The Christian “think tank” Barna Group recently conducted a poll of Americans not brought up in institutional Christianity. They were trying to identify why Christianity was in decline in Europe and now in the USA, especially among young people. One of the questions asked was, “What about Christianity disturbs you the most or prevents you from becoming Christian?” Over 70% answered back saying the church doctrine on the “Sacrificial Atonement of Christ”. The idea that humanity is “fallen” and so miserably sinful by nature, that the only way God could offer salvation from this ugly situation was to perform a human sacrifice with his “Son” is disturbing to many today. In addition, people feel the idea of God participating in any way with a “human sacrifice” diminishes the sovereignty and morality of God.
Other world religions view humanity and God in a much more positive light. Religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and modern Judaism see humankind as being far from perfect and capable of huge mistakes in judgment, but fundamentally good in essence. These religions attribute the negative tendencies of humanity to ignorance, an overindulgence in the material aspects of life, species arrogance, pride (ego), and separation from direct communion with God. The counter against sin is the education into the spiritual lifestyle taught by Yeshua. Indeed Yeshua taught of two different ways that people could be relieved of the burden of sin, and neither involved a sacrifice (which we will consider in a future post).
Yeshua did not teach anything that resembled the Christian doctrine of substitutional atonement or expiation of the sins of mankind through the blood sacrifice of a crucified messiah (or for that matter even a sacrificial animal).
Yeshua, as well as other Galilean and Northern Israeli spiritual masters were in direct opposition to the Jerusalem Temple Sadducees. They embraced the overwhelming opinion of the Jewish prophets, that sin offerings and blood sacrifices were not the means whereby sinners were forgiven, justified, or rendered righteous before God.
The consensus attitude of Israel’s literary prophets towards animal sacrifice indicated that it has no place whatever in the worship of God.
Hosea 6:5- 6, This is why I have cut them to pieces by the prophets, slaughtered them with the words from my mouth, the judgment on you shines out like light. For what I desire is mercy, not sacrifices, knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
Amos 5:21-24, I take no pleasure in your solemn assemblies. If you offer me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; nor will I consider the peace offerings of your stall-fed cattle. Spare me the noise of your songs! I don’t want to hear the strumming of your lutes! Instead, let justice well up like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Isaiah 1: 11-15, “Why are all those sacrifices offered to me?” asks ADONAI. “I’m fed up with burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened animals! I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs and goats! Yes, you come to appear in my presence; but who asked you to do this, to trample through my courtyards? Stop bringing worthless grain offerings! They are like disgusting incense to me! When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; no matter how much you pray, I won’t be listening; because your hands are covered with blood.”
1 Sam 15:22, To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to YHWH than sacrifice.
Jeremiah takes the same tone in his book. He, like Amos, is expressing his scorn for burnt offerings and other slaughtered oblations and goes so far as to deny that God commanded the Israelites concerning these sacrifices when they left Egypt.
Jeremiah 6:19-20, Hear, oh earth! I am going to bring disaster on this people; it is the consequence of their own way of thinking; for they pay no attention to my words; and as for my Torah, they reject it. What do I care about incense from Sh’va or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are unacceptable, your sacrifices don’t please me.”
Jeremiah 7:19-26, Thus says Adonai Tzva’ot, the God of Isra’el: “You may as well eat the meat of your burnt offerings along with that of your sacrifices. For I didn’t speak to your ancestors or give them orders concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. Rather, what I did order them was this: ‘Pay attention to what I say. Then I will be your God, and you will be my people. In everything, live according to the way that I order you, so that things will go well for you.’ But they neither listened nor paid attention, but lived according to their own plans, in the stubbornness of their evil hearts, thus going backward and not forward. You have done this from the day your ancestors came out of Egypt until today. Even though I sent you all my servants the prophets, sending them time after time, they would not listen or pay attention to me, but stiffened their necks; they did worse than their ancestors.
Likewise, Deutero-Isaiah suggests the utter inadequacy of blood sacrifices as well.
Isaiah 40: 16, The L’vanon would not suffice for fuel or its animals be enough for burnt offerings.
Lastly, the prophet Micah’s rejection of sacrificial worship has become the classical definition of ethical monotheism. More importantly it even mentions and thoroughly rejects human sacrifice. Strangely enough, the human mentioned for sacrifice is a firstborn son.
Micah 6:6-9, With what can I come before ADONAI to bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with burnt offerings? with calves in their first year? Would ADONAI take delight in thousands of rams with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Could I give my firstborn son to pay for my crimes, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? “Human being, you have already been told what is good, what ADONAI demands of you — no more than to act justly, love grace and walk in purity with your God”.
These are just a few examples of prophetic opinion on blood sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. The idea that Yeshua was a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins is a errant Christian extrapolation of Jewish Temple worship, to which Yeshua was opposed.
As Albert Schweitzer wrote about over 100 years ago, Yeshua willingly went to the cross, not as a sacrificial offering. He thought that his death would help bring about his growing Kingdom of God.