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A sacrifice is a religious act belonging to worship in which offering is made to God of some material object belonging to the offerer - this offering being consumed in the ceremony, in order to attain, restore, maintain or celebrate friendly relations with the deity. A sacrifice is meant to express faith, repentance, and adoration. The main purpose of the sacrifice is to please the deity and to secure His favor.

The act of religious sacrifices was practiced from ancient times (Gen. 4:4ff; 8:20ff; 12:7,8; 13:4,18; 15:4ff; 26:25; Job 1:5; 42:7-9). Before the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, sacrifices were made by the heads of families. Sacrifices have not been offered by Jews since the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.

In Mosaic sacrifices, only certain kinds of animals and fowl could be offered. Sacrifices were of two kinds, animal and vegetable.

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Animal sacrifices:

Vegetable sacrifices:

All Old Testament sacrifices point forward to and are a type of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:10), symbolized by His Body and His Blood and Bread and Wine.


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Sacrifice is a ritual act in which an offering is made to the object of worship or religious veneration. The offering may be in plant, animal, or even human form. Found in the religions of many cultures, past and present, sacrifice is a practice intended to honor or appease a deity and to make holy the offering.

In pre-Columbian America thousands of human victims (many of them war captives) were offered annually in accordance with the complex Aztec ritual calendar; human sacrifice also occurred on a lesser scale among the Maya and various Andean and North American Indian groups. Among cultures of Africa, the Far East, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, sacrifice is commonly offered in connection with ancestor worship. Human sacrifice was formerly practiced by certain groups in all of these areas. The ancient Vedic tradition of India has a highly developed ritual of sacrifice (see Hinduism). Sacrificial offering does not play a significant role in Islam.

In the Old Testament of the Bible the first mention of sacrifice is God's rejection of Cain's offering and his acceptance of Abel's (Gen. 4:2-5). The principal sacrifices of ancient Hebrew worship were the Paschal Lamb and the scapegoat. For Christians all sacrifice is fulfilled in the once-for-all self-offering of Jesus (Heb. 9-10). Postbiblical writers call the Christian Eucharist a sacrifice, identifying it with the pure offering of Malachi (Mal. 1:11).

Hubert, Henri, Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function, trans. by W. D. Halls (1964); Mitchell, L. L., The Meaning of Ritual (1977); Yerkes, Royden K., Sacrifice in Greek and Roman Religion and Early Judaism (1952).


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The offering up of sacrifices is to be regarded as a divine institution. It did not originate with man. God himself appointed it as the mode in which acceptable worship was to be offered to him by guilty man. The language and the idea of sacrifice pervade the whole Bible. Sacrifices were offered in the ante-diluvian age. The Lord clothed Adam and Eve with the skins of animals, which in all probability had been offered in sacrifice (Gen. 3:21). Abel offered a sacrifice "of the firstlings of his flock" (4:4; Heb. 11:4).

A distinction also was made between clean and unclean animals, which there is every reason to believe had reference to the offering up of sacrifices (Gen. 7:2, 8), because animals were not given to man as food till after the Flood. The same practice is continued down through the patriarchal age (Gen. 8:20; 12:7; 13:4, 18; 15:9-11; 22:1-18, etc.). In the Mosaic period of Old Testament history definite laws were prescribed by God regarding the different kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered and the manner in which the offering was to be made. The offering of stated sacrifices became indeed a prominent and distinctive feature of the whole period (Ex. 12:3-27; Lev. 23:5-8; Num. 9:2-14).

We learn from the Epistle to the Hebrews that sacrifices had in themselves no value or efficacy. They were only the "shadow of good things to come," and pointed the worshippers forward to the coming of the great High Priest, who, in the fullness of the time, "was offered once for all to bear the sin of many." Sacrifices belonged to a temporary economy, to a system of types and emblems which served their purposes and have now passed away. The "one sacrifice for sins" hath "perfected for ever them that are sanctified."

Sacrifices were of two kinds:

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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