The story of Abraham is talking about a man, who is punished by God to victimize his son, to prove his faith (Gen 22:1–19). Abraham decides to follow his God by killing his own son. But at the last moment, God says 'Stop', and accepts an animal as sacrifice.

Blind obedience seems to be the main value, taught by this story. Do, what the authorities tell you! However, this is totally against our modern ethics: Killing a person, just to prove something, is considered evil.

Now the victimization did not actually take place in the story, but Abraham is praised for doint, what he was told. So does blindly following God justify everything?

You could say that this is just a Jewish story, from the Old Testament, but the story is repeated later, whith different roles: God is victimizing his own son, Jesus, to prove his faith in man. For the parallels, see: Mark 1:11, Romans 8:23, and John 3:16.

But how can the sacrificing of a human be considered a moral behavior? I was taught that instrumenting a person, using somebody like a thing, exploiting somebody is the root of all evil.

Do moral laws that apply to humans not apply to God (even though he created man after his own image)? Did he create moral laws for humans that he does not uphold?

The main question is, as stated in the headline: Is it moral to sacrifice your son in order to grant favor with God?

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    Hi user unknown, welcome to Christianity.SE. Interesting first question.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 11:34
  • Re "Abraham doesn't feel comfortable about it" - where is that suggested? In Genesis 22 he immediately does it; no doubt, question, discomfort, etc is hinted at. Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 11:52
  • @Marc Gravell: You're right and I corrected my text. Maybe I had a softened version for childs in mind. I should have reread the text, which isn't that long. Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 12:51
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    I see you have Granny Weatherwax's morality: "There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is." blog.gaiam.com/quotes/authors/terry-pratchett/58647.
    – TRiG
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 14:37
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    I'm not a native english speaker, and searched for a word for 'instrumentalisieren', and thought 'to instrumentalize' could work, but only 'exploit' showed up. But victimize: He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. - this is a laconic brutality which is in the story, it is not my invention. Since I ask for the moral of burning your son to make somebody convinced of your faith, it's not the word, which triggers emotions, it's the action and situation which the word describes. I think it is very appropriate. Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 15:21

2 Answers 2


Let's lay some foundation from the start. (All scripture NIV)

God and Abraham had quite the relationship. God promised Abraham a son who would become a great nation (Genesis 17:15) even when he was 100 years old and his wife was 90. Abraham believed God and God provided him a son who was named Isaac (Genesis 21:2).

Isaac was the son God has promised Abraham, but as a test of Abraham's faith God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar as an offering to God (child sacrifice was a common ritual among pagans in that time period). From the very beginning of the passage the author of Genesis tells us that this is a test of Abraham's faith (Genesis 22:1). This was an unusual thing to do; however, it allowed God to show his faithfulness and also Abraham to show his faith in God. It's unclear to me from the passage whether Abraham believed that God would provide the sacrifice or if he knew that God could raise the dead (Gen 22:8, Hebrews 11:19).

The final verses in the passage say (Genesis 22:15-18):

15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Faith is the key here, not blind obedience.

Much like Abraham was willing to give his own Son. God, the better Abraham, gave his own son to die for our sins. We see in the context of the New Testament that Abraham's sacrifice of his son was foreshadowing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. The parallels are nicely illustrated in the following table:

Isaac (Genesis 22)                         Jesus

Only son of promise (v. 2)                 Only begotten of Father (John 3:16)

To be sacrificed in Moriah (v. 2)          Sacrificed in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 3:1)

Considered dead by father for              Dead for three days (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
three days (v. 4)

Carried wood for his own sacrifice (v. 6)  Bore his own cross (John 19:17-18)

Submitted willingly to father (vv. 6, 8)   Submitted willingly to Father
                                           (Matt. 26:39)

Raised from altar, his life spared by      Raised from the dead by
the power of God                           the power of God (Rom. 6:4)

Now, from the very beginning God's people has brought sacrifices as payment for their sins (Genesis 4:4 (Abel), 8:20 (Noah)). Later God mandated that Israel make sacrifices for atonement (Exodus 29:33,36).

Unfortunately these were imperfect offerings and were not sufficient to cover the sins of the people. They needed a better sacrifice (Hebrews 9:9-10). Christ was a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Hebrews 9:11-14:

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

This is not about modern day morals about God keeping his promises to Abraham and his people. God promised Abraham that "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky" and "through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed." The initial outpouring of this blessing was through the formation of the nation of Israel. However the perfection of this blessing was through the death of Christ and God granting us as Christians the status of Abraham's descendants.
Galatians 3:29:

29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This is why Christ died, so that we might be children of God. He was a perfect sacrifice for our sins as foretold in the life of Abraham and Isaac. In the same way that God is a better Abraham, Jesus is a better Isaac. In the same way that Israel were Abraham's (and God's) children through the line of Isaac, we are God's (and Abraham's) children through Jesus.

Finally you address a moral concern about human sacrifice. This is an interesting question. For one thing I think it's to let us know that God takes this seriously.
Romans 8:31-34:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

The second reason I have is this one, Isaiah 55:

 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,  
     neither are your ways my ways,”  
        declares the LORD.  
 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,  
    so are my ways higher than your ways  
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.  
 10 As the rain and the snow  
    come down from heaven,  
  and do not return to it  
    without watering the earth  
  and making it bud and flourish,  
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,  
 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  
    It will not return to me empty,  
 but will accomplish what I desire  
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  
 12 You will go out in joy  
    and be led forth in peace;  
 the mountains and hills  
    will burst into song before you,  
 and all the trees of the field  
    will clap their hands.  
 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,  
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.  
 This will be for the LORD’s renown,  
    for an everlasting sign,  
    that will endure forever.”   

Essentially, God is not bound by our human laws and morals; his ways are not our ways.

  • +1 Good answer. But why do you mention Cain in God's people?
    – user14
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 13:31
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    @Sotiris - the mention of Cain was in the context of some of the earliest known people making sacrifices to God. His sacrifice was not what God wanted and he envied Abel. This lead to him killing Abel.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 13:33
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    So basically it is 'do as I say, don't do as I do' for God?
    – beetstra
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 14:35
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    @beetstra Um not exactly...1 John 3:16 calls us to sacrifice ourselves for our brothers and sisters. My mention was that God's morality is not equivalent to our own as he set the moral code. (C. Ross's comment below about moral codes may help you understanding).
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 14:40
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    @beetstra: No not exactly. In fact that can be divided into two parts. Jesus was the perfect man, the model that we all follow. He did exactly as he wants us to do, and was successful at it. When it comes to God the Father the story is a little different. His character is consistent but we are not beings with equal natures to his and yes, we are do do as he says not as he does because some of the things he does would be some things that are good for God are sin for people. See my answer to Does God need our praise and glory?
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 15:08

While the sacrifice of another human is obviously not part of God's plan, this was a test of faith for Abraham. Hebrews clarifies this action

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. Hebrews 11:17-19

This wasn't simply the killing of a son, as horrendous as that would be. This is a test of Abraham's faith that God would fulfill his promises, and can be seen in contrast to Abram siring Ishmael (Genesis 16), where he took God's plan into his own hands.

Also note that the moral law was not revealed when this had taken place. The ten commandments would not be given for at least another five hundred years, and the covenants of grace certainly weren't established. Now when "God tells us" to do something, we have much more information to judge it against. God's relationship with Moses was really different, and largely based on trust rather than morals or law.

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    But Abraham did not know that this was a test. Does this mean that it's moral to do something that would otherwise be immoral, if God told you to? I think this is the main point of the question.
    – hammar
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 13:58
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    @hammar, God defines what's moral. At this point in history, He hadn't specified the moral law (ten commandments or anything else).
    – C. Ross
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 14:09
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    @hammar - no he shouldn't. 1. the old testament law strictly forbid child sacrifice, this was a special case as a proof of faith and a foreshadowing of God sacrificing his own son. 2. The price has been paid, there is no more need for animal sacrifices of any kind.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 15:07
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    What, if Abraham had refused the sacrifice, and instead had offered to pray 48 hours non stop, for example? He could have proven his faith while showing a moral behaviour. Or maybe the story is not to be taken literally? Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 16:50
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    @user I don't see how praying is proving his faith. Your prove your faith by doing what the Lord commands you to do. James 2:14-26 says Faith without works is dead. In fact, this very event (Abraham and Issac) is referred to in verse 21! Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? The story is to be taken literally: have faith in the Lord, even when it doesn't make sense to you at the time. Trust him because he is smarter than any human will ever be.
    – styfle
    Commented Sep 4, 2011 at 21:17

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