When did the Church abandon animal sacrificeWhen did the Church abandon animal sacrifice?
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By A. J. Fecko

Scripture References:

Matthew 21:13
        26:28
Mark 10:2-9
        11:15-18
        14:24
Luke 19:26
        22:20
John 2:13-17
Acts 6:13-14
        7:47-50
        21:18-29
        24:17
Romans 15:16
1 Corinthians 5:7
        10:18
        11:25
Ephesians 5:2
Hebrews 10:5, 8, 10, 14, 18, 26

Did the Christians of the first century abandon animal sacrifices beginning with Pentecost (or before), or did they continue to participate in animal sacrifice till the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed? I believe that at least after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, while Jewish Christians continued to respect and use the Temple as a "house of prayer," [Matt. 21:13] [Mark 11:17] [Luke 19:46 ] they ceased to sacrifice animals. This is the natural conclusion from what is written in the New Testament. The only text that seems to contradict this is in the 21st chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:

"and on the morrow Paul was going in with us unto James, all the elders also came, and having saluted them, he was declaring, one by one, each of the things God did among the nations through his ministration, and they having heard, were glorifying the Lord. They said also to him, 'Thou seest, brother, how many myriads there are of Jews who have believed, and all are zealous of the law, and they are instructed concerning thee, that apostacy from Moses thou dost teach to all Jews among the nations, saying -- Not to circumcise the children, nor after the customs to walk; what then is it? certainly the multitude it behoveth to come together, for they will hear that thou hast come. This, therefore, do that we say to thee: We have four men having a vow on themselves, these having taken, be purified with them, and be at expense with them, that they may shave the head, and all may know that the things of which they have been instructed concerning thee are nothing, but thou dost walk -- thyself also -- the law keeping. And concerning those of the nations who have believed, we have written, having given judgment, that they observe no such thing, except to keep themselves both from idol-sacrifices, and blood, and a strangled thing, and whoredom.' Then Paul, having taken the men, on the following day, with them having purified himself, was entering into the temple, announcing the fulfilment of the days of the purification, till the offering was offered for each one of them. And, as the seven days were about to be fully ended, the Jews from Asia having beheld him in the temple, were stirring up all the multitude, and they laid hands upon him, crying out, 'Men, Israelites, help! this is the man who, against the people, and the law, and this place, all everywhere is teaching; and further, also, Greeks he brought into the temple, and hath defiled this holy place;' for they had seen before Trophimus, the Ephesian, in the city with him, whom they were supposing that Paul brought into the temple." [Acts 21:18-29]. YLT

It should be remembered that the people Paul needs to impress with these rituals are the Jewish Christians, not Gentile Christians or Non-Christians. The donation is most often assumed to be for buying animals to be sacrificed. However, it could just as well mean defraying the cost of their food and lodging for 7 days, and possibly the basket of unleavened bread, grain offerings and drink offerings, the non bloody offering that was offered together with the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament period. The Nazirite vow involved a minimum time element of thirty days, not seven. If they were fulfilling some kind of Non-Nazirite vow, perhaps they were performing some type of ritual that didn't include an animal sacrifice. On the other hand, if this was a Nazirite vow, it is circular reasoning to assume that their gifts must have been animal sacrifices. That is, since AD 70, within Orthodox Judaism there are no animal sacrifices, and still they have Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Why should it be assumed that a Jewish Christianity that had finished with the sacrifices could not still have Nazirites and be zealous for the Law?

If it is accepted that in Acts 18 the vow of Paul (or Aquila) was a Nazirite vow, then it is much easier to understand why it was that the hair was shaved at Cenchera instead of at the Temple in Jerusalem if the Christians of this period had already left the blood sacrifices. [Acts 18:18]. It may be objected that a Non-Christian Priest would need to help with the rituals and would be unwilling to do so without animals to sacrifice, and likewise that Paul announced the fulfillment of the days of purification to a Priest. However, if Jewish Christianity had finished with the sacrifices, they could have done those parts of the ritual that were uniquely a part of the Nazarite vow, such as burning the hair, outside the Temple without a Priest. Likewise, Paul's "announcing the fulfillment of the days of the purification" could simply mean he was personally in charge of deciding how the ritual was to be properly done. But even if a Priest was involved, it doesn't necessarily mean he would be unwilling to offer the grain and wine offerings for them, whether or not he was aware that their offerings were part of a Christianized Nazirite ritual. After all, at this time different Jewish leaders had widely different attitudes toward the first generation of Christians.

The Greek word for offering in Acts 21:26 is "prosfora", which when used as a noun, while it can refer to an animal sacrifice, it is much more commonly used to refer specifically to the vegetable offering, and are sometimes coupled together with "qusia" as "sacrifices and offerings." [Eph 5:2], [Heb 10:5], [Heb 10:8], and Heb 10:18 complemented a few verses later at Heb 10:26. Heb 10:10, and Heb 10:14 do refer to the Lord's body as an offering. However, that doesn't mean even in that case "prosfora" is being used as a synonym for sacrifice, for Eph 5:2 refers to the Lord as a sacrifice AND an offering. Perhaps it is the Lord's act of humbling himself to take on our nature that is referred to as being an offering. The noun prosfora occurs 15 times in the Septuagint, usually as the translation of "minchah", which is usually a vegetable offering. It seems to mean an offering of money in Acts 24:17 and Rom 15:16. So the fact that the inspired author of Acts refers to this ritual as "prosphora" rather than a "thusia" is itself a good indication that these were not blood sacrifices.

The fact that Jewish Christian groups of the second through fourth centuries were anti-sacrifice, as well as the early orthodox Clementine literature which has Judeo-Christian affinities, is much easier to account for if the apostolic church didn't participate in animal sacrifice. True, the Ebionites and Elkesites were heretical sects. Still, they clearly descended from the early Palestinian church. Those that deny any relation between the Ebionites and the church of Judaea described in Acts typically reject the historical evidence for the Lord's relatives and often the historical existence of the Lord Jesus as well. So, despite the heretical aspects of some Jewish Christian sects, the fact that they had strongly anti-sacrificial views should be counted as more evidence that animal sacrifice was not a part of the first century Judean church.

Likewise, though the Jewish Christians still honored the Temple as a place of prayer, it's easy to see why, since they didn't sacrifice, they were perceived as Anti-Temple:

"Besides, they put false witnesses on the stand, who say, 'This man does not cease speaking, making declarations against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him saying that this Jesus the Nazarene will be demolishing this place and will be changing the customs which Moses gives over to us.'" [Acts 6:13-14]

"But Solomon built him a house. Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in houses made with hands; as saith the prophet, The heaven is my throne, And the earth the footstool of my feet: What manner of house will ye build me? saith the Lord: Or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?" [Acts 7:47-50]

"crying out, 'Men, Israelites, help! this is the man who, against the people, and the law, and this place, all everywhere is teaching," [Acts 21:28].

Also, it's much easier to see why Saul so severely persecuted the Christians if they had changed at least some of the ways of fulfilling the Law as practiced by the Pharisees and Sadducces, than if they had almost identical practice. It might be objected that Christ came to fulfill the Law. One thing that should be considered is that the Mosaic laws, like all laws, at times will come into conflict with each other. Then it will become necessary to know which part of the Law takes precedence.

"Pharisees came to him testing him, and asked him, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?' He answered, 'What did Moses command you?' They said, 'Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be written, and to divorce her.' But Jesus said to them, 'For your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.' " [Mark 10:2-9] ASV.

Here we have a case where, in most cases, the original law takes precedence over the latter. Surely, for the early Judaean church, the commandment of Jesus the Lawgiver would be regarded over that of Moses. When at the last supper the Lord declared that His blood is the New Testament, or New Covenant, [Mk 14:24;] [Mt 26:28;] [Lk 22:20;] [1 Cor 11:25]. surely the early Jewish Christian community would have been aware of the fact that sacrificial animal blood was no longer for them "the blood of the Covenant". Likewise, the fact that the Lord had driven out the sacrificial animals and those that sold them, [John 2:13-17]; and would not permit that any man to carry any vessel through the temple, [Mark 11:15-18]; in a dramatic way showed the end of the sacrificial system for all those believing in Him.

The apostle Paul also writes that Christ is our Passover, [1 Cor 5:7]; and also wrote "Watch Israel according to the flesh. Are not those eating the sacrifices in the fellowship of the altar?" [1 Cor. 10:18]. It would be very strange for Paul to refer to the fellowship with the altar as "Israel according to the flesh" if the Churches of Judea continued to participate in the sacrificial system. Also, would Paul have endorsed a ritual he, himself, describes as "according to the flesh"?

Finally, the Lord had announced early in His ministry: “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. “But an hour is coming, and NOW IS, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:21-24. NASB. Considering all these things, it is far more likely that the offering of Acts 21:26 was non-bloody, and Jewish Christians did not sacrifice animals after Pentecost.

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Go on to comments: By Rafael - 28 Sep 2009
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