I have a question regarding the history of sacrificial systems and hope you will be able to answer it.  I generally understand the aspects of sacrificial system and partial reason that was established because of the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice.   However, I was wondering about sacrificial system in general, its roots and human ideas about it.  Bible teaches us that God defined details about sacrificing in Exodus and other Pentateuch books.  However, people were sacrificing way before (Cain/Abel, Noah, Abraham, Job…) and even pagan tribes were sacrificing cattle and – sadly – human sacrifices.  Where have they all got notion they ought to give sacrifices even before God gave detailed instructions?   (My guess would be God told them to sacrifice back after fall in Eden, so they were carrying this tradition from generation to generation, but I’m not sure.)  Thanks in advance


To answer this question requires some speculation which I base on what seems to me to be common human experience. My experience (combined with what many others have observed as well) tells me that it is inherent to human beings to believe a few things:

1. There is a higher, supernatural reality in the universe.

2. We, as humans, are responsible in some way to that higher reality.

3. We, as humans, are in trouble with this universal power because we have broken the natural moral laws held by that supernatural entity.

4. We, as humans, believe that ultimate justice is a natural part of reality.

5. We, as humans, naturally believe that our debt to the higher power can be somehow affected by offering sacrifice to atone for offense against the authoritative supernatural power.

You can see that I am struggling with the vocabulary here because I am trying to use general terminology which would apply to nearly all human cultures.

I would argue that God gave us the knowledge of these things. We have a conscience and our conscience informs us of these things. We know these things because they are true. Of course, anthropologists and atheists will not accept this explanation, but that is what I believe, based on experience, but also on what I know from the Bible. I believe the Bible is inspired by God and the scripture tells us that the things described above are true of the one God of Heaven—the Christian God.

If I am right, then this would explain why nearly all people from nearly all cultures at all times have had some sort of system of sacrifices or taboos intended to create a right relationship between people and the supernatural entities which control the universe. It will be hard to prove scientifically or historically that the world-wide use of sacrifices as part of human religion arose directly from knowledge gained by Abel or Noah or one of the very early patriarchs. I cannot prove that this is NOT how people came to be aware of the need for sacrifice, but it is my opinion that this cultural tendency came from inherent knowledge we all have, even if our particular culture was not directly affected by Noah or another patriarch.

I cannot prove that the tendency to offer sacrifice comes from our inherent “conscience”, but I believe this is the reason almost all cultures have some sort of sacrificial system, not because of knowledge passed along from Noah. In the immediate area of the Middle East, such ideas might come from descencants of Noah, but it is likely that the idea arose independently in different parts of the world.

John Oakes

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