The Crucifixion did not end Temple sacrifices

Animal sacrifice continued after the crucifixion: An indication that early Christians did not hold to the sufficiency of Jesus’ alleged sacrificial atonement

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

According to standard traditional Christian belief, all animal sacrifices ended with the death of Jesus on the cross which was, as Christians see it, the ultimate sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Since the sacrifice of Jesus cleanses all sins and purifies perfectly the one that subscribes to it there was no longer any need for any other sacrifice. To desire to add to that which Jesus had perfected, as the Protestants would have it, would be an act of utter ungratefulness and it would impugn on the perfect sacrifice that Jesus made. Simply put, “For the Christian community, animal sacrifices stopped with the death and resurrection of Christ.” [1]

Unfortunately, for the Protestant Christians in particular, such claims do not bear out in the documentary evidence, i.e., the New Testament. Evidence clearly shows that even after the alleged crucifixion, the earliest followers of Jesus continued on with Temple sacrifices. As a matter of fact, even Paul, who is painted as the nemesis of the Law, gave animal sacrifice at the Temple of Jerusalem long after the alleged crucifixion and resurrection.

In Acts 21:26, we are told that Paul and his men fulfilled the so-called Nazirite vow which no doubt included animal sacrifice:

“Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.” (ESV)

What is a Nazirite vow? Commenting on Acts 21:23 which describes Paul as being under the vow, Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch explain:

“A temporary Nazirite vow of abstinence from wine, cutting the hair, and physical contact with corpses (Num 6:1-12).The completion of the vow involved a week of purification, a ritual shaving of the head, and a sacrificial offering of animal and food in the Temple (Num 6:13-21). Paul had completed a similar vow in 18:18.” [2]

So Paul did not only do it once but twice according to Hahn and Mitch. Twice over Paul subscribed to the Mosaic traditions in fulfilling his vows but more importantly, Acts 21 explicitly shows that he was directly involved with animal offering at the Temple of Jerusalem in fulfillment of his Nazirite vow. The implication of this evidence is the negation of the claim that animal sacrifices ended with the sacrifice of Jesus and even more significantly, it effectively weakens the claim that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was once and for all sufficient. If it were, then Jewish Christians would have completely abandoned any and all Temple offerings. They clearly did not. The earliest Christians were overwhelmingly none Pauline in their attitude and were stringent followers of the Mosaic law. Hazel Thompson McCord Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminar, Dr. George Hunsinger rightly remarks that the earliest Christians (or followers of Christ) were Jewish adherents of the Law:

“It seems that in early Christianity it was possible to become a Christian without ceasing to be Jew. The earliest Christians were predominantly Jews who remained law-observant. Even Paul did not reject this form of Christianity in principle. His mission was to establish another form of Christianity alongside the first, a form in which Gentiles could become Christians without needing also to become law-observant.” [3]

From Hunsinger above we learn that Pauline Christianity was indeed an innovation that came after the earliest strata of Christianity and that the first Christians were Jewish in their attitude, i.e., they took the laws and commandments of God seriously. As the earliest Christians were law-observant, the natural implication of that datum is that they would have continued to keep the practice of animal sacrifice as part of their religious vocation. Acts 21 certainly illustrates that important point. Additionally, Paul, according to Hunsinger, would not have been opposed to any of the Jewish Christians’ religious observances which would have certainly entailed animal sacrifice. But why did the earliest Christians persist in offering animals as sacrifice at the Temple if they had known that Jesus’ sacrifice was a God-man event of cosmic proportions that purged any and all sins in all those that would believe in it, thus ending all sacrifice for all times? The only sensible answer to that question is that they did not believe that Jesus’ departure marked the obliteration or remission of sins in those that believed in him.

The very fact that Paul himself continued with animal sacrifices along with his companions and other Jews at the Temple is proof positive that Jesus’ sacrifice did not have the kind of impact that today’s evangelists would have us believe. Jesus’ departure did not end animal sacrifices in his believing community and in this is strong evidence that the earliest followers of Christ did not have the same idea of the so-called vicarious atonement that later Christians started to develop.

Notes:

[1] n.d. (2001, January 1). When did the animal sacrifices stop and why?. Retrieved from https://bible.org/question/when-did-animal-sacrifices-stop-and-why

[2] Hahn, S. & Mitch, C. (2010). Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 243

[3] Hunsinger, G. (2015). Conversational Theology: Essays of Ecumenical, Postliberal, and Political Themes, with Special Reference to Karl Barth. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark. 100

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply