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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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An offering made to God on an altar, by means of a regular minister: as an acknowledgment of his power, and a payment of homage. Sacrifices (though the term is sometimes used to comprehend all the offerings made to God, or in any way devoted to his service and honour) differ from mere oblations in this, that in a sacrifice there is a real destruction or change of the thing offered; whereas an oblation is only a simple offering or gift, without any such change at all: thus, all sorts of tithes, and first fruits, and whatever of men's worldly substance in consecrated to God for the support of his worship and the maintenance of his ministers, are offerings, or oblations; and these, under the Jewish law, were either of living creatures, or other things; but sacrifices, in the more peculiar sense of the term, were either wholly or in part consumed by fire. They have, by divines, been divided into bloody and unbloody. Bloody sacrifices were made of living creatures; unbloody, of the fruits of the earth. They have also been divided into expiatory, impetratory, and eucharistical. The first kind were offered to obtain of God the forgiveness of sins; the second, to procure some favour; and the third, to express thankfulness for favours already received. Under one or other of these heads may all sacrifices be arranged, though we are told that the Egyptians had six hundred and sixty-six different kinds; a number surpassing all credibility. Various have been the opinions of the learned concerning the origin of sacrifices.

Some suppose that they had their origin in superstition, and were merely the inventions of men; others, that they originated in the natural sentiments of the human heart; others imagine that God in order to prevent their being offered to idols, introduced them into his service, though he did not approve of them as good in themselves, or as proper rites of worship. "But that animal sacrifices, " says a learned author, "were not instituted by man, seems extremely evident from the acknowledged universality of the practice; from the wonderful sameness of the manner in which the whole world offered these sacrifices; and from the expiation which was constantly supposed to be effected by them. "Now human reason, even among the most strenuous opponents of the divine institutions, is allowed to be incapable of pointing out the least natural fitness or congruity between blood and atonement; between killing of God's creatures and the receiving a pardon for the violation of God's laws. This consequence of sacrifices, when properly offered, was the invariable opinion of the heathens, but not the whole of their opinion in this matter; for they had also a traditionary belief among them, that these animal sacrifices were not only expiations, but vicarious commutations, and substituted satisfactions; and they called the animals so offered the ransom of their souls. "But if these notions are so remote from, nay, so contrary to, any lesson that nature teaches, as they confessedly are, how came the whole world to practise the rites founded upon them? It is certain that the wisest Heathens, Pythagoras, Plato, Porphyry, and others, slighted the religion of such sacrifices, and wondered how an institution so dismal (as it appeared to them, ) and so big with absurdity, could diffuse itself through the world.

An advocate for the sufficiency of reason (Tindall) supposes the absurdity prevailed by degrees; and the priests who shared with their gods, and reserved the best bits for themselves, had the chief hand in this gainful superstition. But, it may well be asked, who were the priests in the days of Cain and Abel? Or, what gain could this superstition be to them, when the one gave away his fruits, and the other his animal sacrifice, without being at liberty to taste the least part of it? And it is worth remarking, that what this author wittily calls the best bits and appropriates to the priests, appear to have been the skin of the burnt-offering among the Jews, and the skin and feet among the Heathens." Dr. Spencer observes (De Leg. Heb. lib. 3: &2.) that "sacrifices were looked upon as gifts, and that the general opinion was, that gifts would have the same effect with God as with man; would appease wrath, conciliate favour with the Deity, and testify the gratitude and affection of the sacrificer; and that from this principle proceeded expiatory, precatory, and eucharistical offerings. This is all that is pretended from natural light to countenance this practice. But, how well soever the comparison may be thought to hold between sacrifices and gifts, yet the opinion that sacrifices would prevail with God must proceed from an observation that gifts had prevailed with men; an observation this which Cain and Abel had little opportunity of making.

And if the coats of skin which God directed Adam to make, were the remains of sacrifices, sure Adam could not sacrifice from this observation, when there were no subjects in the world upon which he could make these observations." (Kennicott's second Dissert. on the Offerings of Cain and Abel, p. 201, &c.) But the grand objection to the divine origin of sacrifices is drawn from the Scriptures themselves, particularly the following (Jeremiah 7:22-23 .) "I spake not to your fathers, nor commanded them, at the time that I brought them out of Egypt, concerning the matters of burnt-offerings or sacrifices; but only this very thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people." The ingenious writer above referred to, accounts for this passage (p. 153 and 209.) by referring to the transaction at Marah, (Exodus 15:23; Exodus 15:26 , ) at which time God spake nothing concerning sacrifices: it certainly cannot be intended to contradict the whole book of Leviticus, which is full of such appointments. Another learned author, to account for the above, and other similar passages, observes, "The Jews were diligent in performing the external services of religion; in offering prayers, incense, sacrifices, oblations: but these prayers were not offered with faith; and their oblations were made more frequently to their idols than to the God of their fathers.

The Hebrew idiom ixcludes with a general negative, in a comparative sense, one of two objects opposed to one another, thus: 'I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.' (Hosea 6:6 .) For I spake not to your fathers, nor commanded them, concerning burnt- offerings or sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying, Obey my voice.'" (Lowth on Isaiah 43:22; Isaiah 43:24 .) The ingenious Dr. Doddridge remarks, that, according to the genius of the Hebrew language, one thing seems to be forbidden, and another commanded, when the meaning only is, that the latter is generally to be preferred to the former. The text before us is a remarkable instance of this; as likewise Joel 2:13 . Matthew 6:19-20 . John 6:27 . Luke 12:4-5 . and Colossians 3:2 . And it is evident that Genesis 45:8 . Exodus 16:8 . John 5:30 . John 7:19 . and many other passages, are to be expounded in the same comparative sense. (Paraph. on the New Test. sect. 59.) So that the whole may be resolved into the apophthegm of the wise man. (Proverbs 21:3 :) "To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice."

See Kennicott, above referred to; Edwards's History of Redemption, p. 76. note: Outram de Sacrificiis; Warburton's Divine Leg. b. 9, 100: 2; Bishop Law's Theory of Rel. p. 50 to 54; Jennings's Jewish antiq. vol. 1: p. 26, 28; Fleury's Manners of the Israelites, part 4: ch. 4.; McEwen on the Types.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Sacrifice'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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