Brandon's Notepad

June 23, 2011


Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 3:34 pm

Home > My Research > Christianity > Theology > Basic Concepts > Sacrifice

One cannot study Jewish or Christian culture without understanding the concept of sacrifice.


The word comes from the Latin word sacrificium. The prefix sacra- is the root for our word “sacred”, and facere means “to do” or “to perform”. To put it plainly, to sacrifice means to do something sacred, which is the function of a priest in both Jewish and Christian contexts (and probably many others). According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word first appears in the mid-thirteenth century, but not until the 1590s is it used to mean “something given up for the sake of another”. Wikipedia adds that the word is now used to mean ‘doing without something’ or ‘giving something up’.

Ritual Killing

The most common image associated with the word sacrifice is that of a slain animal or human. This is the most dramatic form of sacrifice, and in the case of human sacrifice, the most extreme. The commonality of this image should be no surprise, as it is a central concept in Judaism (Korban) and Christianity (the Mass), and is practiced in Islam (Dhabihah/Qurbani). Thanks to authors of fiction, a modern American can hardly conjure a mental image of a “primative” tribe without seeing the handful of (usually caucasian) adventurers tied to a stake, about to be burnt alive as a sacrifice to the gods. As explained in the etymology section above, the word has a much more general meaning.


Olah Burnt offering
Shelamim Peace offering
Hatat Sin offering
Asham Guilt offering

Sacred Scripture

Gn 4:3-5 The first sacrifices recorded in Scripture are those made by Cain and Abel. Abel’s sacrifice came from the firstlings of the flock, which was pleasing to God, whereas Cain’s came from his excess “in the course of time”. It is noteworthy that these sacrifices were made well in-advance of the prescription of sacrifices in the Law. Also, there is no indication as to how the sacrifices were made (or even if the animal offered by Abel was killed) or for what purpose (e.g. for atonement or just for worship).

More to come…



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