Blood Sacrifices? But God Didn’t Even Like Blood Sacrifices!

Blood Sacrifices? But God Didn’t Even Like Blood Sacrifices! March 11, 2016

Koyun ve Koçlar

Continuing my series on theology of the atonement, we continue discussion of the issue of a blood sacrifice.

The other day I noted that if God had demanded the blood sacrifice of a perfect, sinless human, he would not be all that different from Pagan deities who demanded blood to appease them.

Many, of course, find this hard to accept. For those of us who grew up with the Penal Substitution understanding of the atonement, the aspect that God was the agent of causation who demanded Jesus be killed is hard to let go of. I think this is mostly out of fear of having nothing to replace it with, but we’ll get to that in future posts, for those who hang with me through the series. (But I’ll drop an idea to ponder at the end.)

Today, however, I want to continue this exploration of the implications of God demanding a sin-virgin be sacrificed to him.

Mainly, I want to point out the following:

God never even liked blood sacrifices! 

As David recognized in the book of Psalms:

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” Psalm 51:17

Here we see that, regardless of the sacrificial system prescribed by the Law of Moses, God took no delight or pleasure in sacrifices. God didn’t want them. While these sacrifices may have been a useful object lesson to the people, they were not something that he desired. In Hosea 6:6 God reminds his people of this:

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6

Furthermore, in the book of Matthew, we see Jesus confront the religious leaders and he tells them: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13) Thus, Jesus also affirmed that sacrifice was not something God desired.

The book of Hebrews goes on to critique the sacrificial system, arguing that it never even worked, and had absolutely no power to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4&11). The anonymous author also goes on to repeat the fact (by quoting Jesus) saying sacrifices were done according to the Law, even though God did not delight in them (Ch 10 v 8).

Did you catch that? There were parts of Moses’s law that God didn’t like or desire– and sacrifices were one of them. Hebrews 9:14 seems to hint that this may have been allowed by God as a mechanism to “purify our consciences,” but this is because we– not God– have a tendency to need a scapegoat to bear the blame for our own sinfulness.

We are the ones who need to see the shedding of blood, not God.

This is why Jesus freely told people that their sins were forgiven, and that faith had healed them– freely forgiving them without a blood sacrifice.

The author of Hebrews reminds of us of this in Chapter 9 when he/she writes that, “According to the Law, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb 9:22) Not “according to God” but “According to the Law.” There is a difference. In contrast, in Jesus we see that sin can, in fact, be forgiven without the shedding of blood– because he pronounced forgiveness throughout his ministry.

When it came to blood sacrifice, God didn’t like it. God didn’t desire it. God didn’t delight in it– we see that multiple times in Scripture. But for our reasons, we needed it to purify our consciences– thus, the mechanism of scapegoating.

This is perhaps in part why John says that, “The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth were given through Christ.” (John 1:17) Jesus came to present us something better than the Law: truth.

Now, let’s take this one step further. If God didn’t desire or like the sacrifice of animals, how would God feel about sacrificing a human?

Human sacrifice is condemned multiple times in the Old Testament, and at one point it is called an abomination (Deut 12:31) and on another occasion saying such an action profaned the name of God (Lev 18:21).

So here’s where we’re at:

The Penal Substitution metaphor of the atonement necessitates a blood sacrifice be offered to God– but only a sinless one would do, thus Jesus. However, when we look at Scripture, we see that God didn’t even like sacrifices to begin with– God took no pleasure in the system! To compound that, God also detested human sacrifice.

When we combine human sacrifice and the OT sacrificial system, we get Penal Substitution– but we also get something that God appears to detests and takes no delight in.

So if God took absolutely no delight in the sacrificial system, and found human sacrifice to be an abomination, why would he demand a combination of two things he hates?

Thus, there must be better answers. There must be a reason why it pleased God to subject himself to the very thing he detested. 

Maybe one of them is that he wanted to put an end to the entire system of law that demanded such a thing, and knew it would take a drastic scapegoat (aka, the Lamb of God) for us to see how broken and unnecessary such a system was– but that’s just a hint of an answer.

Until the next part of the series!

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  • I think probably what happened is Israel picked up the animal sacrifice thing because, in the ancient Near East, that’s what you did for your gods. Later, theological reflection tried to make sense of it.

  • John

    But I thought the Lamb of God came to take away the sins of the world, not end a system of sacrifice. You are elevating a particular result (end of a sacrificial system) over the intended purpose. Both are fine and not mutually exclusive, but you really have to do more work to squish around the abundance of biblical verses regarding Jesus and his sacrifice for sin.

  • edwardpillar

    Thanks Ben. Spot on. There’s a better way to atone for sin and bring us back into relationship with God… Been reflecting on these questions on my blog also…

  • I’ve never argued that Jesus didn’t function as a sacrifice. The issues I’m getting at is: who demanded he be a sacrifice? whose will was this? I think I’ve shown in the past two posts that it wasn’t God who demanded it happen.

  • Hmm, very interesting angle. And who’s anger was Christ’s death appeasing? God’s or was it our anger that killed Christ? Definitely on to something here Ben!

  • Mark Edward

    The Torah and the prophets say human sacrifices are bad. (Obviously.)

    What do you make of Hebrews, then, specifically presenting Jesus as a sacrifice in the exact same vein — though superior to — the animal sacrifices commanded in the Torah?

    The author of Hebrews doesn’t set out to invalidate ‘blood sacrifices’, but to expose the regularly scheduled program animal blood-sacrifices of animals as inferior to the once-for-all blood-sacrifice of Jesus. Chapter 10’s argument doesn’t seem to be that God repudiated all sacrifices, but that he repudiated repetitious sacrifices instead of the sacrifice-to-end-all-sacrifices:

    Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.

    And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…

    So given that the author takes all the language for animal blood-sacrifices and frames it around Jesus… what do we make of that being, apparently, a human sacrifice?

  • I agree with your conclusions but how do you reconcile Matthew 5:17-19 with Jesus VS the law as mentioned above?

    I found Defek Flood – Healing the Hospel as a helpful resource. Also, The Mertinghouse Podcast: Why did Jesus Die? Series from April 2012.

  • Lots of people quote Hebrews 9:22 to show otherwise, but as I have shown elsewhere (and in my forthcoming book), Hebrews 9:22 teaches the opposite of the idea that God wants or demands blood sacrifice.

  • Yes I’m more personally concerned what Jesus life means then his death. if I try to follow him on my own coin I fail miserably! dying doesn’t stop Jesus from being an immediate present friend and help to me. his encouragement to live like him is a daily thing to me. peeps who know him and feel his presence via the Holy Spirit in their lives can give encouragement to those who don’t know him IMHO. I have a caveat though; the more you live like Jesus, and carry your cross everyday, perhaps it’s more likely you’re going to die like him. the Jesus way is fraught with some terrors.
    Peeps in power didn’t like him and they’re not going to like you! *\]8·0

  • kent

    which lamb was Jesus? was he the goat sacrificed for the people on the day of atonement? (lev 16) or the scapegoat which was sent with the sins of the people out into the wilderness? or the passover lamb? if he was the goat sacrificed for the people on the day of atonement why was jesus killed during passover? it appears according to lev 16 that the blood from the sacrifice was to atone (cover) the alter; not the people…if it was atonement for the people, why were the sins of the people (which were already atoned for) then placed on the head of the scapegoat which was then sent into the wilderness? most would argue that he was the passover lamb, but the passover lamb was not a sin offering. they couldn’t eat the meat of sin offerings, but they were to eat the passover lamb. so, what would john the baptist have meant when he called jesus the lamb of god? some would say that the essenes (assuming john was an essene) didn’t practice animal sacrifice because of their not participating in the temple rituals…so would john have been thinking jesus was a sin offering? or was he thinking about isaiah’s description of the suffering servant (isaiah 53)? The point is that we don’t know what john meant. what we do is go to the bible and find the parts that appear to confirm our theology. thus, our theological lens we read through does not allow us to question the truth; it only confirms the assumptions that we held as truth prior to coming to the bible.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Jesus said he laid his own life down, that no one took it from him. The atonement is thorouglhly Trinitarian, and what Jesus did in his death was shadowed by the OT sacrifices. Of course the reilgious leaders had come to see the means as the end. But no, Jesus had to die to absorb in himself all of the sin and evil of the world, so that we might be forgiven and cleansed of our sins, since we are sinners. So in that sense, Jesus is our substitute, the substitute for the world in that he takes death in order to bring life. Psalm 51 ends with the continuing of animal sacrifices, God even delighting in them, when done with a corresponding heart (Psalm 51:18-19).

    Yes, I guess your interpretation, or the interpretation of some insists that Israel thought God did something he didn’t do, like give Moses the law on Mt Sinai as written down in the Pentateuch. I think the Eastern Orthodox have a better way of understanding the atonement, even of understanding Anselm who really is one of the straw men according to one David Bentley Hart.. I wonder if the New Testament reflects the view that the law was simply a human construct, something of the flesh. It ends up becoming that if practiced apart from God’s intent and will, I would think.

  • I suspect that this was true and the NT writers knew this custom and, as a result, they made Jesus the scapegoat after his messianic mission failed.

  • Al Cruise

    Salvation comes through repentance, always has and always will. “Isa. 30:15.” Repentance means to change in your heart and your way of thinking. Something Jesus taught and demonstrated profusely in his life. Unfortunately change is just to difficult for many. I don’t want to love my dark skinned neighbor. I don’t want to use my wealth to help the marginalized, I want a bigger house , luxury car , exotic vacation, and be able to drink fine wine. It is much easier to believe in some fictional blood sacrifice, then one can have the freedom to bypass their conscience on all those things Jesus embodied.

  • menomanmd

    to your two points/premises upon which you refute penal substitution – 1. Just because God found no pleasure in sacrifice does not mean it was not necessary. One can detest something and still know it must be done. 2. And perhaps God found human sacrifice reprehensible because it placed the human as god – choosing life and death for other. The cross – by Jesus’ own admission – was necessary and in our finitude a mystery. rather than refute the theories one by one, I choose to embrace them all while recognizing none are complete and even combined are not enough to explain the mystery and necessity of the cross. You are throwing away far too much.

  • That doesn’t seem very probable to me, especially since the NT writers considered the mission a success.

    What might have happened is the Greco-Roman theologians who would later get their hands on these Jewish writings made sense of it in that way.

  • Paula Champion Jones

    One of the BEST series I’ve ever read. Thank you. I’ve felt for many years that God could have forgiven us simply by saying,”You’re forgiven,” but that we would never have believed that (since we can’t even forgive ourselves and so seldom forgive others). We needed a powerful metaphor that proved exactly how serious God is about this forgiveness thing. He went to extremes to help us believe, NOT to help him forgive. Christ died FOR US, for our need, not for his.

  • Brandon Roberts

    hmmmmmmm sounds an awful lot like heathen talk *sharpens machete*

  • Brandon Roberts

    yes i’m kidding

  • RonnyTX

    One thing God showed me, as I was being born of God, was that Jesus Christ was on the cross for me, there taking my sins upon himself. And despite my particular churches teaching, I later came to find out, that what Jesus Christ did for me, he also did the same and that for every person. And this done out of love and not because God/Jesus Christ was angry. All comes from love, for God is love. :-)

  • Don B

    Hey, Ben Ben : ) I’ve been catching up on many of the posts you’ve written since early January. Congrats on finishing your dissertation and handing it in for review! You’ve been prolific here in the blog : ) You are a highly gifted writer and thinker. That was really brought home to me again while reading many of the blog posts I had missed. Tracy’s post was heartrending. What people do in the name of religion–not Biblical faith–angers and deeply saddens me. So many of us on here have been abused by religion. The Jesus of the Bible is so antithetical to what we often see practiced in His name. And Franklin Graham’s comments about LGBTQ youth show not only his ignorance of the Bible but his hate and fear of things he doesn’t understand. Had I not been attracted to men–something I didn’t realize until I was around 30– I may very well have been spouting the same things. That frightens me as well. But I’m so thankful to God now –I was kicking and screaming for decades against Him– that He saw fit to allow me to experience the anguish and hatred and fear that my other LGBTQ brothers and sisters do. He has brought me through it. I searched the Scriptures out of true need and desperation. My PC is acting up .

  • Don B

    I’m back lol I thought I had lost the post below. So glad I hadn’t. I was experiencing wrath over it lol Seriously, we can experience wrath against something such as Tracy’s cultic upbringing. And because we are made in God’s image, I do believe He experiences a true, pure wrath over sin. But thankfully, as believers we are not our sin. It is not part of our new DNA. But it is woven deeply into our flesh as Paul says in Romans 7. As far as a blood sacrifice, I’m definitely open to hearing about other views. But I do see Jesus’ death as necessary for us. He was a sinless sacrifice. As a human, He didn’t sin. I think he was perfectly obedient in his humanness, but I also think He had the capacity to sin just as Adam and Eve did. But I think the death He experienced was a spiritual one as well as physical one on the cross. To me that is the death that really counts. Tons of people died on crosses. That in itself shows nothing. But it’s interesting to me that Jesus always called God His Father until at one point on the cross He uttered My God My God why have you forsaken me? Could it be at that point He died spiritually and experienced a horrendous separation from His Father –spiritual death? Then shorty before He took His last breath, He and His Father were once again united when He said Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.

    Ben I love your heart for people and for God : ) Keep asking those questions but also try to rest in Him. It really is truly over. We can do nothing to earn His love nor do anything to lose it. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin because it does not believe in Me. Contrary to the Calvinists, He did pay the price and opened the way for EVERY person to experience eternal life. That life begins the moment ones believes the gospel. But salvation is not universal. We have the choice to believe what God says and did, to believe there is no God, or to place our trust in our own goodness. And ultimately it is all His doing. I live in the Arizona desert. If I were a javelina or coyote, no matter how much I might want to choose Christ, it would not be possible. The fact that we are even able to choose Christ is because He gave us the capacity to do so. Hence, in the end, it’s all Him : )
    Love ya, dude! You rock for Jesus : )
    In His grasp


    I think part of the problem that we have as Protestants is that we tend to view the Cross as the main component of the Atonement. While the Cross was certainly important it shouldn’t come at the expense of the Incarnation; Life of Christ; Resurrection; Ascension and the eventual Second Advent. All of this is the Atonement. The Incarnation=God uniting Himself to us and us to Him. The Life of Christ=living the sinless life and bending of the human will back to God…conquering the hold of sin. Undoing what Adam had done to the human race. The Resurrection=conquering death and assuring eternal life. The Ascension=taking back His rightful place at the right hand of God..advocating for the human race. The Second Advent= the completion of our salvation…the culmination of everything hoped for. The New Heavens & New Earth. Eternity with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


    I think that sacrafice was not originally God’s idea but man’s idea. It was our response to our sin and shame. It is what nearly every civilization did to appease their god(s). It was sort of by reflex maybe? God in His graciousness recognized this and in order to reach us came down to our level. They call this Condescendation (or Accomodation). But in doing so He didn’t leave us there but first purified the practice (no more human sacrafice) and then took us on a journey that eventually led us away from the practice which He fulfilled in Christ. In fact He put an end to many of the ways in which we viewed our approach to God…no more Temple. No more Priest. No more sacrafice. No more meeting God on the mountain (for it is no this mountain or that mountain but worship in spirit & truth). Galatians 3:
    24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
    25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

  • Stuart Blessman

    So God demanded a blood sacrifice of a male virgin…yup. Makes sense.

  • Realist1234

    Ben, as you have quoted from Hebrews to back up your view, I’ll do the same(7:26/27) -“26 Such a high priest truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”

  • I think you’re missing my point. My contention was on who or what demanded such a sacrifice be made.

  • Realist1234

    The answer is God, in the context of Hebrews that I quoted. The writer of Hebrews is clearly saying that in exactly the same way that the OT priests sacrificed lambs etc to God, so Jesus has sacrificed Himself, once and forever, for other people’s sins, ie a substitutionary death. To use your argument, you would have to believe that all the OT sacrifices were to satan. I dont know anyone who believes that.

  • Lynn

    From what I understood, the sacrifice was a way to feed the priests and their families so they could do the psychological and spiritual work of the community. Basically a way to cook the meat.

  • kierkegaard71

    “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” Isn’t Psalm 51 and this Hosea text best understood as a commentary on the futility of sacrificial ritual without contrition? Your interpretation seems like the result of a “woodenly literal” view of the language. Stated as such, “I do not desire sacrifice” equates to “I hate the sacrificial system which I have commanded and I want you to have no part of it”. Don’t we though have to allow for the metaphorical nature of poetry to make its own point – i.e. animal sacrifice without the proper intention of the heart is displeasing to God?

  • np_2007

    Let us also remember the ‘almost’ sacrifices of Abraham (Isaac) (and with Islam, the almost sacrifice of Ishmael). God STOPPED cold Abraham’s hand.

  • Ab Rahman Yaacob

    Yes, God Didn’t Even Like Blood Sacrifices! Even in the Quran its stated that too, the “blood or the flesh of your sacrifice would never reach Allah but your righteousness certainly will reach ME” What is Righteousness and how to reach the status? Read Quran Al Baqarah 2:177.

  • donna elaine

    Another bible verse to add to your list:

    Psalm 50:
    7“Listen, my people, and I will speak;
    I will testify against you, Israel:
    I am God, your God.
    8 I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices
    or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.
    9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
    or of goats from your pens,
    10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
    11 I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the insects in the fields are mine.
    12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
    for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
    13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
    or drink the blood of goats?
    14 “Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
    fulfill your vows to the Most High,
    15 and call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

    #OhThatJehovahAndYaweh #ConfusionRunAmokForMilennia
    #Don’t GetMeStartedWithTheBalaamNonsense

  • apoxbeonyou

    And that theological reflection is the solution to, and cause of, all of our problems :) That and alcohol (of course).