Animal Sacrifices?

I want some feedback on this: What value, if any, did animal sacrifices have prior to the cross? Were they simply a picture meant to cause OT saints to look to a future, ultimate sacrifice? Or was there some limited and temporary atoning force to the blood of sheep and goats?

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29 Responses to Animal Sacrifices?

  1. I’m sure you were expecting someone to bring up this verse, but I’m going to do it anyway… “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb 10:4). I suppose you could argue about how all-encompassing “take away” is supposed to be, but this seems pretty straightforward to me. Couple that with Romans 4 and 5, describing how Abraham was saved through faith, apart from the Law, and I think it becomes pretty dicey to try and scripturally substantiate the idea that it was the sacrifices themselves that did the trick.

    However, I believe the animal sacrifices were way more than just an effective picture. It was the practical means of engaging in saving faith. It’s not like God was placated because of a dead goat; He forgave sins on the basis of the faith of the worshiper. When an Old Testament saint made a sacrifice, it was supposed to be done in faith, acting on the belief that God had provided a means of remission of sins. It was no magical property of the blood; it was the grace of God.

    My opinion (and I have not studied it enough to be able to defend it too hard-core, but it makes a lot of sense to me) is that, while OT sacrifices were foreshadowing the death of Christ, they also served as a picture of what we, sinful human beings, deserved for our iniquity. I believe that when someone would look at a bull which had been slaughtered for sin and now lay burning on the altar, the proper response was to realize, “Wait, this is what I deserve because of my transgression. The only reason I am not in that condition myself is because of the mercy of God. Thank You, Lord, for providing forgiveness…!”

    Basically, I believe that salvation was through faith, but the OT saints engaged in faith through those types and foreshadows before the fulfillment came in Christ. I think of it much like I think of baptism now… it technically is not what saves you, but the Bible is VERY serious about it. IMHO, just like it’s playing with fire to say, “Salvation doesn’t depend on baptism! I’m not going to be baptized,” it was not an option for the OT saints to opt out of the sacrifices in the name of pure faith.

    So I believe OT sacrifices are far more than just a picture, but they do not cleanse sin. I believe forgiveness of sin has always and only been because of the Cross.

  2. Christine says:

    I like Amanda Beattie… and I like her answer. I may not agree with it 100%… but somewhere in the 90’s at least. (Who knows, maybe it is 100.) Anyway… I think the general idea of “a practical means of engaging in saving faith” is brilliant.

    I, too, was going to bring up Hebrews 9 and 10. But she kind of beat me to it. And there’s a lot that I still totally don’t get about these two chapters and their topics. Some of the things said in Hebrews 9 would seem to indicate something significant that the blood of goats and calves and such DID accomplish. In any case, I have nothing profound to say.

    In fact… this whole comment is relatively pointless, isn’t it?

    OK, here’s a random thought that might not make any sense:

    The Exodus… definitely a foreshadow of the New Exodus… when we are all fully brought out of the present evil age and into the new creation and all of that. But… the exodus was definitely more than mere foreshadowing. In fact… it was pretty stinking practical and effective for Israel at the time, wouldn’t you say? I’m not 100% sure how that connects.

    Wow… I might be too tired and spacey to be commenting on a question like this. Maybe, after I sleep again, I will complete forget that I let myself ramble on like this. I can only hope. Then again, I don’t want to be completely clueless as to why y’all look at me like I’m a complete idiot the next time I see you. OK, perhaps selective forgetting is not the answer, eh?

  3. Shawn Blanc says:

    I think of it in terms of a big loan.

    So when Adam sinned he took out a $1,000,000 loan against humanity. It’s gotta get paid off before eternity (or something). Ask any banker and they’ll tell you that if you can’t pay the full amount you owe, they’re willing to take smaller monthly payments.

    The animal sacrifices were like interest only payments. They weren’t paying against the big debt but they were appeasing the total amount due until finally some really rich (read ‘perfect’) guy could pay the whole thing off – Jesus.

  4. lanahartke says:

    I LOVE that Shawn! What a cool analogy!

  5. matthartke says:

    Wow! I didn’t expect this many great replies so quick.

    Amanda, I knew I could count on you to have something brilliant to say in a brilliant way! “the practical means of engaging in saving faith” – Well put!

    The problem I’m looking at, though, is the weight that the OT puts on animal sacrifices and the straightforward way that it attributes “atonement” and “forgiveness” to them (Lev 4:35 and 5:10, for instance). Hebrews 10:4 does seem pretty all-encompassing and straightforward at face value, showing the impossibility that sacrifices could “take away” sins, but then again so does the OT, showing the value of them in incuring forgiveness.

    Shawn, I like the way you put it: sacrifices as interest only payments. I’m of the opinion right now that animal sacrifices could never take away the power of sin and make the sinner perfect (which is why they had to be offered continually, year after year – Heb 10:1), but that they did, when offered in faith, cause God to take a merciful eye on the sinner and forgive them of the individual offense which necessitated the sacrifice. Principally, with the shedding of blood there is forgiveness (Heb 9:22), so it seems a bit extreme, IMO, to say that all of the thousands of sacrifices which God demanded to satisfy His justice were of no real value but to cause the sinner to consider his sin and have faith that there would be a sacrifice of value in the future.

    Side point that kinda relates: I seriously doubt that every saint in the OT had the messianic revelation that, say, Abraham, David and Isaiah had. I think that salvation was by grace through faith back then as it is now, but that they were not required to have the same level of understanding which we do, of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Rightness through faith was (and is) by trusting in the covenant and promises of God as God has revealed it; and that revelation has had varying degrees of clarity in different periods of history, ranging from the terribly vague Adamic covenant, to the complete revelation of the New covenant.

    My only motivation in attributing value to OT sacrifices is that I want to have a consistently literal hermenuetic (that is, grammatico-historical). I don’t want to have a system of interpretation which favors the NT over the OT to the point of superimposing my understanding of one NT verse over the entire OT.

    Let me know what you guys think. I’ve just been seriously thinking of this since last night, so I’m definitely not settled yet.

    Matt

  6. Right; we definitely don’t want to throw out the meaning of OT scripture. But it seems to me like the author of Hebrews is very intentionally interpreting what was really going on. Plus, we also see in the OT that the sacrifices by themselves meant nothing to God. Someone with a dead heart who offered an animal was doing nothing more effective than a really elaborate barbeque.

    Ps 51:16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.
    Am 5:21-22 “I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.”

    Etc., etc., etc.

    I see it very much as a faith and works kind of thing. Like I said in my previous post, I definitely don’t think the sacrifices were meaningless, but I also think they were not in any way responsible for man’s salvation. Faith without works is dead, but works without faith is nothing but filthy rags. Salvation is by faith (someone in the OT gets convicted and believes that Yahweh is God, crying out to Him for mercy), and it is manifested through works (bringing the sacrifices as per the Mosaic Law, which is, unbeknownst to the worshiper, prophesying of Jesus).

    I guess I can’t help but think of it with the classic cheesy analaogy: Joe OT Saint is convicted in his heart that Yahweh is the one true God and that He alone is the One who can save him from his wretchedness. He grabs a goat and starts leading it to the temple. En route, he gets mowed down by a careless chariot driver (crazy Gentile drivers!!) and killed. Does he still go to Hades because he didn’t quite make it to the altar?

  7. Ben Varner says:

    I too have spent quite awhile on this very question, also because of OT promises (Jer. 33:14-18) and prophecies (Isa. 66:15-21; Eze. 40-48; Zech. 14:16-21), specifically concerning the millennium. A temple will be rebuilt (Ps. 51:18; 147:2; Jer. 30:18; 31:4; Eze. 40:4; Amos 9:11; Zech. 6:11-15), and I can’t help but conclude that it will be used in much the same manner as it was in the OT days (Eze. 43:13-27, for example).

    Then there are also the eternal statutes given that I still fumble over (Ex. 12:24; 27:21; 28:43; 29:28; 30:21; 31:17; etc. etc. etc. – cp. Col. 2:16-17). I mostly get tripped up over them because the temple will only be there during the millennium – as soon as the great white throne judgment is completed, there will be no more death, and therefore no more need of animal sacrifices (cp. Rev 21:22). So then during the millennium, is the temple there for the Jews who have not yet come under the new covenant of Jer. 31:31-40, in order that they can come up the mountain (Isa. 2:2-4)? I mean, Heb. 10:1 says that the animal sacrifices made it possible for them to approach, right (even before their consciences were cleansed by the cross of Christ)? The idea that these are only “remembrance sacrifices” seems wrong to me somehow…

    I still think that these animal sacrifices will be made in order for those without resurrected bodies to approach God the Father bodily during the millennium.

    BMV

  8. Ben Varner says:

    “Heb. 10:1 says that the animal sacrifices made it possible for them to approach, right (even before their consciences were cleansed by the cross of Christ)?”

    Perhaps it would be better to say that the animal sacrifices allowed them to approach bodily, and their faith in the coming ultimate sacrifice (Jesus) allowed them to approach spiritually?

  9. Ben Varner says:

    Sorry to post so soon again! I could be proving my ignorance, but what about this:

    death of animal: allowed their bodies to approach
    death of Christ: allowed their spirits to approach
    death of self: allowed their souls to approach

    Eh?

  10. I had a random thought that might contribute… I wonder if we give too little weight to something “just” being a picture of Christ.

    Moses struck the rock (which was “just” a picture of Christ), and it kept him out of the Promised Land…

    That’s it.

  11. Coffee ChriS says:

    Matt,

    This was a great question. I tend to have always thought of it as a picture of Christ. Shawn gave a great analogy. Amanda congratulations on the graduation!

    Ben, you raised so many more questions on the millenium, I am still meditating on your post. Hey, Bro I forgot to thank you for taking the cot! That was greatly appreciated!

  12. Ben Varner says:

    The reason why I brought up the millennium at all was because the way that we see the sacrifices in the OT is how we will see them in the millennial temple. If all they were for in the OT was to cause the people to see the consequences of sin (not a small thing, don’t get me wrong), then in the millennium you may only see them as remembrance sacrifices. But we also know that the sacrifices did actually *do* something. The blood allowed the high priest to enter in to the presence of God the Father – they did not approach without the blood (Heb. 9:7). The blood cleansed their flesh (v.13), but not their consciences (v.9, 14).

    The sacrifices *did* remind the people of sins (10:3), and yes, they could never perfect a person (v.4, 14), but they did purify the flesh (9:13). Unto what? – that they may approach the Father (9:7; 10:1). The priests had to *do* certain things to approach the Father’s glory to keep from dying, simply because of the Father’s holiness (Lev. 10:1-3; 16:1-34), and their faith alone in the coming ultimate sacrifice (Jesus) could not save them from physical death. There were things that they had to *do* to approach, but at Matt said, did they have to have faith in *Jesus as the Lamb* to approach in addition to those works? How much did they understand about the coming Messiah (cp. Luke 24:25-27), the Passover Lamb (cp. Matt. 17:22-23)? Surely Abel understood it differently then did Moses! But one thing remained consistent since the very first sacrifice (Gen. 3:21) – the blood.

    There must be a reason why, in a world full of Jews and Gentiles without resurrected bodies, during the millennial reign of Jesus, when all are commanded to ascend Mount Zion to tabernacle with God yearly, that there is a temple from which Jesus reigns and yet has instituted animal sacrifices as sin offerings in order for the people to be accepted by the Father (Eze. 43:27)…

    BMV

  13. adamhanly says:

    aren’t you saying the answer in your question?

    i think the real question is, were they sympathetic towards the animal that was being sacrificed, or did they see an innocence in the creature they were laying their sins upon?

    If not, then they must have believed there was some sort of atoning power behind the activity, as long it was done according to the law.

    My dad has a cool, yet heartbreaking story considering a goat he sold to a rabbi. My dad was a poor, just barely saved farmer. He had goats, and he had one as a pet, named Sarah. This rabbi comes along, wanting one to use for some sort of Jewish dinner, and he had to do it according to kosher customs. So he wants Sarah, and no other goat, and my dad had to give up sarah. Not only that, my dad had to slit the throat of her, and let her bleed to death, according to the requests of the rabbi.

    So in other words, i think the genuine saints, who felt a pure guilt with their sin, used an animal that had some great significance to them. Like God had towards Jesus… of course not to the same degree that the Father loves Jesus, but at least enough for it to be something of significance to their heart.

  14. Rob Velez says:

    Ben, I don’t think anything could possibly add to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. If there are animal sacrifices in the millenium, wouldn’t that be operating under a different covenant? If not then I my understanding of propitiation is flawed.

    What if the eternal statutes of animal sacrifice were all fulfilled in Christ, meaning they all apply to Him.

  15. Rob Velez says:

    Adam – that story your dad went through clearly mirrors Nathan’s (?) prophesy to David after he slept with Bathsheba and killed her husband!

  16. Ben Varner says:

    Scripture makes it clear that there *will* be animal sacrifices made during the millennial reign of Jesus, but what is more is that Jesus Himself is the one who institutes and enforces them! They will be made in the very temple that He reigns from in Jerusalem. I can’t take Eze. 40-48 symbolically; it must be literal, not spiritual.

    I’m not saying that these animal sacrifices are adding to the cross. I’m not saying that Jesus’ blood wasn’t enough. I’m not even sure how this all works, to be honest – I just consider this safe ground to bounce ideas off other’s heads and hearts!

    What I *am* saying is that I cannot find a Scriptural basis that says that because of the blood of Jesus and my faith in His sacrifice for my sins, that I can now enter in to the presence of the Father, and yet not die physically. So I take that understanding and apply it to the millennial ordinances that all mortals must observe, and I arrive at my conclusion.

    I definitely don’t have it all figured out, and should it be revealed to me that my conclusion is flawed, then I’ll immediately abandon it. I have such a fiery zealousness for truth, that no selfish pride can withstand it’s burning!

    BMV

  17. matthartke says:

    Ben, I love you bro! You do have a zealousness for truth; that’s obvious to all who know you. And yes, this is a safe ground where you can bounce your ideas off others. I don’t think you’re a heretic, bro! Haha!

    You’re right about Ezekiel 40-48 being a difficult passage to exegete. I’m definitely not satisfied with taking the millennial sacrifices symbolically; and neither am I satisfied with saying they’re just sacrament-like ceremonies looking back to the cross as a memorial, when it clearly says they are “sin” offerings meant to atone and incur acceptance from God (Ezek 43:18-27). I’m also uncomfortable with your theory, however, mostly because it necessitates too-rigid a trichotomist view of the nature of man, seperating and compartmentalizing the body from the soul and the soul from the spirit. Once you do this you can come up with some really sketchy, near Platonic conclusions. I would rather take “flesh” in Hebrews 9:13 to be speaking of the whole of mans being. I realize that leaves me in the dark as to what Ezekiel 40-48 really does mean, but that’s where I’m at right now. I’m just not happy with any theory I’ve seen yet.

    Amanda, I’m not in any way trying to say that animal sacrifices were salvific; the redemptive power of the cross is clearly seen to be retroactive in Romans 3:24-26:

    “…Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

    But what I am getting at is that animal sacrifices had a very limited atoning value; and that not in themselves, but simply through the mercy of God according to the forensic system which He had set up to deal with sins (notice that I said “sins” lower case plural, not Sin); which, because of its weekness, in turn necessited an ultimate sacrifice to take away the power of sin itself (the personified “Sin” which Paul often speaks of in his epistles). So, in that sense, they were just to provide a foreshadow of the cross; but that does not mean that they had absolutely no impact themselves. As Christine said in her comment, some of the things said in Hebrews 9 would seem to indicate something significant that the blood of goats and calves and such DID accomplish.

    “But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance…” - Heb 9:7

    “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” – Heb 9:13-14

    “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.’ Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” – Heb 9:19-22

    And look at how clearly the Old Testament connects forgiveness to the blood of bulls and goats:

    “He shall remove all its fat, as the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of the peace offering. Then the priest shall burn it on the altar, according to the offerings made by fire to the Lord. So the priest shall make atonement for his sin that he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him.” – Lev 4:35

    Hebrews 10:4 does not say that sacrifices had no impact in incuring forgiveness from God for the individual offenses for which they were offered, it says that they had no power to actually “take away” those sins; that is, to ontologically remove the power of Sin which made the one who approached a “sinner” by status. Salvation involves so much more than forgiveness. For someone to be “saved” they must be completely delivered from slavery; there must be a change of status from belonging to one master to belonging to another.

    The point of Hebrews 9-10 is that the sacrificial system could not provide this salvation; those sacrifices had to be offered again and again, year after year, because they had no power to deliver the ones offering them from their bondage to sin. As Shawn said so well, they were making interest only payments on their dept, never able to change the dept itself.

    But the principle in Hebrews 9:22 would demand that when someone committed an offense under the old covenant, and then made a sacrifice for that offense in faith, that they would actually be forgiven of that offense, and that they would actually feel forgiven of that offense. This did not make them perfect or change their status as sinners, however; thus the conciousness of sin(s) remained. Yet still, the cross was the ultimate basis by which God was able to “pass over” all of the sins committed previously, and by which Christ was able to deliver OT saints in His “train” and present them to the Father free from the “captivity” of sin.

    I hope that all makes sense. To sum up my whole position: Animal sacrifices could never take away sin, but they could, when offered in faith, incur forgiveness from the Father for the individual offenses for which they were offered. This means of forgiveness could not provide a basis for salvation, however, because it could not deal with the problem which needed forgiving. I think that this is the view which deals most faithfully with every relevant text, giving proportionate weight to each.

    Matt

  18. Rob Velez says:

    This definately has turned out to be quite the conundrum! I am stumped! I just don’t see anything doing with killing animals being of any benefit to me beyond the cross apart from viewing it as evidence of the mystery of God from ages past, a sign of the lamb slain before the foundation of the world. I will be checking back to see if Ben can elaborate more or find another peice to the puzzle

  19. lanahartke says:

    Off the subject, but I like the picture above more than any I think you’ve had so far Bud!

  20. matthartke says:

    Hey thanks mom! Luv ya!

  21. Matt, I’m tracking with you. I’m still not totally sure what I think–and I’m having a very hard time looking at forgiveness of sins (little “s”) without it coming back to reflecting on the cross. But I will continue to think about it, and if we bump into each other at the base sometime, I’d love to chat about it and hash it out.

    Definitely very thought-provoking stuff. Great discussion.

  22. Danny says:

    Bing likes that Amanda brought up Psalm 51:16.

    Bing finds Psalm 51:19 very interesting, and the implications that these sacrifices accomplish something once the prerequisite of a contrite and broken heart and a broken spirit has been satisfied.

    Bing often catches himself wondering whether this is similar to the way that our righteousness is disdained up until the point where we are saved, when our righteousness is recognised. Bing then starts wondering if *that* is actually a valid theological stance to take.

    Bing then gets all hot and bothered and tangled up, and has to sit down and eat a sandwich.

  23. Amanda is really amused that Bing writes in third person. :D

  24. Robert says:

    Interesting thread…I’ll bring up three points and some of it will be repetitve.

    1. There was a real efficacy in the animal sacrifices, yet the benifits they provided were limited. Every animal that was sacrificed could provide only a temporary *covering* for sin and could not actually “Take away sins”

    2. The animal sacrifices were revelational. Through them, God continually taught His people that He is holy and righteous, and His righteousness demanded that all disobediance be punished. When an Israelite sinned, the only way to escape His rightful punishment was by means of a sunstitute, transferring his guilt to something that was innocent. By dying in place of the Israelit, that substitute endured the wrath the worshiper deserved, and God could justly pardon him.

    3. Each sacrifice served to prefigure what Jesus would fully and perfectly accomplish on the Cross. His sacrifice would not just “Cover” our sins — His sacrifice would “Take away” our sins forever.

    If you’re looking for some deeper insight ..maybe you want to check out the book called ” The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross” By leon Morris. In from the 1960’s

  25. Lydia Dodson says:

    So Matthew…..Sermon on the Mount post? When is it coming?

  26. matthartke says:

    Um… Yeah… It’ll come. Just soaking up right now. ;)

    6:19-34 is sooo good! Whenever I’ve looked at the sermon on the mount in the past I’ve spent most of my time in chapter 5… Mostly in the beatitudes… Mostly in the third and fourth beatitudes to be precise. :) But chapters 6 and 7 are amazing too!

  27. lanahartke says:

    um… yeah… haven’t seen much activity from this blog site for a bit. whatup? ;)

  28. bretmavrich says:

    I think the issue is Shadows of Reality verses Reality. Salvation is that which gives us access into the True Sanctuary, God’s very presence. While the Old Testament sacrifices weren’t achieving access to God in fulness, they were keeping the Israelites from being consumed by His Zeal, and keeping the High Priest alive year after year.

    Purification rites: See Heb. 9:23. I think it implies a surface purification that was indeed being accomplished. But God didn’t want surface purity; he wanted people clean at the heart level so they could have actual access.

  29. The animal sacrifices brought forgiveness of sins for the Israelites for one year and that’s why the High Priest then went into the holy of holies once a year for the atonement of his own sins and those of the Israelites. That was commanded by God in the more than 600 commandments in Exodus and Leviticus and what was laid down there must be exactly followed. The animal sacrifices is also a shadow of the real one coming and that is the sacrifice of the Lord Iesous Christ – once and for all and He is now the High Priest and that’s why the Levitical priesthood came to an end.

    I have translated from the Septuagint and published GENESIS, EXODUS, LEVITICUS (Greek-English) – from Greek word to its equivalent English word. I have also published GREEK-ENGLISH (Grammar & Vocabulary), WORDS in THE WILL New Testament, and the translation of the Greek New Testament which is entitled THE WILL New Testament (Greek to English). Anybody interested to see these and other books may visit http://www.lulu.com/arseniajoaquin or just see the snapshot here.

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