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Human Sacrifice in the Bible (2 of 2)

Last time, we looked at Bible verses both for and against human sacrifice in the Old Testament. Now, let’s turn to the New.

Things improve in the New Testament … right?

Sacrifice remains important in the New Testament. Everyone knows that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). The most popular verse in the Bible for many Christians acknowledges that. John 3:16 begins, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” And by “gave,” of course, they mean that Jesus was a human sacrifice to God.

Christians will reject human sacrifice to the Canaanite gods Moloch and Chemosh as barbaric and pointless, but apparently the human sacrifice to their Bronze Age god actually worked.

James Dobson celebrated one Father’s Day by likening the crucifixion to, not a barbaric act of cruelty, but “God’s greatest example of true fatherhood.” He said, “Look to the cross of Jesus Christ and be reminded of what fatherhood is all about.” Yeah, that makes sense—have a pretend sacrifice of yourself to satisfy your justified rage. Human sacrifice is always a good Father’s Day message.

But does the sacrifice of Jesus work, even within a biblical context? Jewish sacrifices must be burned. How can the mojo of the dead animal or person get to heaven (in rising smoke) without the offering fire? Ephesians even says, “[Jesus] gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). Sure, Jesus may have eliminated the need for further sacrifices, but if his sacrifice is necessary, then it must have been carried out the old-fashioned way.

Further, Jewish sacrifices must be perfect. God demands the best, and Jesus after his beating was hardly an umblemished sacrifice. But, I suppose God makes his own rules. Or it’s a mystery. Or something.

In response to the statement, “Jesus died for you,” I’m tempted to note that the 9/11 hijackers died for me, too. Maybe we should look to something besides human sacrifices to solve our problems.

But is a sacrifice even necessary?

The Bible both demands human sacrifice and prohibits it, and God demanded the sacrifice of Jesus just like any other Bronze Age god. But the craziest part is that all this isn’t even necessary. All the flabby rationalizations apologists cobble together to show why God must have a sacrifice and can’t just forgive like you and I do are unnecessary because he can forgive like we do.

When God makes a new covenant with his people in Jeremiah 31, he says,

I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jer. 31:33–4).

In a sunny frame of mind on another day, God says something similar:

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more (Is. 43:25).

And we see the line from Jeremiah repeated in the New Testament in Hebrews 8:12. What’s all this about how God’s infinite justice would be infinitely offended if even a little sin wasn’t atoned for with blood?

God seems to be a decent guy—he just forgives. The Christian story looks a bit better now, and we can forget the idea of the sacrifice of Jesus and its house-of-cards justification.

When I hear from people that religion doesn’t hurt anything, I say, really?
Well besides wars, the Crusades, the Inquisitions,
9-11, ethnic cleansing, the suppression of women,
the suppression of homosexuals, fatwas, honor killings,
suicide bombings, arranged marriages to minors, human sacrifice,
burning witches, and systematic sex with children, I have a few little quibbles.
And I forgot blowing up girl schools in Afghanistan.
— Bill Maher

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker

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