dead ancestors, food being placed for them, and this afterward comes to be regarded as a sacrifice. Such a view gives no account of the peculiar value attached to the blood, or to the burnt offerings. It may account for some heathen systems of sacrifice, but can help in no degree in understanding the Biblical sacrifices.

    There are two slightly variant forms of this:

  • That of R.C. Thompson (Semitic Magic, Its Origins and Developments, 175-218), who holds that a sacrificial animal serves as a substitute victim offered to a demon whose activity has brought the offerer into trouble; the aim of the priest is to entice or drive the malignant spirit out of the sick or sinful man into the sacrificial victim where it can be isolated or destroyed.

  • That of L. Marillier, who holds that sacrifice in its origin is essentially a magical rite. The liberation of a magical force by the effusion of the victim’s blood will bend the god to the will of the man. From this arose under the "cult of the dead" the gift-theory of sacrifice. Men sought to ally themselves with the god in particular by purifying a victim and effecting communion with the god by the application of the blood to the altar, or by the sacrifice of the animal and the contact of the sacrificer with its blood. Such theories give no account of the burnt offerings, meal offerings and sin offerings, disconnect them entirely from any sense of sin or estrangement from God, and divest them of all piacular value. They may account for certain depraved and heathen systems, but not for the Biblical.

  • Ably advocated by Wellhausen and W.R. Smith, this view holds that sacrifices were meals which the worshippers and the god shared, partaking of the same food and thus establishing a firmer bond of fellowship between them. Sykes (Nature of Sacrifices, 75) first advocated this, holding that the efficacy of sacrifices "is the fact that eating and drinking were the known and ordinary symbols of friendship and were the usual rites in engaging in covenants and leagues."

    Thus sacrifices are more than gifts; they are deeds of hospitality which knit god and worshipper together. W.R. Smith has expounded the idea into the notion that the common meal unites physically those who partake of it. Though this view may contain an element of truth in regard to certain Arabian customs, it does not help much to account for Bible sacrifices. As A.B. Davidson says, "It fails utterly to account for the burnt offering, which was one of the earliest, most solemn and at times the most important of all the sacrifices."

    This is a modification of the table-bond theory. The basis of it is the totemistic idea of reverencing an animal which is believed to share with man the divine nature. On certain solemn occasions this animal would be sacrificed to furnish a feast. At this meal, according to men’s savage notions, they literally "ate the god," and thus incorporated into themselves the physical, the intellectual and the moral qualities which characterized the animal. If the divine life dwelt in certain animals, then a part of that precious life would be distributed among all the people (RS2, 313). In some cases the blood is drunk by the worshippers, thus imbibing the life. Sometimes, as in the case of the sacred camel, they devoured the quivering flesh before the animal was really dead, and the entire carcass was eaten up before morning.

    The work of W. R. Smith has not been universally accepted. L. Marillier has criticized it along several lines. It is by no means certain that totemism prevailed so largely among Semites and there is no evidence of its existence in Israel. Also, if an original bond of friendship existed between the god and the kin, there is no need to maintain it by such sacrificial rites. There is no clear instance of this having been done. If on the other hand there was no common bond between the god and the people but that of a common meal, it does not appear that the god is a totem god. There is no reason why the animal should have been a totem.

    In any case, this idea of sacrifice could hardly have been anything but a slow growth, and consequently not the origin of sacrifice. Hubert and Mauss also point out that W. R. Smith is far from having established the historical or the logical connection between the common meal and the other kinds of sacrifices. Under piacula he confuses purification, propitiation and expiations. His attempts to show that purifications of magical character are late and not sacrificial do not succeed. Smith’s theory is mainly the sacramental, though he does recognize the honorific and piacular element. The theory may be applicable to some of the heathen or savage feasts of the Arabs, but not to the practices of the Hebrews (see Encyclopedia Brit, XXIII, 981).

    This has been advocated by Warburton and F. D. Maurice. The idea is that sacrifices were originally an expression of homage and dependence. Man naturally felt impelled to seek closer communion with God, not so much from a sense of guilt as from a sense of dependence and a desire to show homage and obedience. In giving expression to this, primitive man had recourse to acts rather than words and thoughts. Thus sacrifice was an acted prayer, rather than a prayer in words. It was an expression of his longings and aspirations, his reverence and submission. There is much truth in this view; the elements of prayer—dependence and submission—enter into some sacrifices, the burnt offerings in particular; but it does not account for all kinds of offerings.

    This holds that sacrifices are fundamentally expiatory or atoning, and the death of the beast is a vicarious expiation of the sins of the offerer. Hubert and Mauss admit that in all sacrifices there are some ideas of purchase or substitution, though these may not have issued from some primitive form. The unifying principle in all sacrifices is that the divine is put in communication with the profane by the intermediary—the victim—which may be piacular or honorific. It is thus a messenger, a means of divination, a means of alimenting the eternal life of the species, a source of magical energy which the rite diffuses over objects in its neighborhood. Westermarck (Origin of Moral Ideas) makes the original idea in sacrifice a piaculum, a substitute for the offerer.

    This view is the most simple, the most natural, and the only one that can explain certain sacrifices. Man felt himself under liability to punishment or death. The animal was his, it had life, it was of value, and perchance the god would accept that life in place of his. He felt that it would be accepted, and thus the animal was sacrificed. The offerer in a sense gives up part of himself. The beast must be his own; no sacrifice can be made of another person’s property (2Sa 24:24 a). The true spirit of sacrifice appears in a willingness to acknowledge God’s right to what is best and dearest (Ge 12).

    Objection is raised to this by A. B. Davidson (Old Testament Theology), Paterson (HDB, IV, 331) and others, on the ground that such an origin represents too advanced a stage of ethical thought and reflection for primitive man. We question seriously whether this be an advanced stage of moral reflection. On the contrary, it represents a very simple and primitive stage. The feeling that sin of some kind is never absent from human life, and that its true penalty is death, has been inseparable from the human heart’s sense of sin. What could be more simple and natural than to take an innocent animal and offer it in place of himself, hoping that the Deity would accept it instead? Nor is there much force in Professor Paterson’s objection that sacrifices were preponderantly joyous in character and therefore could not be offered as an expiation. This joyous character belongs to such sacrifices as peace offerings and thank offerings, but does not belong to the `olah and others. In most cases the joyous feast followed the killing of the animal by which the expiation was accomplished, and the feast was joyous because atonement had been made. In fact, many sacrifices were of the most solemn character and represented the deepest and most serious emotions of the heart.

    Neither theory of an objective divine revelation, nor of a human origin will account for the universality and variety of sacrifices. The truth lies in a proper combination of the two. The notion of offering a gift to the Deity arose out of the religious instincts of the human heart, which in an early period had a consciousness of something wrong between itself and God, and that this something would mean death sooner or later. Added to these true instincts was the Omnipresent Spirit to guide men in giving expression. What could be more simple and primitive than to offer something possessing life? Of course the notion originated in simple and childlike ideas of God, and its real motive was not to gratify God by sharing a meal with Him, or to gain His favor by a bribe, but to present Him with something that represented a part of the offerer which might be accepted in his stead. Thus sacrifices became the leading features of the religious life of primitive man. Naturally other ideas would be added, such as a gift of food by fire to the Deity, the peace offerings, etc., to celebrate the friendly relations with God, the thank offerings, the sin offerings, etc., all of which naturally and logically developed from the primitive idea. It might be expected that there would be many corruptions and abuses, that the sense of sin would be obscured or lost among some peoples, and the idea of sacrifice correspondingly degraded. Such has been the case, and as well might we try to understand man at his best by studying the aboriginal tribes of Africa and Australia, or the inmates of asylums and penitentiaries, as to attempt to understand the Bible ideas in sacrifices by studying the cults of those heathen and savage tribes of Semites, etc.

    Classification of Sacrifices


    Maimonides was among the first to classify them, and he divided them into two kinds:

  • Those on behalf of the whole congregation, fixed by statute, time, number and ritual being specified. This would include burnt, meal and peace offerings with their accompaniments.

  • Those on behalf of the individual, whether by virtue of his connection with the community or as a private person. These would be burnt offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings with their accompaniments.
  • W. R. Smith and Others

    Others, such as W. R. Smith, classify them as:

  • Honorific, or designed to render homage, devotion, or adoration, such as burnt, meal and peace offerings;

  • Piacular, designed to expiate or make atonement for the errors of the people, i.e. burnt offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings;

  • Communistic, intended to establish the bond between the god and the worshipper, such as peace offerings.
  • Oehler

    Oehler divides them into two classes, namely:

  • Those which assume that the covenant relation is undisturbed, such as peace offerings;

  • Those intended to do away with any disturbance in the relation and to set it right, such as burnt, sin and guilt offerings.
  • Paterson and Others

    Professor Paterson and others divide them into three:

  • animal sacrifices, burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings;

  • vegetable sacrifices, meal offerings, shewbread, etc.;

  • liquid and incense offerings; wine, oil, water, etc.
  • H. M. Wiener

    H. M. Wiener offers a more suggestive and scientific division (Essays on Pentateuchal Criticism, 200 f):

  • customary lay offerings, such as had from time immemorial been offered on rude altars of earth or stone, without priest, used and regulated by Moses and in more or less general use until the exile, namely, burnt offerings, meal offerings, and peace offerings;

  • statutory individual offerings, introduced by Moses, offered by laymen with priestly assistance and at the religious capital, i.e. burnt offerings, peace offerings, meal offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings;

  • statutory national offerings introduced by Moses and offered by the priest at the religious capital, namely, burnt, meal, peace and sin offerings.
  • Sacrifices in the Pre-Mosaic Age

    Out of the obscure period of origins emerged the dimly lighted period of ancient history. Everywhere sacrifices existed and sometimes abounded as an essential part of religion. The spade of the archaeologist, and the researches of scholars help us understand the pre-Mosaic period.

    In Egypt

    In Egypt—probably from the beginning of the 4th millennium BC—there were sacrifices and sacrificial systems. Temples at Abydos, Thebes, On, etc., were great priestly centers with high priests, lower priests, rituals and sacrifices in abundance. Burnt, meal and peace offerings predominated. Oxen, wild goats, pigs, geese were the chief animals offered. Besides these, wine, oil, beer, milk, cakes, grain, ointment, flowers, fruit, vegetables were offered, but not human beings. In these offerings there were many resemblances to the Hebrew gifts, and many significant exceptions. Moses would be somewhat familiar with these practices though not with the details of the ritual. He would appreciate the unifying power of a national religious center. It is inconceivable that in such an age a national leader and organizer like Moses would not take special care to institute such a system.

    In Babylonia

    In Babylonia, from the year 3000 BC or thereabouts, according to E. Meyer (Geschichte des Alterthums), there were many centers of worship such as Eridu, Nippur, Agade, Erech, Ur, Nisin, Larsa, Sippar, etc. These and others continued for centuries with elaborate systems of worship, sacrifices, temples, priesthoods, etc.

    Considerably over 100 temples and sanctuaries are mentioned on inscriptions, and several hundreds in the literature and tablets, so that Babylonia was studded with temples and edifices for the gods. At all these, sacrifices were constantly offered—animal and vegetable. A long list of the offerings of King Gudea includes oxen, sheep, goats, lambs, fish, birds (i.e. eagles and doves), dates, milk, greens (Jastrow, in HDB, V, 580 f, under the word). The sacrifices provided an income for the priests, as did the Mosaic system at a later time.

    It had long passed the stage when it was supposed to furnish a meal for the god. A sacrifice always accompanied a consultation with a priest, and was really an assessment for the services rendered. It was not a voluntary offering or ritualistic observance. The priests on their own behalf offered a daily sacrifice, as in the Mosaic Law, and likewise on special occasions, to insure the good will of the gods they served. It seems certain that in some of the larger centers of worship animals were offered up twice a day, morning and evening. At these sacrifices certain portions were consumed on the altar, the rest belonging to the priest. The similarity of much of this to the Mosaic institutions is obvious. That the culture and civilization of Babylon was known to Egypt and Israel with other nations is shown clearly by the Tell el-Amarna Letters.

    Special sacrifices on special occasions were offered in Babylonia as in Israel. As Jastrow says, "In the Hebrew codes, both as regards the purely legal portions and those sections dealing with religious ritual, Babylonian methods of legal procedure and of ritual developed in Babylonian temples must be taken into consideration as determining factors." We do not doubt that Moses made use of many elements found in the Egyptian and Babylonian systems, and added to or subtracted from or purified as occasion required. As sacrificial systems and ritual had been in use more than a millennium before Moses, there is absolutely no need to suppose that Israel’s ritual was a thousand years in developing, and was completed after the exile. To do so is to turn history upside down.

    Nomads and Tribes of Arabia and Syria

    Among the nomads and tribes of Arabia and Syria, sacrifices had been common for millenniums before Moses. The researches of Wellhausen and W. R. Smith are valuable here, whatever one may think of their theories. The offerings were usually from the flocks and herds, sometimes from the spoils taken in war which had been appropriated as their own. The occasions were many and various, and the ritual was very simple. A rude altar of earth or stone, or one stone, a sacred spot, the offerer killing the victim and burning all, or perhaps certain parts and eating the remainder with the clan or family, constituted the customary details. Sometimes wild animals were offered. Babylonians, Phoenicians and Arabs offered gazelles, but the Hebrews did not. Arabs would sometimes sacrifice a captive youth, while the Carthaginians chose some of the fairest of the captives for offerings by night. Assyrian kings sometimes sacrificed captive kings. The Canaanites and others constantly sacrificed children, especially the firstborn.

    The Offerings of Cain and Abel

    The account of the offerings of Cain and Abel (Ge 4:4 f) shows that the ceremony dates from almost the beginnings of the human race. The custom of offering the firstlings and first-fruits had already begun. Arabian tribes later had a similar custom. Cain’s offering was cereal and is called minchah, "a gift" or "presentation." The same term is applied to Abel’s. There is no hint that the bloody sacrifice was in itself better than the unbloody one, but it is shown that sacrifice without a right attitude of heart is not acceptable to God. This same truth is emphasized by the prophets and others, and is needed in this day as much as then. In this case the altars would be of the common kind, and no priest was needed. The sacrifices were an act of worship, adoration, dependence, prayer, and possibly propitiation.

    Of Noah

    The sacrifices of Noah followed and celebrated the epochal and awe-inspiring event of leaving the ark and beginning life anew. He offered burnt offerings of all the clean animals (Ge 8:20 ). On such a solemn occasion only an `olah would suffice. The custom of using domestic animals had arisen at this time. The sacrifices expressed adoration, recognition of God’s power and sovereignty, and a gift to please Him, for it is said He smelled a sweet savor and was pleased. It was an odor of satisfaction or restfulness. Whether or not the idea of expiation was included is difficult to prove.

    Of Abraham

    Abraham lived at a time when sacrifices and religion were virtually identical. No mention is made of his offering at Ur or Charan, but on his arrival at Shechem he erected an altar (Ge 12:7). At Beth-el also (12:8), and on his return from Egypt he worshipped there (Ge 13:4). Such sacrifices expressed adoration and prayer and probably propitiation. They constituted worship, which is a complex exercise. At Hebron he built an altar (Ge 13:18), officiating always as his own priest. In Ge 15:4 ff he offers a "covenant" sacrifice, when the animals were slain, divided, the parts set opposite each other, and prepared for the appearance of the other party to the covenant. The exact idea in the killing of these animals may be difficult to find, but the effect is to give the occasion great solemnity and the highest religious sanction. What was done with the carcasses afterward is not told.

    That animals were slain for food with no thought of sacrifice is shown by the narrative in chapter 18, where Abraham had a calf slain for the meal. This is opposed to one of the chief tenets of the Wellhausen school, which maintains that all slaughtering of animals was sacrificial until the 7th century BC. In Genesis 22 Abraham attempts to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering, as was probably the custom of his neighbors. That he attempted it shows that the practice was not shocking to his ethical nature. It tested the strength of his devotion to God, shows the right spirit in sacrifices, and teaches for all time that God does not desire human sacrifice—a beast will do. What God does want is the obedient heart. Abraham continued his worship at Beer-sheba (Ge 21:33).

    Of Job

    Whatever may be the date of the writing of the Book of Job, the saint himself is represented as living in the Patriarchal age. He constantly offered sacrifices on behalf of his children (1:5), "sanctifying" them. His purpose no doubt was to atone for possible sin. The sacrifices were mainly expiatory. This is true also of the sacrifices of his friends (42:7-9).

    Of Isaac

    Isaac seems to have had a permanent altar at Beer-sheba and to have regularly offered sacrifices. Adoration, expiation and supplication would constitute his chief motives (Ge 26:25).

    Of Jacob

    Jacob’s first recorded sacrifice was the pouring of the oil upon the stone at Beth-el (Ge 28:18). This was consecration or dedication in recognition of the awe-inspiring presence of the Deity. After his covenant with Laban he offered sacrifices (zebhachim) and they ate bread (Ge 31:54). At Shechem, Jacob erected an altar (Ge 33:20). At Beth-el (Ge 35:7) and at Beer-sheba he offered sacrifices to Isaac’s God (Ge 46:1).

    Of Israel in Egypt

    While the Israelites were in Egypt they would be accustomed to spring sacrifices and spring feasts, for these had been common among the Arabs and Syrians, etc., for centuries. Nabatean inscriptions testify to this. Egyptian sacrifices have been mentioned (see above). At these spring festivals it was probably customary to offer the firstlings of the flocks (compare Ex 13:15). At the harvest festivals sacrificial feasts were celebrated. It was to some such feast Moses said Israel as a people wished to go in the wilderness (Ex 3:18; 5:3 ff; 7:16). Pharaoh understood and asked who was to go (Ex 10:8). Moses demanded flocks and herds for the feast (Ex 10:9). Pharaoh would keep the flocks, etc. (Ex 10:24), but Moses said they must offer sacrifices and burnt offerings (Ex 10:25 f).

    The sacrifice of the Passover soon occurs (Ex 12:3-11). That the Hebrews had been accustomed to sacrifice their own firstborn at this season has no support and is altogether improbable (Frazer, Golden Bough(3), pt. III, 175 f). The whole ceremony is very primitive and has retained its primitiveness to the end. The choosing of the lamb or kid, the killing at a certain time, the family gathered in the home, the carcass roasted whole, eaten that night, and the remainder, if any, burned, while the feasters had staff in hand, etc., all this was continued. The blood in this case protected from the Deity, and the whole ceremony was "holy" and only for the circumcised. Frazer in his Golden Bough gives a very different interpretation.

    Of Jethro

    As a priest of Midian, Jethro was an expert in sacrificing. On meeting Moses and the people he offered both `olah and zebhachim and made a feast (Ex 18:12).

    Summary and Conclusions

    From the above it is evident that sacrifices were almost the substance of religion in that ancient world. From hilltops and temples innumerable, the smoke of sacrifices was constantly rising heavenward. Burnt offerings and peace offerings were well known. Moses, in establishing a religion, must have a sacrificial system. He had abundance of materials to choose from, and under divine guidance would adopt such rules and regulations as the pedagogic plans and purposes of God would require in preparing for better things.

    The Mosaic Sacrificial System

    The Covenant Sacrifice

    The fundamental function of Moses’ work was to establish the covenant between Israel and God. This important transaction took place at Sinai and was accompanied by solemn sacrifices. The foundation principle was obedience, not sacrifices (Ex 19:4-8). No mention is made of these at the time, as they were incidental—mere by-laws to the constitution. The center of gravity in Israel’s religion is now shifted from sacrifices to obedience and loyalty to Yahweh. Sacrifices were helps to that end and without obedience were worthless. This is in exact accordance with Jer 7:21 ff. God did not speak unto the fathers at this time about sacrifices; He did speak about obedience.

    The covenant having been made, the terms and conditions are laid down by Moses and accepted by the people (Ex 24:3). The Decalogue and Covenant Code are given, an altar is built, burnt offerings and peace offerings of oxen are slain by young men servants of Moses, not by priests, and blood is sprinkled on the altar (Ex 24:4 ). The blood would symbolize the community of life between Yahweh and Israel, and consecrated the altar. The Law was read, the pledge again given, and Moses sprinkled the representatives of the people, consecrating them also (Ex 24:7 f). Ascending the mount, they had a vision of God, held a feast before Him, showing the joys and privileges of the new relationship. The striking feature of these ceremonies is the use of the blood. It is expiatory and consecrating, it is life offered to God, it consecrates the altar and the people: they are now acceptable to God and dare approach Him and feast with Him. There is no idea of God’s drinking the blood. The entire ritual is far removed from the crass features of common Semitic worship.

    The Common Altars

    The Consecration of Aaron and His Sons

    The altar used at the consecration of Aaron and his sons was a "horned" or official altar, the central one. The offerings were a bullock, two rams, unleavened bread, etc. (Ex 29:1-4), and were brought to the door of the sanctuary. The ritual consisted of Aaron laying his hand on the bullock’s head, designating it as his substitute (Ex 29:10), killing it before the tent of meeting (Ex 29:11), smearing some blood on the horns of the altar, and pouring the rest at its base (Ex 29:12). The blood consecrated the altar, the life was given as atonement for sins, the fat parts were burned upon the altar as food for God, and the flesh and remainder were burned without the camp (Ex 29:13,14).

    This is a sin offering—chaTTa’th—the first time the term is used. Probably introduced by Moses, it was intended to be piacular and to "cover" possible sin. One ram was next slain, blood was sprinkled round about the altar, flesh was cut in pieces, washed and piled on the altar, then burned as an offering by fire (’ishsheh) unto God as a burnt offering, an odor of a sweet savor (Ex 29:15-18). The naive and primitive nature of this idea is apparent. The other ram, the ram of consecration, is slain, blood is smeared on Aaron’s right ear, thumb and great toe; in the case of his sons likewise. The blood is sprinkled on the altar round about; some upon the garments of Aaron and his sons (Ex 29:19-21). Certain parts are waved before Yahweh along with the bread, and are then burned upon the altar (Ex 29:22-25). The breast is offered as a wave offering (tenuphah), and the right thigh or shoulder as a heave offering (terumah). These portions here first mentioned were the priests’ portion for all time to come, although this particular one went to Moses, since he officiated (Ex 29:26-30). The flesh must be boiled in a holy place, and must be eaten by Aaron and his sons only, and at the sanctuary. What was left till morning must be burned (Ex 29:31-34). Consecrated to a holy service it was dangerous for anyone else to touch it, or the divine wrath would flame forth. The same ceremony on each of the seven days atoned for, cleansed and consecrated the altar to the service of Yahweh, and it was most holy (Ex 29:35-37). The altar of incense is ordered (Ex 30:1), and Aaron is to put the blood of the sin offering once a year upon its horns to consecrate it.

    Sacrifices before the Golden Calf

    When the golden calf was made an altar was erected, burnt offerings and peace offerings were presented. From the latter a feast was made, the people followed the usual habits at such festivals, went to excess and joined in revelry. Moses’ ear quickly detected the nature of the sounds. The covenant was now broken and no sacrifice was available for this sin. Vengeance was executed on 3,000 Israelites. Moses mightily interceded with God. A moral reaction was begun; new tables of the Law were made with more stringent laws against idols and idol worship (Ex 32:1-35).

    The Law of the Burnt Offering (`Olah)

    At the setting-up of the tabernacle burnt and meal offerings were sacrificed (Ex 40:29). The law of the burnt offering is found in Leviticus 1. Common altars and customary burnt offerings needed no minute regulations, but this ritual was intended primarily for the priest, and was taught to the people as needed. They were for the statutory individual and national offering upon the "horned" altar before the sanctuary. Already the daily burnt offerings of the priests had been provided for (Ex 29:38-42). The burnt offering is here called qorban, "oblation."

    This may have been from the herd or flock or fowls, brought to the tent of meeting; hands were laid (heavily) upon its head designating it as the offerer’s substitute, it was killed, flayed and cut in pieces. If of the flock, it was to be killed on the north side of the altar; if a fowl, the priest must kill it.

    If a bullock or of the flock, the priest was to sprinkle the blood round about the altar, put on the fire, lay the wood and pieces of the carcass, wash the inwards, legs, etc., and burn it all as a sweet savor to God. If a fowl, he must wring the neck, drain out the blood on the side of the altar, cast the crop, filth, etc., among the ashes, rend the wings without dividing the bird and burn the carcass on the altar.

    Anticipating a central sanctuary in the future, the lawgiver counsels the people to bring their offerings there (De 12:6,11); they must be careful not to offer them in any place (De 12:13), but must patronize the central sanctuary (De 12:14). In the meantime common altars and customary sacrifices were allowable and generally necessary (De 16:21; 27:6).

    The Law of the Meal Offering (Minchah)

    The term "meal offering" is here confined to offerings of flour or meal, etc. (the King James Version "meat-offering"), and was first used at the consecration of Aaron and his sons (Ex 29:41). These must not be offered on the altar of incense (Ex 30:9); were used at the completion of the tabernacle (Ex 40:29); and always with the morning and evening burnt offerings.

    It must be of fine flour, with oil and frankincense added, and brought to the priest; if baked in the oven, unleavened cakes mingled with oil, or wafers and oil; if of the baking pan, fine flour mingled with oil parted into pieces and oil thereon; if of the frying pan, the same ingredients. Leaven and honey must never be used as they quickly become corrupt. Every offering must be seasoned with salt. If of the first-fruits (bikkurim), it should consist of grain in the ear, parched with oil and frankincense upon it.

    This required him to take out a handful with the oil and frankincense thereon and burn it as a memorial upon the altar. The remainder was holy and belonged to the priest. Of the cakes, after bringing them to the altar, he was to take a portion, burn it and appropriate the remainder; the same with the first-fruits.

    The Law of the Peace Offering

    The peace offerings indicated right relations with God, expressing good-fellowship, gratitude and obligation. The common altars were fitted for their use (Ex 20:24), as feasts had been thus celebrated from time immemorial. At the feast before God on the Mount, peace offerings provided the food (Ex 24:5); also before the golden bull (Ex 32:6). The wave offerings and heave offerings were portions of these.

    The offering might be a bullock, a lamb, or a goat, either male or female, latitude being allowed in this case. The ritual was the same as in the case of the burnt offering (see above).

    Blood must be sprinkled on the altar round about, the caul, the liver and the kidneys must be taken away and the fat parts burned on the altar; the fat tail of the lamb must also be burned. These portions were offerings of food by fire to the Deity. The ritual for a goat was the same as for a bullock.

    The fat was to be burned on the altar of burnt offering. If it was a thank offering (zebhach ha-todhah), it must have unleavened cakes with oil, cakes mingled with oil and fine flour soaked. Cakes of leavened bread might be offered, and one cake was to be a heave offering to the priest. The flesh was to be eaten that day, none was to be left till morning (Le 22:30). If it was a votive offering (zebhach nedher) or a freewill offering (zebhach nedhabhah), it might be eaten on the first and second days, but not on the third day; it should then be an abomination (Le 7:18 f). If eaten then by anyone, that person was to be cut off from the community.

    At Pentecost two he-lambs of the first year could be offered as peace offerings (Le 23:19). The Nazirite at the end of his separation must offer one ram for a peace offering with unleavened bread (Nu 6:14,17), and the hair shaved from his head must be burned under the peace offerings (Nu 6:18). This hair was regarded as a thing having life and offered as a sacrifice by other nations. The various tribes brought peace offerings (Numbers 7, passim), and at the feast of trumpets the people were to rejoice and blow trumpets over the peace offerings (Nu 10:10). Some further regulations are given (Nu 15:9 f).

    The Law of the Sin Offering

    The sin offering was a sacrifice of a special kind, doubtless peculiar to Israel and first mentioned at the consecration of Aaron and his sons. It is not then spoken of as an innovation. It was of special value as an expiatory sacrifice.

    A bullock was killed before the altar, some blood was put upon the horns of the altar by Moses, the rest was poured out at the base. The fat of the inwards was burned upon the altar, the flesh and skin were burned without the camp. Every day during the consecration this was done (Ex 29:36).

    Specifically to atone for unwitting sins, sins of error (sheghaghah), mistakes or rash acts, unknown at the time, but afterward made known. There were gradations of these for several classes of offenders: the anointed priest (Le 4:3-12), the whole congregation (Le 4:13-21), a ruler (Le 4:22-26), one of the common people (Le 4:27-35), forswearing (5:1), touching an unclean thing (Le 5:2) or the uncleanness of man (Le 5:3), or rashly sweating in ignorance (Le 5:4). For conscious and willful violations of the Law, no atonement was possible, with some exceptions, for which provision was made in the guilt offerings (see below).

    The anointed priest must offer a bullock at the tent of meeting, lay his hands upon it and slay it before Yahweh. The congregation was also required to bring a young bullock before the tent of meeting, the elders were to lay hands upon it and slay it before Yahweh. The ruler must bring a he-goat and do the same. One of the common people might bring a she-goat or lamb and present it in the same manner. If too poor for these, two turtledoves or young pigeons, one for a sin offering and one for burnt offering, would suffice. If too poor for these, the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour without oil or flankincense would suffice.

    He must bring the bullock’s blood to the tent of meeting, dip his finger into it and sprinkle blood 7 times before the veil of the sanctuary, and put some on the horns of the altar of incense, but most of the blood must be poured out at the base of the altar. The fat must be burned upon the altar, all the rest of the carcass must be carried to a clean place without the camp and burned. In the case of the whole congregation, the ritual is the same. In the case of a ruler, the blood is to be put upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, not the altar of incense. In the case of one of the common people, the ritual is similar to that of the ruler. In both the latter cases the carcass belonged to the priest. If a bird, the priest must wring off its head, sprinkle some blood on the side of the altar and pour the rest at the base. Nothing is said of the disposal of the carcass. If of fine flour, the priest must take out a handful and burn it upon the altar, keeping the remainder for himself. The use of fine flour for an expiatory sacrifice is evidently exceptional and intended to be so. Though life was not given, yet necessity of life—that which represented life—was offered.

    The sin offering was to be slain in the same place as the burnt offering. It was most holy, and the priest alone might eat what was left of the ram, pigeon or flour, in the holy place. Whatever touched it was to be holy, any garment sprinkled with the blood must be washed in a holy place, earthen vessels used must be broken, and brazen vessels thoroughly scoured and rinsed.

    (i) Consecration of Aaron and His Sons:

    (ii) Purifications from Uncleannesses:

    Purifications from uncleannesses required after childbirth a young pigeon or turtledove (Le 12:6-8). The leper must bring a guilt offering (a special kind of sin offering), a he-lamb (Le 14:12-14,19); if too poor for a lamb, a turtledove or young pigeon (Le 14:22,31). Special use of the blood is required (Le 14:25). In uncleanness from issues a sin offering of a turtledove or young pigeon must be offered by the priest (Le 15:15,30).

    (iii) On the Day of Atonement:

    On the Day of Atonement (Le 16:1-28) Aaron must take a bullock for himself and house, two he-goats for the people, present the goats at the sanctuary, cast losts, one for Yahweh, as a sin offering, the other for Azazel, to be sent into the wilderness. The bullock was killed, sweet incense was burned within the rail, blood was sprinkled on the mercy-seat and before it 7 times. The one he-goat was killed and a similar ceremony was performed. Blood must be put on the horns of the altar and sprinkled 7 times about it. The other goat was presented, hands were laid on it, the sins of all confessed and put upon the goat, and it was sent into the wilderness. The carcass of the bullock and he-goat were burned without the camp. At the feast of first-fruits a he-goat was offered (Le 23:19).

    (iv) Other Special Instances:

    The Guilt Offering

    The guilt offering (the King James Version "trespass offering") (Le 5:14-6:7) was a special kind of sin offering, always of a private character and accompanied by a fine. It expressed expiation and restitution. The classes of sin requiring a guilt offering with reparation in money are:

  • a trespass in the holy things done unwittingly;

  • anything which the Law forbade depriving God or the priest of their due;

  • dealing falsely, with a neighbor in a deposit, or pledge, or robbery, or oppression;

  • swearing falsely regarding anything lost;

  • seduction of a betrothed bondmaid (Le 19:20-22).
  • The first two of these are unwitting sins, the others cannot be. The clear statement is made in another place that sins done with a "high hand," i.e. in rebellion against the covenant and its provisions, can have no sacrifice (Nu 15:30). Is this a contradiction, or a later development when it was found that the more stringent law would not work? (See J. M. P. Smith, et al., Atonement, 47 f.) Neither conclusion is probable. These conscious sins are of a kind that will admit of full reparation because against rights of property or in money matters. The sin offering makes atonement toward God, the restitution with the additional one-fifth makes full reparation to man. No such reparation can be made with such sins described as committed with a "high hand." In the case of seduction, rights of property are violated (compare Nu 5:5-8; De 22:29).

    A ram proportionate in value to the offense and worth at least two shekels is required. The ritual is probably the same as that of the sin offering, though no mention is made of the laying on of hands, and the blood is not brought into the sanctuary, but sprinkled about the base of the altar, the fat and inside parts being burned, and the flesh eaten by the priests in a holy place.

    The leper, when cleansed, on the 8th day must bring a guilt offering of two he-lambs and one ewe-lamb; the priest must wave one he-lamb before Yahweh, kill it, and smear blood on the right ear, thumb and toe of the leper. The guilt offering belongs to the priest (Le 14:12-20). If the leper were too poor for two lambs, one sufficed, with a corresponding meal offering, or one turtle-dove and a young pigeon (Le 14:21,22). The Nazirite, if defiled during his period of separation, must bring a he-lamb for a guilt offering (Nu 6:12). All guilt offerings were the priests’ and most holy (Nu 18:9).

    The Wave Offering

    The Heave Offering

    Drink Offerings

    Jacob poured oil on the stone he had set up (Ge 28:18) in honor of the Deity and consecrated the spot. Jacob later (Ge 35:14) set up a pillar where God had revealed Himself and poured drink offerings and oil upon it. Probably wine was used. Drink offerings accompanied many of the sacrifices (Ex 29:40,41). None could be poured upon the altar of incense (Ex 30:9).

    Primitive Nature of the Cultus

    The cult is thoroughly in keeping with and adapted to the age, and yet an ideal system in many respects. The ethical side is in the background, the external has the emphasis. No sacrifices will avail for a breach of the covenant between God and the people. The people thoroughly believed in the efficacy of the blood. It secured atonement and forgiveness. Their religious life found expression in the sacrifices. God was fed and pleased by the offerings by fire. Many of the customs are ancient and crude, so that it is difficult to imagine how such a primitive system could have been arranged and accepted afterward by the people who had the lofty ethical teachings of the prophets in their hands.

    Sacrifices in the History of Israel

    The Situation at Moses’ Death

    The tribes were outwardly consolidated, and a religious system was provided. Some of it was for the rulers, much for the people and much for the priests alone. The various laws were given in portions and afterward compiled. No one expected them to be observed until the nation had a capital and central sanctuary. Even then not every detail was always possible. They were not observed to any extent in the wilderness (Am 5:25), as it was impracticable. Even circumcision was neglected until the wanderers crossed the Jordan (Jos 5:2). The body of the system was not in full practice for 300 or 400 years. The ritual, as far as it could be observed, served as an educational agency, producing in the minds of the worshippers proper conceptions of the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the proper spirit in approaching God.

    In the Time of Joshua

    Lay or common altars were in accordance With Ex 20:24; De 16:21; 27:7. In the days of Joshua, the Passover was celebrated (Jos 5:10 f). At Ebal an altar was erected, burnt and peace offerings were presented (Jos 8:30-32). The tabernacle was set up at Shiloh with a horned altar doubtless (Jos 18:1), and the cult was observed to some extent. Concerning the altar on the east side of the Jordan, see Altar.

    The Period of the Judges

    Times of Samuel and Saul

    Common lay altars and customary sacrifices were still much in use. The official altar with the statutory individual and national offerings appears to be at Shiloh. El-kanah sacrifices and feasts there yearly (1Sa 1:3 f). Such feasts were joyous and tended to excesses, as drunkenness seemed common (1Sa 1:13 f). All Israel came thither (1Sa 2:14); the priests claimed their portion, seizing it in an unlawful manner before the fat had been burned, or the flesh had been boiled (1Sa 2:13-17). This shows that such ritual as was prescribed in Leviticus was practiced and considered by the people the only lawful custom. Was it in writing? Why not?

    Guilt offerings were made by the Philistines when smitten by tumors (1Sa 6:3,1,8,17). There were five golden mice and five golden tumors. Crude as were their ideas of a guilt offering, their actions show familiarity with the concept. Burnt offerings were used on special occasions and in great crises, such as receiving the ark (1Sa 6:14 f), going to war (1Sa 7:9 f; 13:9-12), victory (1Sa 11:15), etc.

    Days of David and Solomon

    In the organized sanctuary and ritual, Levites were appointed for attendance on the shewbread, meal offerings, burnt offerings, morning and evening sacrifices, sabbaths, new moons and set feasts (1Ch 23:28-31), attempting to carry out the Levitical laws as far as possible. At the dedication of the temple, Solomon offered burnt offerings, meal offerings, and peace offerings in enormous quantities (1Ki 8:63; 2Ch 7:4-7); also burnt offerings and peace offerings with incense triennially (1Ki 9:25). The ritual at the regular seasons, daily, sabbaths, new moons, set feasts, etc., was observed according to the Levitical Law (2Ch 2:4; 8:13). Was it written?

    In the Northern Kingdom

    The golden calf worship was carried on at Da and Beth-el, with priests, altars and ritual (1Ki 12:27 f). The high places were in use, but very corrupt (1Ki 13:2 ). A common altar was in use on Mt. Carmel (1Ki 18:30,32). Many others were known as Yahweh’s altars (1Ki 19:10). The system was in full swing in Amos’ time (Am 4:4,5) at Beth-el and Gilgal and probably at Beer-sheba (Am 5:5). Amos bitterly satirizes the hollow, insincere worship, but does not condemn the common altars and sacrifices, as these were legitimate. With Hosea the situation is worse, the cult has been "canonized," priests have been fed on the sin or sin offerings of the people, and the kingdom soon perished because of its corruption.

    The high places were still in use and not denounced yet by the prophets (1Ki 3:2; 2Ki 14:4; 15:4,35). Worship was not fully centralized, though tending in that direction. In the days of Abijah the temple cult was in full operation according to Moses’ Law (2Ch 13:10 f). Asa removed many strange altars and high places because of their corruption (2Ch 14:3), but not all (2Ch 15:17; 20:33).

    In the Southern Kingdom to the Exile

    In the days of Jehoiada, priests and Levites were on duty according to Moses (2Ch 23:18; 24:14; 2Ki 12:4-16). Sin and guilt offerings were in sufficient numbers to be mentioned, but the money went to the priests. Kautzsch (HDB, V) and Paterson (HDB, IV), with others, think these offerings were only fines and altogether different from those of Le 4; 5. Such a statement is wholly gratuitous. The guilt offerings must be accompanied by fines, but not necessarily the sin offerings. The passage speaks of both as perfectly familiar and of long standing, but details are lacking and there can be no certainty in the matter, except that it proves nothing regarding a ritual of sin and guilt offerings existent or non-existent at that time.

    Kautzsch’s and Paterson’s motives are obvious. Having reversed the history and put the ritual law late, they must needs make adjustments in the records to have them agree. In the days of Ahaz, the regular offerings were observed for priests, kings and people (2Ki 16:13-15). Hezekiah destroyed many high places (2Ki 18:4). When repairing the temple, many sin offerings were presented to expiate the terrible sins of the previous reigns and the desecration of the temple (2Ch 29:21-24); and so, also, burnt offerings (2Ch 29:27 f), peace offerings and thank offerings, etc., in large number (2Ch 29:31-35; compare Isa 1:10-17).

    In the Exilic and Post-exilic Periods

    That the cult was entirely suspended in Jerusalem from 586 to 536 BC seems certain. There is no support for G. F. Moore’s statement (EB, IV) that an altar was soon rebuilt and sacrificing was carried on with scarcely a break. On the return of the exiles an altar was soon built and the continual burnt offerings began (Ezr 3:2 f), and likewise at the Feast of Tabernacles, new moons and set feasts (Ezr 3:4-7). Darius decreed that the Israelites should be given what was needed for the sacrifices (Ezr 6:9 f). The band under Ezra offered many sin offerings on their return (8:35).

    At the dedication of the temple many burnt and sin offerings were made for all the tribes (6:17). Those who had married foreign wives offered guilt offerings (10:19). The firman of Artaxerxes provided money for bullocks, rams, lambs, with meal offerings and drink offerings (7:17). Under Nehemiah and after the formal acceptance of the Law, a more complete effort was made to observe it. The shewbread, continual burnt and meal offerings, sabbaths, new moons, set feasts, sin offerings, first-fruits, firstlings, first-fruits of dough, heave offerings of all trees, wine and oil, etc., were carefully attended to (Ne 10:33-37) and were in full force later (Ne 13:5,9). There is no hint of innovation, only a thoroughgoing attempt to observe laws that had been somewhat neglected.

    A Temple and Sacrifices at Elephantine

    At the time of Nehemiah and probably two or three centuries previous, there existed a temple on the island of Elephantine in the Nile. It was built by a Jewish military colony, and a system of sacrifices was observed. Just how far they copied the laws of Moses, and what were their ideas of a central sanctuary are uncertain.

    Several Semitic tribes or nations practiced human sacrifices. It was common among the Canaanites, as is shown by the excavations at Gezer, Taanach, etc. They seemed to offer children in sacrifice at the laying of cornerstones of houses and other such occasions.

    Human Sacrifices in Israel’s History

    Among the Carthaginians, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans human sacrifices were all too common. The custom was not unknown to the Israelites. Abraham felt called upon to offer up Isaac, but was stopped in the act, and a lesson was given for all time. The abominable practice is forbidden by Moses (Le 18:21), where it is spoken of as a passing through the fire to Moloch, referring to Moabite and Ammonitish practices. Anyone practicing it was to be stoned (Le 20:2-5; De 12:31; 18:10).

    The rash vow of Jephthah resulted in the immolation of his daughter, but the incident is recorded as something extraordinary (Jud 11:31 f). The execution of Zebah and Zalmunna is a case of blood revenge, not sacrifice (Jud 8:18 ). Nor is the slaughter of Agag in any sense a sacrifice (1Sa 15:32 f). The death of Saul’s sons because of his breach of covenant with the Gibeonites was an expiatory sacrifice, to atone for the father’s perfidy (2Sa 21:9). The Moabite king in desperation offered up his firstborn and heir to appease the anger of Chemosh, and the effect was startling to the Israelites (2Ki 3:27).

    Certain Heathen Sacrifices

    Heathen sacrifices are hinted at in the later books, such as swine, a mouse, a horse, a dog (Isa 65:4; 66:3,17; Eze 8:10; 2Ki 23:11). All such animals were unclean to the Hebrews, and the practice had its roots in some form of primitive totemism which survived in those heathen cults. They were little practiced among the Israelites.

    See Totemism.

    The Prophets and Sacrifices

    The prophets were reformers, not innovators. Their emphasis was on the ethical, rather than the ritual. They based their teachings on the fundamentals of the covenant, not the incidentals. They accepted sacrifices as part of the religious life, but would give them their right place. They accepted the law regarding common altars, and Samuel, David and Elijah used these altars. They also endorsed the movement toward a central sanctuary, but it is the abuse of the cult that they condemned, rather than its use. They combated the heathenish idea that all God needed was gifts, lavish gifts, and would condone any sin if only they bestowed abundance of gifts. They demanded an inward religion, morality, justice, righteousness, in short, an ethical religion. They preached an ethical God, rather than the profane, debasing and almost blasphemous idea of God which prevailed in their times. They reminded the people of the covenant at Sinai, the foundation principle of which was obedience and loyalty to Yahweh.

    If Joel is early, the cult is in full practice, as he deplores the cutting-off of the meal offering, or minchah, and the netsekh or drink offering, through the devastation of the locusts. He does not mention the burnt offerings, etc., as these would not be cut off by the locusts (Joel 1:7,13; 2:14). Joel emphasized the need for a genuine repentance, telling them to rend their hearts and not their garments (2:13).

    Amos condemns the cult at Beth-el and Gilgal, and sarcastically bids them go on transgressing (4:4,5), mentions burnt offerings, peace offerings, thank offerings, and freewill offerings (4:4 f; 5:22), reminds them of the fact that they did not offer sacrifices in the wilderness (5:25), but demands rather righteousness and justice. There is nothing here against the Mosaic origin of the laws.

    In Hosea’s time the hollow externalism of the cult had become worse, while vice, falsehood, murder, oppression, etc., were rampant. He utters an epoch-making sentence when he says, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice," etc. (Ho 6:6). This is no sweeping renunciation of sacrifices, as such; it is only putting the emphasis in the right place. Such sacrifices as Hosea speaks of were worse than worthless. It is somewhat extravagant for Kautzsch to say, "It is perfectly futile to read out of Ho 6:6 anything else than a categorical rejection of sacrifices." Hosea recognizes their place in religion, and deplores the loss during exile (3:4). The corrupt cults he condemns (4:13 f), for they are as bad as the Canaanitish cults (4:9). Yahweh will spurn them (8:13; 9:4). The defection of the nation began early (11:2), and they have multiplied altars (12:11; 13:2). He predicts the time when they shall render as bullocks the "calves" of their lips (14:2 the King James Version).

    Micah is as emphatic. The sacrifices were more costly in his day, in order the more surely to purchase the favor of the Deity. Human sacrifices were in vogue, but Micah says God requires them "to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God" (6:8). This does not in the least affect sacrifices of the right kind and with the right spirit.

    Isaiah faces the same situation. There are multitudes of sacrifices, burnt offerings, blood of bullocks and goats, oblations, sweet incense, beasts, etc., but no justice, morality, love, truth or goodness. Thus their sacrifices, etc., are an abomination, though right in themselves (1:11-17; 61:8). The same is true of all pious performances today. It is probable that Isaiah worshipped in the temple (6:1,6). In his eschatological vision there is freedom to offer sacrifices in Egypt (19:19,21). The people are to worship in the holy mountain (27:13). Ariel must let the feasts come around (29:1).

    Jeremiah maintains the same attitude. Your "frankincense from Sheba, and the sweet cane," burnt offerings and sacrifices are not pleasing to God (6:20; 14:12). They made the temple a den of robbers, in the streets they baked cakes to the Queen of heaven, etc. He speaks sarcastically, saying, "Add your burnt-offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat ye flesh. For I spake not unto your fathers .... concerning .... sacrifices: but .... commanded .... saying, Hearken unto my voice," etc. (7:21-23). This was literally true, as we have seen above; the covenant was not based on sacrifices but on obedience. Such a statement does not deny the institution of sacrifices for those within the covenant who are obedient. It is no "subterfuge," as Kautzsch calls it, "to say that the prophets never polemize against sacrifice per se, but only against offerings presented hypocritically, without repentance and a right disposition, with blood-stained hands; against the opera operata of the carnally-minded, half-heathen mass of the people." This is exactly what they do, and they are in perfect harmony with the covenant constitution and with their own ethical and spiritual functions. Kautzsch can make such an extravagant assertion only by ignoring the fact that Jeremiah himself in predicting the future age of righteousness and blessedness makes sacrifice an important factor (33:11,18). Picturing possible prosperity and glory, Jeremiah speaks of burnt offerings and meal offerings, frankincense, thank offerings, etc., being brought into the house of Yahweh (17:26). (We are aware of the harsh and arbitrary transference of this passage to a later time.)

    Ezekiel is called by Kautzsch "the founder of the Levitical system." He is said to have preserved the fragment of the ritual that was broken up in the exile. But his references to the burnt offerings, sin offerings, and trespass offerings presuppose familiarity with them (40:38-42).

    He assigns the north and south chambers for the meal, sin and trespass offerings (Eze 42:13). The cleansing of the altar requires a bullock and he-goat for a sin offering, with burnt and peace offerings with a ritual similar to Le 8:1 f (Eze 43:18-27). The Levites are to be ministers and slay burnt offerings and sacrifice for the people (Eze 44:11). The priest must offer his sin offering before he ministers in the sanctuary (Eze 44:27). They are to eat the meal, sin, and trespass offerings as in Eze 44:29. In Ezekiel 45, the people are to give the wheat, barley, oil and lambs for meal, burnt and peace offerings, while the prince shall give the meal, burnt and drink offerings for the feasts, the new moons, sabbaths and appointed feasts. He is to prepare them to make atonement (45:13-17). In cleansing the sanctuary the Levitical ritual is followed with added details (45:18-20).

    The Passover requires the burnt offerings, sin offerings, and meal offerings with an extra amount of cereal. The priests prepare the prince’s burnt offerings and peace offerings (46:2-4,6,9-12) for the sabbaths, new moons, etc. The daily burnt offerings (46:13-15) must have a sixth instead of a tenth part of an ephah, as in Leviticus 1. The sin and guilt offerings are to be boiled in a certain place, and the meal offering baked (1:20,26). Ezekiel varies from the Levitical Law in the quantity of the meal offering, picturing the ritual in a more ideal situation than Moses. The people are all righteous, with new hearts, the Spirit in them enabling them to keep the Law (36:26 f), and yet he institutes an elaborate ritual of purification for them. Does this seem to indicate that the prophets would abolish sacrifices entirely? It is strange reasoning which makes the prophets denounce the whole sacrificial system, when one of the greatest among them seeks to conserve an elaborate cult for the blessed age in the future.

    In the second part of Isaiah, God declares that He has not been honored by the people with burnt offerings and meal offerings, etc., and that He has not burdened them with such offerings, but that He is wearied with their sins (43:23 f). Those foreigners who respect the covenant shall offer acceptable sacrifices (56:7) in the blessed age to come. The Servant of Yahweh is to be a guilt offering (53:10) to expiate the sins of Israel. Sacrifice is here for the first time lifted out of the animal to the human sphere, thus forging the link between the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the glorious age to come there are to be priests and Levites, new moons, sabbaths and worship in Jerusalem (66:21,23).

    Daniel speaks of the meal offering being caused to cease in the midst of the week (9:27).

    Zechariah pictures the golden age to come when all nations shall go up to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, which implies sacrifices. Pots are used, and all the worshippers shall use them in the ritual (14:16-21).

    In Malachi’s age the ritual was in practice, but grossly abused. They offered polluted bread (1:7), blind, lame and sick animals (1:13 f). Yahweh has the same attitude toward these as toward those in the times of Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah (Mal 1:10 f). The Gentiles offer better ones (Mal 1:11). The Israelites covered the altar of Yahweh with tears by their hypocritical, non-ethical actions (Mal 2:13). They robbed God in withholding tithes and heave offerings (Mal 3:8). It is the abuse of the cult that is denounced here, as in all the other Prophets.

    A special use of the term "sacrifice" is made by Zephaniah (1:7 f), applying it to the destruction of Israel by Yahweh. Bozrah and Edom are to be victims (Isa 34:6); also Gog and Magog (Eze 39:17,19).

    In summing up the general attitude of the prophets toward sacrifices, even G. F. Moore in Encyclopedia Biblica admits: "It is not probable that the prophets distinctly entertained the idea of a religion without a cult, a purely spiritual worship. Sacrifice may well have seemed to them the natural expression of homage and gratitude." He might have added, "and of atonement for sin, and full fellowship with God."

    Sacrifice in the "Writings"


    Dates are very uncertain here. The Psalms and Proverbs extend from David and Solomon into the Persian period. The sages take the same attitude as the prophets. They enjoin the sacrifice of first-fruits (Pr 3:9). A feast usually follows a sacrifice of peace offerings (7:14). The trespass offering has no meaning to fools (14:9), and the sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination to God (15:8; 21:27). Righteousness and justice are more acceptable to Yahweh than sacrifices (21:3), yet to them sacrifices are a regular part of worship. Qoheleth speaks of sacrifices as quite the custom, and deprecates the offerings of fools (Ec 5:1; 9:2).

    The Psalms

    The Psalmist admonishes the faithful to offer the sacrifices of righteousness, i.e. sacrifices offered in the right spirit (Ps 4:5). The drink offerings of idolaters are well known (Ps 16:4). Prayer is made for the acceptance of sacrifices (Ps 20:3). It is a coveted privilege to offer them (Ps 27:6; 84:1-4). The true relation between sacrifice and obedience is expressed in Ps 40:6-8. As in Jer 7:21 f, the emphasis is laid on obedience, without which sacrifices are worthless and repugnant to God. They are not the important thing in Israel’s religion, for that religion could exist without them as in the wilderness and exile.

    The teaching corresponds exactly with that of the prophets and is probably late. Ps 50 is even more emphatic. The Psalmist knows that sacrifices are in the covenant regulations (50:5), but repudiates the idea of giving anything to God or of feeding Him (50:12,13). Everything belongs to Him, He is not hungry, He would scorn the idea of drinking the blood of goats, etc. The idea of the cult being of any real value to God is scouted. Yet in the next verse the reader is admonished to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and pay vows (50:14). The sacrifices that express worship, penitence, prayer, thanksgiving and faith are acceptable. The penitent Psalmist speaks in similar terms. Sacrifices as such are no delight to God, the real sacrifice is a broken heart (51:16 f). When the heart is right, then, as an expression of true-heartedness, devotion, repentance and faith, burnt offerings are highly acceptable (51:19). Another Psalmist promises a freewill offering to God (54:6; 66:13,15). Sacrifices of thanksgiving are advised (96:8; 107:22; 118:27) and promised (116:17). Prayer is likened to the evening sacrifice (141:2).

    The Idea and Efficacy of Sacrifices

    That the Hebrews thoroughly believed in the efficacy of sacrifices is without doubt. What ideas they entertained regarding them is not so clear. No single theory can account for all the facts. The unbloody sacrifices were regarded as food for the Deity, or a pleasant odor, in one instance, taking the place of a bloody offering (see above). The bloody offerings present some difficulties, and hence, many different views.

    A Gift of Food to the Deity

    Included under the head of gifts of food to the Deity would be the meal and peace offerings, in so far as they were consumed by fire, the burnt offerings and the shewbread, etc. They were fire-food, the fire-distilled essence or etherealized food for God which gave Him pleasure and disposed Him favorably toward the offerer. They were intended either to appease wrath, to win favor, or to express thanks and gratitude for favors experienced. The earlier and more naive idea was probably to win the favor of the Deity by a gift. Later, other ideas were expressed in the offerings.

    Expression of Adoration and Devotion, etc

    The burnt offering best gave expression to the sentiments of adoration and devotion, though they may not be excluded from the meal and peace offerings. In other words, sacrifice meant worship, which is a complex exercise of the soul. Such was Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac. The daily burnt offerings were intended to represent an unbroken course of adoration and devotion, to keep the right relations with the Deity. On particular occasions, special offerings were made to insure this relation which was specially needed at that time.

    Means of Purification from Uncleanness

    The burnt and sin offerings were the principal kinds used for the purpose of purification; water being used in case of uncleanness from contact with the dead. There were three classes of uncleanness:

  • those inseparable from the sex functions of men and women;

  • those resulting from contact with a corpse;

  • the case of recovery from leprosy.
  • Purification ceremonies were the condition of such persons enjoying the social and religious life of the community. Why they should require a sin offering when most of them occurred in the regular course of nature and could not be guarded against, can be understood only as we consider that these offenses were the effects of sin, or the weaknesses of the fleshly nature, due to sin. Such uncleannesses made the subject unfit for society, and that unfitness was an offense to God and required a piacular offering.

    Means of Consecration to Divine Service

    Consecration was of men and things. The ceremonies at the sealing of the covenant and the consecration of the Levites and of Aaron and his sons have been mentioned. The altar and furniture of the tabernacle were consecrated by the blood of the sin offering. This blood being the means of expiation, it cleansed from all defilement caused by human hands, etc. The sprinkling and smearing of the blood consecrated them to the service of God. The blood being holy, it sanctified all it touched (compare Eze 45:19 f).

    Means of Establishing a Community of Life between Worshipper and God

    In other words, it is a kind of sacral communion. The blood is the sacred cement between man and God. This is possible only because it contains the life and is appropriated by God as a symbol of the communion into which He enters with the offerer. This blood "covers" all sin and defilement in man, permits him to enter God’s presence and attests the communion with Him. This is the view of Schultz, and partly that of Kautzsch, in regard to earlier ideas of sacrifice. Such a view may have been held by certain peoples in primitive times, but it does not do justice to the Levitical system.

    Theological Commentary

    View of Ritschl

    The view of Ritschl is that sacrifices served as a form of self-protection from God whose presence meant destruction to a weak creature. Thus, sacrifices have no moral value and no relation to sin and defilement. They have relation only to man’s creaturely weakness which is in danger of destruction as it approaches the presence of God. God’s presence necessarily meant death to the creature without reference to his holiness, etc. Such a view banishes all real sense of sin, all ethical values, and furnishes no proper motives. It gives a false idea of the character of God, and is entirely out of accord with the sacred record.

    The Sacramental View

    That sacrifices were really a sacrament has been advocated by many. According to some theologians, the sacrifices were signs of spiritual realities, not only representing but sealing and applying spiritual blessings, and their efficacy was proportionate to the faith of the offerer. By some Roman Catholic theologians it is held that the Passover was especially of a sacramental character, corresponding to the Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper. The purificatory rites corresponded to penance and the consecrating sacrifices to the sacrament of ordination. Bahr says that the acceptance of the sacrifice by Yahweh and His gift of sanctification to the worshippers give to the sacrifice the character of a sacramental act. Cave also speaks of them as having a sacramental significance, while refuting the position of Bahr. Though there may be a slight element of truth in some of these ideas, it is not the idea expressed in the cult, and seems to read into the ritual theology of theologians themselves. This view is closely allied to a phase of the following view (see Paterson, HDB, IV).

    Symbol or Expression of Prayer

    That it is a symbol or expression of prayer is held by Maurice and to some extent by Schultz. Thus, the sacrifices are supposed to be symbols of the religious sentiment, which are the conditions of acceptance with God. The victim serves as an index of what is in the worshipper’s heart, and its virtue is exhausted when it is presented to God. Thus, it may express spiritual aspiration or supplication, hatred of sin and surrender to God with confession and supplication. Bahr holds that a valuable and unblemished victim is selected as symbolical of the excellence and purity to which the offerer aspires, the death is necessary to procure life which may be offered to God, and the sprinkling of the blood is the presentation to God of the life still resident in the blood. Schultz thinks that the sin offering was distinctively purifying. "Hence, the real ground of purification is that God accepts the sacrifice and thereby enters into communion with the sinner, granting him actual pardon, and that man in this offering enjoined by God as the embodied prayer of a penitent expresses his confession, his regrets and his petition for forgiveness." While there is an element of truth in this, and it is particularly applicable to the burnt offering, it does not embrace all the facts. It represents the views of the prophets and psalmists more than that of the Levitical code.

    View of Kautzsch

    Kautzsch holds that the efficacy of sacrifices consists in this: "God has connected the accomplishment of atonement with the obedient discharge of the sacrificial prescriptions; whoever fulfils these and gets the priest to perform the atoning usages, is forgiven. The ritual, especially the presenting of the blood, is the indispensable condition of atonement, but it is not synonymous. Forgiveness of sin flows from the grace of God as taught by the prophets, only with them it is unnecessary, but with the Priestly Code it is necessary." Thus Kautzsch teaches a fundamental contradiction between the prophets and the Law, which is utterly wrong and is made necessary by first turning the history upside down and making the Priestly Code a hideous anachronism. He says, "That the process of atonement is connected with the presenting of blood, explains itself naturally as a powerful after-influence of primitive sacrificial usages, in which the presenting of blood had a different meaning. It is a symbolic (not real) satisfaction, as through the animal’s life symbolic expression is given to the fact that the sinner’s life is forfeited to God. But the main idea is that God has commanded it" (HDB, V, 721a). The half-truths in these statements will be obvious to most readers.

    Vicarious Expiation Theory; Objections

    The theory that sacrifices were a vicarious expiation of sin and defilement, by a victim whose life is forfeited instead of the sinner’s, is the only one that will complete the Levitical idea of sacrifices. This of course applies especially to the sin offering. While there is an element of truth in the gift-theory, the prayer and sacramental theories and others, including that of Kautzsch, the idea of a vicarious suffering is necessary to complete the conception. Oehler recognizes the force of the prayer-theory, but advances to the idea that in sacrifices man places the life of a pure, innocent, sacrificial animal between himself and God, because he is unable to approach God on account of his sinfulness and impurity. Thus it becomes a kopher for him, to cover his sin.

    This is not a punishment inflicted on the animal, although in the case of uncertain homicide it is (De 21:1-9). The law does not lay the emphasis upon the slaughter, but on the shedding of the blood and the sprinkling of it on certain articles. The slaughter is of course presupposed. The altar is not regarded as a place of execution, it is the means for "covering" the sins of the covenant people, a gracious ordinance of God and well-pleasing to Him. But the gift can please God only as the gift of one who has given himself up to Him; therefore the ritual must represent this self-surrender, the life of the clean and guiltless animal in place of the impure and sinful soul of the offerer, and this pure soul, coming in between the offerer and the Holy God, lets Him see at the altar a pure life by which the impure life is covered. In the same way the pure element serves to cover the pollutions of the sanctuary and the altar, etc. Its meaning is specific, it is the self-sacrifice of the offerer vicariously accomplished. This self-sacrifice necessarily involves suffering and punishment, which is inflicted on the beast to which the guilt and sin are imputed, not imparted (see Oehler, Old Testament Theology, 278 f).

    Objections have been raised by Dillmann, Kautzsch, and others on the ground that it could not have been vicarious because sacrifices were not allowed for sins which merited death, but only for venial transgressions (Nu 15:30). Certainly, but the entire sacrificial system was for those who were in the covenant, who did not commit sins that merited death, and was never intended as a penal substitute, because the sins of those in the covenant were not of a penal nature. The sacrifices were "to cover" the sin and defilement of the offerer, not the deserved death-penalty of one who broke the covenant. Again, they object, a cereal offering may atone, and this excludes a penal substitute. But sacrifices were not strictly penal, and the cereal was distinctly an exception in case of the very poor, and the exception proves the rule.

    In any case it represented the self-sacrifice of the offerer, and that was the important thing. Further, the victim was slain by the offerer and not by the priest, whereas it should have been put to death by God’s representative. This carries no weight whatever, as the essential thing was a sacrifice, and priests were not necessary for that.

    A more serious objection is that in the case of penal substitution, by which the sin and guilt are transferred to the animal, the flesh of that animal is regarded as most holy and to be eaten by the priests only, whereas it would necessarily be regarded as laden with guilt and curse, and hence, polluted and unfit for use. This is a pure assumption. In the first place, the substitution was not strictly penal, and, secondly, there is no hint that actual pollution is conveyed to the flesh of the animal or to the blood. Even if it were so, the shedding of the blood would expiate the sin and guilt, wipe out the pollution, and the flesh would be in no way affected. On the contrary, the flesh, having been the vehicle for the blood which has accomplished such a sacred and meritorious service, would necessarily be regarded as most holy. All the animal would be holy, rather than polluted, since it had performed such a holy service. Kautzsch’s objection thus appears puerile. The ritual of the Day of Atonement presents all these features. It is distinctly stated that the high priest confesses the iniquities of the children of Israel over the scapegoat, and that the goat carries this guilt away to the desert. Its blood is not shed, it is wholly unclean, and the man leading it away is unclean. This is undeniably a vicarious act. In the case of the other goat, a sin offering, the sin and guilt are imputed to it, but the life is taken and thus the expiation is made and the flesh of the victim used in such a holy service is most holy.

    That this view of a vicarious expiation was generally accepted is evident on every hand. There was no need of a theoretical explanation in the cult; it was self-evident; as Holtzmann says, "the most external indeed, but also the simplest and most generally intelligible and the readiest answer to the nature of expiation" (New Testament Theology, I, 68). This view is amply corroborated by the researches of S. I. Curtiss in his Primitive Semitic Religion of Today. By searching questions he found that the fundamental idea of bloody sacrifices was that the victim took the place of the man, redeemed him, or atoned for him as a substitute. The "bursting forth of the blood" was the essential thing (see pp. 218 f).

    Typology of Sacrifice

    The typology of sacrifice has been much discussed. There can be no question that, from the standpoint of the New Testament, many of the sacrifices were typical. They pre-figured, and designedly so, the great sacrifice of Christ. Thus they could not really take away sin; they were in that sense unreal. But the question is, were they typical to the people of Israel? Did Moses and the priests and prophets and people understand that they were merely figures, adumbrations of the true Sacrifice to come, which alone could take away sin? Did they understand that their Messiah was to be sacrificed, His blood shed, to make an atonement for them, and render their divinely-given means of atonement all unreal? The answer must be an emphatic "No."

    There is no hint that their minds were directed to think of the Coming One as their sacrifice, foreshadowed by their offerings. That was the one thing the nation could not and would not understand, and to this day the cross is their chief stumbling block. The statement that the Servant is to be a guilt offering (Isa 53:10) is the nearest approach to it, but this is far from saying that the whole sacrificial system was understood as foreshadowing that event. The great prophets all speak of a sacrificial system in full vogue in the Messianic age.

    We prefer to regard the sacrificial system as great religious educational system, adapted to the capacity of the people at that age, intended to develop right conceptions of sin, proper appreciation of the holiness of God, correct ideas of how to approach God, a familiarity with the idea of sacrifice as the fundamental thing in redemption, life, and service to God and man.

    New Testament

    Attitude of Jesus and New Testament Writers to the Old Testament Sacrificial System

    Jesus’ Attitude

    Jesus never attacks the sacrificial system. He even takes for granted that the Jews should offer sacrifices (Mt 5:24). More than that, He accepted the whole sacrificial system, a part of the Old Testament scheme, as of divine origin, and so He commanded the cleansed leper to offer the sacrifice prescribed in the Mosaic code (Mt 8:4).

    There is no record that Jesus Himself ever worshipped by offering the regular sacrifices. But He worshipped in the temple, never attacking the sacrificial system as He did the oral law (Mr 7:6 ). On the other hand, Jesus undermined the sacrificial system by teaching that the ethical transcends the ceremonial, not only as a general principle, but also in the act of worship (Mt 5:23,24). He endorses Hosea’s fine ethical epigram, `God will have mercy and not sacrifice’ (Mt 9:13; 12:7).

    He also commends as near the kingdom the scribe who put love to God and man above sacrifice (Mr 12:33). But Jesus teaches not merely the inferiority of sacrifice to the moral law, but also the discontinuance of sacrifice as a system, when He said, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mr 14:24; Mt 26:28; Lu 22:20). Not only is the ethical superior to the ceremonial, but His sacrifice of Himself is as superior to the sacrifices of the old system as the new covenant is superior to the old.

    Paul’s Attitude

    Paul’s estimate of the Jewish sacrifices is easily seen, although he does not often refer to them. Once only (Ac 21:26) after his conversion does he offer the Jewish sacrifice, and then as a matter of expediency for winning the Judaistic wing of Christianity to his universal gospel of grace. He regarded the sacrifices of the Old Testament as types of the true sacrifice which Christ made (1Co 5:7).

    Attitude of the Author of Hebrews

    The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews discusses the Old Testament sacrifices more fully than other New Testament writers. He regards the bloody sacrifices as superior to the unbloody and the yearly sacririce on the Day of Atonement by the high priest as the climax of the Old Testament system. The high priest under the old covenant was the type of Christ under the new. The sacrifices of the old covenant could not take away sin, or produce moral transformation, because of the frailties of men (10:1-11), shown by the necessity of repeating the offerings (5:2), and because God had appointed another high priest, His Son, to supplant those of the old covenant (5:5; 7:1-28). The heart of this author’s teaching is that animal sacrifices cannot possibly atone for sin or produce moral transformation, since they are divinely-appointed only as a type or shadow of the one great sacrifice by Christ (8:7; 10:1).

    To sum up, the New Testament writers, as well as Jesus, regarded the Old Testament sacrificial system as of divine origin and so obligatory in its day, but imperfect and only a type of Christ’s sacrifice, and so to be supplanted by His perfect sacrifice.

    The Sacrificial Idea in the New Testament

    The one central idea of New Testament writers is that the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross is the final perfect sacrifice for the atonement of sin and the salvation of men, a sacrifice typified in the various sacrifices of the Old Testament, which are in turn abrogated by the operation of the final sacrifice. Only James and Jude among New Testament writers are silent as to the sacrifice of Christ, and they write for practical purposes only.

    Teaching of John the Baptist

    The Baptist, it is true, presents Jesus as the coming Judge in the Synoptic Gospels, but in John 1:29,36 he refers to Him as "the Lamb of God," in the former passage adding "that taketh away the sin of the world."

    Westcott (Commentary on John, 20) says: "The title as applied to Christ ... conveys the ideas of vicarious suffering, of patient submission, of sacrifice, of redemption, etc." There is scarcely any doubt that the Baptist looked upon the Christ as the one who came to make the great sacrifice for man’s sins. Professor Burton (Biblical Ideas of Atonement, Burton, Smith and Smith, 107) says that John sees Christ "suffering under the load of human sin."

    Teaching of Jesus

    There are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels two unmistakable references by Jesus to His death as a sacrifice (Mr 10:45 parallel Mt 20:28; Mr 14:24 parallel Mt 26:28 parallel Lu 22:20; compare 1Co 11:25). In the former He declares He came to give His "life a ransom." Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament) says this word means "the price paid for redeeming." Hence, the idea in ransom must be of sacrificial significance. But if there could be any doubt as to the sacrificial import of this passage, there is a clear case of the sacrificial idea in Mr 14:24.

    Practically all writers of the New Testament theology, Wendt, Weiss, Stevens, Sheldon and others, hold that Jesus considered the death as the ratification sacrifice of the new covenant, just as the sacrifice offered at Sinai ratified the old covenant (Ex 24:3-8). Ritschl and Beyschlag deny that this passage is sacrificial. But according to most exegetes, Jesus in this reference regarded His death as a sacrifice. The nature of the sacrifice, as Jesus estimated it, is in doubt and is to be discussed later. What we are pressing here is the fact that Jesus regarded His death as a sacrifice. We have to concede the meagerness of material on the sacrificial idea of His death as taught by Jesus. Yet these two references are unquestioned by literary and historical critics. They both occur in Mark, the primitive Gospel (the oldest Gospel record of Jesus’ teachings). The first occurs in two of the Synoptists, the second in all three of them. Luke omits the first for reasons peculiar to his purpose. According to Lu 24:25, Jesus regarded His sufferings and death as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.

    Teaching of Peter

    Though the head apostle does not in the early chapters of Acts refer to Christ as the sacrifice for sin, he does imply as much in 2:36 (He is Lord and Christ in spite of His crucifixion); 3:18,19 (He fulfilled the prophecies by suffering, and by means of repentance sins are to be blotted out); 4:10-12 (only in His name is salvation) and in 5:30,31 (through whose death Israel received remission of sins).

    In his First Epistle (1Pe 1:18,19) he expressly declares that we are redeemed by the blood of the spotless Christ, thus giving the sacrificial significance to His death. The same is implied in 1Pe 1:2; 3:18.

    Paul’s Teaching

    Teaching of Hebrews

    The argument of the author of Hebrews to prove the finality of Christianity is that Christ is superior to the Aaronic high priest, being a royal, eternal high priest, after the order of Melchizedek, and offering Himself as the final sacrifice for sin, and for the moral transformation of men (4:14; 10:18).

    Johannine Teaching

    In the First Epistle of John (1 Joh 1:7; 2:2; 5:6,8) propitiation for sin and cleansing from sin are ascribed to the blood of Christ. In Re 1:5 John ascribes deliverance (not washing or cleansing, according to best manuscripts) from sin, to the blood of Christ. Several times he calls Christ the Lamb, making the sacrificial idea prominent. Once he speaks of Him as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (13:8).

    To sum up, all the New Testament writers, except James and Jude, refer to Christ’s death as the great sacrifice for sin. Jesus Himself regarded His death as such. In the various types of New Testament teaching Christ’s death is presented:

  • as the covenant sacrifice (Mr 14:24 parallel Mt 26:28 parallel Lu 22:20; Heb 9:15-22);

  • as the sin offering (Ro 8:3; 2Co 5:21; Heb 13:11; 1Pe 3:18);

  • as the offering of the paschal lamb (1Co 5:7);

  • as the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement (Heb 2:17; 9:12 ).
  • Relation of Christ’s Sacrifice to Man’s Salvation

    The saving benefits specified in the New Testament as resulting from the sacrificial death of Christ are as follows:

    Redemption or Deliverance from Curse of Sin

    Redemption or deliverance from the curse of sin: This must be the implication in Jesus’ words, "The Son of man also came ... to give his life a ransom for many" (Mr 10:45 parallel Mt 20:28). Man is a captive in sin, the Father sends His Son to pay the ransom price for the deliverance of the captive, and the Son’s death is the price paid.

    Paul also uses the words "redeemed" and "redemption" in the same sense. In the great letters he asserts that we are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation ... in his blood" (Ro 3:24,25). Here the apostle traces justification back to redemption as the means for securing it, and redemption back to the "blood" (Christ’s death) as the cause of its procurement. That is, Christ’s death secures redemption and redemption procures justification.

    In Galatians (3:13), he speaks of being redeemed "from the curse of the law." The law involved man in a curse because he could not keep it. This curse is the penalty of the broken law which the transgressor must bear, unless deliverance from said penalty is somehow secured. Paul represents Christ by His death as securing for sinners deliverance from this curse of the broken law (compare Ga 4:5 for the same thought, though the word "curse" is not used).

    Paul also emphasizes the same teaching in the Captivity Epistles: "In whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (Eph 1:7; compare Col 1:14). In the pastoral letters (1Ti 2:6) he teaches that Christ gave "himself a ransom for all." This is the only New Testament passage in which occurs the strong word antilutron for "ransom." In his old age the apostle feels more positively than ever before that Christ’s death is the ransom price of man’s deliverance from sin.

    The author of Hebrews asserts that Christ by the sacrifice of Himself "obtained eternal redemption" for man (9:12). John says that Christ "loosed (luo) us from our sins by his blood" (Re 1:5). This idea in John is akin to that of redemption or deliverance by ransom. Peter teaches the same truth in 1Pe 1:19. So, we see, Jesus and all the New Testament writers regard Christ’s sacrifice as the procuring cause of human redemption.


    The idea of reconciliation involves a personal difference between two parties. There is estrangement between God and man. Reconciliation is the restoration of favor between the two parties. Jesus does not utter any direct message on reconciliation, but implies God’s repugnance at man’s sin and strained relations between God and the unrepentant sinner (see Lu 18:13). He puts into the mouth of the praying tax-gatherer the words, `God be propitious to me’ (see Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, hilaskomai), but Jesus nowhere asserts that His death secures the reconciliation of God to the sinner. Paul, however, does. "For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son," etc. (Ro 5:10). There can be no doubt from this passage that Paul thought of the death of Christ as the procuring cause of reconciliation. In Eph 2:13,14,18 Paul makes the cross of Christ the means of reconciliation between the hostile races of men. Paul reaches the climax in his conception of the reconciliation wrought by the cross of Christ when he asserts the unifying results of Christ’s death to be cosmic in extent (Eph 1:10).

    The author of Hebrews also implies that Christ’s death secures reconciliation when he regards this death as the ratification of the "better covenant" (8:6 ff), and when he plays on the double meaning of the word (diatheke, 9:15 ff), now "covenant" and now "will," "testament." The death of Christ is necessary to secure the ratification of the new covenant which brings God and man into new relations (8:12). In 2:17 the author uses a word implying propitiation as wrought by the death of Christ. So the doctrine of reconciliation is also in the Epistle to the Hebrews. John teaches reconciliation with God through Christ our Advocate, but does not expressly connect it with His death as the procuring cause (1 Joh 2:1,2). Peter is likewise silent on this point.

    Remission of Sins

    Reconciliation implies that God can forgive; yea, has forgiven. Jesus and the New Testament writers declare the death of Christ to be the basis of God’s forgiveness. Jesus in instituting the memorial supper said, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins" (Mt 26:28). It is true Mark and Luke do not record this last phrase, "unto remission of sins." But there is no intimation that this phrase is the result of Matthew’s theologizing on the purpose of Christ’s death (see Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, II, 239 ff, who claims this phrase is not from Jesus; also Allen in "Mt," ICC, in the place cited.). But Paul leaves no doubt as to the connection between man’s forgiveness by God and Christ’s sacrifice for him. This idea is rooted in the great passage on justification (Ro 3:21-5:21; see especially 4:7); is positively declared in Eph 1:7; Col 1:14. The author of Heb teaches that the shedding of Christ’s blood under the new covenant is as necessary to secure forgiveness as the shedding of animal’s blood under the old. John also implies that forgiveness is based on the blood (1 Joh 1:7-9).

    The Cancellation of Guilt

    True reconciliation and forgiveness include the canceling of the offender’s guilt. Jesus has no direct word on the cancellation of guilt. Paul closes his argument for the universality of human sin by asserting that "all the world may be brought under the judgment of God" (the King James Version "guilty before God," Ro 3:19). Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon, in the place cited.) says this word "guilty" means "owing satisfaction to God" (liable to punishment by God). But in Ro 8:1,3 Paul exclaims, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus ... God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin" (the English Revised Version and the American Revised Version margin "as an offering for sin"). The guilt, or exposure of the sinner to God’s wrath and so to punishment, is removed by the sin offering which Christ made. This idea is implied by the author of Hebrews (2:15), but is not expressed in Peter and John.

    Justification or Right Standing with God

    Right standing with God is also implied in the preceding idea. Forgiving sin and canceling guilt are the negative, bringing into right standing with God the positive, aspects of the same transaction. "Him who knew no sin he made to be sin (i.e. the sin offering; so Augustine and other Fathers, Ewald, Ritschl; see Meyer, Commentary, in loc., who denies this meaning) on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2Co 5:21). In this passage Paul makes justification the divine purpose of the sacrificial death of Christ. This thought is elaborated by the apostle in Galatians and Romans, but is not expressed by Jesus, or in Hebrews, in Peter or in John.

    Cleansing or Sanctification

    Jesus does not connect our cleansing or sanctification with His death, but with His word (Joh 17:17). The substantive "cleansing" (katharismos) is not used by Paul, and the verb "to cleanse" (katharizo) occurs only twice in his later letters (Eph 5:26; Tit 2:14). He does use the idea of sanctification, and in Ro 6-8 teaches that sanctification is a logical consequence of justification which is secured by Christ’s sacrificial death. In Php 3:10,11, he views Christ’s death and resurrection as the dynamic of transformation in the new life. The author of Hebrews (1:3; 9:14,22,23; 10:2), following his Old Testament figures, uses the idea of cleansing for the whole process of putting away sin, from atonement to sanctification (see Westcott, Commentary, in the place cited.). He makes Christ’s death the procuring cause of the cleansing. John does the same (1 Joh 1:7; Re 7:14).


    Divine sonship of the believer is also traced by Paul to the sacrificial death of Christ (Ro 8:17), though this thought is not found in other New Testament writers.

    So, we sum up, the whole process of salvation, from reconciliation with God to the adoption of the saved sinner into heaven’s household, is ascribed, to some extent by Jesus, largely by Paul theologian of the New Testament, and, in varying degrees, by other New Testament writers, to the sacrificial death of Christ. Even Holtzmann (Neutest. Theol., II, 111) admits "It is upon the moment of death that the grounding of salvation is exclusively concentrated."

    How Christ’s Sacrifice Procures Salvation

    It must be conceded that the New Testament writers, much less Jesus, did not discuss this subject from the philosophical point of view. Jesus never philosophizes except incidentally. Paul, the author of Hebrews, and John had a philosophy underlying their theology, the first and second dealing most with the sacrificial work of Christ, the last with His person. But Paul and the author of Hebrews did not write their letters to produce a philosophical system explaining how Christ’s sacrificial death can and does procure man’s salvation.

    Jesus’ Teaching

    By some it is claimed that the word "ransom" (Mr 10:45) gives us the key to the philosophy of the atonement as presented by Jesus Himself. But the rules of exegesis are against this supposition. Jesus in the context is teaching His disciples that sacrificial service is greatness. To illustrate the truth He refers to His own example of coming to "minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." That is, Jesus is enforcing a practical principle and not elaborating a theoretical truth. Moreover, the word "ransom" is used metaphorically, and the laws of exegesis forbid us to press the literal meaning of a figure. The figure suggests captivity in sin and deliverance by payment of a price (the death of Christ). But Jesus does not tell us how His sacrificial death can and does pay the price for man’s redemption from sin.

    The word "ransom" does give the clue to the development of the vicarious sacrifice elaborated later by Paul. Ritschl (Rechtfertigung und Versohnung, II, 85) does not do the word "ransom" justice when he claims that it merely reproduces the meaning of the Hebrew kopher, "covering as a protection," and that Christ’s death, like a covering, delivers us by stimulating us to lead the life of sacrificial service as Christ did. Wendt (Lehre Jesu, II, 237; Teaching of Jesus, II, 226 f) admits the "ransom"-idea in the word, but says Christ delivers us from bondage to suffering and death, not by His death, but by His teaching which is illustrated by His sacrificial death. Beyschlag (Neutest. Theol., I, 153) thinks Christ’s death delivers us from worldly ambitions and such sins by showing us the example of Jesus in sacrifice. Weiss (Biblical Theology of the New Testament, I, 101-3) thinks Christ’s "surrender of His life ... avails as a ransom which He gives instead of the many" who were not able to pay the price themselves. He also adds, "The saying regarding the ransom lays emphasis upon the God-pleasing performance of Jesus which secures the salvation," etc.

    Nor does Jesus’ saying at the Last Supper, "This is my blood of the covenant" (Mr 14:24) give us unmistakable evidence of how His death saves men. It does teach that sinners on entering the kingdom come into a new covenant relation with God which implies forgiveness of sin and fellowship with God, and that, as the covenant sacrifices at Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:3-8) ratified the legal covenant between God and His people, so the death of Christ as a covenant sacrifice ratifies the covenant of grace between God and lost sinners, by virtue of which covenant God on His part forgives the penitent sinner, and the surrendering sinner on his part presents himself to God for the life of sacrifice. But this statement fails to tell us how God can forgive sin on the basis of a covenant thus ratified by Christ’s death. Does it mean substitution, that as the animal whose blood ratified the covenant was slain instead of the people, so Christ was slain in the place of sinners? Or does it suggest the immutability of the covenant on the basis of the animal’s (and so Christ’s) representing both God and man, and killing signifying loss of life or will to change the covenant (so Westcott, Commentary on Hebrews, 301)? It could scarcely mean that Christ’s sacrifice was the offering of a perfect, acceptable life to God (Wendt, op. cit., II, 237), or that Christ’s death is viewed merely as the common meal sacrifice, that God and His people thus enter into a kind of union and communion (so some evolutionists in the study of comparative religion; see Menzies. Hist of Religion, 416 ff).

    Paul’s Teaching

    Ritschl and many modern scholars are disposed to reject all philosophy in religion. They say, "Back to Christ." Paul was only a human interpreter of Jesus. But he was a divinely-guided interpreter, and we need his first-hand interpretations of Jesus. What has he to say as to how Christ’s death saves men?

    The classical passage containing the idea of redemption is Romans 3:24-26:

    "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus."

    A fair interpretation of this passage gives us the following propositions:

  • The believer obtains right standing with God by means of, through the channel of (see Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, dia, A, III, 2), redemption which is in Christ.

  • This redemption in Christ involves, or is based upon, the divinely-purposed propitiation which Christ made in His death.

  • The design of God in making such a propitiation was the exhibition of His righteousness; i.e., the vindication of that side of His character which demands the punishment of sin, which had not been shown in former generations when His forbearance passed over men’s sins.
  • See Sanday, Commentary on Romans, in the place cited. The classical passage containing the other word to redeem (exagorazo) is Ga 3:13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us," etc.

    Professor E. D. Burton (AJT, October, 1907) thinks:

  • Law here means "law legalistically understood."

  • The "curse" was the verdict of the law of pure legalism, "a disclosure to man of his actual status before God on a basis of merit."

  • The redemption meant is that Christ "brought to an end the regime of law ... rather than deliverance of individuals through release from penalty."
  • He bases this argument largely on the use of hemas, "us," meaning Jews in antithesis with ethne, the Gentiles (Ga 3:14). Everett (The Gospel of Paul) thinks that Christ was cursed in that He was "crucified" (the manner not the fact of His death being the curse); that is, as Everett sees it, Christ became ceremonially unclean, and so free from the law. So does His follower by being crucified with Christ become ceremonially unclean and so free from the law.

    The passage seems to give us the following propositions:

  • Man under law (whether the revealed law of the Old Testament or the moral law) is under a "curse," that is, liable to the penalty which the broken law demands.

  • Christ by His death on the cross became a "curse for us."

  • By means of Christ thus becoming a "curse for us" He delivered us, "not the Jews as a nation, but all of us, Jews and Gentiles, who believed," from the curse incurred by the breaking of the law.
  • Professor Burton admits that the participle genomenos, "becoming," may be a "participle of means" (the article cited above, 643), and so we have "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." The passage at least suggests, if it does not declare, that Christ saves us by vicariously enduring the penalty to which we were exposed.

    Paul uses the phrase "wrath of God" (Ro 1:18, etc.) to express the attitude of God toward sin, an attitude of displeasure and of grief, of revulsion of holy character which demands the punishment of sin. On the other hand, God loves the sinner; love is the prompting cause of redemption through Christ (Ro 5:8; 8:32). That is, wrath is love grieving and righteousness revolting because of sin, and both phases may act simultaneously (Simon, Redemption of Man, 216, to the contrary). So Paul says, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses" (2Co 5:19).

    Now this word "reconcile" (katallassein) means in the active, "to receive into favor," in the passive, "to be restored to favor" (Thayer). See also Revelation and The Expositor, October, 1909, 600 ff, where Professor Estes shows, from Sophocles, Xenophon, Josephus, Septuagint and passages in the New Testament like Mt 5:24, that the word must mean a change in the attitude of God toward men and not merely a change of men toward God. Practically the same is taught by Meyer (Commentary on 2 Corinthians); Lipsius (Handcomm. zum New Testament); Sanday (Commentary on Romans); Denney (Exegetical Greek Testament on Romans); Lietzmann (Handbuch zum New Testament); Holtzmann (Neutest. Theol.); Weiss (Religion of the New Testament); Pfleiderer (Paulinism); Stevens (Christian Doctrine of Salvation), and in nearly all the great commentaries on Romans and 2 Corinthians, and by all the writers on New Testament theology except Beyschlag.

    Only once (Ro 3:25) does Paul use the word "propitiation." As seen above, the redemption in Christ is based upon the propitiation which Christ made in His death. Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon, in the place cited.) says the noun signifies "a means of appeasing, expiating, a propitiation, an expiatory sacrifice." He thinks it has this meaning in Ro 3:25, but refers it to the "mercy-seat" in Heb 9:5. Sanday (Comm. on Rom, 88) regards hilasterion as an adjective meaning "propitiatory." De Wette, Fritzsche, Meyer, Lipsius and many others take it in this sense; Gifford, Vaughan, Liddon, Ritschl think it means "mercy-seat" here as in Hebrews. But with either meaning the blood of Christ is viewed as securing the mercy of God. Propitiation of God is made by the blood of Christ, and because of that men have access to the mercy-seat where shines the glory of God in His forgiveness of man’s sins.

    Summing up Paul’s teaching as to how Christ’s sacrifice saves:

  • The propitiatory sacrifice does not "soften God, or assuage the anger of God" (as Bushnell claims the advocates of the satisfaction theories assert, Vicarious Sacrifice, 486). God is already willing to save men, His love makes the propitiatory sacrifice (Ro 5:8). God’s love makes the sacrifice, not the sacrifice His willingness to save.

  • But man by breaking God’s law had come under the curse, the penalty of the broken law (Ga 3:13), and so was under God’s wrath (Ro 1:18), i.e. man’s sin exposed him to punishment, while at the same time God’s love for the sinner was grieved.

  • Christ by His sacrificial death made it possible for God to show His righteousness and love at the same time; i.e. that He did punish sin, but did love the sinner and wish to save him (Ro 3:25,26; 5:8).

  • Christ, who was sinless, suffered vicariously for sinful men. His death was not due to His sins but those of men (2Co 5:21).

  • His death, followed by His resurrection which marked Him off as the sinless Son of God, and so appointed the Saviour of men (Ro 1:4), was designed by God to bring men into right relation with God (Ro 3:26; 2Co 5:21).
  • So, we may say, Paul explained the relation of Christ’s death to the sinner’s spiritual life by thinking of a transfer of the sinner’s "curse" to Christ, which He bore on the cross, and of God’s righteousness through Christ (Php 3:9) to the sinner by faith in Christ. But we must not press this vicarious idea too far into a system of philosophy of the atonement and claim that the system is the teaching of Paul. The quantitative, commercial idea of transfer is not in Paul’s mind. The language of redemption, propitiation, ransom, is largely figurative. We must feel the spiritual truth of a qualitative transfer of sin from man to Christ and of righteousness from Christ to man, and rest the matter there, so far as Paul’s teaching goes. Beyond this our conclusions as to substitution as the method of atonement are results of philosophizing on Paul’s teaching.

    Teaching of Hebrews

    The author of Hebrews adds nothing to Paul’s teaching respecting the method whereby Christ’s sacrifice operates in saving men. His purpose to produce an apology showing forth the superior efficacy of Christ’s high-priestly sacrifice over that of the Aaronic priesthood fixes his first thought on the efficacy of the sacrifice rather than on its mode of operation. He does use the words "redemption" (9:12; compare 9:15), "propitiate" (2:17), and emphasizes the opening up of the heavenly holy of holies by the high-priestly sacrifice of Christ (the way of access to the very presence of God by Christ’s death, 10:19,20), which gives us data for forming a system based on a real propitiation for sin and reconciliation of God similar to the Pauline teaching formulated above.

    Petrine and Johannine Teaching

    Peter asserts that Christ suffered vicariously (1Pe 2:22-24), who, although He "did no sin," "his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree"; who "suffered for sins once, the righteous for (huper, not anti) the unrighteous" (1Pe 3:18). But Peter goes no farther than Paul (perhaps not so far) in elaborating how Jesus’ vicarious suffering saves the sinner. The Johannine writings contain the propitiatory idea (1 Joh 2:2; 4:10), although John writes to emphasize the incarnation and not the work of the Incarnate One (Joh 1:1-18; 1; Joh 4:2,3).

    To sum up the New Testament teachings on the mode or operation: Jesus asserts His vicarious suffering (Mr 10:45; compare John 10:11) and hints at the mode of its operation by using the "ransom" figure. Paul, Peter and John teach that Christ’s sacrifice was vicarious, and all but Peter suggest the idea of propitiation as to the mode of its operation. There is no direct discussion of what propitiation means.

    Rationale of the Efficacy of Christ’s Sacrifice

    Jesus’ Teaching

    Jesus emphasizes His voluntary spirit in making the sacrifice. "The Son of man also came ... to give his life a ransom." The sacrifice was voluntary, not compulsory. God did not force Him to lay down His life; He chose to do so (compare Joh 10:11). But Jesus gives us no philosophy on this or any other element in His sacrifice as being the ground of its efficacy.

    Paul’s Teaching

    The Teaching in Hebrews

    The author of Hebrews, most of all New Testament writers, elaborates the grounds of efficacy in Christ’s sacrifice.

  • It was a personal not an animal sacrifice (9:12-14; 9:26, "sacrifice of himself"; 10:4).

  • It was the sacrifice of the Son of God (3:5).

  • It was a royal person who made the sacrifice (6:20b; 7:1, "after the order of Melchizedek ... king of Salem").

  • It was a sinless person (7:26,27; 9:14; 10:10,12). Westcott, Commentary on Hebrews, 298, well says, "It becomes necessary, therefore, in order to gain a complete view of the Sacrifice of Christ, to combine with the crowning act upon the Cross His fulfillment of the will of God from first to last, the Sacrifice of Life with the Sacrifice of Death."

  • It was an eternal person (6:20, "for ever"; 7:16, "after the power of an endless (margin "indissoluble") life").
  • The author of Hebrews reaches the climax of his argument for the superior efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice when he represents Him as entering the holy of holies in the very presence of God to complete the offering for man’s sin (8:1,2; 9:11,12,24).

    Peter and John do not discuss the ground of efficacy, and so add nothing to our conclusions above. The efficacy of the sacrifice is suggested by describing the glory of the person (1Pe 1:19; 2:22,23; 1; Joh 1:7; 2:2).

    To sum up our conclusion as to the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice: Jesus and the leading New Testament writers intimate that the efficacy of His sacrifice centers in His personality. Jesus, Peter and John do not discuss the subject directly. Paul, though discussing it more extensively, does not do so fully, but the author of Heb centers and culminates his argument for the finality of Christianity, in the superior efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, which is grounded in His personality, divine, royal, sinless, eternal (see Menegoz, Theol. de l’Ep. aux Hebreux). It is easy to see, from the position taken by the author of Hebrews, how Anselm in Cur Deus Homo developed his theory of satisfaction, according to which the Divinity in Christ gave His atoning sacrifice its priceless worth in God’s eyes.

    The Human Conditions of Application

    Universal in Objective Potentiality

    The sacrificial death of Christ is universal in its objective potentiality, according to Jesus (Lu 24:47, "unto all the nations"); according to Paul (Ro 1:5; 5:18; 11:32; 2Co 5:14,15; Ga 3:14); according to the author of Hebrews (2:9, "taste of death for every man"); according to John (1 Joh 2:2, "propitiation ... for the whole world").

    Efficacious When Subjectively Applied

    But the objective redemption to be efficacious must be subjectively applied. The blood of Christ is the universally efficacious remedy for the sin-sick souls of men, but each man must make the subjective application. How is the application made? And the threefold answer is, by repentance, by faith, and by obedience.

    The Baptist and Jesus emphasized repentance (change of mind first of all, then change of relation and of life) as the condition of entrance into the kingdom and of enjoyment of the Messianic salvation (Mt 3:2; Mr 1:15). Peter preached repentance at Pentecost and immediately after as a means of obtaining forgiveness (Ac 2:38; 3:19, etc.). Paul, although emphasizing faith, also stressed repentance as an element in the human condition of salvation (Ac 20:21; Ro 2:4, etc.). John (Re 2; 3, passim) emphasizes repentance, though not stressing it as a means of receiving the benefits of redemption.

    Jesus connected faith with repentance (Mr 1:15) as the condition of receiving the Messianic salvation. Paul makes faith the all-inclusive means of applying the work of Christ. The gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Ro 1:16); "whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith" (Ro 3:25); "faith (not works) is reckoned for righteousness" (Ro 4:5); "justified by faith" (Ro 5:1).

    In Galatians, the letters to the Corinthians, in the Captivity and the Pastoral Epistles he emphasizes faith as the sole condition of receiving salvation. But what kind of faith is it that appropriates the saving benefit of Christ’s death? Not historical or intellectual but "heart" faith (Ro 10:10). To Paul "heart" meant the seat or essence of the whole personality, and so faith which applies the redemption Christ is the personal commitment of one’s self to Christ as Saviour and Lord (2Co 5:15). See Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, pisteuo, 1, b, gamma, for a particular discussion of the meaning of faith in this sense. The author of Hebrews discusses especially faith as a conquering power, but also implies that it is the condition of entrance upon the life of spiritual rest and fellowship (chapters 3 and 4, passim). Peter (1Pe 1:9) and John (1 Joh 3:23; 4:16; 5:1,5, etc.) also regard faith as a means of applying the saving benefits of Christ’s death.

    Jesus said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mr 8:34). Here He lays down two elements in the conditions of discipleship, denying one’s self and taking up his cross. The former means the renunciation of self as the center of thought, faith, hope and life. The latter means the life of sacrifice. Jesus was stressing this truth when He uttered that incomparable saying, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mr 10:45 parallel Mt 20:28).

    Paul also emphasizes this phase of the human condition of salvation when he shows how sanctification grows spontaneously out of justification (Ro 6:8) and when he says that what "avails" is "faith working through love" (Ga 5:6). The author of Hebrews says, "He became unto all them that obey him the author (Greek aitios, "cause") of eternal salvation" (5:9). Peter and John, the latter especially, emphasize the keeping of His commandments, the life of service, as the means of appropriating to the fullest the saving benefits of Christ’s death.

    The theologians in classrooms and preachers in the pulpits have failed to emphasize this aspect of "saving faith" as did Jesus, Paul, the author of He, and John. in the New Testament salvation is a process as well as an instantaneous act on the part of God, and the process is carried on by means of obedience, the life of service, which appropriates by faith the dynamic of Christ’s sacrifice.

    The Christian’s Life the Life of Sacrifice

    This discussion of the faith that "obeys" leads to the consideration of that climactic thought of New Testament writers, namely, that the Christian’s life is sacrificial living based on Christ’s sacrifice for him. We note in outline the following:

    The Christian’s life of sacrifice is the logical consequence of Christ’s sacrificial death. The Christ who sacrificed Himself for the believer is now continuing the sacrifice in the believer’s life (Ga 1:20; Php 1:21).

    Consequence of Christ’s Sacrifice

    Paul was crucified when Christ was crucified (in a bold mystic figure), and the life of Christ which sacrificed itself on the cross and perpetuates itself in resurrection power now operates as a mighty dynamic for the apostle’s moral and spiritual transformation (Php 3:10,11). It is to be noted, Jesus also emphasized this kind of living, though not so expressly connecting the believer’s sacrificial life with His sacrificial death (see Mr 8:34 f).

    Christ’s Death the Appeal for a Christian’s Sacrifice

    Christ’s sacrificial death becomes the persuasive appeal for the Christian’s sacrificial life, "Because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again" (2Co 5:14,15). Because He died for us we should live for Him.

    Necessary to Fill Out Christ’s Sacrifice

    The Christian’s sacrifice is necessary to fill out Christ’s sacrifice. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church" (Col 1:24). Roman Catholic exegetes have made the apostle teach that the sufferings of the saints, along with Christ’s sufferings, have atoning efficacy. But Paul nowhere intimates that his sufferings avail for putting away sins.

    We may hold with Weiss (Comm. on the New Testament) that Paul longed to experience in his life the perfect sacrificial spirit as Christ did; or with Alford (in loc.) that he wished to suffer his part of Christ’s sufferings to be endured by him through His church; or, as it seems to us, he longed to make effective by his ministry of sacrificial service to as many others as possible the sacrificial death of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice avails in saving men only when Christians sacrifice their lives in making known this sacrifice of Christ.

    Content of the Christian’s Sacrifice

  • The Christian is to present his personality (Ro 15:16). Paul commends the Macedonians for "first" giving "their own selves to the Lord" (2Co 8:5).

  • Christians must present their "bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God" (Ro 12:1). In the old system of sacrifices the animals were offered as dead; Christians are to offer their bodies, all their members with their powers, to God a "living sacrifice," i.e. a sacrifice which operates in lives of holiness and service (see also Ro 6:13,19).

  • Christians must offer their money or earthly possessions to God. Paul speaks of the gift from the church at Philippi as "a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God" (Php 4:18). This gift was to the apostle a beautiful expression of the sacrificial spirit imparted to them because they had the "mind" of Christ who "emptied himself, ... becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (Php 2:5-8). The author of Hebrews (13:16) exhorts his readers, "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."

  • The general exercise of all our gifts and graces is viewed by Peter as sacrificial living (1Pe 2:5): "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices" etc. All Christians are priests and daily offer up their burnt offerings acceptable to God, if they `suffer as Christians’ (1Pe 2:20; 3:18) in the exercise of their graces and powers.
  • But how do these sacrifices of the Christian affect him and God? The New Testament writers never hint that our sacrifices propitiate God, or so win His favor that He will or can on account of our sacrifices forgive our sins. They are "well-pleasing" to Him a "sweet odor"; that is, they win His approval of our lives thus lived according to the standard which Christ gives us. Their influence on us is the increase of our spiritual efficiency and power and finally a greater capacity for enjoying spiritual blessings in heaven (1Co 3:14).

    The Supper as a Sacrifice

    Some scholars (Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, etc.) regard the memorial supper as a kind of sacrifice which the Christian offers in worship. Neither Jesus, Paul, the author of Hebrews, Peter, or John, ever hints that in eating the bread and drinking the wine the Christian offers a sacrifice to God in Christ. Paul teaches that in partaking of the Supper we "proclaim the Lord’s death till he come" (1Co 11:26).

    That is, instead of offering a sacrifice ourselves to God, in partaking of the Supper we proclaim the offering of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Milligan argues that as Christ in heaven perpetually offers Himself for us, so we on earth, in the Supper, offer ourselves to Him (Heavenly Priesthood, 266). Even Cave (Spiritual Doctrine of Sacrifice, 439) maintains, "In a certain loose sense the Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper may be called a sacrifice." See the above books for the argument supporting this position.

    To sum up our conclusions on sacrifice in the New Testament:

  • Jesus and New Testament writers regard the Old Testament sacrificial system as from God, but imperfect, the various sacrifices serving only as types of the one great sacrifice which Christ made.

  • All the writers, except James and Jude, with Jesus, emphasize the sacrificial idea, Jesus less, giving only two hints of His sacrificial death (in the Synoptic Gospels), the author of Hebrews putting the climactic emphasis on Christ’s sacrifice as the sacrifice of atonement.

  • As to the relation of Christ’s sacrifice to man’s salvation, the latter is the achievement of the former, so expressed only twice by Jesus, but emphatically so declared by Paul, the author of Hebrews, Peter, and John (Paul and Heb laying most emphasis on this point).

  • As to how Christ’s sacrifice saves men, Jesus, the author of Hebrews, Peter and John suggest the idea of propitiation, while Paul emphatically teaches that man is under a curse, exposed to the displeasure of God, and that Christ’s sacrifice secured the reconciliation of God by vindicating His righteousness in punishing sin and His love in saving sinners. Jesus and the leading New Testament writers agree that Christ saves men through His vicarious suffering.

  • As to the rational basis of efficacy in Christ’s sacrifice, there is no direct discussion in the New Testament except by the author of Hebrews who grounds its final, eternal efficacy in Christ’s personality, divine, royal, sinless and eternal.

  • As to the conditions of applying Christ’s sacrifice, repentance and faith, which lives and fruits in obedience and sacrificial living, are recognized by Jesus and all the leading New Testament writers as the means of appropriating the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice.

  • By Jesus, Paul, the author of Hebrews, Peter and John the Christian life is viewed as the life of sacrifice. Christ’s death is at once the cause, motive, measure, and the dynamic of the Christian’s sacrificial life.
  • Additional Commentary on Sacrifice in Other Religions

    Though it is not our province in this article to discuss the origin and history of sacrifice in the ethnic religions, it must be noted that sacrifice has been a chief element in almost every religion (Jainism and Buddhism being the principal exceptions). The bloody sacrifice, where the idea of propitiation is prominent, is well-nigh universal in the ethnic religions, being found among even the most enlightened peoples like the Greeks and Romans.

    Whether or not the system of animal sacrifices would have ceased not only in Judaism but also in all the ethnic religions, had not Jesus lived and taught and died, is a question of pure speculation. It must be conceded that the sect of the Jews (Essenes) attaining to the highest ethical standard and living the most unselfish lives of brotherhood and benevolence did not believe in animal sacrifices. But they exerted small influence over the Jewish nation as compared with the Pharisees. It is also to be noted that the prophets Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah exalted the ethical far above the ceremonial; even denounced the sacrifice of animals if not accompanied by personal devotion to righteousness (Am 5:21 ff; Ho 6:6; Mic 6:6 ff; Isa 1:11 ).

    The Stoic and Platonic philosophers also attacked the system of animal sacrifices. But these exceptions only accentuate the historical fact that man’s sense of the necessity of sacrifice to Deity is well-nigh universal. Only the sacrifice of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem caused a cessation of the daily, weekly, monthly and annual sacrifices among the Jews, and only the knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice of Himself will finally destroy the last vestige of animal sacrifice.


    Only a Selection Is Attempted:

  • Articles in Encyclopedia Brit, 11th edition;

  • Encyclopedia Biblica (G. F. Moore);

  • HDB (Paterson); RE and Sch-Herz (Orelli);

  • Jewish Encyclopedia; McClintock and Strong, etc.;

  • Murray’s Bible Dict.;

  • Standard BD, etc. Kautzsch, Jastrow and Wiedermann in HDB;

  • Article on "Comparative Religion" in Sch-Herz;

  • Old Testament Theologies of Oehler, Dillmann, Smend, Schultz, Davidson, Koenig, etc.
  • On Sacrifices in General:

  • Wellhausen, Reste des arabischen Heidenthums;

  • W. R. Smith, Religion of the Semites;

  • J. G. Frazer, Golden Bough, II, III;

  • E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture;

  • E. Westermarck, Origin of Moral Ideas;

  • H. Hubert et Mauss, Annee sociologique, II;

  • L. Marillier, Revue de l’histoire des religions, XXXVI, 208;

  • S. I. Curtiss, Primitive Semitic Religion of Today.
  • Biblical Sacrifices:

  • F. Bahr, Symbolik des Mosdischen Kultus;

  • J. H. Kurtz, Der alttestamentliche Opfercultus;

  • A. Stewart, The Mosaic Sacrifices;

  • J. G. Murphy, Sacrifice as Set Forth in Scripture;

  • A. Cave, Scriptural Doctrine of Sacrifice;

  • F. Maurice, The Doctrine of Sacrifice;

  • J. M. P. Smith, Biblical Doctrine of Atonement.
  • See also:

  • Schultz, AJT, 1900, 257 ff;

  • Smoller, Studien und Kritiken, 1891;

  • Wiener, Essays in Pentateuchal Criticism;

  • Pentateuchal Studies; Driver, ERE, VI.
  • In addition to the great commentaries.

  • ICC, Allen on "Mt," Gould on "Mk," Sanday-Headlam on "Rom";

  • Westcott on the Gospel and Epistles of John, and on the Hebrews;

  • Davidson, Delitzsch and Meyer on Hebrews;

  • Meyer on 2 Corinthians;

  • Lightfoot and Abbott on Colossians;

  • and the standard authors of the Biblical Theology of the New Testament, Weiss, Beyschlag, Bovon, Stevens, Sheldon
  • See the following special works:

  • Cave, Scriptural Doctrine of Sacrifice, Edinburgh, 1890;

  • Simon, Redemption of Man, 1886;

  • G. Milligan, The Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Edinburgh, 1899;

  • Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord, London, 1908;

  • W.P. Du Bose, High-Priesthood and Sacrifice;

  • Everett, The Gospel of Paul, Boston, 1893;

  • Burton, Smith, and Smith, Biblical Ideas of Atonement, Chicago, 1909;

  • Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament, London, 1902;

  • Denney, The Atonement and the Modern Mind, London, 1903;

  • Ritschl, Rechtfertigung und Versohnung (Justification and Reconciliation), Bonn, 1895-1902, English translations of the Bible, 1900;

  • Menegoz, Theol. del’Ep. aux Hebreux;
  • See the following Articles:

  • "Blood," Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, by H. Wheeler Robinson;

  • "Communion with Deity," ibid., by Nathan Soderblom;

  • "Communion with Deity" (Christian), ibid., by Darwell Stone and D. C. Simpson;

  • "Expiation and Atonement," ibid., by W. A. Brown (Christian viewpoint), S. R. Driver (Hebrew), H. Loewe (Jewish);

  • "Redemption from the Curse of the Law," in AJT, October, 1907, by Professor E. D. Burton;

  • "Some Thoughts as to the Effects of the Death of Christ," in Revelation and The Expositor, October, 1909.