Luke 2:22-40; Does God Want Sacrifices? part 1
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Luke 2:22-40; Does God Want Sacrifices? part 1

Included in this section is the description of Joseph and Mary offering a sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” according to “the law of the Lord” (2:24). These instructions refer to Leviticus 12:8. Luke 2:24 is one of the passages frequently highlighted by those who assert that God does not have much concern for nonhuman beings. Is it possible to reconcile this story with the notion that Christianity calls us to show compassion and respect for animals?
I think there are several ways to regard this story that are compatible with a Christian animal-friendly ethic, and I will explore them over the next few weeks. A first theory is that animal sacrifices were not desired by God, but they were unavoidable in the times of the ancient Hebrews.
Perhaps animal sacrifices were a necessary alternative to human sacrifices. Numbers 31:30 and 31:40 describe human sacrifices ordained by God, and Abraham was on the verge of sacrificing his first-born son to God. Several passages condemn human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:9–12; 2 Kings 16:3; Psalm 106:38; Jeremiah 19:4–5), indicating that child sacrifice was commonly practiced in the ancient world, including among the ancient Hebrews (2 Kings 3:27; Judges 11:30–40; Jeremiah 32:35; Micah 6:7). People would have regarded a prophet who called for an end to all sacrifices as absurd or satanic.
Perhaps abolition of human sacrifices but permission of animal sacrifices was an unavoidable step toward a world in which there would be no sacrificial violence. Indeed, many of the later prophets condemned sacrifices. (See, for example, Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 7:22-23; Amos 5:22-24; Hosea 6:6; and Isaiah 1:11-13, 16-17.) Jesus called for an end to all sacrifices (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7) and drove out the animals from the Temple (John 2:15). Arguably, this view indicates that God cares more for humans than non-human beings, but it is still compatible with the notion that God cares deeply about animals as well. 

Go on to: Luke 2:22-40; Does God Want Sacrifices? part 2
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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