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Can the Death of Jesus Really Be Called a Sacrifice?

Updated on January 24, 2014
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The Nature of Sacrifice

What is a Sacrifice:

According to Webster's Dictionary
Sacrifice
1: an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially : the killing of a victim on an altar
2: something offered in sacrifice
3a : destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else
b : something given up or lost <the sacrifices made by parents>
4: loss <goods sold at a sacrifice>


If I was asked, for example, to sacrifice my home to another family in need and I agreed, I would move all of my belongings out of my home and allow them to move in. I would not expect to regain my house within a few days. A sacrifice is intentionally giving something up with the knowledge or expectation that you will never get it back - and if you do get it back, it's never the way things were, prior to giving it up in the first place.

In the Old Testament, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his precious son Isaac to god as a burnt offering. Abraham and Isaac went to a specified place, and Abraham had the knife poised over his son's living body, ready to kill him to appease god - but god was merely testing his faith, and he chose to spare the child - and provided a nearby ram to take his place. Abraham intended to, but did not ultimately go through with the sacrifice of his son to god. The ram was sacrificed in his place - and the ram did not come back. (Genesis 22)

In the story of Jephtha's daughter, however, the child was not so lucky. Jephtha made a deal with god. He told god that, if god would deliver the upcoming battle into his hands and allow him victory over his enemies, he would sacrifice as a burnt offering the first thing to greet him upon his victorious return home. Unfortunately, the first thing to greet him was his only child - his daughter. Jephtha went through with his word to god, and sacrificed his daughter (after allowing her a brief mourning period for her virginity). Jeptha's daughter, therefore, was killed as an offering of victory to god - and she didn't come back. She was simply dead. (Judges 11)


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Does Jesus' Death and Subsequent Resurrection Follow the Requirements for a Sacrifice?

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Jesus' "Sacrifice"

The story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection is a strange one - even by biblical standards, and it begins with the biblical creation story found in the first chapter of the first book of the biblical narrative. When god created adam and eve in the garden of Eden, he told them to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They disobeyed. Therefore, he banned them from the garden so they could not also eat from the tree of life, and thereby gain eternal life. This leads to the christian doctrine of "original sin". Later on in the story, god is said to regret his decision to ever make man at all. He wipes out the earth in a global (and impossible) flood and starts over with Noah and his family. they don't fare much better. God delivers his people from slavery and gives them a set of laws that they repeatedly break, are punished for breaking, apologize for, are forgiven and delivered from captivity.

God realizes that his laws are impossible for his fallen and flawed creation to manage. This supposedly omniscient and all-powerful, benevolent being comes up with a plan. You'd expect great things from a god-being who knows everything and can see all points of existence at once, right? Wrong. God's ultimate plan was to send himself to earth as a human being, in order to sacrifice himself to himself to appease himself in a blood sacrifice that would therefore negate the necessary penalty for sin - death - and allow his creation to be forgiven for their shortcomings.

Jesus was born, lived for 33 years or so - and then was crucified by the Roman empire at the behest of the Jews - the people he supposedly came to save in the first place. His death is deemed by his followers throughout history and today to be the greatest sacrifice in the history of mankind - but was it a sacrifice at all? Does it fit the model for a sacrifice?

No. It's simple, really. No one argues that if the historical Jesus existed, crucifixion was a horrible, torturous death. The emotional agony at being abandoned by god the father (or himself) was beyond measure. Jesus is said to have died on the cross, been taken down, buried and left for dead. Three days later (or two, or two and a half, depending on the Jewish consideration of days) he rose from the dead - and went right back to heaven where he came from. He is with god the father in heaven now. God says repeatedly in the bible that a millinium is like the blink of an eye to him - so 33 years doesn't seem like that big of a deal. Additionally, god the father now has Jesus beside him for all of eternity. No harm, no foul. Not only is it ridiculous to think that a substitutionary atonement is a suitable alternative to everyone getting what they deserve, it's equally ridiculous to call Jesus' supposed death a sacrifice at all. What did god give up? 33 years? What did Jesus give up? A few agonizing (admittedly) hours, a death - and then an eternity back where he came from in the first place? At best, Jesus' time on earth, ministry and death was an all-too-brief displacement from his heavenly home. At worst, Jesus' time on earth was like nothing in the eyes of god.

How many animals brutally killed on the alters of the Jews and other pagan religions came back to life after a few days? None. How many people killed by the Aztecs, Romans, Celts or other cultures that practiced human sacrifice come back to life after a brief period of rest in a rich man's grave? Not a one.

How many times have you sacrificed something then turned around and regained it? If it was a real sacrifice, the answer is simple. Never. Sacrifice doesn't work that way. Therefore, Jesus' death was not a sacrifice at all - and cannot be viewed as such - especially when you consider that an all-knowing, all-powerful being came up with THIS as his best plan to reconcile himself with his own creation instead of just deciding to forgive them and move on - or not create them at all.


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    • aguasilver profile image

      John Harper 4 years ago from Malaga, Spain

      I think it's a mite more complicated (spiritually) than you have expressed.

      Now is not the time or place for me to expound further, but maybe I will if I can muster the energy to do so at a later time.

      John

    • profile image

      Big J 4 years ago

      Actually, the prophecies of Jesus date back to Genesis. Also, in the Book of John it says that everything was created through Christ and for him. Your analysis is based on sub-par knowledge of the Bible, at best. Here is the prophecy in Genesis. It says the women who bruise (hurt) satan. Genesis 3:15 (New International Version)

      Genesis 3:15

      New International Version (NIV)

      15 And I will put enmity

      between you and the woman,

      and between your offspring[a] and hers;

      he will crush[b] your head,

      and you will strike his heel.

      Also, read the first Chapter of the Gospel of John. Then read Isaiah 53, the prophecy for the Messiah (Jesus) as being the sacrifice for sin. "He was taken like a lamb to the slaughter..." Keep in mind this was written over a thousand years before Jesus, and we also have the dead sea scrolls of this text which carbon dates at least 300 years before Jesus time. So this prophecy is legit, and quite frankly, eerie in the context of the New Testament. Who does it sound like to you?

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      I always get a kick out those who say Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. Wasn't he predicted to be a great military leader by one seer?

    • JMcFarland profile image
      Author

      Julie McFarland 4 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      More than one. Examining what the christians consider to be "prophecies" and what makes a real prophecy is a hub unto itself. I've been working on it for weeks, but there's just so much to cover that it's difficult

      Not to mention - what exactly do old testament prophecies have to do with this actual hub?

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      I'll be looking forward to reading your hub then, Julie! I'm sure someone will come along and tell you the OT is very accurate as to its prophet's predictions. They usually do. lol!

    • profile image

      owneroftheeye 4 years ago

      In Luke 1:26-34, Gabriel was sent from Jehovah God to Nazareth to the virgin Mary to tell her that she would have a son, that Jehovah God had found favor in her. Jehovah God's holy spirit came upon Mary and she conceived a perfect human (Jesus Christ) even though she was not married and not having intercourse with anyone. She was to be the wife of Joseph. In verse 32 and 33 of that chapter in Luke, Gabriel told her that "This one will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom."-New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

      Jesus was born as a human on earth to preach and teach to everyone his Father's will. As for the question of "Can the Death of Jesus Really be Called a Sacrifice?"--yes it can. Why? Because he gave up his fleshly body so that we may be forgiven of our sins and have the hope of a perfect life on this earth in the near future-as it was originally intended.

    • JMcFarland profile image
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      Julie McFarland 4 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      What did he really "sacrifice"? He adopted a human form for just over 30 years, died and went right back to normal. If you sacrifice something for someone else, do you expect to get it back - and if you KNOW that you're getting it back, can it be considered a real sacrifice at all?

    • celafoe profile image

      charlie 4 years ago from Planet earth. between the oceans

      of course the biggest part of the problem with this unscriptural foolish hub is your statement "considering the fact that you're talking to a graduate biblical scholar from one of the biggest bible colleges in the country"considering the fact that you're talking to a graduate biblical scholar from one of the biggest bible colleges in the country"

      i will not waste time with those that believe what they are taught even those it does not line up with scripture and then expect us to believe it because it has great (in their opinion) but non scriptural backup.

      So many young men with high ideals have been ruined by those "Institutions" The bible tells us the Holy Spirit will teach us all truth not liberal professors and bible schools that exist to perpetuate the beliefs of their supporters, not that of God.

    • JMcFarland profile image
      Author

      Julie McFarland 4 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      If its so foolish, why waste your time discussing it then? I thought you told me that debating with an atheist is pointless, but you can't seem to stop, can you? Additionally, I never purported to be writing about something "scriptural" so pointing out that it doesn't line up with your view of scripture is a little redundant.

      The whole point of mentioning my years of study in Bible college was because the common assumption is that I don't know what I'm talking about, and/or I'm ignorant about the Bible. I'm not, I just find it to be utter nonsense, and it confounds me that so many people believe this nonsense without question.

    • JMcFarland profile image
      Author

      Julie McFarland 4 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      Additionally, my professors were not liberal or foolish. I learned the traditional, conservative bull crap as anyone else. I just woke up and realized that it was wrong. Making assumptions does not seem to fall in line with scriptural teachings. You might want to quit while you're ahead.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Why listen to well educated people when we have the hearsay accounts of illiterate goat herders to depend on? lol!

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 3 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      He sacrificed more then just physically.

      I wrote a hub about it, but you do not have to read it. I just wanted to thank you for giving me the inspiration for my latest hub.

    • JMcFarland profile image
      Author

      Julie McFarland 3 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      I read it. The fact of the matter is that thousands of people were crucified - and their suffering often lasted for days. Jesus supposedly came from heaven, suffered a temporary displacement and physical discomfort and then went right back to heaven. That's not a sacrifice. He didn't give anything up that he didn't immediately get back. That's not how sacrifice works

    • TheOdinSeeker profile image

      Steven Banker 2 years ago from Fairfield, OH

      I'm glad someone else has thought of this. For the longest time I couldn't fathom how Jesus' "sacrifice" could be considered a sacrifice in any degree.

      If something is sacrificed then it's lost to never be regained. He was in heaven, came to earth and died, then went back to heaven. Not the definition of sacrifice.

      Nice hub!

    • JMcFarland profile image
      Author

      Julie McFarland 2 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      Thanks for the comment. I never understood it either, and it seems that many people who constantly talk about the great sacrifice never actually think it through. At best, it was a temporary displacement - Ady worst, it didn't happen at all. Strange that this doesn't occur to so many.

    • TheOdinSeeker profile image

      Steven Banker 2 years ago from Fairfield, OH

      It was a question the haunted me even while I was a christian. Never could wrap my head around it.

    • JMcFarland profile image
      Author

      Julie McFarland 2 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      It goes back to my days as a Christian too. Glad to meet a like-minded questioner.

    • profile image

      mbuggieh 2 years ago

      We don't know the historical circumstances surrounding this man Jesus' death. As such, it seems clear that it is not possible---some 2000 years later, to determine if the death was anything more than the result of a larger and deeply political struggle for what can only be understood as very secular authority in a deeply troubled [Roman] empire.

      The prophecies are nonsense. There is no such thing as prophecy, and therefore, they cannot be counted as a historical variable useful in determining the causes of Jesus' presumed death.

      Perhaps the death was political theater; perhaps it was political suicide; perhaps it never happened at all.

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