Some people attack the concept of Christ’s death being a sacrifice, since they define the word “sacrifice” to mean giving something up that you will never get back. (I suppose that is how I would define it as well.)

Because the death of Christ resulted in only temporary loss and, in fact, ultimately greater glory, it cannot rightfully be called a sacrifice.

I recently heard N.T. Wright briefly respond to this argument by saying that sacrifice doesn’t mean this in the Bible, and that this argument imposes a modern understanding of the word on the ancient texts of the Bible.

However, he didn’t elaborate on what “sacrifice” means in the Bible. (Or, I didn’t understand what he said.)

So my question is, if sacrifice doesn’t mean giving something up that you will never get back, what does it mean?

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    does the dictionary definition not suffice? an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. – depperm Dec 27 '19 at 12:05
  • What do you mean by suggesting that his physical resurrection meant he "actually got more back than he lost through death"? Before coming to dwell with us he was the eternal and uncreated Word of God, who was with God in the beginning and who was God (John 1:1-3, 14). Do you think Jesus was only a man? If so, that might explain your difficulty in grasping the Christian view of the pre-human Jesus, his life, death, resurrection and what that meant for sinful humanity. Might I respectfully ask who you think Jesus was? – Lesley Dec 28 '19 at 19:22
  • I do not believe Christ was mere man, and have rephrased the question, because people seem to be distracted by and have misunderstood certain statements. Firstly, I am repeating an argument put forth by others, not my personal views. – למה זה תשאל לשמי Dec 28 '19 at 22:43
  • Second, I think this site should stay friendly to non-believers. If a sincere, non-Christian inquirer were to put forth a question like mine, articulated in an imperfect fashion, and then receive downvotes and taken offense at, it might only serve to reinforce prejudices towards Christianity that he/she possesses. – למה זה תשאל לשמי Dec 28 '19 at 22:45
  • Third, I don’t understand what is the basis for voting to close this question. – למה זה תשאל לשמי Dec 28 '19 at 22:46

What is the meaning of sacrifice?

This is for the most part a Catholic perspective on the definition of the word sacrifice.

This is a question that has several different ways to interpret the meaning of the word, sacrifice. I hope it helps.

Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or humans to a higher purpose, in particular divine beings, as an act of propitiation or worship.

The term usually implies "doing without something" or "giving something up" (see also self-sacrifice). But the word sacrifice also occurs in metaphorical use to describe doing good for others or taking a short-term loss in return for a greater power gain, such as in a game of chess. - Sacrifice (Wikipedia)

Thus we can see different meanings of the word sacrifice:

  • Abstaining from some food or drink is a sacrifice.
  • To make an oblation of food or drink to a divine being is a sacrifice.
  • To immolate an animal to God is a sacrifice that is often seen in the New Testament.
  • To self-sacrifice oneself for the good of others.
  • A holocaust is equally a sacrifice.
  • The offering of the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass by validly ordained priests of those Christian denominations that hold this to be a sacrament.

Catholic Culture defines sacrifice as follows:

The highest form of adoration, in which a duly authorized priest in the name of the people offers a victim in acknowledgment of God's supreme dominion and of total human dependence on God. The victim is at least partially removed from human use and to that extent more or less destroyed as an act of submission to the divine majesty. Thus a sacrifice is not only an oblation. Where an oblation offers something to God, a sacrifice immolates or gives up what is offered. In sacrifice the gift offered is something precious completely surrendered by the one making the sacrifice as a token of humble recognition of God's sovereignty. (Etym. Latin sacrum, holy, sacred + facere, to make, do.)

The following is the definition of what a holocaust is according to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) and which predates the more commonly known expression of the word holocaust since 1945.

As suggested by its Greek origin (holos "whole", and kaustos "burnt") the word designates an offering entirely consumed by fire, in use among the Jews and some pagan nations of antiquity. As employed in the Vulgate, it corresponds to two Hebrew terms: (1) to holah, literally: "that which goes up", either to the altar to be sacrificed, or to heaven in the sacrificial flame; Kalil, literally: "entire", "perfect", which, as a sacrificial term, is usually a descriptive synonym of holah, and denotes an offering consumed wholly on the altar. At whatever time and by whomsoever offered, holocausts were naturally regarded as the highest, because the most complete, outward expression of man's reverence to God. It is, indeed, true that certain passages of the prophets of Israel have been construed by modern critics into an utter rejection of the offering of sacrifices, the holocausts included; but this position is the outcome of a partial view of the evidence, of the misconception of an attack on abuses as an attack on the institution which they had infected. For details concerning this point, and for a discussion of the place which the same scholars assign to the holah (holocaust) in their theory of the development of the sacrificial system among the Hebrews, see SACRIFICE. The following is a concise statement of the Mosaic Law as contained chiefly in what critics commonly call the Priests' Code, concerning whole burnt-offerings.

Chief purposes of holocausts

The following are the principal purposes of the whole burnt-offerings prescribed by the Mosaic Law: By the total surrender and destruction of victims valuable, pure, innocent, and most nearly connected with man, holocausts vividly recalled to the Hebrews of old the supreme dominion of God over His creatures, and suggested to them the sentiments of inner purity and entire self-surrender to the Divine Majesty, without which even those most excellent sacrifices could not be of any account before the Almighty Beholder of the secrets of the heart. In offering holocausts with the proper dispositions worshippers could feel assured of acceptance with God, Who then looked upon the victims as a means of atonement for their sins (Leviticus 1:4), as a well-pleasing sacrifice on their behalf (Leviticus 1:3, 9), and as a cleansing from whatever defilement might have prevented them from appearing worthily before Him (Leviticus 14:20). The holocausts of the Old Law foreshadowed the great and perfect sacrifice which Jesus, the High Priest of the New Law and the true Lamb of God, was to offer in fulfillment of all the bloody sacrifices of the first covenant (Hebrews 9:12, sqq.; etc.). - Holocaust

So we see that according to the Mosaic Law only Leviticus priests could offer a sacrifice or holocaust to God for the people.

Now for on last definition in order to understand where I am going with this subject of sacrifice. To understand Christ’s true sacrifice we must understand what a priest is in general and what Christ is as our High Priest in particular.

A priest (or priestess) is a religious leader authorized to perform the sacred rituals of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and one or more deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities. Their office or position is the priesthood, a term which also may apply to such persons collectively. - Priest (Wikipedia)

Although the sons of Aaron were chosen to be priest and Aaron was the first high priest and Eleazar became his successor and though the Scriptures do not say so explicitly, the succession of the eldest son to the office of high-priest became a law.

Finally Jesus known as the Christ became our Eternal High Priest forever and offered his life upon the altar of the Cross for our salvation.

Now Jesus offered his life for our redemption. He was pure, innocent, without blemish and sin. He is equally our Divine Lord and God. What a great God we have!

For God, to have offered himself on the altar of the Cross as our Eternal High Priest is no little matter to say the least, regardless of the duration of his torments. He was abandoned by his disciples, arrested without cause, sweated blood in the Garden of Olives, insulted by the Jewish high priest and his own nation, tried by a foreign leader, scrounged, made to carry his Cross and was Crucified on the tree of ignominy for our redemption. On the Cross he suffered hunger, thrust, pain and ignominy. Jesus was totally striped of all human dignity on the Cross. He was totally naked!

His sacrifice was a total holocaust in order to save us from our sins.

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  • 'Holocaust' - Hebrew Shoʾah meaning Catastrophe, but not restricted to genocide. Jesus, as God incarnate, offered his life for our redemption - what a sacrifice! No wonder there was silence in heaven. – Lesley Dec 28 '19 at 19:31
  • On the back of this question, and your answer, I have posted a related question. I don't know if this is disallowed, but if it is, I'm sure someone will mention it! christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/74759/… – Lesley Dec 28 '19 at 19:49
  • @Lesley I am good with it. Pax. – Ken Graham Dec 28 '19 at 20:58
  • "So we see that according to the Mosaic Law only Leviticus priests could offer a sacrifice or holocaust to God for the people." The only problem is at Calvary, it can be seen that Jesus was not acting as the High Priest but Jesus is the very "sacrifice" to be offered to God. The mystery question is, can Jesus act simultaneously presiding as both the High Priest and the sacrifice at Calvary? If Jesus acted both ways, then it does not resemble as it deviates from the Levitical high priest rituals. – marian agustin Dec 29 '19 at 8:36
  1. Was Christ's death a sacrifice? Yes.

    The book of Hebrews outlines this clearly as follows:

    For reference: Strongs references G2378 (thysia) is a word meaning 'sacrifice` used throughout the New Testemant.

    In Hebrews 10:8, G2378 is used as the reference to the sacrifices that are "offered according to the Law."

    Earlier in Hebrews 9:2-26, it reads "... (25) Nor was it that He [Christ] would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. (26) Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice (G2378) of himself."

  2. 'If sacrifice doesn’t mean giving something up that you will never get back, what does it mean? `

I believe that these questions about it may help narrow the definition for you:

  • Is it strictly related to the death of something?

    No. We may reference Romans 12:1 commanding us to give our bodies as 'living and holy sacrifices (G2378)' to God.

  • Does it include the death of a living being?

    Yes. Hebrews 7:27 as well as other scriptures reference the giving of sacrifices by high priests for the forgiveness of sins. When looking back to levitical law (such as Leviticus 1:1-17) we can see the details of the burnt offering.

  • Does sacrifice look the same in the Old Testemant (as Jews) and New Testemant (as followers of Christ)?

    No. Hebrews 9:28-10:2 is a good reference here. (10:1) "For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices (G2378) which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. (10:2) Otherwise they would not have ceased to be offered..." We no longer offer sacrifices as prescribe by the law, but rather as Jesus says in Matthew 9:13 & 12:7 "I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice (G2378)."

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