|Offerings and Sacrifices |
The Old Testament regulations for offerings and sacrifices are renowned for their many and complicated details, and the overall sacrificial system is quite foreign to our Western culture. Yet one could hardly overestimate the significance of the Old Testament sacrificial system for the theology of the Bible. Even before the revelation to Moses at Sinai, offerings and sacrifices were a key part of the practice of relationship with God from Cain and Abel, to Noah, to the patriarchs, to Jethro the priest of Median, to the ratification of the Mosaic covenant by sacrifice before the tabernacle was built. They remained central to the ritual systems of the tabernacle and the first and second temples and, therefore, to the Old Testament theology of God's "presence" and his relationship to ancient Israel as his "kingdom of priests." When God became present with us by means of the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Old Testament offerings and sacrifices continued to yield much in terms of Jesus as our sacrifice, Jesus as our High Priest, and our Christian commitment and ministry as a sacrifice to God of ourselves and our kingdom labors.
The Old Testament. The Hebrew expression "to present an offering" is a combination of the verb "to present, bring near, offer" (hiqrib) and its cognate noun "offering" (qorban [קֻרְבָּן , קָרְבָּן]). The Hebrew word normally translated "sacrifice" (zebah) does not occur in Leviticus 1-3 until 3:1 in the introduction to the "peace offering" section (see also vv. 3, 6, 9). The term for "offering" continues to be used there (vv. 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 12, 14). Thus, one can say that the peace offering was a particular kind of "offering" that was also a "sacrifice"it involved an animal that was killed and then eaten as part of a communal meal.
In this article the word "offering" will be used as a comprehensive term including both grain and animal offerings. "Sacrifice" will refer only to animal offerings.
Offerings and Sacrifices outsidethe Sanctuary. According to the earthen altar law in Exodus 20:24-26 and the many references to such altars in the early history of Israel as a nation in the land of Canaan, the Lord clearly intended that the Israelites perpetuate the practice of building solitary altars and worshiping at them even after the tabernacle altar existed. These altars and the practice of worship at them were relatively simple compared to that called for in the "sanctuary" (i.e., the tabernacle and later the temple). The sanctuary included a corresponding burnt offering altar but it was also an actual residence of God. The sanctuary system of offerings and sacrifices included the major features of the previously existing external system (i.e., the burnt, grain, drink, and peace offerings at the solitary altars), but the solitary altar system did not include sin and guilt offerings.
Even as early as Genesis 4:3-5 Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the ground and Abel brought one from his flock. The Hebrew term for both offerings in this context is minha, which can be either a general term for "offering, gift, present, tribute" or a specialized term from "grain offering." Some have argued that Cain's offering was rejected precisely because, not being an animal offering, it did not include blood atonement. A better explanation is that the lack of descriptive terms such as "firstfruits" for Cain's offering is conspicuous for its absence in light of the description of Abel's offering as "fat portions" and "firstborn" (Gen 4:3b-4a). Cain's response only made matters progressively worse and may indicate that there was a preexisting problem in Cain's relationship with both God and Abel.
The first reference to "burnt offerings" is Genesis 8:20, where it is said that "Noah built an altar to the Lord, and, taking some off all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it." The word for "sacrifice" (zebah) first occurs in Genesis 31:54 in the covenant-making ceremony between Jacob and Laban: "He [Jacob] offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal" (cf. Gen 46:1). These two terms occur together in Exodus 10:25, where Moses explained to Pharaoh, "You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God."
The first occurrence of the term "peace offering" (seblamim, NIV "fellowship offering") is in Exodus 20:24, where the Lord refers to it along with "burnt offerings" as part of the altar law: "Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you." Finally, all three terms appear together in Exodus 24:4-5 in the ritual for the ratification of the covenant at Mount Sinai: "He [Moses] got up early the next morning and built an [earthen] altar at the foot of the mountain… Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord" (here the NIV translates the apposition "sacrifices, fellowship offerings" simply as "fellowship offerings"; both terms are there in Hebrew).
After the tabernacle had been established the nation continued to offer burnt, grain, drink, and peace offerings on solitary earthen altars as well as on the altar in the tabernacle. In fact, the Lord himself commanded that they build such an altar at Shechem (i.e., Mount Ebal) and offer burnt and peace offerings there as part of the initial covenant ceremony in the land (Deut 27:5-7). At least part of the purpose of this ceremony appears to have been to lay claim to the land that the Lord had promised Abram long before when he first entered the land and built an altar in the same general location, near Shechem (Gen 12:6-7). In some cases such altars and the burnt and/or peace offerings presented on them were a means of calling on the name of the Lord in specific situations (see, e.g., Gideon in Judges 6:24-27, ; the Benjamites in Judges 21:3-4, ; Samuel in 1 Sam 7:8-10, ; David in 2 Sam 24:25, ; and Elijah in 1 Kings 18:23-24, 30, 36-39). In other instances altars on high places were used for communal sacrificial meals before the Lord.
Offerings and Sacrifices inside the Sanctuary. From a literary point of view, the rules for burnt, grain, and peace offerings in Leviticus 1-3 is a unified whole. The repetition of the introductory formula and address to "the sons of Israel" in Leviticus 4:1-2 separates the rules for sin and guilt offerings in Leviticus 4:1-6:7 from those in Leviticus 1-3. This seems to be a literary reflection of the historical reality that before and even after the construction of the tabernacle the burnt offerings (Heb. ola) and peace offerings (Heb. seblam"m or zebah, "sacrifice, " or some combination of the two; see below), and the grain offerings that often came with them (Heb. minha see Lev. 2 and Num 15:1-16), constituted a system of offerings used by the faithful at solitary Yahwistic altars outside the tabernacle (see above).
The burnt offering. The burnt offering could be from the cattle (Lev 1:3-9), the sheep and goats (vv. 10-13), or the birds (vv. 14-17 usually limited to the poor, e.g., Lev 12:8; 14:22). Amid the diversity of different kinds of animal offerings and the many distinctive ways they were offered to the Lord it appears that there was one constant in the presentation of sacrificial animals: the laying on of the hand (or pl. hands if more than one person was involved). The purpose of this act was to identify the offerer with his or her offering and possibly also to designate or consecrate the offering for the purposes of the offering: "He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him" (Lev 1:4). The laying on of the hand did not transfer anything to the offering animal, least of all sin. Only holy things could have contact with the altar. In the scapegoat ritual the high priest was to lay both hands on the animal and confess the sins of the whole congregation in order to expressly transfer the sins to the goat. But in that case the animal was not offered upon the altar but instead sent as far away from the altar as possible (e.g., Lev 16:21-22).
The normal form of blood manipulation for the burnt offering was relatively simple: the priest would "splash it around on the altar" (Lev 1:5). This was not just a way of disposing of the blood, but a way of offering it on the altar. It corresponded to arranging the pieces of the animal's carcass on the altar (Lev 1:8-9).
The offerer normally slaughtered the animal, but the priests placed its various parts on the altar fire (Lev 1:7-9a) "to burn all of it on the altar" as a "burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord" (v. 9b). The basic principle behind the burnt offering was that the whole animal was offered on the altar, that is, with the exception of the hide of the larger animals that had been skinned as part of the slaughtering process (Lev 1:6; 7:8) and "the crop" of the birds "with its contents" (Lev 1:16).
It was the burning of the offering that made it a pleasing aroma to the Lord which, in turn, caused it to arouse a certain kind of response from the Lord. According to Genesis 8:20-22 it was the pleasing aroma of the burning meat that led the Lord to promise that he would never again destroy the earth and mankind as he had done in the flood. The burnt offering was a way of calling on the Lord to pay attention to the needs, requests, and entreaties of his worshipers either independently or in association with the peace offering. It was also a means of expressing worshipful responses to the Lord (Lev 22:18-20) and, along with its accompanying grain offerings, was the staple of the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual festival cycle in the sanctuary (Exod 29:38-45; Num. 28-29 ).
The grain and drink offering. The Hebrew term for "grain offering" is minha, which, as noted above, can also mean generally "gift, present, tribute." In Leviticus (and other sanctuary contexts) it always means "grain offering." The grain offering pericope in Leviticus 2 stands between the burnt and peace offering chapters (Lev. 1 and 3, respectively). This is as it should be since the grain offering was a regular part of a burnt or peace offering along with a prescribed libation (Num 15:1-15).
Like the grain offering, the practice of offering drink offerings (i.e., libations) predates the tabernacle system and continued at other altars even after the tabernacle and temple were available (see above). However, within the sanctuary system they constituted a significant part of the ritual procedures even on a regular daily basis. It was specifically legislated that libations along with grain offerings should normally accompany any burnt or peace offering (Num 15:1-5).
The priest was to offer a part of the grain offering on the burnt offering altar as a "memorial (portion)" to the Lord along with the salt of the covenant (v. 13). If the grain was offered raw then incense was to be added to the memorial portion to lend it an especially pleasing aroma as it burned on the altar (vv. 1-2, 15-16). According to the law of the test of adultery in Numbers 5:11-31 the purpose of the "memorial (portion)" (see v. 26 there) seems to have been to call to mind the reason for the offering in the presence of the Lord. The term itself is directly related to the Hebrew verb meaning "to remember" and in this passage the whole of the grain offering was viewed as literally "an offering of memorial causing remembrance of iniquity" (5:15b; cf. v. 18). The grain offering of jealousy did not include oil or frankincense because it called to mind the accusation of iniquity. The grain offering used as a sin offering was similar (vv. 11-13).
Since the memorial portion was burned on the altar, the whole of the grain offering was to be unleavened with no honey added (Lev 2:11), and the priests were to consume the remainder as unleavened cakes (Lev 6:16-17). The prohibition against leaven and honey is probably best explained by their association with decay through fermentation. The "bread of presence" placed on the table before the Lord in the Holy Place every Sabbath was also conceived of as a "grain offering" (Lev 24:5-9).
Leviticus 2:13 refers to the importance of adding "the salt of the covenant of your God" to every grain offering. This expression occurs in only two other places in the Old Testament: once in reference to the covenant commitment of the Lord to provide for the Aaronic priests (Num 18:19) and once in reference to the covenant commitment to the dynasty of David and his descendants (2 Chron 13:5). The preserving character of salt suggests the enduring nature of the covenant bond between the Lord and his people. The commitment was permanent.
The peace (or fellowship) offering. The peace offering emphasizes the fact that the people of ancient Israel had the opportunity for close communion with the Lord. They could eat the flesh of an animal that had been presented, identified, and consecrated as an offering to the Lord (Lev 3:1-2; 7:11-21). This signified that all was well (i.e., peaceful) in the relationship between the Lord and his people and therefore always came last when offered in a series with other kinds of offerings.
The blood manipulation for a peace offering was normally the same as that for a burnt offering (Lev 3:2b; cf. vv. 8,13 ). However, only the fat parts of the carcass were offered on the altar to be burned "as an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord" (vv. 5, 11, 16). Thus, the fat parts of the carcass became like the whole carcass of the burnt offering and accomplished the same purpose. It is likely that the fat was not to be eaten because it was viewed as a delicacy. For example, according to Deuteronomy 32:13-14 the Lord fed the people the best of the land including, among other things, the "fat" of lambs, rams, goats, and even wheat as well as the "blood" of grapes. The "fat of the kidneys of the wheat" (v. 14) is clearly a play on words for the best of the wheat.
Leviticus 7:11-34 is important to a fuller understanding of the peace offering. Aside from the prohibition against eating blood or fat in verses 22-27, there are two major sections here. The first deals with the various kinds of worship rationale associated with the peace offering (thanksgiving, votive, or freewill) and rules for eating the meat that went to the offerers (vv. 11-21). The second section is about the portions that went to the priests from every peace offering (vv. 28-34): the breast of the "wave offering" (vv. 29-31; the noun derives from the Hebrew verb, "to wave") and the right thigh of the "contribution" to the particular priest who officiated at the offering of the particular peace offering (vv. 32-33). The latter derives from the Hebrew verb "to raise up" and for that reason is called a "heave offering" in some English versions (cf. English "to heave, " meaning to lift, raise up). However, in ritual contexts this verb actually means "to remove" something in order to present it to the Lord (i.e., to set it aside as a special contribution).
These were the standard prebend for the priests (Lev 7:34) and they could be eaten in any clean place (Lev 10:14; i.e., they were "holy, " not "most holy, " contrast the grain offering prebend in vv. 12-13 ). Therefore, not only the priests themselves, but also all who lived in their households and were clean could eat of these portions of the peace offerings, but no common persons of a non-priestly household (Lev 22:10-16). For a common person to eat of these portions would be to violate the sancta, the holy things of the Lord (see the "guilt offering" below).
The sin (or purification) offering. The sin offering was the primary blood atonement offering in the sanctuary system of offerings through which worshipers could receive forgiveness for their sin and deal with the degree to which they might have contaminated the tabernacle. Very detailed rules of blood manipulation were the focal point of this ritual procedure.
Leviticus 4:1-2a sets the sin offering pericope off from Leviticus 1-3. Unlike the previous sections virtually every paragraph in Leviticus 4:1-5:13 either begins or ends with a statement of sin committed and its associated guilt. Leviticus 4:2 states: "Say to the Israelites: ‘When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord's commands…'" Leviticus 4:3 then begins the first of the four major divisions: the sin offering of the priest (4:3-12), the whole congregation (4:13-21), the leader (4:22-26), and the common person (4:27-5:13).
Sin offerings were used on several unique occasions (see, e.g., the consecration of the priests, Exod 29:14, 36; Lev 8:2, 14; the inauguration of altar worship, Lev 9:2-7, 8-11, 15-17). They were also called for on regular occasions monthly (Num 28:15), at various annual festivals, and especially on the annual Day of Atonement (Exod 30:10; Lev 16; Num 29:11). Other specific situations that occurred throughout the year would also require a sin offering (e.g., the cleansing of the woman after childbirth, Lev 12:6-8; the cleansing of irregular unclean discharges, Lev 15:15, 30; in our age the term "sin offering" could be construed to mean that this offering focused on the problem of moral and social sin. In the Old Testament such sins were included as part of the purpose for sin offerings, but the sin offering could also be brought for physical impurities that had nothing to do with moral failure ).
The focal point of the sin offering ritual was blood manipulation and the way it was done was different when it was brought for the priest and whole congregation as opposed to the leader and the common people. For the priests and the whole congregation the priest sprinkled the blood with his finger seven times in front of the veil of the sanctuary (i.e., the tent of meeting inside the tabernacle complex), put some of the blood on the horns of the incense altar inside the Holy Place, and simply poured out the remainder of the blood at the base of the burnt offering altar near the gate of the tabernacle complex (Lev 4:6-7,17-18). In other words, the blood penetrated the tabernacle complex as far as the contamination did (i.e., the "priest" could enter the Holy Place, and the "congregation" included the priests). The blood of the leader and the common Israelite was applied only to the horns of the burnt offering altar (Lev 4:30, 34; 5:9), which was the boundary of penetration for the nonpriestly Israelite into the tabernacle. The principle is that the blood went as far as the particular person or collective group of persons could go and, therefore, decontaminated the tabernacle to that point.
Leviticus 16:29-34 is a summary of the intended effect of the three sin offerings on the Day of Atonement: the scapegoat sin offering cleansed the people from their sins (vv. 29-31), and the slaughtered sin offerings for the priests and the people cleansed the tabernacle from the impurity of their sins (vv. 32-33). Some scholars have argued that the cultic regulations dealt with only cultic infringements, and that the cultic system and the larger everyday community life of the nation were disconnected. However, the scapegoat ritual suggests that this was not the case. On the contrary, the Day of Atonement cleansed both the cultic impurities and the various kinds of iniquities of the people that could defile the tabernacle. The tabernacle holiness and purity emphasized in Leviticus 1-16 and the national holiness and purity which is the primary concern of Leviticus 17-27 were viewed in close relationship to each other—so close that both were dealt with on the Day of Atonement.
The guilt (or reparation) offering. The purpose of the guilt offering was to make atonement for "desecration" of "sancta, " that is, the mishandling of holy (sacred) things by treating them as if they were common rather than holy. For example, according to Leviticus 22:10-16 the holy food gifts were to be eaten by the priests and those in their household, not the common people. To do so would be to "profane" the "holy" gifts (v. 15). However, if a common person ate holy meat mistakenly, then he had to give the same amount back to the priests plus one-fifth as reparation for what he had done. This passage is an instructive parallel to the major guilt offering pericope (i.e., Lev 5:14-6:7).
The guilt offering law begins as follows: "When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the Lord's holy things" (Lev 5:15a). The word "unintentionally" is the same one used in reference to the sin offering. It refers to "straying" or "erring" from the commands of the Lord, in this case, specifically the commands about "the Lord's holy things" (i.e., the things dedicated to the Lord for the tabernacle or priesthood).
The basic idea behind the expression "commits a violation" is that the person has acted unfaithfully against God by violating the boundary between the common and the holy. In this context, therefore, it means "to commit a sacrilege." However, the guilt offering was also brought in cases of violations against the property of other people, not only the Lord's "sancta" (Lev 6:1-7; 19:20-22; Num 5:5-10). Therefore, whether the property belonged to the Lord or to other people, a guilt offering was presented to the Lord to make atonement and the violated property was restored plus one-fifth to the one whose property had been violated (Lev 5:14-16, ; the Lord's property Lev 6:1-7; Num 5:5-10, ; other people's property ). Therefore some scholars refer to this as the "reparation offering." The violator not only brought the offering to the Lord but also made reparation for the property he had violated. In both cases the final result for the one who committed the violation was that it would "be forgiven him" (Lev 5:16, 18; 6:7). Once the reparation had been made it was possible for the offender to make atonement and receive forgiveness from the Lord (vv. 15b and 16b).
The violation in le 5:15 was done "in error" and "known" by the violator. The violation in verses 17-18 was also done "in error" but it was "not known" by the violator. The assumption is that he might come to know his error either through remembering after the fact or being informed by another person that, for example, the meat he had eaten was from the "holy" portion that belonged to a priest and his family. Even though it was done in ignorance (vv. 17-18), if he did indeed come to know about it he was still responsible for bringing a guilt offering to make atonement and obtain forgiveness (vv. 18-19).
A good example of the use of the guilt offering is the ritual procedure for the cleansing of the "leper" (Lev 14:1-20; the term "leper" probably includes any person whose skin showed any kind of infectious blemishes ). After the initial cleansing by special water and the "scapebird" (vv. 1-9), the first standard blood atonement ritual was the guilt offering (vv. 10-18). The point of the guilt offering at the beginning of this series of offerings was to reconsecrate the leper so that he could once again become part of the "kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Exod 19:6) from which he had been expelled and therefore, in a sense, "desecrated" because of his diseased condition (Lev 13:45-46).
The word for guilt offering also occurs in Isaiah 53:10, where it is said of the suffering servant "though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand." How was the suffering servant a guilt offering? The answer is that he was estranged and "desecrated" from the nation as a leper was estranged and desecrated. He suffered this at the hands of and yet also on behalf of the nation in order to make atonement for them before the Lord. In the days of Isaiah the ultimate suffering servant was yet to come, the Lord Jesus Christ. That brings us to the New Testament.
The New Testament. The verb thuo, [θύω , ἐπιθύω] "to slaughter, sacrifice" an animal, is used fourteen times in the New Testament referring to (1) nonsacrificial animals killed (John 10:10; Acts 10:13; 11:7) and prepared for a wedding feast (Matt 22:4) or other kind of celebration (Luke 15:23,27,30); (2) the slaughter of the Passover lamb (Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7; 1 Cor 5:7); and (3) offerings to pagan gods (Acts 14:13, 18; 1 Cor 10:20).
The noun thusia, [θυσία] "sacrifice, offering, act of offering" (cf. the verb above), occurs twenty-nine times referring, for example, to specific Old Testament passages (e.g., Matt 9:13; 12:7), fulfillment of Old Testament sacrificial regulations (Luke 2:24) or festival celebrations (1 Cor 10:18), and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Eph 5:2). Prosphora [προσφορά], "offering, sacrifice, gift; act of offering; grain offering" (9 occurrences; cf. the verb prosphero [προσφορά], "to offer, present"), refers to Christ's presentation of himself to God as an offering (Eph 5:2, ; Heb 10:10, 14) and the Old Testament offerings (Heb 10:5,8). The term doron [δῶρον], "gift, " occurs nineteen times in the New Testament; sixteen of those times it refers to sacrificial gifts or offerings to God.
Jesus Christ and the Old Testament Sacrificial System. During his incarnation Jesus explicitly honored the Mosaic sacrificial system (Matt 8:4; Mark 1:44; Luke 5:14; 17:14). He lived as a Jew and encouraged others to also keep every "smallest letter" and "least stroke of a pen" (Matt 5:18). However, he was also in continuity with the Old Testament prophetic critique of the cult. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus suggested that the relationship with one's brother needed to be resolved before presenting offerings in the temple (Matt 5:23-24). He also expressed frustration with loopholes in the present priestly system whereby one could violate other Old Testament laws (e.g., the requirement to honor one's parents by taking care of them) by substituting the cultic piety of making offerings to the Lord (Matt 15:5; Mark 7:11, ; the well-known "corban" passage ).
Another dimension of the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament sacrificial system is his own personal identification with different aspects of the system. There are two aspects of this: Jesus as our High Priest and Jesus as the sacrificial victim offered to God on the altar. It is important to remember that the New Testament offers a metaphorical application of the categories of the Old Testament system of offerings and sacrifices to Jesus in order to explain and illustrate the various ways in which his death on the cross was beneficial to us. Jesus was not literally slaughtered at the burnt offering altar, his blood was not applied there, and his body was not burned there. Nevertheless, the different kinds of offerings and sacrifices serve as metaphors to illustrate the various purposes and complete efficacy of Jesus' death on the cross.
Jesus as our "Passover sacrifice." There are many possible references to Jesus as a Passover sacrifice in the New Testament. However, the most certain of them all is in the exhortation to purity in 1 Corinthians 5:7, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." In the context Paul uses this to rebuke the Corinthians for not removing an evil man from their church fellowship. The Passover sacrifice was associated with the removal of leaven from every Jewish household (see Exod 12:15-20; and cf. Mishnah Pesahim 1-3 ). Therefore, the leaven image could be used to refer to the polluting effect of one evil person in the midst of the congregation. Since Christ has already been sacrificed it was certainly time now to get rid of the leaven.
Jesus as our suffering servant "guilt offering." When John the Baptist said "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), it is not certain whether he was referring to Jesus as the Passover lamb or as the suffering servant of the Lord mentioned in Isaiah 53:7b, "he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." The Passover lamb option has been favored by some but the general consensus is that it refers to Isaiah 53:7.
Jesus as our new covenant ratification "peace offering." According to lu 22:1-23, the "last supper" of Jesus was a Passover meal. Toward the end of that meal Jesus created a new ritual on the foundation of the Passover ritual. The new ritual is the basis of the ordinance that we have now come to call "Communion, " the "Eucharist, " the "Last Supper, " or the "Lord's Supper." As is well known it includes Jesus words over the bread (Luke 22:19) and the cup (Luke 22:20). Both elements were part of the underlying Passover ritual, but Jesus referred to the bread as his own "body" and the cup as his own "blood."
Jesus referred to the cup as "the new covenant in my blood." The similarity to Moses' statement in Exodus 24:8 that "this is the blood of the covenant" makes it inconceivable that the apostles would have failed to connect Jesus' words with the covenant ratification ritual back in Exodus 24. In this case, however, the blood was for the ratification of the new covenant, which of course recalls Jeremiah 31:31-37 (see esp. v. 31).
Jesus as our "sin offering." The Old Testament word for "sin offering" can also mean "sin." According to the NIV translation of Romans 8:3, God sent his Son "in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering" but marginal option is "in likeness of sinful man, for sin, " which reflects the fact that the Greek text has only the word "sin." This translation problem appears again in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul writes, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us." In this case the NIV translation decision is reversed from that in Romans 8:3 because here the marginal option is "to be a sin offering for us." The important question is, did Christ become "sin" or did he become a "sin offering" for us? From an Old Testament cultic perspective the translation "sin offering" might make more sense in these passages.
It is the sin offering rationale that is at the foundation of atonement, redemption, forgiveness, and purification terminology and concepts in the New Testament. For example, according to Romans 3:24b-25a, we are justified before God "through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood." It will be recalled that the offering with which atonement was most associated was the sin offering. Moreover, the sin offering blood atonement was foundational to Old Testament forgiveness.
In the New Testament the connection between redemption or atonement and forgiveness of sins is also explicit. For example, in its context the reference to Jesus as "the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2) is a continuation of the argument that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
The sacrifice of Jesus and the whole Old Testament sacrificial system. Hebrews 9-10 opens with a summary of the Old Testament sanctuary system, beginning with a description of the sanctuary itself and ending with the distinction between the sacrifices that were offered throughout the year versus the Day of Atonement. The background is the quotation of the new covenant passage from Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8, to which the writer will return in Hebrews 10:16-17. In the meantime Hebrews 9:1-10:15 is devoted to a comparison between: (1) the Old Testament sacrificial system in general versus the sacrifice of Christ (Heb 9:8-14), (2) the Old Testament covenant ratification sacrifice (Exod 24:5-8) versus the new covenant sacrifice of Christ (Heb 9:15-20; see above ), (3) the cleansing of the Old Testament tabernacle with blood (Exod 29:10-14; Lev 8:15; Num 7:1) versus the blood of Christ cleansing the heavenly tabernacle (Heb 9:21-24), and (4) the Old Testament Day of Atonement (Lev. 16) versus the sacrifice of Christ (Heb 9:25-10:14).
With regard to the sacrificial system in general, the writer begins by saying that, since even the high priest could only enter the most holy place once a year (9:7), therefore, "The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing" (9:8). The first reason for this is that the Old Testament gifts and sacrifices "were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper" (9:9b). This stands in contrast to the sacrifice of Christ our High Priest. The Old Testament sacrifices accomplished only the "cleansing of the flesh" (v. 13, NASB) whereas the blood of Christ cleansed the "conscience" (v. 14).
With regard to covenant ratification, since Christ's sacrifice was better than the sacrifices that ratified the covenant at Sinai (vv. 18-20), the covenant ratified by his sacrifice was a better covenant (i.e., the new covenant, v. 15). Moreover, regarding the use of blood to cleanse the tabernacle (Heb 9:21-24), it is well known that this was the essential purpose of the sin offering in the Old Testament sacrificial system. However, there is no mention of sprinkling the whole "tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies" (Heb 9:21) with blood on that day.
The final section of the writer's excursus on the Old Testament sacrificial system is the most extended of the four (Heb 9:25-10:15). In it he recalls that the Old Testament sacrifices could not remove the "conscience of sins" (10:2). Instead, those sacrifices were "an annual reminder of sins" (10:3). Thus, he brings his earlier argument with regard to the level of cleansing accomplished by the Old Testament sacrifices (i.e., they only worked on the level of the flesh) into his discussion of the temporal limitations of the cleansing accomplished by the Old Testament sacrifices. Even the annual Day of Atonement sacrifices only accomplished cleansing for one year (9:25-10:4), much less the regular offerings, which were even more limited since they had to be offered time after time throughout the year (10:10-11).
It is important to recognize that the difference in sacrificial efficacy corresponds to the difference between the two covenants to which the sacrifices were relate. In the old covenant the law was written on tablets of stone, but in the new covenant it was written on the tablets of human hearts (2 Cor 3:3). No law, not even God's law, can change the heart (i.e., cleanse the conscience) of a person unless it is somehow written on the heart of the person. The new covenant functions on this very level by the power of the Holy Spirit who works in the human heart. He applies the law, including the sacrificial law, to the heart (conscience) of the person who trusts in Christ by faith. He thereby transforms their heart and with it their life.
The Christian and the Old Testament sacrificial system. The fact that the Old Testament sacrifices and the New Testament sacrifice of Christ functioned on altogether different levels is reflected also in the fact that Paul was willing to continue to offer temple sacrifices long after he had become a Christian. In fact, he even paid for other Jewish Christians to do the same thing and thereby encouraged the practice (Acts 21:23-26). This suggests that, although he did not see himself or any other Jewish or Gentile Christian as being under the law, nevertheless, the apostle Paul did indeed view the Old Testament sacrificial system as a legitimate means of expressing piety and worship for first-century Jewish believers. This, of course, ended with the destruction of the temple in a.d. 70, but by that time Paul was also off the scene.
In the meantime, Paul also used the Old Testament sacrificial laws as a metaphorical foundation for teaching Christian life principles and practices. The foundation for this metaphorical shift was already laid in the Old Testament, where we find such statements as, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17). Therefore, in view of the multitude of mercies that God has shown to us, the apostle Paul urges Christians to "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Rom 12:1, ; NASB ). To live as a sacrifice involves several things. For Paul it meant that he was willing to be "poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service" of those whom he led to the Lord (Php 2:17). Sometimes this required suffering. Paul was no stranger to it and the apostle Peter used the example of Jesus as the suffering servant to encourage Christians to be willing to suffer patiently for Christ (1 Peter 2:18-25).
Other New Testament metaphorical applications of sacrificial law to the Christian life focus on the service and worship we can offer to God. For example, Paul viewed the fruit of his ministry to the Gentiles as "an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 15:16b). Finally, the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to "continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name" and "to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased" (13:15-16). In a sense, therefore, just as Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament sacrificial laws, in a similar way we can fulfill them by living like Jesus lived.
Richard E. Averbeck
See also Altar; Atonement; Death of Christ; Lamb, Lamb of God; Leviticus, Theology of; Lord's Supper, the; Priest, Priesthood; Spirituality; Tabernacle; Temple
Bibliography. G. A. Anderson, ABD, 5:870-86; C. Brown, NIDNTT, 3:415-38; P. J. Budd, The World of Ancient Israel; W. W. Hallo, The Book of the People; M. Haran, Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel; J. Henninger, The Encyclopedia of Religion, 12:544-57; P. P. Jenson, Graded Holiness: A Key to the Priestly Conception of the World; H. J. Klauck, ABD, 5:886-91; I. Knohl, The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School; J. Gordon McConville, Law and Theology in Deuteronomy; J. Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16; idem, Numbers; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 2:415-56; G. J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus; D. P. Wright, The Disposal of Impurity.