the First Week of Advent
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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
1. Sources.-The sacrificial ideas found in the teaching of the Apostolic Church cast their roots so deeply in the soil of OT ideas and practice that careful reference to the sacrificial system inherited by apostolic writers from Jewish sources is essential. Even more closely than in other subjects, the apostolic literature assumes the genetic connexion of Christianity with Judaism in its doctrine of sacrifice. The OT thought-world is everywhere regarded as the basis for expounding the ultimate and more spiritual exhibitions of the sacrificial principle characteristic of apostolic interpretation. To make accurately and sympathetically the fine adjustments necessary between these transformed and spiritualized sacrificial values and their pre-Christian forms is of first importance. This task is the more difficult because the Jewish sources are themselves in turn inherited from primitive Semitic usages of which the meaning and origin are at present under investigation and the subject of keen discussion. Possibly reminiscences of each of the main theories advocated respecting the origin of sacrifice may be traced in the terms that illustrate apostolic teaching-e.g. the Gift theory (Philippians 4:18), the Homage theory (Romans 12:1), the Common Meal theory (1 Corinthians 10:14-22); the Expiatory theory is too obvious to need references. The one constant element in primitive sacrifice persisting to apostolic times that modern research, both anthropological and psychological, seems to warrant is that sacrifice appears to have pleased the object of worship and secured the favour of the deity-i.e., it was ‘propitiatory’ in the broadest sense. The most reliable expert opinion of different schools of anthropologists regards sacrifice as devised by man as an institution by which he might indicate and satisfy the instincts of his religious nature, and therefore only indirectly Divine in its origin. Sacrifice thus originated in primitive childlike ideas of God, and developed, through the primary religious instinct of pleasing Him by giving or sharing a meal with Him, into later rites regarded as of expiatory value as the moral consciousness of the race deepened. Some such long course of development lies behind the appearance of sacrifice in the OT.
(a) Early Israel.-Here sacrifice is regarded as a familiar custom at the beginning of human history; it originated in the first family; it was patriarchal. It meets us early in the OT as the comparatively complete and elaborated cultus mirrored in the J document, but no light is thrown upon its origin. Its chief occasions were times of meeting with God; it marked the intimate relationship between the god and his worshippers; the prevailing conception of its significance was that it was a present to God in sign of homage, thanksgiving, desire for communion or Divine gifts. The indications here of the stricter motive of expiation are very slight, although awe of the Divine Presence finds early and constant expression; and there is little doubt that Israel in all ages believed in the effectiveness of sacrifice to preserve or restore the favour of Jahweh. In view of apostolic teaching the early significance of the Covenant Sacrifice should be noted. Its specific object was to make a covenant sure and binding by the interchange of blood between the parties to it; half the animal victim’s blood was poured upon the altar for God and half sprinkled upon the people (cf. Exodus 24:6-8, Hebrews 8:6 ff; Hebrews 9:15-22). The religious efficacy of sacrifice was interpreted according to the degree of ethical and spiritual enlightenment of the offerers. The popular idea of a union cemented by blood in its physical and literal character was beginning to be challenged in the early monarchy; the higher theology of the age was already excluding the idea of God as a fellow-guest, and offerings were regarded as worthless without obedience (cf. 1 Samuel 15:22). God was disposed favourably by sacrifices, but we are not able to say in what manner they were supposed to influence Him. Neither these nor the older Semitic sacrifices were strictly expiatory, as has often been assumed; even where the animal may have been regarded as the offerer’s substitute, it may not necessarily have been as expiation for sin. Human sacrifices were unquestionably offered in the earlier stages of the Hebrew transition from the prehistoric to the historic development of the doctrine. They were common in Palestinian religion.
(b) Prophetic teaching.-Before touching upon the priestly or Levitical sacrificial system, from which it is evident apostolic teaching chiefly drew its thought-forms and its sacrificial terminology, reference must be made to the attitude taken towards sacrifice by the OT prophets, especially by those of the 8th century. From these the primitive Christian Church drew much of the substance of its teaching on sacrifice as it came to be interpreted in ethical and spiritual values. These two types-prophetic and priestly-dominate the structure of our OT sources; they existed side by side and acted and reacted upon each other. If not distinctly rival systems in the religious thought and practice of Israel, they represent different ideals concerning that which is an acceptable offering to the Lord. To recognize that both of them deeply influenced apostolic views of sacrifice is important. It is not probable that the prophets actually proposed the abolition of sacrifice, as some scholars have maintained. They assumed its legitimacy; they denied its necessity. Their protest was against the exaggerated importance of sacrifice (cf. Amos 5:25, Jeremiah 7:21 f.); it was not essential to forgiveness. The Levitical cultus provided sacrifice as the chief vehicle of God’s grace; forgiveness is mediated through it. The insistent iterance of the prophetic word is that sacrifice is not essential; God requires obedience, not sacrifice. Because He is a righteous God, He can accept nothing in place of righteousness. Righteousness is fundamental religion (Micah 6:6-8); without it sacrifice was an insult to God; He was weary of it; it provoked Him. Whilst they did not demand a religion without a cultus, i.e. a purely spiritual worship, the prophets denied that sacrifice in itself has efficacy with God, and that He has appointed it as essential to the ministry of His grace. In thus setting character before cultus the Psalmists join the prophets, emphasizing at the same time the abiding value in the sight of God of penitential feeling (cf. Psalms 40:6-9; Psalms 51:16 f.). With the great prophet of the Exile there rises also the commanding figure of the Suffering Servant of the Lord. Out of His personal afflictions for His people grows the vision of a voluntary and personal sacrificial offering of Himself. This transcends in its perfect ethical and spiritual value all lower ideas associated with the offering of animal victims (Isaiah 53). The extent to which this presentation of the Suffering Servant and the prophetic attitude of bare tolerance towards the sacrificial system influenced the apostolic teaching on sacrifice has not been fully appreciated.
(c) Levitical.-Historically this followed the prophetic period referred to. It did not precede it, as was formerly thought. The elaboration of the Levitical Code and the bewildering details of the priestly legislation respecting sacrifice led to the depreciation of the prophetic criticism of it. Levitical conceptions became characteristic of the Judaism with which early Christianity had such intimate and vital connexion. The transition from the ethical ideals of the prophets to the ceremonial ritual of the Levitical system carries us into a different world of sacrificial ideas; in many respects the change marks reaction; ethically it is on a lower plane, though it may possibly as a hard shell have preserved for future generations the kernel of the prophetic teaching regarding sacrifice. Its marvellous completeness provided a basis for typological analogy. It was almost inevitable, in the circumstances in which Christianity arose, that the primitive Church should extensively use this as a vehicle for teaching its doctrine of redemption. We need not refuse to see in the rich detail of Jewish sacrifices an unconscious illustrative preparation for apostolic forms of teaching. Yet it is difficult to hold that this whole ceremonial system was instituted with a conscious reference to, or binding authority for, the spiritual teaching of the sacrificial principle in Christianity, in which the Jewish sacrificial system was at once fulfilled and abrogated. The chief feature of the Levitical system, as distinguished from the sacrifices of the earlier cultus in Israel, was the greater importance attached to piacular or expiatory sacrifices-the guilt-, sin-, and trespass-offerings. This resulted from the deepened sense of sin which had developed during the Exile. Originally not more important than other offerings, the sin-offering now becomes the sacrifice par excellence. Eventually this type of sacrifice appears to have overshadowed the other great type represented by the peace-offerings, which assumed that the covenant relations with Jahweh were undisturbed. It was the expiatory type that constituted the daily sacrifice-the continual burnt-offering-up to apostolic times; it was regarded as most perfectly embodying, through its vicarious character, the sacrificial idea; it was not connected with any particular transgression, but was maintained as the appropriate means of a sinful people’s approach to a Holy God. Essential features in it were the shedding and sprinkling of blood and the conveyance of the sacrifice entire to God and His ministers; it was also accompanied by the imposition of hands. The utmost importance was attached in this type of sacrifice to the disposition of the victim’s blood: the blood was God’s; it belonged to Him of right; a mysterious potency inhered in it; the life was in it (cf. Leviticus 17:11); safety for the individual and the nation lay in such sacrifices of blood. It is of great importance, however, in view of apostolic conceptions to note that such sacrifices-the highest in value the Levitical system provided-availed only for sins of ignorance, for unwitting transgression of holy things and for the removal of physical uncleanness, which was regarded as implying moral as well as ceremonial disability in drawing near to God (Numbers 15:30). For wilful sins-‘sins with a high hand’-no reconciling sacrifice was provided in Israel; the penalty of such sins was death-‘that soul was cut off from Israel.’ But even such sins were not beyond the reach of forgiveness. That such sinners might through confession and true penitence approach God, and through His grace, apart from sacrifice, meet with His mercy was the evangelical proclamation of the prophets. It was held, however, by later Jewish interpreters that the ‘scapegoat’ on the great Day of Atonement expiated the sins of all Israelites who had not deliberately put themselves outside its effects by forsaking the religion of their people; and this expiation was applied so as to include sins the penalty of which was ‘to be cut off from his people,’ or death (cf. Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4219, 4224).
(d) Later Jewish.-The whole question of the expiatory value of Jewish sacrifices generally is keenly debated amongst modern scholars. The theory of the penal substitution of the life of the animal victim in place of the life of the offerer, which was formerly regarded as almost an axiomatic principle of interpretation, now meets with cogent criticism. Whilst this theory is still held on the ground of evidence direct and indirect in biblical and post-biblical ideas or usage, it must be said that probably the majority of modern scholars regard it as no longer tenable. Much in the discussion of these opposing positions turns upon the confidence which should be placed upon the theories of sacrifice prevalent in later Judaism. If the date and adequacy of the valuable materials collected from later Jewish sources, belonging to the time when the institution of the Synagogue was growing up side by side with the sacrificial worship of the Temple, could be depended upon, they would afford data of the highest importance in seeking to interpret the ideas of the apostolic literature, whose writers had been taught in the synagogue or in the Rabbinical schools. The present difficulty, however, of gathering the old Jewish theory of sacrifice from these sources may be illustrated by the contrary judgments of two scholars who have had access to them. Holtzmann sums up the result thus: ‘Everything pressed towards the assumption that the offering of a life, substituted for sinners according to God’s appointment, cancelled the death penalty which they had incurred, and that consequently the offered blood of the sacrificial victims expiated sin as a surrogate for the life of the guilty’ (Neutest. Theol. i. 68, quoted by W. P. Paterson, article ‘Sacrifice’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 342b; cf. Stevens, Theol. of the NT, p. 409). G. F. Moore holds an opposite opinion: ‘The theory that the victim’s life is put in place of the owner’s is nowhere hinted at, perhaps because the Jewish doctors understood better than our theologians what sin offerings and trespass offerings were, and what they were for’ (Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4226). Such a measure of disagreement need not, however, lead to the position assumed by other scholars that no theory underlay the practice of sacrifice in Israel: ‘A precise answer to the question how the sacrificial worship influenced God men were unable to give. When in the blood of the Sin-offering the tie between God and His people was renewed, what was felt was the weird influence of the incomprehensible’ (Smend, Alttest. Religionsgesch., p. 324). Apostolic writers held that there is a simple answer given in Leviticus 17:11 to the question how sacrifice expiates-‘it is the blood that maketh atonement.’ ‘According to the law, I may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission’ (Hebrews 9:22). Two other important tendencies of the later Jewish period also passed as influential principles for sacrificial interpretation into the apostolic teaching: (a) the strong tendency to recognize the sufferings, and especially the death, of righteous men as atoning for the sins of other men. For instance, the merits of Abraham served to cover the sins of his posterity; such expiatory value of suffering is also applied to the sufferings of Moses, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, and to the passion of the martyrs; it was also pre-eminently illustrated in the career of the Suffering Servant of Is 53. These sufferings constituted a ground of forgiveness of sin in Israel; they are expressly compared, in point of efficacy, to the Day of Atonement (Pesiqta, 174b). These tendencies probably influenced profoundly the sacrificial theory of the age; for it was a transition easily made from the vicarious death of the righteous to the belief in substitution of animal victims, or possibly by a fortiori reasoning from the value of the substitutionary death of the animal victim to that of the righteous saint (cf. 2 Maccabees 7:37, 4 Maccabees 6:29). (b) Whilst the sacrificial ceremonies were most scrupulously observed and with great pomp and solemnity, a process was going on which was loosening the hold of sacrifice upon the Jewish religion. A reluctant admission was beginning to be made-which ultimately found its logical and historical completion in apostolic Christianity-that it was not a full expression of the relation of His people to God, and was not wholly essential for their communion with Him. Sacrificial worship was being gradually co-ordinated with that of the synagogue. Owing to the renewed authority of the teaching of the prophets, and the widening distance from the Temple services of the multiplied congregations of the Dispersion, knowledge of the Law and the ethical value of good deeds became recognized forms of religious activity which were regarded as directly well-pleasing to God; the Rabbi and the scribe became at least complementary authorities, often indeed competitors with the priest and the Levite. The destruction of the Second Temple within the Apostolic Age so quickened the rapidity with which traditional authority became superior to sacrificial that it was officially taught that the study of the Law was more valuable in the sight of God than the continual burnt-offering (Megilla, 3b, 16b, Pesiqta, 60b). The fact that within the Apostolic Age the abolition of sacrifice as a national mode of worship in Jewish religion had become, through the destruction of Jerusalem, a necessity may well be helpful in defining the attitude of apostolic writers towards sacrifice.
For careful information on the origin and theory of sacrifice the reader should consult the very full article ‘Sacrifice’ by W. P. Paterson in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , which favours the substitutionary theory, and that in Encyclopaedia Biblica by G. F. Moore, which opposes it; also Smend’s discussion of the development of the sacrificial system in Israel in his Alttest. Religionsgeschichte; G. B. Stevens outlines the sacrificial system in Christian Doctrine of Salvation, pt. i. ch. 1.
2. Modifications of the inherited sacrificial system presented in apostolic teaching and in the practice of the Apostolic Church.-The best method of expounding the apostolic views of sacrifice is to notice in what directions and to what extent the writers in the primitive Church modified the sacrificial ideas they carried with them in their passage from Judaism to Christianity. These were the ideas from which controversies and party divisions in the Apostolic Church largely sprang. Jewish and Gentile Christians possessed a different heritage of sacrificial practices; the apostolic literature has reference to both, but the references to the Jewish immeasurably preponderate. The starting-point for the apostolic modifications is found in the Synoptic account of the attitude of Jesus towards the current sacrificial system. (a) He recognized the authority of the sacrificial law as practised in His time by observing it, keeping the Passover and other feasts, worshipping in the Temple, where sacrifice was the central act; by commending its observance to others, e.g. the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing (Matthew 8:4; cf. Mark 1:44). (b) He constantly favoured the prophetic rather than the priestly view of sacrifice. He quoted Hosea 6:6 ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ (Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7), and commended the judgment that love is more than all burnt-offering (Mark 12:33); He declared that sacrifice is worthless with unrepented sin (Matthew 5:23). (c) He referred to His own death as sacrificial, comparing it especially with the Covenant sacrifice with which the Mosaic system was instituted, ‘My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many unto remission of sins’ (Matthew 26:28, Luke 22:20; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:25). If we may take the ‘new’ of the Lucan and Pauline versions as our Lord’s, we may draw the inference that in the establishing of the ‘new’ the ‘old’ Covenant was abrogated, and with it the sacrifices that had initiated it and given it historical continuity in Israel. How long it was after the institution of the New Covenant before the Apostolic Church appreciated all its implications it is not easy to determine. The Petrine attitude, which favoured a policy of continuity or at least compromise towards important parts of the Jewish sacrificial cultus, is exhibited in early, strenuous conflicts of judgment recorded in the Apostolic Church. St. Paul quickly seized the central principle in the changed situation which was to mark the development of Christian thought and usage in reference to the Jewish sacrificial system, but he succeeded only gradually in applying it. The full inferences of the abrogation of the ancient sacrifices are first drawn by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The use made by the apostolic witnesses of the elaborate and technical terminology of the Jewish sacrificial system must be briefly reviewed. The ‘proof-text’ method of working over this material in fragmentary textual correspondences and coincidences between the old and new is not satisfactory, and has yielded place to the co-ordinated testimonies of typical apostolic teachers. The differences and signs of developing doctrine in this group of writers must be separately considered as constituting together-
3. The apostolic teaching.-The records of the apostolic preaching in the Acts reveal the primary fact that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3) was an article of common tradition in the Apostolic Church. The death of Christ appears to have been regarded at a very early period as expiatory; the idea of expiation was closely associated with that of sacrifice; it was natural, therefore, that the death of Christ should be looked upon as a sacrifice and spoken of under sacrificial figures. This sacrificial interpretation of His death is embedded in subsequent types of apostolic teaching (A. Ritschl, Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, Bonn, 1870-74, ii. 161; A. Cave, Scriptural Doctrine of Sacrifice, p. 280 ff.). No direct mention of the sacrifice of Christ is made by James or Jude; but their silence may be accounted for by the fact that the subject was foreign to the purpose for which they wrote.
(a) Petrine.-In the Epistles of Peter the sacrificial references are clear and interesting; ‘sprinkling of the blood of Jesus’ (1 Peter 1:2; cf. Exodus 24:8); ‘ye were redeemed … with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ’ (Exodus 1:18); cf. also Isaiah 53:7 ff. with its clear echo in 1 Peter 2:21-25, where the sacrificial idea of vicarious suffering is too obvious to need comment. The characteristic feature of the Petrine references is their close sympathy with OT ideas and usage.
(b) Pauline.-In the Pauline references the contrast between the Jewish and Christian aspects of sacrifice is more pronounced. St. Paul’s direct references to Levitical sacrifice are not numerous. Their scarcity, however, does not warrant Bruce’s suggestion that his ideas were coloured more by the analogy of human sacrifice, with which Greek and Roman story makes us familiar, than by that of the Levitical system (cf. St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, Edinburgh, 1894, p. 169). Whilst St. Paul does allude to pagan ideas of communion through sacrifice (1 Corinthians 10:18; 1 Corinthians 10:28), he was intimately acquainted with the minutiae of the Levitical system and even definitely associated himself with its observance (Acts 21:26; Acts 24:11; Acts 24:17 f.), though some find it difficult to believe that his action in the Temple could have been so contrary to his clearly expressed precept (cf. Galatians 4:9). It should also be noted that St. Paul, unlike the writer to the Hebrews, does not explicitly declare that the sacrifices of the Law came to an end with the death of Christ. Whilst it cannot be denied that St. Paul clearly regards the death of Christ as substitutionary, he expounds this conception so much less in terms of the sacrificial system than might have been expected from him that it has been possible for some expositors to maintain with some plausibility that he did not regard Christ’s death as a sacrifice (cf. Pfleiderer, Der Paulinismus2, Leipzig, 1890, p. 144). This is an exaggerated position; for in addition to many traces of sacrificial ideas which he used as suggestive illustrations of the meaning of Christ’s death, he speaks definitely of the Death as a sacrifice, ‘He gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odour of a sweet smell’ (Ephesians 5:2); ‘Our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ’ (1 Corinthians 5:7). References to the blood of Christ as the ground of the benefits conferred by His death (Romans 3:25; Romans 5:9, 1 Corinthians 10:16, Ephesians 2:13) are not satisfied by regarding the ‘blood’ as merely an allusion to His violent death; it seems clear from the tenor of St. Paul’s teaching that he means ‘sacrificial blood’ (cf. Romans 8:32, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 1:20, Ephesians 1:7). It may be maintained, however, that if he ‘has not especially brought out this idea [the interpretation of Christ’s death] in connection with his allusions to sacrifice, he has done so in other ways, and the inference that this was his conception of Christ’s death, viewed as a sacrifice, is quite inevitable’ (Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, p. 63).
(c) Epistle to the Hebrews.-Unlike St. Paul the writer to the Hebrews presents his doctrine of salvation wholly in terms of sacrifice, and thus provides the classical treatment of the significance of sacrifice for apostolic thought. His argument is developed in a running comparison between the sacrifices of the Levitical ritual and the perfect offering presented by Christ in the sacrifice of Himself. The sacrificial institutions associated with the Old Covenant are set forth as types and shadows of the heavenly and eternal reality in which the New Covenant is established in the blood of Christ. The key-word of the Epistle and of the comparison it elaborates is ‘better.’ The Son whose humanity is perfect, the Mediator of the new and better covenant, is the true High Priest (see article Priest) (cf. Hebrews 8:6-13; Hebrews 9:15 ff.). His constitutive function is to offer sacrifice (Hebrews 8:3). Christ offers Himself; the nature and effect of this perfect sacrifice are contrasted with the sacrifices of the Law (Hebrews 8:1 to Hebrews 10:18); the contrast culminates in the parallel between the action of the high priest in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 24:4-8) and Christ entering the heavenly places ‘through his own blood’ (Hebrews 9:11 ff.). The superiority of Christ’s sacrifice is everywhere impressively developed. It was also an offering in close dependence upon the love of God: by the grace of God Christ tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9); it was never spoken of as ‘reconciling God.’
Three main truths emerge from the comparison. (i.) The Levitical sacrifices cannot take away sin; they serve rather to bring to mind the sin they cannot expiate (Hebrews 10:3). At its best the Levitical system contemplated the removal of ceremonial faults only, sins of ignorance and infirmity (Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:11); it effected a purification of the body only. The pathetic failure of the whole sacrificial system touches all the writer’s thought; it was morally ineffective because it belonged to the lower, sensible world (Hebrews 9:11, Hebrews 11:3), ‘the visible order’ of Philo and the Alexandrian thinkers. The absoluteness and finality of Christ’s sacrifice is demonstrated by relating it to the heavenly and eternal realm of reality (Hebrews 8:1 f., Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:24, Hebrews 10:1)-the realm which Philo, in the spirit of Plato’s doctrine of archetypal ideas, calls ‘the intelligible world.’ Christ has entered with His sacrifice into heaven itself (Hebrews 9:24) and obtained eternal salvation for us (Hebrews 7:27, Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 10:10), having ‘through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God’ (Hebrews 9:14). It was an offering, on our behalf and as our representative, of a pure and spotless life. The solidarity of Christ with mankind is confidently stated: ‘Both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren’ (Hebrews 2:11). The Levitical sacrifices were perpetually repeated, just because they had no real efficacy either objective or subjective (Hebrews 9:6, Hebrews 10:3 f.); Christ’s sacrifice is made once for all, ‘perfecting for ever them that are sanctified’ (Hebrews 7:27, Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:25 f., 28, Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:14). Christ’s sacrifice purged the conscience to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14, Hebrews 10:22), thus dealing with sin ethically and in its deepest seat instead of with its accidental expressions which marked the limits of efficacy in ceremonial sacrifices (Hebrews 9:9, Hebrews 10:3). The sacrifices of the Law opened no way of spiritual access to the holy presence of God (Hebrews 9:8); by the blood of Jesus a new and living way was dedicated by which men could draw near to Him with spiritual confidence (Hebrews 10:19 f.). Everywhere the writer insists upon the truth that only by better sacrifices than those of the Levitical system could the heavenly places and the spiritual realities be cleansed and consecrated (Hebrews 7:25, Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 9:21-24); insufficiency marks all material elements and outward aspects of sacrifice; indeed, the whole point of the exposition turns upon contrast, not upon congruity. The interpretation of the Epistle which is frequently met with, that because its author expounds the Christian salvation in the terminology of sacrifice its meaning is therefore to be determined throughout by reading it in the light of the Levitical system, misses entirely the main motive of the writer, which is to mark the radical difference between the Christian and the Levitical conception of sacrifice. The most important fact to be observed is that the author, constrained by the estimate of the Christian values of sacrifice, ethicizes the whole meaning of sacrifice, and ascribes to Christ’s offering of Himself a wholly different nature from that which belongs to the Levitical oblations.
This is specially seen in the way in which the writer deals with (ii.) the value of the material of Christ’s sacrifice-His blood. In the Levitical system the manipulation of the blood was of supreme importance. Nothing was cleansed without its use (Hebrews 9:21 f.). The vital moment in the culmination of the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement was the entering of the Holy of Holies by the high priest, bearing with him sacrificial blood (Hebrews 9:7). Christ’s sacrificial act was accomplished also when He entered into the heavenly place ‘through his own blood’ (Hebrews 9:11 ff.) ‘to make propitiation for the sins of the people’ (Hebrews 2:17); ‘he offered a sacrifice for sins once for all, when he offered up himself’ (Hebrews 7:27; cf. Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28). It is clear that the writer makes distinct use of the conception of substitution. But it is important to notice the evidence that something deeper than the literal substitution and the idea of legal transfer of sin which had gained currency in the later Jewish period was in the writer’s mind. The value of Christ’s offering is ethical; it resides in His will; His blood is presented not simply as the evidence of His death, but as the offering of His life. It is life, not death, which is the essence of all true sacrifice. Even in the Levitical system the blood constitutes the sacrifice, because ‘the blood is the life’ (Leviticus 17:11). Christ’s offering of Himself includes more than His dying; it is the willing offering of His life in the perfection of ceaseless filial obedience to the will of God. The writer of this Epistle emphasizes this: ‘Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein (the which are offered according to the law), then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Hebrews 10:8 ff.). This offering with which God was well pleased brought humanity into a new relation to God. It was a positive ethical and religious valuation of Christ’s sacrifice that went beyond its value as merely legal substitution.
(iii.) The doctrine of the New Covenant. The first Covenant was not dedicated without blood (Hebrews 9:18; cf. Exodus 24:6; Exodus 24:8); sacrificial blood was for Israel essentially ‘the blood of the covenant’ (Hebrews 9:20; cf. Matthew 26:28). The sacrifices of the Mosaic Covenant were the sign of the establishment of the Law; the New Covenant in Christ’s blood was the sign of its fulfilment, and therefore ‘unto remission of sins’ (Matthew 26:28; cf. John 6:53-71; John 7:1, 1 John 1:7). The blood divided by sprinkling between the parties to the covenant was the seal of the friendship it established or restored. It was under the shelter of this covenant relation that the whole system of Levitical sacrifices was instituted; they availed only for those within its bonds. This conditioned its permanence; it could not abide. It was the prophetic attitude towards sacrifice that initiated the conception of the necessity of a New Covenant which should be ethical and spiritual and therefore permanent and universal. Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31) is the principal link between the sacrifices of the Law and Christ’s fulfilment and consequent abolition of them. This is a covenant under which God lays His laws upon the hearts of men and inscribes them upon their minds, and undertakes no longer to remember their sins and iniquities (Hebrews 10:16 ff., Hebrews 8:8 ff.). ‘Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin’ (Hebrews 10:18). A real remission makes all other sacrifices useless. The sacrifice of Christ, ‘the mediator of a new covenant’ (Hebrews 9:15) by which such a new covenant is established, is the ‘one offering by which he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified’ (Hebrews 10:14). The prophetic idea of the value of the sacrificial sufferings of the Righteous Servant is thus restored in close association with the use of sacrificial ideas which were the current coin of Jewish thought. Henceforth there was no longer room for the sacrifices of the Law (Hebrews 10:18). The only sacrifice that retained its permanence for the future was ‘a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name’ (Hebrews 13:15).
(d) Johannine.-These writings probably represent apostolic views on sacrifice towards the close of the Apostolic Age and therefore later than the sources hitherto considered. It is a question for discussion, however, whether the ideas they suggest represent a development of the apostolic thought upon this subject or whether they simply reproduce the common positions to which the Church had become accustomed as traditional interpretations. That so little is said of sacrifice itself and so much of the abiding ethical and spiritual results that Christian thought had learned to connect with the sacrificial death of Christ seems to favour the opinion that the apostolic conception had by this time become more completely separated from the Jewish and more perfectly expressed in purely ethical applications; the mystical rather than the legal aspect of sacrifices prevails. But direct sacrificial terms appear at times in the Gospels, Epistles, and Apocalypse, and probably quite as frequently, proportionately, as in the Pauline writings. (i.) The references to ‘the Lamb of God’ (John 1:29) predominate. The great saying of John the Baptist, whether critically valid or not, is a good illustration of the Johannine type of reference. This sacrificial symbol is definitely applied to Jesus. Whether the reference is to the Paschal Lamb or to the prophetic sacrificial ideal of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:11) is not certain. But there is no doubt of the expiatory value attached to the symbol; for the Lamb ‘taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29; cf. 1 Peter 1:19). Jesus takes away sin by the sacrificial method. Symbol and expiatory idea occur again several times in the Apocalypse, where ‘the Lamb’ is combined with references to the sacrificial blood; ‘a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain’ (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:12); those who have ‘washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Revelation 7:14); ‘they overcame because of the blood of the Lamb’ (Revelation 12:11). Salvation is ascribed unto ‘our God which sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb’ (Revelation 7:10). These references indicate how easily and naturally sacrificial ideas were associated with the work of Christ and especially with its results. Although textual difficulties attach to ‘the Lamb that hath been slain from the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8), it may illustrate how influentially the sacrificial idea applied to Christ persisted in apostolic thought. (ii.) The references of Jesus to ‘eating my flesh, and drinking my blood,’ in John 6 are sacrificial; they are interesting as references in apostolic times to sacrifice as the sharing in a common meal with a view to enriching human life by communion. Here such ideas, though presented in sacrificial symbolism, are intensely ethical and spiritual in value. (iii.) Illustrations of the elevation of the sacrificial idea to the sublime acts of ethical self-sacrifice by which Christ accomplished His redemptive mission may be traced in the references to the laying down of his life in vicarious surrender; ‘the lifting up’ (John 3:14; John 12:32 f.), ‘the good shepherd’ (John 10:11), ‘the prophecy of Caiaphas’ (John 11:50), ‘the corn of wheat’ (John 12:23 ff.). (iv.) And in John 17:19 the work of Christ is paralleled, as in Hebrews, by that of the high priest on the Day of Atonement by the use of a word of sacrificial associations. (v.) In the First Epistle of John words and ideas with direct sacrificial implications are frequently observed; ‘the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7); ‘he is the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 2:2, 1 John 3:16, 1 John 4:10); ‘he was manifested to take away sins’ (1 John 3:5); with these may be read the distinctive saying of the Apocalypse, ‘Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood’ (Revelation 1:5). The contribution these sayings make to the interpretation of the apostolic thought respecting sacrifice is that they everywhere appear as familiar Christian phrases, which suggest how surely the transition had been accomplished in the early Church from the legal and preparatory conception of sacrifice to the permanent Christian view which was ethical and spiritual.
(e) Sub-apostolic.-In this period the sacrificial ideas met with in the Apostolic Age continued with but little change; the tendency, judging from post-apostolic development, was, if anything, towards more ceremonial and material views of sacrifice as applied to illustrate or interpret the death of Christ. The Epistle ascribed to Barnabas deals with the subject in its relation to the sacrifices of the Jewish Temple, which are considered to have been abolished in order that ‘the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity, might have a human oblation’ (ii.).
4. Conclusions.-Sacrifice was taken over by the Apostolic Church as a living institution in Judaism; the value of it as a fundamental principle of religious worship was recognized; the retrospect of its history given by the apostolic writers is reverent and appreciative; it was educative. For a time there appears to have been hesitation as to how far its practice should continue in the Christian environment; the primitive Jewish Christians made use of it by worshipping in the Temple at Jerusalem, and in the observance of ritual associated with the sacrificial system elsewhere within the Christian communities. Others with a quicker spiritual instinct reached the conviction that as Christ was the only perfect sacrifice, the material and historical sacrifices were of relative value only, and transient. Vehement controversy arose when the Judaizing party in the Church sought to lay upon Gentile believers the burden of the ceremonial law of Israel. The sharp contentions of the Petrine and Pauline schools (Acts 15:39), the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), the teaching of the Pauline Epistles, particularly Galatians, and ultimately the masterly argument of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews are witnesses to hesitations and tendencies of thought in apostolic times. Sympathy with the ancient ritual of sacrifice and sanction for its practice appear to have accompanied the emergence of Christianity as a separate institution from the Judaism in which it had its rise. Whilst the great principle that in Christ all preparatory sacrificial institutions were fulfilled found early acceptance, it was only slowly that its many-sided implications were fully acknowledged.
(a) Retention of the Jewish sacrificial system as symbolic.-Even when the sacrificial system as a living institution had passed into a condition of obsolescence in the Apostolic Church, it remained permanently influential as an organized system of illustrations for interpreting the spiritual realities of the work of Christ; it became a system of types and symbols which were of service for the teacher and preacher. Whilst the apostles deliberately set aside the belief in the efficacy of Jewish sacrifices, it is evident not only that they could express the work of Christ in no better terms than those associated with sacrificial ritual, but that they found in these terms some real meaning when applied to the shedding of His blood for the remission of sins. Consequently sacrificial terminology came into easy and common usage, and became in fact the most comprehensible and almost necessary medium for the thought-forms which set forth the inward and abiding realities of the Christian redemption. The evidence for this abounds, as we have seen, in the apostolic literature. How close the symbol moved towards the reality in the apostolic teaching respecting the significance of the death of Christ, how far, that is, His death was truly a sacrifice, involves questions that run up into the problems of the grounds on which the efficacy of His death was ultimately based (see Atonement). So far, however, as its efficacy is based on the meaning of sacrifice in the OT, the divergent positions held as satisfying the terms of apostolic teaching may be broadly represented on the one hand by writers who hold that sacrifice in the OT was substitutionary in the sense of providing satisfaction for sin, and, on the other hand, by writers who maintain that such a view ‘rests upon profound misunderstandings of the nature of the OT sacrifices, and entirely ignores Jewish conceptions of the effect and operation of sacrifice’ (Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4232). The kindred question arising from the apostolic use of sacrificial symbols, as to how far Christ’s death was truly a sacrifice, or merely illustrated by sacrificial language, also leads to opposing replies. On the one hand, it is held that ‘Old Testament conceptions will always be suggestive and historically instructive for the study of Christian teaching, but a direct source of such teaching they cannot be. Christianity rises high above that national and ritualistic religion on whose soil it took its rise’ (Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, p. 2; cf. W. R. Smith, Prophets of Israel, Edinburgh, 1882, p. 6). On the other hand, W. P. Paterson writes: ‘Nor for the apostolic age was the description of Christ’s death as a sacrifice of the nature of a mere illustration. The apostles held it to be a sacrifice in the most literal sense of the word’ (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 343 f.). One fact stands clearly out. The thought-forms of the Apostolic Church have survived, and are living and apparently necessary thought-forms for modern Christian thinkers. The whole problem of symbolism or typology in Christian teaching will probably receive greater attention in the near future. This will be necessary in order to show how far the detailed correspondences between the precise elements of Jewish ritual and Christian ideas of sacrifice so freely set forth in the apostolic writings afford justification or otherwise for the exegetical methods subsequently adopted by Christian expositors. It is in effect the question whether the minutiae of sacrificial ritual in the ancient economy should be elaborated by them with increasing ingenuity as providentially supplied for literal application as a means of legitimately interpreting the sacrificial work of Christ, or whether the whole Levitical system should be broadly expounded as preparatory because illustrating the sacrificial principle, itself eternal in all true religion, as generally predictive of its final and highest expression in Christ. The latter alternative would have the advantage of co-ordinating the predictive element in sacrificial typology with the same element in prophecy, and applying to it the methods of interpretation which modern critical scholarship has used with success in exhibiting the preparatio evangelica in Messianic prophecies as Christ fulfils them. (These positions are discussed in Cave, Scriptural Doctrine of Sacrifice, pp. 131-173; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 348; Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, p. 2 ff.; A. S. Peake, The Bible, London, 1913, pp. 347-361.) Another feature of the retention by the apostolic writers of the sacrificial symbols is their effective application to the beautiful ethical ritual that was to become characteristic of the worship and service of the Christian life. Everything in Christianity, in both its Godward and its manward activities, is regarded as essentially sacrificial in spirit. Christ’s sacrifice of Himself was not only the fulfilment of all preceding types; it was itself a type; it was typical of the presentation to God as an offering well pleasing to Him, ‘an odour of a sweet smell,’ of the whole body, soul, and spirit of Christian manhood (Romans 15:16, Judges 1:24). The heart of apostolic teaching was that every Christian was crucified with Christ; he died with Him (Romans 6:4 ff.). But he had also his own cross upon which, as upon an altar, the oblation of his own life was offered; he also was a ‘priest unto God,’ and it was essential that he should have somewhat to offer. Hence the offering of his body (Romans 12:1), his prayers and his thanksgivings (Hebrews 13:15), his good deeds (13:16), his gifts of charity (Philippians 4:18), his entire service for others (Philippians 2:17), were spoken of as sacrifices after the manner of Christ’s offering of Himself. Such sacrifices were acceptable to God and were a means of blessing for men. St. Paul is bold enough to say that his sufferings on behalf of others were means whereby he could ‘fill up what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh on behalf of his body, which is the church’ (Colossians 1:24). This saying probably reflects in the Christian atmosphere the later Jewish idea of the value of ‘the sufferings of the saints.’ Its applications in subsequent Christian thought are too subtle and historically too far-reaching for reference here. These and the association of the Eucharist with sacrificial values lie far beyond the limits of apostolic thought both exegetically and historically (cf. T. M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, London, 1902, p. 307; J. B. Lightfoot, ‘The Christian Ministry,’ in Philippians6, London, 1881, pp. 261, 264 f.
(b) Fulfilment in the death of Christ.-The dominant and, with the slight exception of the secondary applications referred to, the sole concern of the apostolic mind was to relate the sacrificial ideas of the past to the supreme fulfilment of their meaning in the death of Christ. There can be no doubt that the death of Christ was very early regarded in this light; it corresponded to these ideas as antitype to type. Not only was the whole sacrificial worship thought of as in a general sense typical of Christ’s perfect offering of Himself, but the correspondence between His death and the different elements of the Levitical system is indicated; e.g. covenant sacrifice (Hebrews 9:15); Passover sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7); peace offering (Ephesians 5:2); sin offering (Romans 8:3, Hebrews 13:11, 1 Peter 3:18); sacrifices of the Day of Atonement (Hebrews 9:12 ff.). The ritual acts of the Jewish system are also regarded as having been repeated in the history of Christ’s dying; e.g. the slaying of the spotless lamb (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 13:8), the sprinkling of blood in the sin offering (Hebrews 9:13 ff.), and in the covenant sacrifice (1 Peter 1:2); the destruction of the victim without the gate (Hebrews 13:13). Moreover, spiritual results are attributed so definitely to the fulfilment in Christ’s death of all the suggestions conveyed historically and typically by the ineffective offering continually of animal sacrifices that this event must inevitably issue in-
(c) The abrogation of sacrifice.-In their pre-Christian days the apostolic writers had believed in the efficiency of the Jewish sacrificial system; now they regarded its oblations as of value chiefly because of the witness of these to their own inadequacy. The reality of the inward experience that they had ‘redemption in his blood,’ access in worship into ‘the holiest of all’ through the blood of Jesus, reduced their need of the older sacrifices to a vanishing point. Whilst it may be an open question whether the sacrificial systems of either the Jewish or the Graeco-Roman religion could have maintained their place as permanent institutions in presence of the growing refinement of taste and the more elevated ideas of God, made familiar in the Platonic or Stoic systems of thought current in the Apostolic Age, yet the sure joys of forgiveness of sin, the newness of life and the privileges of direct communion with God in Christ ultimately made it axiomatic for apostolic teaching that all other sacrifices, Jewish or pagan, were abolished in Christ. His sacrifice was effective because it belonged to a different world-the world of heavenly and eternal realities-from that of the temporary, carnal, and ineffectual offering of material gifts. This transition to ethical and final values in sacrifice was accompanied in apostolic thought by a-
(d) Return to prophetic ideas of sacrifice.-These made the real value of sacrifice to depend upon personal relations between God and man, and upon its voluntary quality. This return was, as we have seen, mediated chiefly by means of the influence of the great prophetic figure of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (cf. Acts 8:32; Acts 3:13; Acts 3:26; Acts 4:27 f., Acts 4:30, Hebrews 9:28, 1 Peter 2:21-25). It cannot be without significance for the modern mind that sacrificial categories derived from the Levitical order were unable to express fully for the apostolic mind the significance of the sacrificial death of Christ. These were obsolescent and needed the complement and interpretation of the prophetic ideas whose value was permanent. In the recognition of sacrifice as essentially ethical and spiritual the apostolic writers so far anticipated the findings of modern criticism that prophecy, not ceremonial legalism, represented the high-water mark of the religious ideas of Israel. Without implying its priority in time they assumed its priority in value; it was the decline of prophetism and the ascendancy of ritualism which had brought on that night of legalism in later Jewish religion in which the formalism of priest, Pharisee, and scribe, to which apostolic teaching was antithetical, had developed. The exposition of the apostolic meaning of sacrifice has suffered many things, even at the hands of Christian teachers, because the animal victims and not the human servant, law and not prophecy, have given it significance; the OT system of ritual sacrifice has been so fully discussed that the figures of Jeremiah, the suffering Remnant, and the Servant of the Lord, the human forerunners of Christ in sacrificial obedience, have failed in emphasis (cf. G. A. Smith, Modern Criticism and the Preaching of the OT, London, 1901, p. 170 ff.).
Literature.-A. A. Sykes, Essay on the Nature of Sacrifice, London, 1748; W. Magee, Scriptural Doctrines of Atonement and Sacrifice, do., 1812; J. Davison, Origin and Intent of Primitive Sacrifice, do., 1825; P. Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, Edinburgh, 1845-47; A. Cave, Scriptural Doctrine of Sacrifice and Atonement, new and revised ed., do., 1890; J. F. D. Maurice, Doctrine of Sacrifice, new ed., London, 1879; H. C. Trumbull, The Blood Covenant and its Bearings on Scripture, New York, 1885; A. Scott, Sacrifice: its Prophecy and Fulfilment, London, 1894; W. Sanday, Different Conceptions of Priesthood and Sacrifice, do., 1900; G. B. Stevens, The Christian Doctrine of Salvation, Edinburgh, 1905, pt. i., chs. i., ii., v., vii., Theology of the NT, do., 1899, pts. iii., v.; G. Milligan, Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, do., 1899; T. V. Tymms, Christian Idea of Atonement, London, 1904, lects. v., vii.; C. von Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age2, do., 1897; W. H. Ward, ‘The NT Doctrine of the Relation of Christ’s Death
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sacrifice'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/sacrifice.html. 1906-1918.