Faith and Doubt / Rethinking Christianity

The Purpose for Sacrifice in Religion

Part 1 – Of Sacrificial Lambs

I have had many questions regarding the act of sacrifice, specifically, why was a sacrifice to the God of Abraham even necessary, and if it was a conditional requirement for the atonement of sin, then why is it not practiced today.

I must say that reading the book of Leviticus is an eye opener. As I read this book certain thoughts drifted around the back of my mind such as “hmm, the priest is allowed to keep the meat, they don’t seem to like kidneys, but the fat is rather appealing and the sweet savor is supposed to be pleasing to God, a spirit being, when it seems to be more readily pleasing to the human, say, Aaron and the priests.”

The Leviticus chapters on sacrificial rituals begin by informing the reader that the Lord spoke unto Moses to tell these things to the people of Israel. My question became, because in the back of my mind it reasoned as a ploy of the priests to grab some extra food, was this really commanded by God? Or is it given by men, who as men do today, use the fear of God to meet their own preferences and desires?

Despite these questions I can see some spiritual value in reading and considering an alternative meaning in these texts. As I read these texts on sacrificial rituals, despite any manipulation and intention intervened by the will of the priests, I have started to see the acts of sacrifice to be about giving the very best of one’s accomplishments, the most adored possessions that one has as a means of expressing worship and unconditional love to God.

Cain And Abel

Cain And Abel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example in the story that tells the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, each gave to sacrifice that which was important for his own sustenance. Cain gave the fruits of his agricultural labor while Abel gave his very best animal. In ancient times the significance of giving away food sources, especially by destroying it through sacrifice, cannot be considered a haphazard act. Ancient man’s very survival depended on the crops he could harvest and the animals that he could maintain for food or profitable trade. A sacrificial act meant depriving one’s self in favor of God.

In the story God rejects Cain’s sacrifice because Cain kept the best of his produce for himself and chose to give the worst of his produce for sacrifice. Whereas, Abel sacrificed his choice animal, one without mark or blemish, perfect in health and appearance that would have ensured him of the most profit in trade or the healthiest of foods for his own consumption.

The preceding stories of Abraham, Cain and Able, even Noah presented examples for man to follow if he had a desire to please God. Short of giving his own life, what could those who lived in the days of the Old Testament do to prove that they were regretful of transgressions and abominations felt to be committed toward God? They sacrificed what was the most valuable to them.
See God, I am really sorry. This lamb would feed my family for days, and even though the pleasing aroma will not satisfy my hunger, and knowing that the good sinless priest will eat the work of my labor instead of me, I will give it over to sacrifice, to appease you, because I am truly sorry and I want you to forgive me.

So who really commanded animal sacrifices, God or hungry priests? Why, if sacrifice is commanded and important to God per the scripture of the Old Testament, or Jewish Bible, is it no longer in practice today? Did our food supply become so plentiful that we did not need to feed priests anymore? Did we develop such a respect for life that we became animal advocates and realized that killing an innocent animal to justify ourselves was just plain wrong? Or did we re-evaluate scripture and determine that God never required a blood sacrifice for our sins?

According to a Jewish friend, animal sacrifices will resume once the temple is restored because God has commanded that sacrifices only be offered in the temple. So until the temple is rebuilt, which doesn’t seem to be any time soon, animal sacrifices are not permitted.

My Christian friend tells me that Jesus became the final blood sacrifice on the cross and because of the new covenant God no longer requires sacrifices because man has been made perfect through the sacrifical lamb as Christ.

Yet, the bible says that God does not require sacrifices.

Next: Part 2 – Was Christ a Blood Sacrifice?

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4 thoughts on “The Purpose for Sacrifice in Religion

  1. In the version I grew up with I was lead to believe that God’s chief disapproval with Cain’s sacrifice was that He required a sacrifice of blood, therefor plants were not acceptable. To which it occurred to me, hmm, first part of your joy, sacrifice of blood, so that’s why he killed his brother. Hey, it made sense to me at the time. Of course I didn’t mention that interpretation to my parents. I also know now that there are a lot of whimsical translations floating around that aren’t entirely accurate to the original, not the least of which is the K.J.B.

    • Sacrifice always troubled me as I could never reconcile it with a just and loving God. I could never understand why it was necessary or how it was that an animals blood was sufficient for a human’s sins. When I finally openly acknowledged that I did find the bible inerrant and that I disagreed with much of christian doctrine I was able to see rites of sacrifice as a human practice.

  2. Sacrifice has been a part of human religious rituals since the stone age. People often gathered on festival days and brought with them food, which was then offered to the priests, prepared, and shared out among the whole gathering. A New Testament example is of Jesus with the loaves and fishes. This allowed those with more resources to share with the less fortunate, and it contributed to the survival of the group/tribe as a whole. Societies that did this had a better long-term chance of survival than did those whose members hoarded selfishly.

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