Definition of the Word “Sacrifice”

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Sacrifice, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, ( is an act of offering to a deity something precious OR destruction/surrender of something for the sake of something else. I prefer the second definition. The Old Testament of the Bible spends a good amount of time referring to and governing ritual sacrifice. I feel like the importance placed on sacrifice in the Old Testament can confuse the true and real reason behind it, which is to repent and dedicate our life to God. Sacrifice as a ritual can very easily become common place, by simply going through the motions, versus my idea of sacrifice, which is living the sacrifice like Jesus did His whole life. From my own study of the bible, I noticed that the act of sacrificing took precedence over living a sacrificial life. I feel that is the modern day equivalent of going to mass, but not living the mass the rest of the week. This is why I like the second definition.

The idea of surrendering something for the sake of something else is what I learned growing up catholic as the definition of sacrifice. Something as simple as spending time (surrendering time) in prayer or praise of God (for someone else-God) would be a sufficient sacrifice for God. To understand sacrifice in the Bible I believe the most important thing to study is what sacrifice is NOT. Then it is necessary to think about what God wanted from sacrifice and finally look into the ultimate sacrifice, which was Jesus’ life.

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No where in the bible does it define sacrifice. Probably because the act of sacrifice was not something God created and decided people needed to do to honor Him. Sacrifice was already widely practiced among many nations and for other gods. I believe the majority of the detailed accounts of rituals and rules of sacrifice came out of necessity to limit sacrifices. Deities of pre-Christian lands, along with Egyptians and Babylonians all required sacrifices in their name (Father Hardon, John A). Sacrifice is not an effort to feed a hungry God, despite what other religions and mythology believe, like the Aztecs. Many non Christian, non religious sites use the story of Noah sacrificing after he left the ark creating a soothing aroma for God (The New American Bible, Genesis 8:21), as an example of the Christian God being a hungry one. The idea of God being hungry is a Pagan belief (McCloskey O.F.M ) Sacrifice was not a punishment for doing wrong. The ancient Israelites used sacrifice as a repentance tool to atone for their sins.

Atonement for sins requires more than just killing an animal and sacrificing it. One must truly repent and change their ways. Destruction is not the main object of sacrifice, the gift to God and the union Christians entered into with Him is the object (McCloskey O.F.M ) Sacrifice was not to be made to appease an angry God. The ancient Aztecs often performed ritual sacrifices for rain to appease an angry god who was punishing them with a drought (Stevenson, Mark). Leviticus and Deuteronomy set up rules and laws to govern sacrifices. Some examples of these laws are the following: All sacrifices were to be held at the tabernacle and temple (Deut 12:5-11) and it was clearly laid out that human sacrifices were forbidden (Levit 18:21) not to mention thou shall not kill (Exodus 20:13). The God I know is a loving and merciful god, so from what I know sacrifice is not a way of escaping God’s punishment by letting it fell upon a sacrificial animal (“What the Bible says about Sacrifice”.). The act of sacrifice was supposed to be a physical sign of worship, praise and atonement. One was supposed to focus on giving to God, not giving up for God. God in my opinion wanted life sacrifice over symbolic sacrifice.

Ancient Israelites repeatedly ignored faith and devotion thinking the mere act of sacrifice was enough (Langston, Scott ). Isaiah contended that the sacrifices were worthless when not accompanied with repenting and an obedient life (Isaiah 10:17). In Hosea, God is mentioned saying that it is loyalty I desire, not sacrifice and knowledge of God not burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6). In proverbs a prophet said that to do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice (Proverbs 21:3). In my opinion these aforementioned verseus clarify my thinking that God wanted His people to live a sacrificial life instead of making sacrifices.

The most important sacrifice of all is Jesus dying for our sins (1 John 4:10). I believe that every day of Jesus’ life was a sacrifice (glorifying God). From what I understand, Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice took place of the need for animal and grain sacrifices and called for Christians to focus on self sacrifice from there on out (Christian Ideas of Sacrifice ). Catholics still perform the Eucharistic sacrifice every mass in praise and remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice. I came across a great definition of sacrifice by a religion teacher in Cincinnati that defines what I believe is Gods true intention for the Old Testament sacrifices. Sacrifice is the offering of a gift back to Ggod as an expression of our desire for union with him (McCloskey O.F.M, Patrick). All of the covenants and promises God entered into were supposed to be two sided. God’s love and care was supposed to be met with people who lived the right kind of life and made God known to the world through their actions. I believe physical sacrifices were something ‘of the times’ but in general God wanted his people to live a sacrificial life. Love Him, love self and love others.

Works Cited
Christian Ideas of Sacrifice

Father Hardon, John A. Commandments: Sacrifice and the First Commandment. S.J. Archives The Real Presence Association.

Langston, Scott. “Sacrifice and Offering”. Holman Bible Dictionary.

McCloskey O.F.M, Patrick. “Is the Mass Still a Sacrifice?”. Catholic Update. n.p. n.d

The New American Bible. Revised Edition. New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corporation 2011.

“Sacrifice.” Merriam- Merriam- Webster, 2011. Web. 28 August 2012.

Stevenson, Mark. “Ancient child sacrifices found in Mexico.” Associated
Press, MSNBC . 18 April 2007.

“What the Bible says about Sacrifice”. 28 August 2012.

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