The Scarlet Thread of the Bible

IMG_2013Sacrifice is a scarlet thread that runs throughout both the Old and the New Testaments. The entire book of Leviticus is devoted to describing the different types of sacrifices that God desired from the people of Israel. But if we really desire to see the heart of sacrifice in the Bible I believe we must look to what the psalmist writes, “Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” (Ps. 50:14 ESV, emphasis added) Although some of the outward displays of sacrifice have changed from the Old to the New testament, there is a central theme that runs throughout both; namely, the internal sacrifice of the heart that manifests itself in many outward forms such as thanksgiving, works of righteousness, piety, prayer, praise, adoration and worship. The theology of sacrifice is integral to any systematic study of the Bible. The ultimate sacrifice made to God was the sacrifice of his unique (monogenēs) Son Jesus the Christ when he was offered up on Calvary as a substitutionary, propitiatory sacrifice on behalf of the sins of his people (John 3:10-19; Rom. 3:23-28; 6:23; 2Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26-28; Heb. 9:11-14; 24-28, etc.). It is in light of this one ultimate sacrifice that we as believers must see all other sacrifices in the Bible through and offer up any other sacrifices of our own to God because of. As R.C. Sproul writes, “But there is still a New Testament sacrificial system. It is not a sacrifice that we give in order to make an atonement, but a sacrifice that we give because an atonement has been made for us.” (R.C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans, 195)

What then is the Biblical view of sacrifice? We see in Leviticus chapters 1-7 that it is a way to deal with wrongdoing and sin. The book of Hebrews gives a similar view. Sacrifice atones from sin. But is this all it is? Throughout both testaments we also see the development of the idea of sacrifices as an embodiment of praise and prayer. Old Testament scholar and biblical theologian John Goldingay writes, “[B]roader New Testament usage picks up the fact that sacrifice is a way of giving outward embodiment to all aspects of worship; in Leviticus 1–7 itself, sacrifice as a way of dealing with wrongdoing comes only at the end.” (John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Life. Vol. 3, 134) There are many texts within the New Testament itself that confirm Godlingay’s view:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:1,2 ESV)

The believer offers up a physical, bodily offering because of the “mercies of God”, or, all the great Christian doctrines of the previous eleven chapters of Romans, of which, the sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for his people is central (Rom. 3:23-28). This is a common pattern, which occurs only in Paul. He first lays out deep doctrinal truths followed by ethical sections on putting these doctrines into practice. New Testament commentator Leon Morris writes, “When he uses this pattern Paul is saying that the Christian life is dependent on the great Christian doctrines. Because these things are true, this is the kind of person you should be, is the line of reasoning.” (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 431)

We are told, as believers in Christ Jesus and through him in God the Father, to offer up our very bodies: “present your bodies (ta sōmata) as a living sacrifice (thusian zōsan)”; but what does this ethic look like? Rightly esteeming the gifts given to them in the body (12:3-8), loving un-hypocritically (12:9-13), blessing their persecutors (12:14-21), submitting to their authorities over them (13:1-6), through love fulfilling the OT law (13:7-10), and being ready for the second coming of Jesus Christ (13:11-14). (James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, 451) By saying, “present your bodies” (ESV) Paul is telling the Roman Church and all believers who would come after (Rom. 15:4) that to present one’s body as a living sacrifice is to “live worshipfully”. (Hamilton, 452)  In fact, we as believers form the Church, the body of Christ, and as such are a temple unto God wherein spiritual sacrifices are made, “At present the church serves as priest in a spiritual temple, offering up herself and her praise as living sacrifices to God.” (Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, 455) To offer up one’s body as a living sacrifice is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ thus demonstrating his body on earth. (G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, 376)

Christians, as the temple of God, still need exhortations. This is what Rom. 12:1-2 is about. Paul admonishes believers to give their lives entirely to God as living sacrifices. “They still face the danger of conformity to the world and need the continual renewal of the mind to discern God’s will. God’s will, then, is not instantly recognizable to believers. It takes a process of sifting (Eph. 5:10) and growth to discern what is most pleasing to God.” (Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, 659) As the temple of God Christians offer up sacrifices of love, adoration and praise to God. The Old Testament sums up the law by saying, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5 ESV, emphasis added) Jesus himself states that this is the greatest commandment and the ethic that flows from it is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39 ESV) To offer one’s heart to God by loving him with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength is to be God’s temple where praises and adoration are offered as well as the living sacrifices of the body carried out through the loving of one’s neighbor. We see that even in the Old Testament, doctrine leads to ethics.

Part of the Old Testament command in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is for Israel to offer spiritual sacrifices as the living temple of God, even then; it was the “language of kingdom law, of obedience … and of spiritual commitment.” (Waltke, 484) It is the state of the heart that counts, this is the thread that runs through both testaments, this is the sacrifice God desires, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” (Matt. 9:13 ESV)

What then is the ethic that can be drawn from these findings? How can we apply this to our lives? In the book of Psalms chapter four we see this statement: “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.” (Ps. 4:5 ESV, emphasis added) The Hebrew word translated as “trust” in the ESV is “batach” that comes from the Arabic word “bataha” meaning “to throw one down upon his face.” (Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, 105) We are to cast ourselves upon YHWH, trusting him as a sacrifice of adoration. But what does trusting look like?

In the book of Hebrews we are given a glimpse into the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and his solidarity with believers, even to the point of calling them “brothers” (Heb. 2:10-18). In quoting from the Old Testament the author shows up that even Jesus had to say, “I will put my trust in him.” (Heb. 2:13 ESV) The Greek word translated as “trust” in the ESV is “pēthō” and can mean to persuade, convince, trust or believe. (Douglas Mangum, Lexham Theological Wordbook) “In the passive, the verb typically indicates belief or obedience that results from being convinced.” (Mangum) Convinced of what? Again we believe that doctrine leads to ethics, therefore it is the belief, trust and persuasion that God loves us and Jesus “likewise partook of the same things” (Heb. 2:14 ESV) that we do (namely, flesh and blood and the temptations and struggles that coincide therewith).

How do we exercise the same kind of trust? The Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Philippians chapter four, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6 ESV) We are to trust, cast our anxieties on God through Jesus Christ and throw ourselves before him at his feet in humble adoration and trust. Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (ESV) To exercise the ethic of trusting God, to offer our bodies as living sacrifice to God and to love YHWH our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is the sacrifice that God desires. This is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that we offer to God through trusting and loving him and by loving our neighbors as ourselves; this is to offer up our bodies; this is to be the temple of God, the Church; this is to be the body of Christ on earth, and this is the thread of sacrifice that runs throughout both testaments.

Works Cited

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Print.

Goldingay, John. Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Life. Vol. 3. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Print.

Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Sproul, R. C. The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans. Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994. Print.

Hamilton Jr., James M. God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. Print.

Waltke, Bruce K. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Cannonical, and Thematic Approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007. Print.

Schreiner, Thomas R. New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008. Print.

Beale, G.K. A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011. Print.

Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon 1977 : n. pag. Print.

Mangum, Douglas et al., eds. Lexham Theological Wordbook 2014 : n. pag. Print. Lexham Bible Reference Series.