There are various atonement theories of Jesus’ death on the cross for mankind. The most popular seems to be what is known as the Penal Substitution theory of Calvinism which asserts that Jesus appeased God’s wrath towards us by His blood as God took out the wrath we deserve on Christ (penal substitution) or that Jesus paid the debt we owed for our sins TO God in a similar way. In both of these theories Satan isn’t the problem, nor is he really dealt with, but God and His anger toward us is the problem.
The problems with these theories are too numerous to list in this article. For now we will be looking solely at what the Bible says about sacrifice, and if they ever had any effect on appeasing His anger or if God even required them. In this article we will allow Scripture to speak for itself only providing verses on sacrifices and highlighting important parts of the text:
22 For I spoke not to your fathers, and commanded them not in the day wherein I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, concerning whole-burnt-offerings and sacrifice: 23 but I commanded them this thing, saying, Hear ye my voice, and I will be to you a God, and ye shall be to me a people: and walk ye in all my ways which I shall command you, that it may be well with you. (Jeremiah 7:22-23)
10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodoma; attend to the law of God, thou people of Gomorrha. 11 Of what [value] to me is the abundance of your sacrifices? saith the Lord: I am full of whole-burnt-offerings of rams; and I delight not in the fat of lambs, and the blood of bulls and goats: 12 neither shall ye come [with these] to appear before me; for who has required these things at your hands? Ye shall no more tread my court. 13 Though ye bring fine flour, [it is] vain; incense is an abomination to me; I cannot bear your new moons, and your Sabbaths, and the great day; 14 [your] fasting, and rest from work, your new moons also, and your feasts my soul hates: ye have become loathsome to me; I will no more pardon your sins. 15 When ye stretch forth your hands, I will turn away mine eyes from you: and though ye make many supplications, I will not hearken to you; for your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash you, be clean; remove your iniquities from your souls before mine eyes; cease from your iniquities; 17 learn to do well; diligently seek judgement, deliver him that is suffering wrong, plead for the orphan, and obtain justice for the widow. (Isaiah 1:10-17)
22 And Samuel said, Does the Lord take pleasure in whole-burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as obeying the words of the Lord? behold, obedience [is] better than sacrifice, and hearkening than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)
16 (50:16) For if thou desiredst sacrifice, I would have given [it]: thou wilt not take pleasure in whole-burnt-offerings. 17 (50:17) Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit: a broken and humbled heart God will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)
(6:7) For I will [have] mercy rather than sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than whole-burnt-offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
To do justly and to speak truth, are more pleasing to God than the blood of sacrifices. (Proverbs 21:3)
6 Wherewithal shall I reach the Lord, [and] lay hold of my God most high? shall I reach him by whole-burnt-offerings, by calves of a year old? 7 Will the Lord accept thousands of rams, or ten thousands of fat goats? should I give my first-born for ungodliness, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 Has it [not] been told thee, O man, what [is] good? or what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, and love mercy, and be ready to walk with the Lord thy God? (Micah 6:6-8)
7 (49:7) Hear, my people, and I will speak to thee, O Israel: and I will testify to thee: I am God, thy God. 8 (49:8) I will not reprove thee on account of thy sacrifices; for thy whole-burnt-offerings are before me continually. 9 (49:9) I will take no bullocks out of thine house, nor he-goats out of thy flocks. 10 (49:10) For all the wild beasts of the thicket are mine, the cattle on the mountains, and oxen. 11 (49:11) I know all the birds of the sky; and the beauty of the field is mine. 12 (49:12) If I should be hungry, I will not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness of it. 13 (49:13) Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? 14 (49:14) Offer to God the sacrifice of praise; and pay thy vows to the Most High. (Psalm 50:7-14)
6 Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and [sacrifice] for sin thou didst not require. 7 Then I said, Behold, I come: in the volume of the book it is written concerning me, 8 I desired to do thy will, O my God, and thy law in the midst of mine heart. (Psalm 40:6-10)
5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 6 In burnt offerings and [sacrifices] for sin thou hast had no pleasure. 7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. (Hebrew 10:5-7)
23 Thou hast not brought me the sheep of thy whole-burnt-offering; neither hast thou glorified me with thy sacrifices.I have not caused thee to serve with sacrifices, neither have I wearied thee with frankincense. 24 Neither hast thou purchased for me victims for silver, neither have I desired the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou didst stand before me in thy sins, and in thine iniquities. 25 I, [even] I, am he that blots out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and thy sins; and I will not remember [them]. 26 But do thou remember, and let us plead [together]: do thou first confess thy transgressions, that thou mayest be justified. (Isaiah 43:23-26)
42 So God turned away from them and gave them over to worship the heavenly bodies. As it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘O house of Israel, you didn’t offer me slaughtered animals and sacrifices those 40 years in the wilderness, did you? 43 You even took along the tent of Moloch, the star of your god Rephan, and the images you made in order to worship them. So I will take you into exile as far as Babylon.’ 44 “Our ancestors had the Tent of Testimony in the wilderness constructed, just as the one who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors brought it here with Joshua when they replaced the nations that God drove out in front of our ancestors, and it was here until the time of David. 46 He found favor with God and asked to design a dwelling for the house of Jacob, 47 but it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 However, the Most High does not live in buildings made by human hands. As the prophet says, 49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house can you build for me,’ declares the Lord, “or what place is there in which I can rest? 50 It was my hand that made all these things, wasn’t it?’” 51 “You stubborn people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. (Acts 7:42-51)
Note that Stephen quotes both Amos 5 and Isaiah 66 to the Pharisees:
21 “I hate—I despise—your feast days, and your solemn convocations stink. 22 And if you send up burnt offerings to me as well as your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I consider your peace offerings of fattened cattle. 23 Spare me your noisy singing— I will not listen to your musical instruments. 24 “But let justice roll on like many waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing river. 25 “Was it to me that you brought offerings and gifts in the desert for 40 years, house of Israel? 26 And you carried the tent of your king— and Saturn, your star god idols that you crafted for yourselves. 27 So I will cause you to be taken captive beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is God of the Heavenly Armies. (Amos 5:21-27)
1 Thus saith the Lord, Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what kind of a house will ye build me? and of what kind [is to be] the place of my rest? 2 For all these things are mine, saith the Lord: and to whom will I have respect, but to the humble and meek, and the [man] that trembles [at] my words? 3 But the transgressor that sacrifices a calf to me, is as he that kills a dog; and he that offers fine flour, as [one that offers] swine’s blood; he that gives frankincense for a memorial, is as a blasphemer.Yet they have chosen their own ways, and their soul has delighted in their abominations. 4 I also will choose their mockeries, and will recompense their sins upon them; because I called them, and they did not hearken to me; I spoke, and they heard not: and they did evil before me, and chose the things wherein I delighted not. (Isaiah 66:1-4)
13 For if they should offer a sacrifice, and eat flesh, the lord will not accept them: now will he remember their iniquities, and will take vengeance on their sins: they have returned to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean things among the Assyrians. (Hosea 8:13)
18 Consider Israel, according to the flesh. Are not those who eat from the sacrifices partakers of the altar? 19 What is next? Should I say that what is immolated to idols is anything? Or that the idol is anything? 20 But the things that the heathens immolate, they immolate to demons, and not to God. And I do not want you to become partakers with demons. We must not make the Lord’s table the table of devils 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons. You cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and partakers of the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:18-21)
Verse 20 reads “Gentiles” in the KJV:
20 But [I say], that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
And “Nations” in the Apostolic Bible Polyglot:
20 But that which [sacrifice the nations], [to demons they sacrifice], and not to God; [I do not want but] you [partners of the demons to become].
Israel was often called gentiles or nations as well, thus the ISV removes the word from the verse because it is clearly stating that Israel sacrifices not to God but to demons!
20 Hardly! What they offer, they offer to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to become partners with demons. (ISV 2.0)
Paul is referencing Deuteronomy 32:17:
17 They sacrificed to devils, and not to God; to gods whom they knew not: new and fresh [gods] came in, whom their fathers knew not. (Deuteronomy 32:17)
Sacrificial blood could not obtain forgiveness for sins:
4 For [it is] not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)
11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:11)
5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 6 In burnt offerings and [sacrifices] for sin thou hast had no pleasure. 7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. (Hebrews 10:5-7)
True Sacrifices God desired
True sacrifice to God had nothing to do with the blood of an animal. We can see this in other verses throughout the Bible. Perhaps Jesus was a sacrifice and one for us, but not because He was a propitiation for a wrathful God. Jesus was a sacrifice of love, to free us from sin, and it’s consequence death. We partake of His death and resurrection if we follow Him and have faith in His victory over death:
15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of [our] lips giving thanks to his name. 16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:15-16)
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
The NIV reads: “this is your true and proper worship.”
The Aramaic Bible in Plain English reads: “holy and acceptable to God by a logical service.”
2 Bring a prepared speech with you as you return to the Lord. Say to him: ‘Take away all our iniquity, and accept what is good. Then we will present the fruit of our lips. (Hosea 14:2)
Let my prayer be like incense offered before you, and my uplifted hands like the evening sacrifice. (Psalm 141:2)
8 When the lamb had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders bowed down in front of him. Each held a harp and a gold bowl full of incense, the prayers of the saints. (Revelation 5:8)
Watch your step whenever you visit God’s house, and come more ready to listen than to offer a fool’s sacrifice, since fools never think they’re doing evil. (Eccelsiastes 5:1)
To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3)
For it is love that I seek, and not sacrifice; knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
Yet even if I am being poured out like an offering as part of the sacrifice and service I offer for your faith , I rejoice, and I share my joy with all of you. (Philippians 2:17)
5 For this reason, the Scriptures say, when the Messiah was about to come into the world: “You did not want sacrifices and offerings, but you prepared a body for me. 6 In burnt offerings and sin offerings you never took delight. 7 Then I said, ‘See, I have come to do your will, O God’ In the volume of the scroll this is written about me.” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
Early Church Fathers on Sacrifice:
And that you may learn that it was for the sins of your own nation, and for their idolatries and not because there was any necessity for such sacrifices, that they were likewise commanded. -Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.206
As, then, circumcision began with Abraham, and the Sabbath and sacrifices and offerings and feasts with Moses, and it has been proved they were given on account of the hardness of your people’s heart, so it was necessary, in accordance with the Father’s will, that they should have an end in Him who was born of a virgin. -Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.216.
It is up to the reader to take what they wish from these verses and the Church fathers. The point, however, in this short article is to hopefully get others to think and study further into why Jesus died for us. I was not to appease God as if He were some pagan deity, but to reconcile our wrong ways of doing things and to defeat death. Perhaps we should live as Christ as opposed to thinking that He paid it all and we are free to sin it up. Just maybe we are meant to truly take up our cross and live as sacrifices for God just as He did.