Jul 14, 2011

A Sacrificial Ethic

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Paul the apostle wrote to the Romans, encouraging them to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (12:1). The notion of sacrifice may seem foreign to our contemporary ears today, but it certainly would not have been so during the first century when the apostle penned these words. In fact, the image of sacrifice was implicit in just about everyone’s understanding of worship in antiquity. It makes perfect sense, therefore, for Paul to exhort his readers to spiritual worship using the imagery of sacrifice.

I’ll take this a step further and suggest that offering sacrifice was the very purpose for which man was created in the first place. As many Old Testament scholars — both Jewish and Christian — have suggested, the creation narrative in the book of Genesis describes the formation of the heavens and earth in terms of the creation of a cosmic temple with Eden as its inner sanctuary. If such is the case, then questions arise. What are temples for? What practice are they designed to facilitate? The answer is obvious. Temples exist in order for sacrifice to be offered within them. This gives rise to a further question. What kind of person is ordained to offer sacrifice? Again, it is obvious: sacrifice can only be offered by a priest. Thus in his original role in creation, Adam was given not only the kingly role of exercising dominion over creation but also the priestly role of offering himself back to his Creator in sacrificial, self-giving love. His fall into sin, however, represented his failure to fulfill the destiny for which he was originally created. Thus, Adam the primeval priest became desecrated and defiled, unfit to offer sacrifice.

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