Wednesday, May 04, 2005

What God Sacrificed And I Gained Series: Blood Sacrifice and Atonement

The Westminster Larger Catechism tell us in Question 2 tells us that while there is understanding about God in both our nature and by observing creation, our salvation from sin is not understood completely without the work of the Holy Spirit and the message of the scripture. The gospel message can not be understood without the special revelation of God. Some cultures may have the idea of the atonement as a cultural feature which can be illuminated by scripture. If the feature does not exist, the idea of atonement must first be established and then explained. In ancient Palestine, it was not only Israel who practiced blood sacrifices, nor did they have a monopoly on architecture of a temples with inter and out courts. Many of the cultures in the region practiced blood sacrifice and temples with similar layouts. 1 In his book, Eternity In Their Hearts, Don Richards shows how many cultures in remote areas of the world have a blood sacrifice system. He explains that animistic religions in remote areas often have ideological handles often for these people groups to grasp concepts in Biblical revelation. Western culture does not practice blood sacrifices generally. The idea of atonement from sin is usually metaphorically, not literally. In a symbolic way, a person at least does something right, but does not necessarily remove the sins of the past. For instance, Darth Vader is said to have redeemed himself in the movie Star Wars: The Return of The Jedi. He does does not kill Luke his son, instead he kills the evil Emperor. In pop culture, that is enough, but this goes a long ways from the Biblical demand for a sin offering. However, in the scripture it says “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV) When our medical system looks at blood, it does not see a cleansing agent but a contaminant. The medical community handles and labels all blood as if it would make you sick. The risk of becoming infected with blood borne disease such as Hepatitis or HIV is why used injection needles are placed in brightly colored boxes labeled “Bio Hazard”. Our legal system does not attempt to satisfy justice or atone for crimes but seeks to rehabilitate the criminal or merely to isolate him or her from society so that more people are not victimized.2 Since Western culture does not hold blood sacrifice nor atonement as valid modern concepts, these concepts must be introduced to us from the scriptures. While these concepts are not foreign to all cultures, even cultures that do have them as a component, they are not in all ways the same as the Biblical ideas or ideals. The concept of blood sacrifice is assumed and practiced by the prediluvian times of Genesis as well as practiced by the Patriarchs in Genesis. The defining move of God in Old Testament (OT) history is connected with a blood sacrifice, the Passover. Much of the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are spent giving details to the proper way to give a sacrifice. From that point forward, the Levitical priesthood maintained the sacrificial system for ancient Israel. Sometimes faithfully and sometimes not so faithfully. The critical act of disobedience on the part of king Saul in the OT was his desecration of the sacrifice. Off and on, the sacrificial system was practiced until New Testament times. And then in A.D. 70, the Temple was destroyed and the sacrificial system as practiced by the Jews for the most part came to an end. Passover has continued because the celebration is done in homes and not the Temple. This sacrifice system had a long history which Biblical revelation is built. The basic ideas of a blood sacrifice used as an atonement was that an innocent party paid the penalty for the sins of the guilty party.
The word sacrifice can mean something besides the blood sacrifice discussed above, for instance in baseball a sacrifice mean batter hitting the ball to an area which increases his risk of getting out while driving in another player. Rather than blood and innocence being central to the concept, it is suffering on the part of the batter. In business dealings, a sacrifice may mean to let something be bought below value. Again, no blood or innocent and guilty parties and still yet, pain to the one who agreed to not get full price. The component that is retained in both cases is the idea of pain. Pain and suffering becomes central to the English popular usage of the word sacrifice. Central to the Biblical idea of a blood sacrifice is the giving of one life for another with the component of suffering on the part of the one being offered. We should not attempt to juxtaposition the popular usage from the Biblical usage of the term sacrifice. The Hebrew and Greek words for sacrifice emphasizes the concept of slaughter. Suffering of the one offering the sacrifice and suffering of the one being sacrificed will be the central issue dealt with in blog series.
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