Has the Law of Blood Sacrifice Been Abolished?
By Reed Benson
Basking in the soft glow of an evening sunset, a group of religious devotees gather around a sacrificial altar upon which the blood of a snowy lamb has been spilled. A beautifully decorated but nonetheless razor sharp blade still lies next to the lifeless body of the small animal. With the efficiency that only comes through repetition, the ritual evening ceremony is expertly concluded by the vested priest.
Is this a scene from ancient times? Were these Hebrews of the Old Testament? Who are they, and why were they sacrificing a lamb?
Such ritual sacrifices, complete with all of the trappings from the Pentateuch, is still being practiced in the twenty-first century by a small group of people descended from the New Testament Samaritans. They in turn inherited this tradition from the Hebrews of the Old Testament. They believe and practice all of the details of the ceremonial law regarding the sacrificial ordinances.
As Christians, we do not assemble to slaughter lambs, goats, or bullocks in ritual fashion. And of course, we are correct in not doing so. But why do we not? Is it because the law of blood sacrifice has been abolished? Has the principle of blood sacrifice been set aside?
The answer is no! The law of blood sacrifice has not been abolished! The Law of blood sacrifice is still in full force, now and forever. Well then, if that is true, then why do we not continue to sacrifice animals upon an altar as do the modern remnants of Samaritans? It is because we, as Christians and believers in the Old and New Testament, believe that Jesus Christ offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, making the Law of blood sacrifice permanently effective. Ritual sacrifice of lambs today would be pointless, indeed, probably blasphemous, in that such an act would imply some type of failing in Christ’s sacrifice.
To answer concisely the title question then, it can be stated that the law of blood sacrifice has not been abolished, but made perfect and permanently effective.
At this point, you are perhaps wondering why splitting hairs as to the reason is so important, since the practical result is the same—we do not go out and actually perform sacrifices. The reason we must be biblically and conceptually precise is because there are significant implications attached to our thinking.
What hangs in the balance is nothing less than the validity of biblical law as a whole. Is Bible law still valid? Do we have any obligation to obey the Old Testament laws? If so, which? All of them? Some of them? Which of them do we obey, and which are null? Why are some still valid and others not? Or are all of them still valid? Or all of them now invalid? You see, how we answer the question, "Why do we no longer practice animal sacrifice?" will determine the fate of the rest of Old Testament Bible law.
Some have suggested that the only part of Old Testament law that is still valid are the portions that were somewhere mentioned in the New Testament. That is a very dangerous position—not even all of the Ten Commandments were repeated in the New Testament. It furthermore completely misunderstands the purpose of the New Testament, viewing it as a replacement for the Old Testament rather than a complement to it.
Perhaps the most popular view is that all of the Old Testament law is still valid except the portions dealing with sacrificial ordinances, which have been abolished. This position suggests that we delete the sacrifices, the festival laws, the dietary laws, the laws of inheritance, the laws of sanitation, the laws of criminal penalty, the laws of chastity, and just about everything except perhaps the Ten Commandments. While this is a widely espoused view, an intuitive mind will immediately see the gross weakness. Under this formula, the "sacrificial ordinances" become a category that is unnaturally broad. It becomes a catch-all for every Old Testament law that one either does not want to obey, or does not understand how to apply. Any true follower of the Bible cannot simply shrug things off that easily—God’s law is not a preference. We are obligated to obey even if we do not wish to do so. We are further obligated to diligently seek better understanding that we can gradually learn to apply over time more of the laws we formerly did not know how to handle.
What now follows is a position regarding the sacrificial ordinances of the Old Testament. They have not been abolished, nor have any of the other Old Testament laws. All Old Testament law is still valid. Only one thing has changed—the sacrificial ordinances have been made perfect and permanently effective, thus there is no need for further repetition.
We must begin by recognizing the lofty regard that God has for His law. Psalm 19 reads, "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul… more to be desired are they than gold, yea than much fine gold…" (Psalm 19:7,10). In the New Testament we find that Paul has high esteem for the law when he commented, "For we know the law is spiritual…" (Romans 7:14). Elsewhere Paul wrote: "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Romans 7:12). Is it reasonable that God would abolish something that is perfect, spiritual, holy, just and good? If God’s law is perfect, spiritual, holy, just, and good why would He suddenly, and without a clear unmistakable explanation, toss it overboard? Such an arbitrary and disorganized god is not the God of the Bible.
Jesus Christ did not come to abolish or make void any part of God’s law. This should be no surprise to those familiar with scripture: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-19). At this point some argue that Christ’s death fulfilled everything, thus we have no obligation to obey all of the law (apparently just the parts we like). But has the general resurrection occurred? Has there been a regathering of Israel? Has judgment day already passed? Of course not. It is plain to an honest Bible student that all has not been fulfilled. Please note further from this passage that God’s law will be highly exalted in the kingdom of heaven, as will all those who sought to teach and obey it.
Christ did not come abolish the sacrificial ordinances. He came to make them perfect and permanently effective. Old Testament saints were not saved by the sacrifices they brought forth. They were saved just as you and I are—by faith that God would send the messiah to redeem them from the penalty of sin. They looked forward in history to that blessed event. We look backward in history upon it. The bloody sacrifices of lambs, goats, bullocks, and turtledoves did not remove, cover, or eliminate any sin debts whatsoever. Those sacrifices were merely acts of obedience that were, hopefully, reflective of the penitant soul who performed the acts. They were meant to be outward symbols of an inward condition of the human heart. Bloody sacrifices as called for in God’s law were prototypes of the great perfect sacrifice that was yet to come. Israelites who believed that God would someday send a perfect sacrifice practiced animal sacrifice as an expression of their faith that God would be true to His promise. Paul does a fantastic job in explaining this to New Testament Hebrews who were trying to understand Christ’s death and how it related to the ancient ritual sacrifices: "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins… And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man [Jesus Christ], after he offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God… For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:4,11,12,14). Paul articulates that the priestly sacrificial ordinances never did take away, remit, or remove any sin debt. However, Jesus Christ, utilizing the eternal principle of blood sacrifice, did effectively and permanently remove the sin debt for all who are among the redeemed.
Jesus Christ was able to make the law of blood sacrifice permanently effective for two reasons. First, he was, as the replacement of the sacrificial animal, without sin (Hebrews 4:15, 9:14). Thus, the blood shed and appropriated was not of temporary efficacy (effectiveness), but permanent. Second, Christ was the high priest officiating at his own sacrifice. He was of not of the Levitical priesthood of Aaron, all members of which were sinners and died, subsequently to be replaced in turn by their offspring. Jesus Christ was of the priesthood of Melchizedec. The primary difference in these two priesthoods was that the latter was only made up of members who were without sin, and would not die, hence never needing replacements. Jesus Christ was and is the only member of this exalted priesthood. Paul describes this in his epistle to the Hebrews: "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually" (Hebrews 7:3). See there? He remains as a priest continually! The fact that he is a continuously functioning priest before the heavenly altar (yes, heaven has an altar—see Revelation 6:9), means that he acts as a continual intercessor to God the Father for us using His own perfect sacrifice as the basis for His appeals. Again, we go to Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews to verify these thoughts: "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice… for this he did once, when he offered up himself" (Hebrews 7:26-27). Through His own sacrifice, Jesus Christ made the law of blood sacrifice permanently effective and did not abolish it.
For those that insist the law of blood sacrifice has been abolished for some two thousand years, then how do you plan to obtain eternal life? If you are not saved by the law of blood sacrifice, then how? If the law of blood sacrifice is null, by what mechanism will you gain your eternal life? Will it be your good works? Will it be your keen accumulation of knowledge? Will it be an elaborate ritual ceremony officiated over by sinful man? It may be helpful to remember that the law of blood sacrifice was not instituted by Moses. Its history extends much further back in time then Moses, or even Abraham. The law of blood sacrifice was in effect when Abel brought the first of his flock before God (Genesis 4:4). In fact, it is quite probable that God instituted the law of blood sacrifice when he cast Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden and made for them coats of skins (Genesis 3:21). It is evident that the law of blood sacrifice has been in effect ever since the fall of man. It will remain in effect throughout all of human history.
As a final thought, it may be of value to explain why Romans 10:4 is not contrary to the theme presented here. Many misunderstand this passage and presume that it teaches that Christ abolished the law. It does no such thing! Romans 10:4 reads as follows: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." The word end in this passage is best understood not to mean cessation or termination, but goal, purpose, or completion, as in the common phrase "a means to an end." The word end is used again in this context in Romans 14:9, "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living." Thus we see that Romans 10:4 supports the main thrust of this discussion in that Christ did not abolish any part of the law, including the law of blood sacrifice, but was the fulfillment of the law in its perfected and ongoing form.
None of God’s law has been set aside, cast off, revoked, abolished, or made void. All of God’s law is still valid. Each of us has an obligation to obey it to the best of our understanding and ability. We are called to apply it where we know how to do so. If we lack the knowledge, we are to study and investigate that we might do better in the future than we have in the past. None of us will ever keep all of God’s law perfectly—and praise be to God that our salvation does not hinge upon doing so! The law of God is too broad, too holy, and too deep for sinful men to handle with full wisdom and understanding. But let us embrace it with willing hearts and look forward to the Kingdom of God when the fullness of the law shall be realized.