Biblical Literalism: Some Perplexing Interpretations, Especially The Animal Sacrifice Issue

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Biblical Literalism: Some Perplexing Interpretations, Especially The Animal Sacrifice Issue

Janis Cooper

My intent with this study is not to bend Scripture to suit my position, but rather to just state facts, as I see them.

Here is an excerpt from E. D. Buckner’s book The Immortality of Animals: And The Relation Of Man As Guardian, From A Biblical And Philosophical Hypothesis written in 1903

“There is another reason why the New Testament is animals’ best friend. Christ in offering Himself as a living sacrifice for the sins of the world established the fact that “to do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifices.”

He is represented as that bright and morning Star which became the Light of the World and gave to mankind a clear and full revelation of the nature and perfections of God and made known the way of reconciliation by offering Himself a living sacrifice for the world and thereby dispensing with any further excuse for that sad rite of offering up animal sacrifices.

How dark and confused were the notions of the philosophers, at the time of the coming of Christ, on the subject of animal sacrifices! We cannot find in the Bible a satisfactory reason why it was first practiced. It did not restore fallen man to his former holiness nor effect his salvation. If such had been the case it would not have required the sacrifice of the Son of God. Some theologians tell us it was typical of the coming of Christ, but that part of the Bible written before the coming of Christ and during the time it was practiced does not say so. We deny the right to such interpretation. Human reason cannot point out the fitness or congruity between the slaying of an animal and the reception by man of pardon for the violation of God’s law.

How the world came to practice sacrifices to such an extent remains a profound mystery. Long before the Christian era the Buddhist religion repudiated the rite and prohibited its use in all the Orient over which it had influence. Judaism was the last to give up this sad and cruel ceremony.

It is certain that the wisest heathen philosophers, Pythagoras, Plato, and others, opposed the doctrine of sacrifice and “wondered how an institution so dismal and so big with absurdity could diffuse itself through the world.” They ridiculed the idea that the offering of sacrifices could please such a being as a true and living God.

Porphyry says, “We ought then, having been united and made like to God, to offer our own conduct as a holy sacrifice to Him, the same being also a hymn and our salvation in passionless excellence of soul.”

It is claimed that the reason it spread so extensively was that the priests who shared with the gods and received the best portion of the meat, were instrumental in urging it on. The early history of sacrifices as practiced by all nations shows that they consisted of fruits, grain, and oil. The sacrifice of living human beings and lower animals was the outgrowth of a depraved cannibal nature and the notion that it was surrounded with greater mystical signification than other sacrifices. These sacrifices were offered to all kinds of imaginary gods and idols with the absurd notion that such gods demanded the life of some innocent being. Hence we find that each deity demanded a particular kind of victim.

One god was known as the “man-eater,” another as the “goat-eater,” others as the “ram-eater,” the “eater of raw flesh,” etc. The Persians had one god “who desired nothing but the souls of the victims.” The Arabs had one god who was very charitable, and demanded only “half of the blood of victims.” The Romans had a carnivorous god “who was wont to eat human flesh.”

Some nations believed that by eating the flesh of a victim its life would be renewed in the lives of those who ate it; hence the Issendones would eat their parents and children in order to retain or perpetuate the family.

Another prominent feature of sacrifice was the supposed unity of kinship by mingling the blood of the victim in the veins of the whole tribe. The blood-covenant was formed by eating the same victim and having the same kind of blood course through the veins of all. But if this sacrificial blood was not partaken of it was sprinkled over the people for the same purpose.

Some portions of the Old Testament speak out plainly against sacrifice, thus: “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart…. For I spake not unto your fathers nor commanded them in the days that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices….I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs or of he-goats….If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?….Though you offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings I will not accept them…For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Scriptural references: Psalm 51:17; Jeremiah 7:22; Isaiah 1:11; Psalm 50:12,13; Amos 5:22.)

Throughout the Old Testament it was customary when introducing any new law, command, or form of worship, to say “the Lord said” so and so, and thereby many things were put into the Lord’s mouth which He undoubtedly never said nor approved.

When the tabernacles or temples or places of worship were mentioned everything was represented as being done for the Lord or in His presence, just as we now call a church the house of the Lord and speak of God’s altar within; but in either case it would be a reflection on the omniscience and goodness of God to say that He approved of all that was done and said in His name.

Rev. Dr. Robert Patterson, in his book entitled “Fables of Infidelity,” published by the Scriptural Tract Repository, and endorsed by the Church, makes the following appropriate statement: “when we say that God is the Author of the Bible, and that it carries with it a divine authority because it is the Word of God, we do not mean that God is the Author of every saying in it, and that every statement recorded in it is God’s mind. Nor when we say that God directed the prophets what to write, and how to write it, do we mean that He also guided every piece of their behavior, as that they never went wrong.”

The clergyman of one church will contend that the Lord commands him to say and do a certain thing, while the clergyman of another church will contend that the Lord commands him to say and do something entirely different.

The fact that a thing is done in the name of Deity does not make it right if it is not the expressed will of God. We see this illustrated when a Hindoo mother makes a living sacrifice of her infant by throwing it under the wheels of the Juggernaut to be crushed to death in order to appease the supposed wrath of her god; or when the Indians, not a century ago, offered their annual living sacrifice to the Great Father by sending one of their tribe over Niagara Falls in a canoe. The old adage, that believing a thing is right, does not make it so, will apply in this case.

Finally the Christian dispensation has annihilated the sad and repulsive ceremony of animal sacrifices and that for us settles the question.

St. Paul says: “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifice, which can never take away sins.”

Now I do not wish to say anything derogatory to the honor of that dispensation which the Almighty for a time, and for a purpose, of which we know but little, permitted; but this much I will say, that even in its best state the Mosaic economy was characterized by obscurity, darkness, and suffering, as compared with the glorious light of the gospel ushered in by Christ who “appeared in the world to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

End of excerpt.

Not only is there animal sacrifice in the Bible which is a disturbing thought, but there is also much about human sacrifice, even child sacrifice. The Bible condones child sacrifice in Exodus 13:2,11-15; Exodus 22:29,30; Numbers 18:15,16; Deuteronomy 13:13-19; Judges 11:29-40, and in the story of Abraham who takes his only son, Isaac, to be sacrificed. Even though he didn't kill his son, it is still an incredibly cruel thing to do. If Abraham did that today he would be in jail serving a long sentence. To me there is no love in these passages, just pure unadulterated evil. They just can't be from God if God is Love. How can any Christian show the "love of God" if God is a God who wants to burn animals and humans?

The outspoken and controversial Bishop, John Shelby Spong, in his book Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, also, frees readers from the “clutches of a mindless literalism”, but at the same time, compassionately presents the Bible as a “dramatic and exciting document whose relevance for our day is both mighty and real.” He reveals how literal interpretations of Scripture have been used to justify some things like slavery, the subordination of women, and the justification of war and revenge. Please note that I do not necessarily agree with everything in his book. Spong also offers interesting and well-thought-out ideas that do what he intends – get people thinking about the Bible.

There are other concepts besides animal sacrifice in the Bible that are repugnant to modern consciousness. Here are just a few examples taken from Spong’s book to help you realize the need for a fuller understanding of the Bible.

- Adultery was said to be evil, but both Abraham and Isaac tried to pass their wives off as their sisters, even though this meant having them sexually used by Abimelech, king of Gerar. Genesis 20:1-18; 26:6-11.

- Moses was a murderer, but this was not a character flaw because his victim was an Egyptian. Exodus 2:11,12

- Judah treated his daughter-in-law Tamar as a prostitute and then proposed to kill her when she became pregnant in Genesis 38.

- Whenever the Pharoah relented in response to the plagues, the Bible would say that God hardened his heart so that more plagues could be visited upon the Egyptians. Exodus 10:1. Not a very fair portrait of God, one could certainly argue.

- God appears in some passages to be sadistic, who delighted even in killing the firstborn in every Egyptian household. Exodus 11:4-6.

- God rejoiced over the drowning of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Exodus 15. Was this God not also the God of the Egyptians?

- Later this God suggested that the children of the Edomites should have their heads dashed against the rocks for what the Edomites had done to the Jews. Psalm 137:7-9.

- God was called “a man of war” in Exodus 15:3, a concept far removed from the one called “Prince of Peace.”

- A master could beat the slave mercilessly, for the Law said, “the slave is his money.” Exodus 21:21.

- You could not be a priest if you were blind or lame or had a mutilated face or were a hunchback or a dwarf or had a defect in sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. Leviticus 22:16-22.

- If a “spirit of jealousy” came upon a man, he could order his wife to undergo an ordeal of drinking a poisoned potion. If the woman ‘rotted’, her guilt was assumed. If she did not, she was presumed to be innocent. Numbers 5:11-31. One shudders to think of the mentally unbalanced males who would be willing to put their wives to death wrongfully under this male-inspired law that was said to be “the Word of God.”

- Non-Israelite groups, such as the Midianites, were ordered to be destroyed by the God of the Bible. Numbers 31:1,2. Israel obeyed: “they warred against Midian as the Lord commanded Moses and slew every male.” Numbers 31:7. They spared the women and children and took as booty all their cattle, flocks, and goods. Numbers 31:9. So much for “You shall not steal”!

- Then they burned the Midianite cities. Numbers 31:10. Moses was angry that they had let the women live. Numbers 31:15. He then ordered all the male children to be killed. Verse 17. So much for “You shall do no murder”!

- Then all the females who were not virgins were ordered to be killed, but Moses allowed the Israelite men to keep all the virgins “for yourself”. So much for “You shall not commit adultery”! Verse 18.

- In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, God was portrayed as not knowing what was going on in those two cities, so he had to send divine messengers to bring him a report. This is hardly a portrait of divine omniscience.

- The historic saga of Israel that begins in slavery in Egypt is a narrative written by a variety of persons over more than half a millennium. It reflects cultural traditions long since abandoned as unworthy of civilized people – polygamy, child sacrifice, and slavery, for example. To suggest that this text is in any sense the literal Word of God is to place extreme limits on both its truth and its power.

When one turns to the New Testament the problems do not disappear. In the Gospels Jesus exhorted people to…

- Love their enemies and to pray for them in Matthew 5:44, yet he called his enemies a “brood of snakes” in Matthew 12:34, “sons of vipers” in Matthew 23:33, “blind fools” in Matthew 23:17.

- He disowned his own family in Matthew 12:46-50, hardly obeying the commandment to “honor your parents.”

- Also, in Luke 9:57-62, Jesus said to a certain man that wanted to follow Him but asked if he could first bury his father, “Let the dead bury their dead: but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” And to another man that wanted to first go bid his family farewell, Jesus said, “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

- Jesus destroyed a herd of pigs and presumably a person’s livelihood in order to exorcise demons. Mark 5:13.

- Are we impressed when the one we call Lord curses a fig tree because it did not bear fruit out of season? Matthew 21:18,19.

- How divine is the message that says for your finite failings you will be cast into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth? Matthew 25:30.

- If the Bible is read literally, it must be said that Jesus seems to have accepted without question the language of hell employed by his religious contemporaries. Is eternal punishment an appropriate sentence to pronounce on sinners by an all-merciful God? In the Name of Jesus, damnation has been pronounced on those who do not accept Jesus’ Messiahship.

And this list of objectionable passages could be expanded upon almost endlessly.

Time and time again some things that God was thought to have commanded us became repulsive to me. If all of these things were part of a Bible that had to be believed as the literal Word of God, I found that increasingly I could not give myself in worship to such a deity.

I could not believe that anyone who had read the Bible would be so foolish as to proclaim that the Bible in every literal word was the divinely inspired, inerrant Word of God. Yet the claim continues to be made to this day.

If one doesn’t read the Bible constantly, these issues can be ignored – lost in ignorance. But if one does read the Bible regularly and seriously, these issues, and of course the gruesome animal sacrifice issue, are disturbing and unavoidable. They call into question so many of the attitudes upon which our faith is built. When these attitudes, based on a literal view of Scripture, begin to shake, our faith may also shake, which has been the case with myself, and that is why I’m writing this article.

There is so much more biblical truth and biblical beauty once we escape the strictures of a literalistic approach to the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God when it captures in its remembered history archetypical and eternal truths that we can experience, enter, and live, even today. The Bible is not literally true in hundreds of details, but it does touch the deep wells of truth, and to those deep wells it calls us again and again.

The question must also be asked as to whether we have the actual words of Jesus in any Gospel. To our knowledge Jesus never wrote a single word except for the time he is reported to have written in the dirt, in the story involving the woman taken in adultery (John 8:6). Jesus was a teacher, an oral communicator, with no written words or tape recorders, with a significant gap in time before the spoken words were written down, and with translation from the spoken Aramaic to the written Greek. Just how secure can one be in claiming for the New Testament a literal truth?

The Gospel of Mark is the oldest Gospel, usually dated no earlier than 65 AD. This means that before the first Gospel was written, over thirty years had passed since Jesus died. The fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, appeared around the turn of the century. This means that we have about thirty-five to seventy years between the life and spoken words of Jesus, and the written versions of that life recorded. A thirty-five – to seventy year gap, when added to the fact of translation from Aramaic to Greek, presents a literal view of the Bible with surmountable problems.

When the Apostle Paul died, not a single Gospel had yet been written, and at the time of his death none of the Pauline letters were regarded as anything more than what they were – treasured letters from a revered Christian leader. These letters certainly had not received in Paul’s lifetime the status of Scripture. Paul was too controversial a person for that. One has only to read Galations to see that Paul was in great tension with both Peter and the leaders of the Jerusalem church and to know, therefore, that his words could not have been thought of as “Bible,” much less inerrant. The Book of Acts, written some twenty to twenty-five years after Paul’s death, still bristles with accounts of this tension.

It seems strange that Paul never mentions in his letters the narrative of the road to Damascus. He never spoke of Ananias, whom Acts claims to have been instrumental in Paul’s baptism. It was the second century before either Paul or Acts would begin to be thought of as Bible.

Paul was not an eyewitness to the life and crucifixion of Jesus. Since Paul could not possibly write about that which he had neither seen nor heard, he had to write about what he had been told, and what he had experienced in those days after the events of the first Easter.

The theory of divine inspiration has been developed to counter any threat to inerrancy. The divine inspiration theory suggests that the human scribes wrote as they were directed to write by the Holy Spirit. Whatever disharmony might be discovered to exist in the total text is then blamed on the humanity of the scribe, thus leaving intact the inerrancy of the ultimate source of the word of God. It is not normally employed unless the fundamentalist’s back is up against the wall.

For many people a literal interpretation of the Bible means numerous problems. It offers a God that they cannot respect, much less worship; a deity who is simply not viable, and what the mind cannot believe the heart cannot adore.

Jesus said in Luke 24:44 that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses. Just because Jesus said this does not necessarily mean that He agreed with or approved of it all.

I have gone through Exodus and Leviticus and found many scriptures beginning with "The Lord says". A large portion of both books is Moses saying "The Lord says...", followed by whatever he wrote.

Moses instituted a system of government. In Joshua 23:6 we are told to do everything that is written by Moses.

Some of the things Moses says that "The Lord says"....from the Old Testament.

Exodus

- instructing Moses regarding the rod being turned into the serpent

- all instructions for the wilderness

- all instructions in dealing with Pharaoh

- instructions to Moses regarding Aaron

- Moses said that the Lord said that He (the Lord) brought all the plagues on Egypt

- all instructions regarding the Passover

- Exodus 25:(5 is animals)

- what the Israelites must offer - Exodus 29

- burnt offerings (starts commanding at chapter 25)

- all instructions in Exodus including the Ten Commandments

- all laws regarding men servants, women servants, theft, damage, trespasses, borrowing, witchcraft, idolatry, fornication, for the making of the tabernacle, the alters for burnt offerings, the ephod, the Urim &Thummin, the sacrifice and ceremonies of consecrating the priests, the alter of incense, the holy anointing oil, the composition of the perfume

- instructions regarding the Sabbath - chapter 36-39 is Moses, Bezaleel, and Aholiab doing things

- does not say "The Lord says".

Leviticus

- what animals may/may not be eaten

- purification of women after childbirth

- laws discerning leprosy etc. cleanness issues

- of the blood, eating of blood forbidden etc.

- unlawful marriage, lusts

- of cursing parents

- going to wizards

- rules for priests

- feasts of the Lord, the Sabbath, Passover, Day of Atonement

- of the 7th year, and of the jubilee

- of idolatry

- of religiousness

- of vows

- of the Lords' firstlings

- of tithes

So if what E. D. Buckner says is true then ALL the above things either never happened, were really not approved of the Lord, or maybe He approved of only some of the things.

By these listed it seems God allows meat eating; what meats may and may not be eaten. Please see my article entitled “Does God Want Us To Eat Meat?” http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-doesgodwant.html

We allow our kids to do stuff by saying they may, even if sometimes we wish they wouldn’t. He never did say they must eat flesh anywhere. At least we aren’t commanded to eat flesh, but were we commanded to sacrifice animals? NO, but Jesus did allow it in Matthew 5:23 where He says that when you bring your gift to the alter that you must not have ought against your brother.

Some of Jesus’ teachings from the New Testament

The whole Truth did not come until Jesus came and did away with the Law. John 1:17

Jesus changed the customs which Moses delivered. Acts 6:14

Love – is the fulfilling of the Law! Romans 13:10

If love is the fulfilling of the Law, then the Law must not have been loving. If it wasn’t loving, then how could it have been of God?

Jesus broke the Law of Moses in many ways. He healed on the Sabbath. He did away with sacrifice, the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, stoning for adultery etc. In other words, He didn’t like these laws. Matthew 19:8 tells us that there were some things that Moses permitted that were not God’s ways in the beginning. Here are some more things that were Law in the Old Testament that when Jesus came He did away with, or changed.

1) Not only shall we be in danger of judgment if we kill, but even being angry with our brother without a cause shall we be in danger of judgment. Matthew 5:21,22.

2) Not only committing adultery, but lusting only, is the same as adultery. Matthew 5:27,28.

3) Divorce is no longer acceptable, except if she has been unfaithful. Matthew 5:31,32.

4) We may not “swear” at all anymore. Matthew 5:33-37.

5) Jesus picked corn on the Sabbath. Matthew 12:1.

6) No more hating your enemy. Matthew 5:43-47.

7) Jesus healed and cast out demons on the Sabbath.

8) Christ says He will have mercy, and not sacrifice, and that the guiltless should not have been condemned. Matthew 12:7. Are animals guiltless? For sure!

More information regarding the Law of Moses from the New Testament.

1) Acts 13:39 says that we cannot be justified by the things in the Law of Moses.

2) The law regarding circumcision must be kept. Acts 15:5,24.

3) The law need not be kept except

a) that we abstain from things offered to idols

b) and from blood and from things strangled

c) and from fornication. Acts 15:24,29. This is an instance of God’s concession to man regarding the sacrificing of animals.

4) We are delivered from the law. Romans 7:6

5) Romans 10:4. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. Does this mean the law was not righteous?

6) 2 Corinthians 3:13,14. There was a veil over Moses’ face and the children of Israel’s faces; their minds were blinded to see the ‘end of that which was abolished’. Even now, (New Testament days), the veil remains in the reading of the Old Testament which veil is done away in Christ.

7) Hebrews 8:6-9. The first covenant had faults. Jesus made a new covenant with Israel after He lead them out of Israel but they ‘continued not in my covenant.’ Does this mean what they did was not really what God wanted them to do? How could an omniscient God have not gotten it right in the first place anyway?

8) Hebrews 9:9. The sacrifices could not make him that did the service perfect.

9) Hebrews 10:4. Sacrifices could not take away sins.

10) Hebrews 10:6. God had no pleasure in the sacrifices.

How can we think for one minute that God would want to happen that which He has no pleasure in? Just like with salvation. If it is not God’s will that any should perish how does any one have the audacity to say that God’s will, will not be done?

Hebrews 11:40. God provided something better. Better than what? Better than what He provided before? Why would an All Omniscient GOD provide something inadequate in the first place? Someone else must have provided it - man.

I remember when I first became a Christian learning that Jesus had to die for the remission of our sins, but I didn’t see how the spilling of His blood would make a difference. But then I discovered the scriptures that say “…and without shedding of blood is no remission…(of sins)”. Hebrews 9:22. So His blood had to be shed. But I see no explanation anywhere stating that the animal’s blood had to be shed. It was just symbolic (of the covering, not taking away, but covering only, of sins) to the coming of Christ and the shedding of His blood. That isn’t a good enough reason for some people for these abhorrent animal sacrifices.

A friend of mine said to me, “HOW could killing an animal ever atone for a person’s sins? It would just be too easy today to have someone kill an animal for us so that we could believe our sins would be forgiven. So many people would really like that. I can think of a few people who would gladly have an animal killed rather than do the right things in repentance of their wrongdoing (especially if they don’t care about animals). It would be a lot harder for those of us who do care about animals. I’d rather have to go through punishment or the difficulty of repenting for my own wrongdoings than to put it on any innocent animal.”

I believe the killing of animals as sacrifice is just wrong. I don’t believe the true God (of Love) would ever kill animals for remission of sins of people.

Jews are supposed to care for their animals and not hurt them. Proverbs 12:10. How can anyone care about an animals feelings but then go and sacrifice them?

I think Jesus had to be born into the Jewish religion rather than into Buddhism, or into Hinduism, or some other religion because

1) they needed Him, because some Jews didn’t reverence all life and

2) because God knew it was probably the only religion where some people would kill Him for doing nothing wrong and He had to be killed because His blood had to be shed. Hebrews 9:22.

Please understand that I realize that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ members of all religions. Every religion has its share of radical believers that take things way too far. God knew that some Jews would kill Him but He also knew that many of them would be His friends. Look at how much His close friends, including His mother, suffered, especially at the foot of the cross.

Didn’t Jesus even say that He came not for the healthy, but for those that needed a physician?

One of the most important themes of the five books of the Law is the giving of the Law to Moses, and its implications for the life of Israel.

Exodus 19:1 - 24:18 - Regarding the Covenant at Sinai

Moses and Israel prepare to hear God’s covenant. In a series of ritual acts, they purify themselves (19:10-25). There is an important insight in this passage: sinners could not stand before a holy God. Something had to be done if they were to come into God’s presence. This idea was developed in the sacrificial system, which stressed the need for purification and holiness on the part of those who wish to draw near to God. The idea here it seems was that they – the Israelites or Moses were the ones who developed this plan of ritual acts; they did it, not God. However, it reaches its climax in the New Testament. Through faith in the atoning blood of Christ, sinners are finally (meaning they couldn’t with the animal sacrifices) enabled to come with confidence and joy into the presence of a holy God.

Exodus 30:1 – 31:18 - The particulars divinely communicated to Moses

For Christians, many of the details described in these passages come under the general category of ceremonial or cultic law, dealing with the precise way in which Israel (not God?) ordered its worship and sacrifice. Christian writers draw a distinction between the moral law (such as the Ten Commandments), which remains valid for and binding upon Christians, and the ceremonial or cultic law, which was seen as belonging to a specific period in Israel’s history and as no longer being binding for Christians. Why do they draw a distinction? Christ came to fulfill the Law in such a way that the cultic law of the ‘old covenant’ was no longer binding, having been superseded by the ‘new covenant’ (excluding the 10 Commandments?!) of Jesus Christ. This theme is especially clearly stated in the letter to the Hebrews.

Now just because Christ came to fulfill the Law does not mean that He approved of everything in it. All throughout history and even now God works with people where they are in their spiritual life. For e.g. David was a man after God’s own heart probably more than anyone else has ever been yet he committed a terrible sin, and God used him to bless so many lives. My own former pastor once bragged humorously in a sermon how he once tortured 2 cats and 2 dogs, yet God still uses him to minister the gospel to people. Amazing. This was also the last time I ever attended this pastor’s church.

Therefore, we should not say that God commanded the sacrifices, but rather a concession to man was made for doing it. Since man, in his fallen state, wanted to find a way to appease his holy God, he devised his own rules for practicing it, but it does not mean it was God’s desire. For example, God gave in to the Israelites in the wilderness when they whined for flesh to eat instead of the manna even though it was not God’s desire that they eat the quail. In fact, it says in Numbers 11:33 that God was even very angry about it and struck the people with a great plague. Another example of how God yielded to the people’s own desires is in Matthew 19:8 where God said that because of the hardness of the people’s hearts Moses gave permission for them to divorce, but that divorce was not God’s desire for His people. This is also how a loving parent would act because they know that sometimes their children need to learn important lessons the hard way, through experience. It is very clear to me that God did not want people to kill animals and then perform gruesome rituals with their flesh.

But even more convincing, in Jeremiah chapter 7 it states in verse 22 that God did not command the Israelites regarding the sacrifices, but that God even rejected the sacrifices as well as all of their disobediences. Not only that but God will not accept the sacrifices and calls all of Israel to repentance in Amos 5, especially verse 22.

The book of Leviticus focuses on the tabernacle, the laws and regulations of its worship, supplemented by detailed instructions concerning such matters as ritual cleanliness.

The Levites, along with Aaron and his sons, were given the responsibility for the conduct of worship (by Moses who thought it was holy to sacrifice animals) in the tabernacle and the general maintenance of holiness among the people. The central theme of Leviticus is holiness. The people of God must be holy, just as God is holy. The detailed regulations set out in Leviticus bore witness to the need for every aspect of life to be subjected to the will of a holy God.

Of particular importance was the theme of sacrifice. But as the letter to the Hebrews comments, it is impossible for the blood of bulls or goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:4. For this reason, some Christian readers of Leviticus often find themselves bewildered and confused by its detailed stipulations concerning sacrifice and ritual cleanliness.

The idea of holiness on the part of the people of God stressed the seriousness of sin and its damaging effect upon their relationship with God. It emphasized the need for atonement for sin and affirmed God’s goodness and faithfulness to his covenant in forgiving such sin. All these themes find their ultimate focus in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ through whose blood believers are redeemed.

Personally, I don’t know how sacrificing animals has to do with God’s goodness.

The types of sin offerings in the Old Testament

Leviticus 4:1 – 5:13 The Sin Offering

This type of offering was of major importance in relation to obtaining forgiveness for unintentional sins. [It makes no sense to me that animals should suffer intentionally for people’s unintentional sins, even ‘sins’ of uncleanness! See Leviticus 15:15. How can this ‘uncleanliness’ be a sin? And a sacrifice was even required (vs. 29) for menstruating!]

Leviticus 5:14 - 6:7 The Guilt Offering

The sinner was required to sacrifice a ram, make any restitution necessary, and also pay an additional twenty percent to the priest. Once this had been done, he could rest assured of his forgiveness.

Leviticus 8:1 - 10:20 The Priesthood and it’s Tasks

A central task of the priesthood relates to the distinction between the clean and unclean. As part of its commitment to holiness, Israel was required (by who? Moses?) to avoid ritual uncleanness of any kind, through the warnings of the priesthood. Where ritual uncleanness did rise, it was to be cleansed in the appropriate manner by the priests.

Leviticus 12:l - 8 Purification After Childbirth

Ritual uncleanness can also arise in other manners. A woman was unclean after childbirth and needed to offer a sacrifice to be ritually cleansed (12:1-8). The normal offering would be a lamb; however, a poor woman could offer two young pigeons. Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was poor, for this was the sacrifice she offered after the birth of Jesus. Luke 2:24. (Mary was just a righteous young Jewish girl, knowledgeable in the Scriptures, who was specially chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. God wouldn’t have chosen any other type of person for the job. He even sent His Son Jesus into the world as a mere humble carpenter.)

To me, and to many others, a woman being unclean after childbirth and requiring an animal to be sacrificed as a result is ridiculous. It confirms to me that animal sacrifices must also be of such nonsense. But God knew Moses would make such laws in HIS Name! This is another example of how God uses people where they are in their level of spirituality. Another one that comes to mind is how God used the apostle Paul by changing his heart so exceedingly on the road to Damascus even though he was a murderer of Christians. I'm sure there are many other examples in the Bible you could think of, and even examples of people that you know personally yourself. An offering was also required for infectious skin diseases like leprosy before cleansing could be complete. (13:1-14:59)

Leviticus 15:1 – 33 Discharges Causing Uncleanness.

Any form of bodily emission was regarded as making someone temporarily unclean. A male with any kind of discharge was to be regarded as unclean, as was anyone or anything who came into direct physical contact with him (15:1-18). Similarly, a woman was to be regarded as unclean during menstruation (15:19-30). In all this, the priests were required to prevent any form of defilement to the tabernacle (15:31-33). Since this was also an unintentional sin I presume a sacrifice was also required.

Leviticus 16:1 - 34 The Day of Atonement

One Old Testament ordinance is of particular importance for Jews. This is the Day of Atonement, which was ordained as an annual event for the removal of sin from the people of God. The full ritual was complex, involving the high priest ritually cleansing himself and then offering a bull as a sacrifice for himself and the other priests. After this, two goats were brought forward. One was selected by lot as a sacrifice, while the other became the scapegoat. (“Choosing by lot” refers to the practice of throwing lots – similar to modern dice – and allowing the result of the throw to determine a decision in much the same way as people today toss coins to make decisions) The first goat was sacrificed as an offering for the sins of the people. Afterwards, the dead bull and goat were taken outside the camp and burned. The high priest then laid his hands on the head of the second goat and transferred all the sins of the people to the unfortunate animal. The scapegoat was then driven out into the wilderness, carrying the guilt of the sins of Israel with it. (The “scapegoat”: was so called because it took the sins of the people on it’s shoulders)

The Day of Atonement is of major importance as a background to understanding the death of Jesus Christ, a point brought out especially clearly in the letter to the Hebrews. Hebrews 8:1-6; 10:1-18. Jesus Christ is seen as the perfect high priest, who makes a perfect sacrifice once and for all (instead of the annual ritual of the Day of Atonement). The sacrifice He offers is Himself. By His death, the sins of the people are transferred to Him and removed from His people. Note especially the fact that Jesus was put to death outside the walls of Jerusalem just as the bull and goat were finally burned outside the camp of the Israelites. The Levitical ritual sets the scene for the greater and perfect Sacrifice that was yet to come, and that brings about what the Old Testament sacrifices could merely point to, but not deliver.

Yes, this is the explanation given by many people for the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, and this was in God’s Plan because He foreknew that this is what mankind would do, but it does not mean that God liked it or took any kind of pleasure in it, as we have already seen in the many ways Jesus broke the Law of Moses.

God is not the author of confusion. 1 Corinthians 14:33. So why is this all so confusing? Let’s get inside the head of a little child for a minute. This wouldn’t be confusing for a person with a childlike faith. A little child wouldn’t even believe all this! If they did, surely they wouldn’t like God, would they?

All these strange laws and rituals, animal sacrifice teachings and commands as well as most of the other repulsive acts discussed in this article, are excluded, totally ignored, by Christians today for obvious reasons. They are never taught to children in Sunday school, and no children's Bible story books include any of these stories from the Old Testament. The only Old Testament teachings that are venerated for the most part are the Ten Commandments, tithing, and some other teachings, as we have already seen. But it can't be ignored. I can't ignore it. Normal reasoning would say it should be all or nothing. If we practice and preach the Ten Commandments today then we should practice and preach all the other commands and rituals too, except of course, for the things we have seen that Jesus did away with, or changed. Man – has picked out what he wants to continue practicing, and what he doesn’t want to, hasn’t he?

Therefore, there must be a spot somewhere deep within a Christian’s God-given conscience that knows this is an incredibly unacceptable thing, even to God.

My friend also said to me, said, “I can't imagine that if anyone asked God if they should kill animals for sacrifice that He would say 'Yes, I want you to do that'!”

I certainly can't believe God would have wanted animals to be sacrificed. It's unloving, cruel, gruesome, and barbaric. Because so many Christians believe this was God's will there are so many animal-hating Christians out there. Christianity, and Judaism, are probably the worst religions for revering life.

There is so much in the Old Testament regarding the laws Moses made that to me are just so ungodly, and so unloving. I personally, question the validity of some of what Moses said regarding scriptures preceded with “The Lord says”. He must have made many of these laws (including animal sacrifice laws) himself but said that the Lord told him to, just as E.D. Buckner explains above. Most Christians hearing me talk like this would tell me that I am anathematized for even suggesting that any word in the Bible is not correct. But wouldn’t a good God want His children to question anything that is important to them? A loving earthly parent welcomes their child’s questions and is happy to explain.

If I try to imagine being present at one of these animal sacrifices and rituals I would literally be sickened and appalled, disgusted and mad, angry and devastated, and I can't even imagine it, let alone subject it to a child! No loving God could order stuff like this to be done. This is exactly how some other religions feel, and that's why many people who are searching for a church to join are completely put off with Christianity. I know that everything that was done points to Jesus' sacrifice and that Jesus' sacrifice was the ultimate sacrifice that did away with all sacrifices but that still doesn't explain their necessity or why they had to happen.

So, if some of these repulsive laws are God’s, and some aren’t, how do we know which ones are and which ones aren’t? Use your childlike faith! Let God’s Holy Spirit teach you. John 14:26.

Now, if mainstream Christianity teaches that God accepts the soul of a sacrificed animal as a substitute for man’s soul, is this not what Jesus did for us, once and for all on the Cross? This is proof that animals have souls. They were sacrificed to God. See my article entitled All Animals Go To Heaven http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-AnimalHeaven.html 

If what Mr. Buckner says about how throughout the Old Testament it was customary when introducing any new law, command, or form of worship, to say “the Lord said” so and so, and thereby many things were put into the Lord’s mouth which He undoubtedly never said nor approved, is true, then this is a very serious, and a very significant, yet satisfying, explanation to this perplexing issue.

When we use our childlike faith, there just isn’t any way that a loving God could desire, command, or take any pleasure at all in any kind of suffering for any of His creatures. Our God of Love – would not put little children through, or any person for that matter, to witness such cruel and gruesome rituals. It is not in His nature. If God wouldn’t do that, then it can’t be from God.

If the message of this article has demonstrated love and compassion for all of God’s creatures, and is in harmony with God’s Will and His Word, then it must be of God.

God’s original intent for all of His creation will finally take place again in the culmination of all things when the lion and the lamb lie down together and little children are playing with cobras. No animals or humans will ever hurt nor destroy each other again for the Earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord… Isaiah 11:6-9. This is another proof the animals will be in Heaven. Please see the appendix for some Scriptural references for animal afterlife.

Bottom line

It was never God’s original intent that any animals or humans should hurt each other, hence the world before the Fall.

Appendix

The animals praise God according to Scripture* and according to their own nature. You must have a spirit in order to worship God! The Bible actually says that they have spirits** and that they are going to Heaven.***

* Psalm, 145:10,21, Psalm 148:10-13, Psalm 150:6, Isaiah 42:10, Revelation 5:13

** Numbers 16:22, Numbers 27:16, Ecclesiastes 3:18-21,

*** Isaiah 40:5, Isaiah 52:10, Psalm 36:6, Psalm 104:24-30, Nehemiah 9:6, Mark 16:15, Luke 3:6, Acts 3:20,21, Romans 8:19-21, 1 Corinthians 15:22,38-44, Colossians 1:19,20,23, Hebrews 1:1,2

Please see my article entitled All Animals Go To Heaven http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-AnimalHeaven.html 

My other articles:

Does God Want Us To Eat Meat? http://www.all-creatures.org/living/doesgodwant.html

How To Keep Your Cat Safe http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-howtokeep.html

Why Cats Should Not Be Declawed http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-whycats.html 

Bibliography

The Immortality of Animals: And The Relation Of Man As Guardian, From A Biblical And Philosophical Hypothesis, by E.D. Buckner, 1903.

Understand Your Bible From A to Z, by Alister E. McGrath.

Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, by John Shelby Spong.

Janis Cooper
Independent researcher specializing in human and animal safety, protection, health, nutrition, and spirituality / Animal lover / Pet guardian.
Point Roberts, WA

I can be reached at kittylove@eastlink.ca