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Genesis 8:20 (NIV) Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.

Noah sacrificed burnt offerings. What about Adam and Eve? Did they ever perform animal sacrifice?

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3 Answers 3

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Premise

We cannot conclusively say that Adam and Eve performed the any sacrifices, but the evidence is very heavy that they did and it was ordained by God and likely that He instructed them in it or even did the first one Himself.


It is definitely clear that sacrifice was instituted very early.

Abel and Cain apparently performed sacrifices, Abel bringing animal material and Cain bringing plant material. The ensuing rivalry between the two led to the infamous 'first murder'. It has been argued that Cain knew animal material and animal life was the requirement and his obvious 'cannot be wrong' attitude and jealousy was what led him to murder his own brother.

But did Adam and Eve sacrifice?

One should think that Cain and Abel were told by someone that it was necessary. It is possible that God Himself told them to do so, considering they were also on the same plain speaking terms, demonstrated when God questions and subsequently curses Cain. However, Genesis 3:21 is curious stating just after God declared punishments for the fall:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

God Himself made the garments for Adam and Eve. Depending on your views of whether there was death before the fall this may or may not be significant. Since you do not specify a tradition I will stick to literal Bible interpretation, in which this view, that there was no death mentioned until this verse, therefore, no death before the fall, is well supported.

So many have hypothesized that God Himself actually performed the very first sacrifice for Adam's and Eve's sins. This site argues that for example. Always leading by example, Adam and Eve then mimicked God's righteous actions and began performing sacrifice. Whether you take this view or not it is indisputable that God approved of the animal's killing so that would leave only Adam or Eve to actually perform the sacrifice. It really does not matter, though, who did it first because just one generation later Cain and Able are sacrificing as if it is a regular thing, showing that it was already instituted and the most likely time was Genesis 3:21. Also, if God did this first sacrifice, He did not do any others, again leaving the task to Adam and Eve.

Now it is not until the reveling of the Law that frequency and reasons for sacrifice were known to us at least. This is more than 1000 years later. It is clear that there were thanksgiving reasons, as Noah did in your example, and it is implied that Cain and Able were performing a possibly annual or other time frame sacrifice as required by God. There are also a few examples of reasons for sacrifice in the story of Abraham. The most notable being told to do so by an angel of God when Abraham was told to sacrifice his own son Isaac. So there may have been very well understood reasons by the ancient persons for sacrifice that may have even been started with Adam and Eve shortly after the fall, but the only indication of those 'rules' becoming written is Leviticus with Moses. It is entirely possible that those sections in Leviticus were only parroting what had been done since the beginning.

Conclusion

So we cannot conclusively say that Adam and Eve started the sacrifice rituals, but the evidence is very heavy that they did and it was ordained by God and likely that He instructed them in it or even did the first one Himself.

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3  
It is not until the revealing of the Law that frequency and reasons for sacrifice were known. I'm not sure about that. It's clear that there were well-established moral laws before the Law of Moses (see Joseph resisting Potiphar's wife, claiming that it would be an offense against God, not against Potiphar) and that they were different in nature than the Law of Moses. (See Jesus speaking of divorce and how the rules changed under the Law.) So it's reasonable to assume that, while they have not been preserved down to our time, well-defined rules for sacrifice existed too, prior to the Exodus. –  Mason Wheeler Mar 11 '13 at 21:40
    
@Mason Yes, I thought my whole answer made exactly that clear. Obviously, there were 'rules' for the original persons, but there is no indication that there was any written law detailing how and when God demands sacrifice until Moses. I see how my quoted statement can be misleading I will edit. –  fredsbend Mar 11 '13 at 21:47

I have questioned this for a while. Many believe that the coats of skin represent a sacrifice done by God for Adam and Eve's sin. Nelson's New Illustrated bible Dictionary makes a statement concerning this that has brought a question up to me about it. I shall type the quote and give reference to the page now: This is located on page 1109 under the topic of Sacrifice,

"It is a serious mistake to affirm that Abel's sacrifice was acceptable to God because it was an animal sacrifice and that Cain's sacrifice was unacceptable because he did not bring an animal. Genesis 4 makes no mention of offerings for the atonement of sin, and therefore to insist that the blood of an animal is mandated here is to read more into the account than is warranted. Attitude on the part of the offerer, not the nature of the offering, is in the forefront of the author's concern in Genesis 4. Nor is it helpful to claim that God's provision of animal skins in Genesis 3, in contrast to the fig leaves used by Adam and Eve, presupposes the slaughter of a sacrificial animal. Warmth and comfort are in view, not attonement."

It is because of the facts that sacrifice is not mentioned at the time of the coats of skin and that there is no mention of God teaching Adam about sacrifice, that I doubt it to have been a sin offering at all. It may have been, but, God mentions sacrifice in His word when it was offered at times in the beginning of creation with Abel and Cain, no record of Adam sacrificing at all and no record of Adam even talking with God anymore after being put out of the garden. Just thoughts that God is working on me with.

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So assuming a literal interpretation of the rest of Genesis, there is an issue with this interpretation. If the killing was not for sacrifice but was for comfort and warmth, then the first killing in all of creation was wanton and blessed by God. This has very serious implications. Further, they seemed plenty warm and comfortable naked just hours earlier. They were trying to cover their nakedness and shame with their own works, but it was God that spared them from it. That has overtones of atonement to me. –  fredsbend Apr 23 '13 at 20:08

You didn't specify a specific type of Christianity, so I'll answer with the theology I'm most familiar with. In the perspective of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Adam and Eve did sacrifice burnt offerings in response to a direct commandment from the Lord.

This idea is loosely supported by the Bible (see fredsbend's answer) but for Latter-day Saints, it is more clearly set forth (and canonized) in "selections from the book of Moses" in the Pearl of Great Price, one of the four standard works of the LDS Church:

4 And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.

5 And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. (Moses 5:4–5)

Initially Adam and Eve offered sacrifice simply because they were commanded to do so, but later on an angel came to explain the purpose of the law of sacrifice:

6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.

7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.

8 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore. (Moses 5:6–8)

The idea that Adam offered sacrifices is used to support the important LDS doctrine that the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached from the beginning. It also shows up in the LDS temple endowment ceremony (teaching about the Creation, Fall, and Atonement).

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