The Abolition of Sacrifice


Some people view sacrifice as an inherently good thing because God instituted animal sacrifices in the Law or because of the sacrificial death of Jesus. The general concept is carried over into the New Covenant by claiming that we are to live sacrificial lives for God, giving up the things of this world for the things of God (Romans 12:1 is cited often to make this point).

Methinks this is a misconception.

Let’s take a look at the role of sacrifice in human history.

The concepts of sacrifice (or scapegoating) existed in every known culture and society. A historical study (see the works of René Girard) reveals that there were generally two reasons why communities practiced sacrifice – because the gods required it and to keep social order. People viewed sacrifice as necessary because otherwise the gods would unleash their anger on them, and also because it was an outlet for their (the people’s) violence. People didn’t know how to deal with their anger and frustration, so they decided to systematically take it out on something else. Thus, social order is maintained because instead of civil war breaking out, one person (the scapegoat) died for the rest. This mindset can even be seen in the scriptures, where the high priest Caiaphas advises the Pharisees that it is better for one man to die for the people (referring to Jesus) than for the whole nation to be destroyed (John 11:50). Of course, this never gets to the root problem, which is losing sight of who God really is, and thus losing sight of every person’s true desire, which is God himself (Haggai 2:7). Sacrifice emerged from not understanding God’s heart toward people.

The question, then, is why did God command animal sacrifices to be performed under the Law?

The Israelites wanted to be like the nations around them. They wanted laws, not relationship. They wanted human kings, not a heavenly Father. And they wanted sacrificial systems, not unmerited forgiveness. They couldn’t conceive of any other way of dealing with guilt and violence, and, in their minds, that was the only way to satisfy their angry God, Jehovah. But God isn’t like every other ancient god that required sacrifice in order to be nice to people.The truth, the mystery that had been kept hidden for ages, was that God was never angry with them and had forgiven them even before they had asked to be forgiven!

God never wanted our sacrifices, even under the Old Covenant. “Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired…Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required” (Psalm 40:6). “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; And the knowledge of God, more than burnt offering” (Hosea 6:6). (Also see Micah 6:6-8, Isaiah 1:11-14, and Jeremiah 7:21-23.)

morphiusGod instituted the Old Covenant sacrificial system for people, not for himself. It is no different than how Jesus explained that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Its introduction in the Law wasn’t to alleviate God’s anger or satisfy a need to punish sin, both of which God has no need for. Rather, it was a concession to man’s guilt and bloodlust (in fact, the entire system of Law was a concession to Israel since it refused to relate intimately with God; see Exodus 20:18-21). Sacrifice under the Old Covenant was to provide an outlet for human violence and to fulfill the human need to feel free of guilt and have a clear conscience (although according to Hebrews 10:4 it never permanently fixed anything – “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”).

God never wanted to use violence, but mankind did; so God worked within mankind’s violence to achieve His purposes, and to slowly wean His people off of the need for blood punishment. – Christian Erickson

This is why even though the Law contained retributive ordinances with concepts such as equal retaliation (someone who causes harm is repaid with the same harm to themselves), Jesus pointed to a better way. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39). Indeed, Jesus demonstrated this principle himself as he did not retaliate against his accusers and executioners.

The Law is good (Romans 7:12), but it is not good in the sense that it would be good for us to try and follow it. It is good because it served its purpose, which was to reveal our sinfulness and bring us to our senses (Romans 7:7). When we try our best to follow the Law, we find that our efforts are futile. Thus God administrates his grace to us through the Law because it reveals our need for a savior. God imposed an impossibility on us to make evident the insufficiency of our independent selves (which is only an illusion, because we are never separated from God). It sheds light on the fundamental error made at the fall – thinking that we could do life alone if only we had the knowledge of good and evil.

Thus, just because something is in the Law doesn’t automatically make it good. Sacrifice is a case in point.

The cross didn’t deal with God’s sin consciousness, as if he was hindered from relating with us because of sin. It dealt with our sin consciousness (Hebrews 10:1-3). It doesn’t free God from a need to punish; it frees us from a guilty conscience.

The cross reveals that even when humanity is at its worst, united against God to murder him, God’s love for humanity and how he relates to them does not change. Even when God seems most justified in violently retaliating against humanity (and had the power to do so), he chooses not to. The heart of the Father is revealed.

The cross unmasks the practice of sacrifice (and more generally the concept of retributive punishment) for what it is and rescues humanity from its insanity.

It is simply human violence.

Let me get back to how this relates to sacrifice in our New Covenant lives.

God doesn’t want sacrifice unless he’s providing the sacrifice (think Abraham and Isaac). But from our perspective this isn’t sacrifice at all! Jesus meant it when he said it is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and he applies it in his dealings with us. God’s not looking for us to do something for him; God derives the greatest pleasure from continually providing for us all that we need. He doesn’t need our help. His joy is rooted in our enjoyment of his provision, not our provision for his non-existent needs.

Missionary to China Hudson Taylor, at the end of a life full of suffering and trial, said, “I never made a sacrifice.” When the motivating factor of service to Christ is love, it doesn’t feel like you’re working at all. It is effortless. There is no sacrifice.

And that’s just the kind of life that Jesus has made available to all.


Also see:

Glimpses Into a Mystery (Andre Rabe)

14 thoughts on “The Abolition of Sacrifice

  1. Great post; timely as well – just on Sunday in the youth group I’m helping out with, we talked about how it’s not like people in the OT were saved by the animal sacrifices and people after Jesus by his death.

    One question – when you say ‘Jesus didn’t need to be murdered’, how far does that go? Like you said in your last post, “Everything has been made right through Jesus’ finished work of the cross.” I don’t think you’re saying there was a part that was unnecessary?

    • Thanks for the response 🙂 I plan on writing about your question in the future, but I’ll give you a summary of what I currently believe.

      I don’t think God caused Jesus’ death on the cross to come to pass; it was a historical and accidental murder. God definitely used it for good, but he didn’t require it. People simply chose to murder him. The cross changed nothing about God or how he relates with us; it only changed our perspective of God and how we relate with him. The cross doesn’t bring forgiveness; it reveals that God had been forgiving of us all along. “Everything has been made right through Jesus’ finished word of the cross” because the cross is the ultimate revelation of who God is. In a sense, everything has always been right (but people were unaware and blind to its reality). Everything is still right, but now many people are also aware of that reality because God being revealed through Jesus. That everything is right is an objective reality that is not dependent on whether a person knows it is true or not. But people’s experience will vary depending on whether they know it is true.

      • Hi Tyler
        You think Jesus’s death was an accidental murder? If His death was accidental – then God (in heaven, with his host of angels) must have lacked the power to prevent this accident.
        What do you think is the reason Jesus came to earth and did He know ahead of time he would be accidently murdered (or was it a surprise)? Was his birth also accidental? just asking 🙂

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  3. Hey Sharon.

    Yes, I think it was accidental. By accidental I mean God didn’t make it happen; people chose to murder Jesus. How does this imply that God lacked the power to prevent it? Many things happen in the world that God doesn’t want to. He is not a control freak, and he lets free will run its course. The fact that God refused to prevent this – refused to violently retaliate the way humans would – demonstrates a new way, and how he is different than humanity up to that point in history. Ultimately, Jesus came to earth to reveal the Father. The murder was not a surprise and his birth was intentional.

  4. Becky and I have been following your discussions with interest.
    I know you have already gone on to other topics but I have been thinking that the following statements deserve careful comparison with the scriptures given below it.
    Jon Benedict

    “God was never angry with them and had forgiven them even before they had asked to be forgiven!”

    “I was angry with this generation….I swore in my wrath, they shall never enter my rest” Heb. 3:7-11,17; 4:3; Ps. 95:11

    “I don’t think God caused Jesus’ death on the cross to come to pass; it was a historical and accidental murder.”

    “Smitten (or struck down) of God, and afflicted” Is. 53:4
    “the Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief; If he would render himself as a guilt offering.” Is. 53:10

    • Hey Jon, thanks for the response.

      There are definitely plenty of scriptures that would, at least prema facie, seem to indicate the opposite of what I have asserted in this post (and, likewise, there are plenty of scriptures that would, at least prema facie, support what I have asserted in this post). So this really boils down to how we interpret scripture. In my mind the two cannot be separated. That’s not something I want to write about in detail here, but I can say that I have given consideration to the passages that you point out, as well as the many others like it, and have arrived at my current conclusions.

      For now, let me address Isaiah 53:4. I actually think this passage supports the point I try to make. The whole verse reads: “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted” (NASB). Yes, Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. But I emphasize that right after that it says “Yet.” We thought God struck Jesus. But no, it was humans. Verse 3 says that Jesus was despised and rejected by mankind. That’s how I read it. I see it as God bringing good out of a human decision for evil.

      I’ll also briefly say of Isaiah 53:10 that if we take that to mean that the Lord was actually happy to make Jesus suffer, that’s sounds twisted to me. What father would be happy to cause his son to suffer? I thus interpret it as referring to the destruction of sin that accompanied Christ’s death (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:21). The Lord was pleased with what the cross would accomplish, not the fact that his son was being tortured.

  5. One concern was with the use of the word “accident”. If it was an accident, how could Jesus have endured the cross for the “joy set before him”? Heb. 12:2. Only if it was planned by God could he have anticipated the joy.
    Jesus also told his disciples before it happened that the Gentiles would crucify him and that he would rise on the third day. Matt.20:17-19 and the other 3 gospels as well.
    Jesus also said it would be like Jonah that he would rise on the third day.Matt 12:40
    Jesus says “I lay it (my life) down on my own initiative” Jn 10:18
    These and other scriptures indicate God’s foreknowledge and planning. If God “makes known the end from the beginning” Is.46:10, there are no accidents, especially his salvation plan.
    “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world…”
    “He predestined us…”
    “…having been predestined according to his purpose who works all things after the counsel of his will.” Eph 1:3-11
    These statements leave no room for accidents.

    Concerning inflicting suffering on Jesus, of course no father takes joy in torturing his son. But if he does torture him (by the hand of evil men), it means he is either a sadist, which we know he is not, or he has planned it with a purpose and is making the greatest and unimaginable sacrifice. Eph. 1:6, 12 state that the purpose was for the praise of his glory and Jn 3:16 that the motivating factor was His love. It is so scandalous, that it takes our breath away.
    Concerning your last statement, “that sounds twisted to me”, we need to be careful that we don’t interpret scripture by what we THINK God should be like or do rather than taking the scriptures as they are. There are a lot of things we don’t understand about God. That’s what makes him God and us mere men.

    Tyler, I know that the Lord has given you an inquisitive mind, something not everyone has. It’s a wonderful gift. However, in our search for understanding truth, we must be careful that we don’t “fit” God into our presuppositions.
    Your quotations have been mostly from the group of teachers you are currently associating with. I would recommend that you sink your teeth into other sources as well. I advise you get John Owen’s 7 volume commentary on Hebrews that covers a broad spectrum of doctrines. He was gifted and deals with the nuts and bolts of these issues in thorough detail. I think you will find him very rich and stimulating.

    • I think God planned to use the cross for good; I just don’t think he planned the cross. Thus, he could endure it for the joy set before him because of the plan God made to use it for good.

      Regarding prophetic predictions of the cross, I simply point out that foreknowledge does not equal or necessitate planning or causation.

      Regarding being chosen and predestination, I believe these are corporate references to the body of Christ and ultimately that Jesus is the elect one, with humanity being elected in him. I am not saying that there was an accident in God’s salvation plan. I’m saying God wasn’t methodologically constrained by the cross. That wasn’t the only way he could save us. (On the other hand, I do claim that the cross is necessary for salvation. By that I mean that there would be no salvation if there was no cross, but not that the cross could be the only way God could save us, thereby limiting God.)

      Your theory of atonement can work if you assume what you did, namely, “*if* he does torture him (by the hand of evil men)” (emphasis mine). But you are relying on a personal belief there, namely that God caused the cross. I would likewise consider my view scandalous, that, unlike people, God can forgive us without any kind of retribution 🙂

      Regarding what I said sounds twisted to me, do you disagree? I simply stated that a father torturing his son sounds twisted to me. I think most people would agree. Regardless, let me emphasize that that was not my starting point from which I interpreted scripture. I did not say, “okay, there’s no way God would torture Jesus, so I’m gonna interpret the cross from there.” Rather, that was a conclusion I came to.

      You say “taking the scriptures as they are.” This is impossible. No one can approach the scriptures without any kind of bias. We read the text with the lens of the traditions we grew up in. Subjectivity cannot be avoided in interpreting the scriptures. It is good to try and be as unbiased as possible, but we cannot achieve complete objectivity in interpretation. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so much disagreement within the Church.

      I understand that there is much we don’t understand about God. But that doesn’t support your view or mine.

      You seem to think that I am fitting God into my presuppositions. And maybe you are right. But what makes you so sure that you aren’t? Haven’t you largely stuck with the tradition that you grew up in and with what you were taught in the educational institutions that you attended? How do you know that you did not acquire any presuppositions there and instead received a completely objective and fully orthodox view? I’ve listened to certain teachings, and so have you. We all have. And we are convinced of different things. I at least view us as being on the same ground (i.e. being convinced of different things for various reasons). But you seem to view me as being below you, in the sense that I am the one who is being swayed by presuppositions and poor teaching. I understand why you may think that (because you have most likely read more about what you are currently convinced of), but I have no compelling reason to believe that your beliefs are more accurate than mine or more free of presuppositions and bias than mine. I could likewise recommend you to sink your teeth into other sources (which, if you are interested, I can make some recommendations). Experientially at least, it seems to me that I can claim more experience, having lived with believing both systems of thought at one time or another. So I know the fruit in my own life of believing these alternatives (subjective as it may be). Thus, I would be weary of assuming that I am the one who is believing whatever my itching ears want to hear, swayed by every wind of doctrine and teaching. And I won’t assume it’s you either 🙂

      Anyways, you seem uninterested in this way of viewing God, and that’s fine with me. I’m not trying to get everyone around me to agree with me. But it seems to me that if I am right, God is much better! If he is able to forgive us without blood, good for him! :] And this view of him has helped me in my relationship with him, as it has others. Hence this post.

  6. There is a lot to be said but I will mention just one point here.
    Concerning the question, did God cause the cross, I say yes. I’d admit that God could have used any number of methods for putting Christ through suffering in order to atone for us. But the O.T. types and prophecies point to a cross. e.g. blood on the lintel and door posts, serpent on the pole, slain lamb at the passover, “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin”, “he was pierced for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities… by his stripes we are healed” “they shall look upon him whom they have pierced”, they have pierced my hands and feet” “cursed is he who is hung on a tree.” In other words, it was going to be bloody, piercing, bruising, and on a tree
    That’s why Christ said “they will crucify me…” As he saw crucifixions taking place, he understood from the OT that that was to be the tool for his death.
    Just like Christ was predicted to be born in Bethlehem, these signs were predicted for Christ’s suffering so that we could verify that it really was our saviour when he came and fulfilled them.

    • Sure! Yet I don’t see how this supports the idea that God caused the cross. Again, foreknowledge is not the same thing as causation, nor does it imply it by necessity. I could go to the future and see you eating a sandwich, but that would not mean that I somehow made you eat the sandwich when that future time actually comes about. I simply foreknow it.

  7. If God didn’t cause the cross to fulfill the prophecies about it in the OT, who did? Did the devil fulfil them or the men who crucified Jesus? God’s foreknowledge is more than just foreknowing. It extends to fulfilling as Is. 46:10 says, “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'”
    There were numerous prophecies fulfilled surrounding Jesus death and resurrection. For reference, this website lists 28 fulfilled just on Crucifixion day.
    It takes more than just foreknowledge to fulfil all of the prophecies concerning Christ. You have to cause it.

    It seems to me that people try to defend God from bloodguiltiness, that He would never directly cause suffering or pain to anyone. Where does it say that in the Bible? How are we to explain the cup of suffering that the Father gave to Jesus to drink on the night he was betrayed?(Matt 26:39)
    He used evil men to do it but God was responsible and controlling the circumstances, even down to the detail of NOT having any bones broken when Jesus died so the prophecy for that would be fulfilled, too.

    To get a little more personal, when I was around 20 I heard teaching about foreknowledge and causation being different. I was actually close to your position, so you might say that I have been there, too. However, as I studied the scriptures, I found that it boldly teaches God’s sovereignty over all creation- the good and the evil – and he does as He pleases. We may not understand how it is justified, but then the Bible reprimands us saying, who are we to question God? ” Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ (Is.45:9). Or “You will say then to me, Why does he yet find fault? For who has resisted his will? No but, O man, who are you that reply against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor?” Then it goes on to talk about “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. (Rom 9:19-22) God has every right to do so since he is God. My response is to bow before him and be thankful that he has had mercy on me though I am selfish, impure, and proud. I am more amazed by the year just how rich His forgiveness is and just how much he really loves us all.

    There is SO much pain and suffering in the world and you wonder how God can stand it and allow it all to happen when he could put a stop to it all in an instant.
    If the pain particularly of persecution is so great down here, imagine the glory and joy which is supposed to outweigh it in heaven. (Matt 5:12)
    “But as it is written: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” I Cor 2:9

    • I am saying that the men who crucified Jesus fulfilled the prophecies. For example, it is prophesied that Jesus would be pierced. Who fulfilled that prophecy? I would answer that the guy who pierced Jesus fulfilled it.

      Isaiah 46:10 does not even clearly state what you are affirming in this discussion. Even if it did, it is not a theological discourse from which we are to derive doctrine about God.

      You wrote, “It takes more than just foreknowledge to fulfil all of the prophecies concerning Christ. You have to cause it.” If you believe that, that’s fine. But claiming that this is the obvious and plain teaching of scripture is simply not true. The matter is not as simple as listing all the prophecies fulfilled and quoting one verse. Throughout history people have always held different views on the relationship between foreknowledge and causation, and it is no different today.

      In fact in recent times, more and more people have a problem with the view you are espousing, namely how God “used” evil men to murder Jesus (he caused it, controlling the so-called “evil” men) and yet considers them responsible for the murder. I’m sure you have your reasons for believing so, but my purpose is not to debate the issue but simply to point out that the issues we are discussing are not as clearcut as you seem to be making them out to be. Quoting some bible verses in support of your thesis will not do, for I could do the same.

      Perhaps you think that I am just trying to understand everything. If that is the case, let me plainly say that I am not afraid of mystery and in fact love mystery! I’m totally fine with not understanding things. I have not ventured on this journey of changing what I believe because I couldn’t handle ideas that didn’t seem reasonable to me. I took a fresh new look at scriptures and came to where I am now. In other words, I did the same as you did. We just ended up with different conclusions. And that’s fine with me 🙂 the truth will win out in the end.

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