Ark of the Covenant - Bible History Online
Bible History

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


A    B    C    D    E    F    G    H    I    J    K    L    M    N    O    P    Q    R    S    T    U    V    W    X    Y    Z   


VIII. Sacrifice in the "Writings."
1. Proverbs:
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 (Prov 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 (Eccl 5:1; 9:2).
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).
IX. 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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: (1) those inseparable from the sex functions of men and women; (2) those resulting from contact with a corpse; (3) 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.
4. 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 Ezek 45:19 f).
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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. 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).
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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 (Dt 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).
11. 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 stumblingblock. 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.

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.
J. J. Reeve
Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'sacrifice, in the old testament, 3'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". - ISBE; 1915.

Copyright Information
© International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)

ISBE Bible Encyclopedia Home
Bible History Online Home


Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
Online Bible (KJV)
Naves Topical Bible
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Schaff's Bible Dictionary
Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Matthew Henry Bible Commentary
Hitchcock's Bible Dictionary

Related Bible History