Jesus: Unacceptable Sacrifice

Limestone Sculpture of the Old Testament Pries...
Image by mharrsch via Flickr

I write many arguments and essays on this website with varying levels of anticipated rebuttals and counter-rebuttals. If I follow my argument with a refutation to the canonical response, I find that people tend to dig in and defend that response only. When I talk to people in person, I tend to state my case as though there isn't a refutation available so that people who actually think that there's a mistake made somewhere will come up with something. If they have to come up with their own, many times they end up with the canonical answer, but they more frequently come up with an argument that I have not heard of otherwise. I find this to be useful to both me (I get the widest range of possible responses) and the Christian/theist that I'm talking to (they have to come up with why they think the way they do).

Getting deep into Bible verses and theology is not everyone's cup of tea. That being said, if you can stomach it, there are some really weird and interesting things that bubble to the surface.

For example, let's consider:

What specifically about the death of Jesus fulfills the requirements for a sacrifice given in the Old Testament?

I'd argue: nearly nothing. And it's worse than that.

Take for example, what had to be done for an animal sacrifice to be valid in the Old Testament:

Leviticus 3:1-5 (NRSV)

If the offering is a sacrifice of well-being, if you offer an animal of the herd, whether male or female, you shall offer one without blemish before the Lord. You shall lay your hand on the head of the offering and slaughter it at the entrance of the tent of meeting; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash the blood against all sides of the altar. You shall offer from the sacrifice of well-being, as an offering by fire to the Lord, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is around the entrails; the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys. Then Aaron’s sons shall turn these into smoke on the altar, with the burnt-offering that is on the wood on the fire, as an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.

I'd imagine that what would have to happen with Jesus is something similar:

  1. Take (blemish free) Jesus.
  2. Lay hands on his head.
  3. Slaughter Jesus at the entrance of the tent of the meeting.
  4. Dash his blood against all sides of the altar.
  5. Offer the fat that covered Jesus' entrails and all the fat that is around His entrails, His two kidneys with the fat that is on them at His loins, and the appendage of His liver.
  6. Burn these on the altar.

It doesn't seem like any of this was followed! What, you think that this sacrificing business is supposed to be anything but disgusting?

The sacrifice wasn't even done by a priest, it was done by a Roman! Would God accept a sacrifice from a Roman who didn't even think that he was making  a sacrifice to the Jewish God? The most important sacrifice of all time? Besides almost none of what was necessary for a sacrifice being done in the case of Jesus: His liver wasn't even removed and burned on the altar!

Well, how does the atonement part of the sacrifice work? Let's look at the ceremony that Jesus is allegedly supposed to replace.

Leviticus 16:29-34 (NRSV)

This shall be a statute to you for ever:

In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny yourselves, and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves; it is a statute for ever.

The priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the linen vestments, the holy vestments. He shall make atonement for the sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.

This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the people of Israel once in the year for all their sins. And Moses did as the Lord had commanded him.

What is required for all of Israel to be atoned?

The sacrifice (done properly) alone.

There are no other requirements such as believing that the sacrifice occurred, or some other weird requirement. The priest did it, God forgave everyone. This is why it is even worse for the modern day Christian. Why would there need to be some weird kind of belief that the sacrifice happened? That was never a requirement before. So even if Jesus' bumbling sacrifice worked in some way, why would there be extra requirements for that? Christians ought to think that we are all off the hook for eternity with no further commitment.

Before you roll your eyes about not requiring belief, let's go into what the Messiah and the New Covenant was supposed to bring according to the Old Testament.

Jeremiah 31:31-32 (NRSV)

"The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord."

So, what did God mean when He said that this would be an everlasting covenant? He said, three times, that this is the way it would happen forever. A Christian would have to argue that He meant, this will be our agreement unless you violate these terms x, y, z (unstated). When I come across this kind of explanation, I always ask the Christian, "Would you be willing to correct the Word of God as written in Leviticus to reflect what God actually meant to say? You can use my pen if you want to go ahead and update it."

People tend to be very hesitant to cross out Bible verses and rewrite them. It's psychologically difficult, especially if they think that it's the inerrant Word of God.

Shouldn't this make a Christian who is expecting "everlasting life" a bit concerned about how long "everlasting" really is? Yes, it should. It's strange to me that it never does.

Also, the entire point of the covenant was to give a way for people who make mistakes to atone for those mistakes. To say that this mistake fixer becomes invalid because mistakes were made seems to get it wrong in another way.

Another point: it reeks of backward rationalization. The story goes: God will provide protection forever, and if mistakes get made there is a system in place to atone for those mistakes. Several hundred years go by. The Jews have a rough time -- Jeremiah realizes that God doesn't provide His promised protection. Several options are available to explain this. Among others: 1. God isn't real. 2. God is real, but he's called off the everlasting covenant.  Option 1 sucks, but option 2 might be all right if a new covenant will come along. Since the author(s) of Leviticus had no idea that this everlasting covenant would expire or be negated, it has to be someone writing hundreds of years later figuring out why it doesn't appear to be that God exists.

Penultimately, the coming covenant has very clear signs that will come with it. Considering the remaining Jeremiah quote:

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NRSV)

"But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more."

  1. The Law is written on the minds and hearts of everyone. This means that people no longer need to teach anyone around them about God. Why? Because "they will ALL know me".
  2. This explicitly says that "faith" will no longer be needed in the New Covenant. It is replaced by pure knowledge of God.
  3. God will forgive and forget.

This provides all kinds of problems for a Christian.

When asked "why doesn't God just make His will known to every person by innate knowledge that can be verified, consistently by anyone and everyone, via trivial self-reflection?" Answers range from: no free will (terrible answer) to other even worse answers. Yet, this is what the New Covenant will bring. Wait.

So, is the New Covenant upon us?

If you want to say yes, then, why has the major requirement of the New Covenant conspicuously absent?

If no... then what kind of Christian are you?

Lastly, and most insidiously, is that it gives rise to a reality that Christians do not tend consider possible. To combine another essay and this one: If God can renegotiate everlasting covenants, then what about the abject failure of people to have "these signs will follow those who believe."

If it can be shown that Christians cannot drink poison w/o it harming them, then perhaps this New Covenant is broken in the same way that the Old Covenant was broken.

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