Excerpts from "Humane Religion", an online magazine: #1: An article called "Atonement for Sin: A Deadly Doctrine"; and immediately following it, there is a second excerpt, #2, called "Christianity and Sacrificial Religion".

Please see Humane Religion's website at: www.all-creatures.org/hr   .



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"Atonement for Sin: A Deadly Doctrine".

Humane Religion Magazine

September - October 1997 Issue

A Deadly Doctrine

Although Christianity has no tradition of animal sacrifice to justify, it retains the orthodox Jewish insistence that this bloody worship was divinely instituted. The Old Testament does preserve a record of those who insisted that sacrificial religion was demanded by God, but it also reports that the Latter Prophets denounced this slaughter of the innocent. So why has the Christian Church chosen to teach that this murderous worship was an expression of God's will?

The ancient practice of animal sacrifice is the foundation on which the doctrine of Christ's Atonement has been built. This doctrine teaches that by the death of Jesus, man and God were finally reconciled. It says that what could not be accomplished by the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent animals was finally accomplished by the crucifixion.

The killing of animals in the house of the Lord was supposed to appease God, whose holiness was offended by the sins of men. Always implicit—and often explicit—in this sacrificial religion, was the understanding that man deserved punishment for his sins. And if God were not placated by a substitutionary victim, the person, himself, would have to die. So the innocent animal died in the place of the sinful man. The sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, among many other places in the Bible, de-scribes one of the procedures followed in killing victims.

Innocent animals died in the place of sinful men.

"[The priest] shall bring a young bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering...He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain [i.e., into the Holy of Holies ] He shall sprinkle it on the Atonement cover...In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the un-cleanliness and rebellion of the Israelites." (Lev. 16:11, 15,16 NIV)

Christianity, as well as orthodox Judaism, accepts this butchery at the Tabernacle door, and the sprinkling of the animal's still-warm blood in the Holy of Holies, as having been commanded by God; as being pleasing to Him. And Christianity went beyond attributing the death of animals to their Creator. It taught that God also decreed that Jesus—another innocent victim—should die for men's sins.

This concept of sacrifice to a God offended by men's sins is deeply ingrained in the traditional language of the Christian church. The patristic writers spoke without equivocation of God's wrath and judgment and of the need for the penalty, due to sin, to be paid.

St. John Chrysostom wrote at length about the need for God's wrath to be propitiated by sacrifice, as did Ambrose and Cyprian. Tertullian said that Christ was sent to earth to die: "He had come for this purpose that he himself, free from sin and altogether holy, should die for sinners."

St. Augustine said that Christ took on himself the punishment that was due for men's sins when he died on the cross in their place. "Since death was our punishment for sin, his death was that of a sacrificial victim offered for sin." Augustine also said that the sacrifice of animals in the Old Testament was a prototype of the most effective sacrifice of all—the death of Jesus on the cross.

Most of these early Christian writers based their atonement theories on the Epistles of St. Paul. In those letters to the early Christian converts, Paul's reasoning about the significance of Jesus' death was based on his training as a Pharisee—as one who had been scrupulously trained in Mosaic Law. The Law which described the method, and the rationale, for the ritual killing of various animals. In Paul's time, the Jerusalem Temple was the hub of Judaism and the slaughter of living creatures was the central act of worship there. For Paul, there was no redemption of the penalty due to sin without the death of a victim. It was this belief that led him to present the death of Christ as the zenith of sacrificial worship. In the book of Hebrews he wrote:

"Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he [Christ] entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ who offered himself without spot to God......he hath appeared to put away sins by the sacrifice of himself.( Heb.9:12-14,26.)

In the book of Romans Paul wrote: "[God] spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all" Romans 8:32) And he is the author of that familiar passage of scripture which says "without the shedding of blood, there is no remission [of sins]." This statement, recorded in Hebrews 9:22, has become a Christian mantra repeated endlessly, and mindlessly, through the centuries.

Paul could develop and preach his theory of Christ as the ultimate sacrificial victim only because he had never met Jesus. He never walked with the Master as he taught about the nature of God and his own mission on earth. He did not know that Jesus said “Love your enemies...that ye may be the children of your Father: he maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good.” He did not know the parable of the Prodigal Son, which Christ used to show that God's love and com-passion was always present; that there was no need to atone for one's sins. That no sacrifice had to be made in order for transgressions to be forgiven.

Neither did Paul know that Jesus taught his followers to return good for evil, thereby showing their kinship with the God who is "kind to the ungrateful and wicked... [therefore] be merciful as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:35,36).  The God whom Jesus revealed was nothing like the God of Paul's understanding: a God who needed the sacrifice of countless animals, or of his own son, in order to be reconciled with sinful men.

St. Paul never met Jesus.. Neither did he have access to the Gospels

Since Paul never met Christ, the only other way he could have known what Jesus taught about the nature of God was through the witness of the Gospels. But the record that would later be circulated among Christians had not yet been written. And not only did Paul lack access to the Gospels, it was not until almost three years after his conversion that he finally journeyed to Jerusalem to meet with those whom Jesus had called to be his disciples. Even then he spent only two weeks with Peter and the others who had known Christ, and during that time their discussions centered on the role that Paul would play as Apostle to the Gentiles. After this short visit, Paul headed back North again and did not meet with Peter, or the other church elders, for another fourteen years.

During those years, with no one to tell him what Jesus revealed about God, he constructed his own theory of Christ as the sacrificial victim. And in order to do this Paul, like his Jewish ancestors and Christian descendants, ignored the biblical texts that denounced any kind of sacrifice—human or animal.

In validating the concept of sacrificial religion, Paul preserved the ancient belief in a God whose "justice" demanded the brutal death of an innocent victim. But Jesus did not die because God demanded atonement for sins. He died because men did not want to hear what he said about the God who cared for all He had created; the God in whom there was no appetite for retaliation or demand for restitution.

During his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ prayed to be delivered from the fate that awaited him. But finally he was able to say "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." And the journey towards crucifixion began.

But it was not God's will that Christ—or anyone else—die that brutal death. Crucifixion was a torture devised and carried out by men. What Jesus discerned as the will of God that night in the Garden, was that he must embody the principle of love and forgiveness, even unto his own death.

Jesus had told his followers that hatred and violence was never justified. "Love your enemies, do good to those that hurt you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you;....Love your enemies and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked." (Luke 6:27, 28,35 NIV)

“He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.”

And now, when he was about to be delivered over to his enemies, he demonstrated the ultimate rule of love: even in defense of the highest good, violent attacks on the person of others was forbidden. When they came to arrest him, the Apostle Peter drew his sword to launch a counter-attack. But Jesus told him to stop: "Put your sword back in its place. For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels." (Matthew 26: 52,53 NIV)

Jesus let Peter know that although he had the kind of power at his disposal that could defeat his persecutors, God's power was never to be used destructively. Throughout his life, Christ had been faithful in using that power only for good. He had healed the lame, the blind, and the leprous. And even on the brink of what must have seemed like the utter failure of his mission, he remained faithful to the revelation of his heavenly Father, whose love and goodness was all-encompassing.

Months before his death Jesus had been speaking to a large crowd that included many Pharisees. He told them "I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me...Yet you are ready to kill me." (John 8:28,36.NIV)

Men killed him because they wanted to silence him. They wanted to continue their worship of the violent, vengeful Jehovah who demanded the death of multitudes of men on the battlefield, and multitudes of animals on his altars. They wanted to worship the kind of God in whose name they could indulge their own appetite for brutality and destruction.

In the doctrine of the Atonement, this ancient, idolatrous worship continues. Many who call themselves Christians accept Paul's claim that God required the sacrificial death of Jesus, just as he had once demanded the slaughter of animals. But in accepting Paul's teaching, they reject the revelation of Jesus Christ, who lived and died trying to turn men away from their worship of the man-made God they had created in their own image. A partisan God who could be cruel as well as kind; a God who alternately blessed and cursed His creation. A God whose punishment could be avoided by the sacrificial death of an innocent victim. #

The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me? I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats...Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight.(Isa.1:11,16)

For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. (Jer.7:22)

I despise your feasts...When you offer me holocausts, I reject your oblations, and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle...but let justice flow like water and integrity like an unfailing stream. (Amos 5:21, 22)




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Here is a second excerpt, #2, called "Christianity and Sacrificial Religion".

lamb-leftWhat the Bible Really Says by J. R. Hyland 
From Humane Religion


There is no report in any of the Gospels that Jesus ever took part in animal sacrifices. Even the account of the Last Supper that he ate with the Apostles makes no mention of the sacrificed lamb that was the centerpiece of every table during Passover.

And although scholars claim to be puzzled by this omission, it is not puzzling to any-one who accepts the significance of Christ’s assault on the Temple. The man who freed the lambs who were about to be slaughtered in the name of God, would hardly have had one of them as the main course at his supper table.

But even before the disruption at the Temple, the disciples of Jesus were well aware of his rejection of animal sacrifices. The Gospel of Matthew reports two instances when he quoted the oracle of the prophet Hosea: “I will have mercy and not sacrifice; knowledge of God, more than burnt offerings.”[1]  And John’s Gospel reports that Jesus said “the time is coming, and now is” when no true worshipper of God would offer animal sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple, or any place else, because “God is spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”[2]

After the death of Jesus, his Apostles taught about his opposition to sacrificial religion. The Bible witnesses to this in the Book of Acts, which tells the story of Stephen, who is known as the first Christian martyr.

Stephen was a young man, hand-picked by the Apostles, to help them minister to a rapidly growing Christian community. He was sentenced to death by the Jewish High Court, the Sanhedrin, because he insisted on making his opposition to sacrificial religion a matter of public debate.

When Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin, he was charged with speaking against the Temple and the sacrifices that went on there. “We have heard [him] say that Jesus the Nazarene will tear down and destroy this place [the Temple] and will alter the institutions and usages which Moses transmitted to us.”[3]

In his own defense, Stephen addressed the High Priest and the onlookers who had crowded into the Temple precincts. Unfortunately, his “defense” resulted in his being stoned to death.

In defending himself, Stephen quoted the Prophet Amos, who hundreds of years be-fore, told his people that the rites of animal sacrifice were a pagan practice; some-thing the Israelites had taken on themselves during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

“Did you bring Me victims and sacrifices in the wilderness for all those forty years, you House of Israel? No, you carried the tent of Moloch on your shoulders and the star of the god Rephan, those idols that you had made to adore. . .I hate and despise your feasts. . .when you offer me holocausts I reject you oblations and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle. . .but let justice flow like water, and integrity like an unfailing stream.”[4]

In quoting the prophet, Stephen was taking sides in a conflict between a religion that was expressed in rituals and sacrificial rites, and a religion that was expressed in acts of compassion and just treatment of all creatures.

It was a conflict that began with events reported in the book of Genesis and continued throughout Old Testament times.  Stephen accused the religious leaders of taking the wrong side in that ongoing conflict; “How stubborn are you!. . .How heathen your hearts, how deaf you are to God’s message! You are just like ancestors: you too have always resisted the Holy Spirit.”[5]

It was too much. He was sentenced to die. “They threw him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul. . .And Saul approved of his murder.”[6]

The man, Saul, who watched over the cloaks of the executioners and approved Stephen’s murder, was a Pharisee. He later became known as Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles. It was this Paul who, in spite of the prophets and in spite of Jesus, legitimized the concept of sacrificial religion and bequeathed it to Christianity. For this, and other doctrines that contradicted the teachings of Christ, Paul has been called “The Inventor of Christianity.”[7]

How did it come to be that a man who never met Jesus and had no personal knowledge of what he did or taught, became the architect whose support of sacrificial religion--called the Atonement--became the foundation on which Christian churches have established themselves for almost two thousand years?

How did it come about that in the canon of the New Testament, thirteen out of twenty seven documents that are officially validated, are attributed to Paul? A man who even after his conversion never showed any interest in the earthly life of Jesus and often engaged in vitriolic attacks on those who had known him and were witnesses to his life on earth?

Although he lived at the same time, Paul had not been called by Jesus to be His disciple. It was only after the crucifixion that he turned from being an enemy of those who were Christ’s followers, to being a supporter. And that came about from a visionary experience.

Paul had that experience when he was traveling to the city of Damascus as an agent of the Jewish authorities. [Saul] went to the High Priest and asked for letters of intro-duction to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he should find there any followers of the Way of the Lord, he would be able to arrest them, both men and women, and bring them back to Jerusalem.

“As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me? Who are you Lord, he asked ‘ I am Jesus, whom you persecute.’ ”[8]

Having been converted to a belief in the lordship of Jesus, it might be assumed that Saul would seek out the men who had known Him, in order to learn something about the events of His life and what He had taught. But that didn’t happen. Instead, it took Saul three years to go back to Jerusalem for a brief meeting with the Apostle Peter, and fourteen more years before he went back again and spoke at some length with those who had known Jesus.

In the Epistles that he wrote, Saul, now known as Paul, made it clear that he had not been especially impressed by meeting with those who had known Jesus. In fact, as his letter to the church at Galatia shows, he was disdainful of the Apostles and of their witness.

“Fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem. . .In a private meeting with the elders, I explained the gospel message that I preach to the Gentiles. . .But those who seem to be the leaders--I say this because it makes no difference to me what they were. . .those leaders, I say, made no new suggestions to me. . .For by God’s power I was made an apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was made an apostle to the Jews... James, Peter and John, who seemed to be the leaders, shook hands with Barnabas and me, as a sign that we were all partners.”[9]

Paul’s assertion that he was called to be an Apostle in the same way that Peter had been called was a purely subjective claim. Many people have believed they were called to be spokesmen for divinity; that they have been entrusted with a sacred task. And Christianity has a long list of saints who fit into that category. But no matter how many have come in the name of Jesus, only Peter and the other disciples could claim the special prominence that came from being called to their work by a flesh and blood Jesus, rather than a divine apparition. But Paul was determined not to grant that prominence to Peter, James or John.

In petulant and often vitriolic letters, Paul kept coming back to the same subject, pushing the validity of his claim to be an Apostle. He insisted that the message he preached came directly from divinity and was THE true message. He insisted that he had learned nothing from the disciples of Jesus, or from anyone else. He claimed he was theodidact--that he was taught only by the Lord.

In the letters he wrote, now preserved in the New Testament as the word-of-God, he claimed this direct inspiration for everything he taught: “From Paul, whose call to be an apostle did not come from man or by means of man, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father. . .Let me tell you, my brothers, that the gospel I preach is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor did anyone teach it to me. It was Jesus Christ himself who revealed it to me.”[10]

Not only did Paul claim that his teachings were directly revealed by Christ, he threat-ened dire punishment to anyone who disputed what he said. Even if “an angel from heaven should teach you a gospel that is different from the one we preached to you, may he be condemned to hell.”[11]

Paul personally attacked some of the Apostles, calling them cowards because they did not behave as he thought they should. “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public because he was clearly wrong. . .The other Jewish brothers started acting like cowards along with Peter. . .I saw that they were not walking a straight path in line with the truth of the gospel.[12]

But what gospel “truth” was it that Paul accused Peter and the other disciples of ignoring? It had nothing to do with the truths contained in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--they had not yet been committed to writing. And since Paul was not at all interested in hearing what those witnesses or anyone else had to say about Jesus, the gospel truth he accused the disciples of ignoring was the gospel that he preached.

It was Paul’s refusal to listen to any of the men Christ had chosen as his Apostles, and the total reliance on his own visionary experiences, that prevented him from knowing that Jesus was opposed to Temple sacrifices. As a committed Pharisee, Paul was a staunch supporter of the sacrifices that were at the heart of Temple worship. And like other traditional Jews of his time, he had ignored the prophetic oracles against them.

It was because of Paul’s letters that traditional Christianity, like Orthodox Judaism, reclaimed the legitimacy of sacrificial religion. After the death of the Latter Prophets, the Jewish people rebuilt the altars of sacrifice in Jerusalem. And after the death of Jesus, it was Paul who reinstituted the value of sacrifice by claiming that the God whose sense of justice could not be satisfied by the perpetual slaughter of animals, was finally appeased by the sacrificial death of Jesus.

Paul’s idea of a righteous God was a deity whose sense of justice demanded that people atone for the sins they had committed. There was no free ride; payment for sins must be made. But his religious training allowed a substitutionary death. Judaism allowed an innocent victim--an animal--to be slain in the place of the sinner.

The necessity for killing and for the shedding of blood for the atonement of sins was deeply embedded in Mosaic Law. And it was deeply embedded in Paul’s belief system. In his letter to the Hebrews he echoed the teaching to the Torah and wrote: “without the shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins].”[13] He also wrote that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice but, unlike the High Priests of Judaism, “he did not take the blood of goats and bulls to offer as a sacrifice; rather he took his own blood and obtained eternal salvation for us.”[14]

In this letter, Paul describes Jesus as both the sacrifice and the sacrificer as both victim and High Priest. But in his letter to the Romans, it is God who is acting as the High Priest and Jesus is His chosen victim.

“God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement (as one who could take away His wrath) through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice.”[15]

The God in whom Paul believed, who demanded the death of a victim in order to forgive sins, was nothing like the heavenly Father whom Jesus said He came to re-veal. In his parable of the Prodigal Son, Christ made it very clear that a loving God did not demand atonement from those who had sinned.

The parable told the story of a son who left the security and care of his father’s household and went off to do his own thing. He demanded his inheritance and then “went off to a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauch-ery.”[16]  He ended up a derelict, homeless and hungry and decided to go back to his father’s house. The best he hoped for was that he would be allowed to work on the family estate as a hired hand.

“I will leave this place and go to my father’s and say: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.’ So he left the place where he was and started back to his father.”

But before the son could beg for forgiveness or ask for a servant’s job, the father had joyfully embraced him. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly.”

As the father embraced him, the son accused himself: “I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be your son.”  But the father did not respond to this confession of guilt. Instead he spoke to his servants. “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. . .we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found. And they began to celebrate.”

In this parable there is no wrathful father to be appeased. There is only the compass-ion and love of a parent who sees the terrible condition his son is in because of a life of debauchery. There is no demand that restitution be made for the inheritance that has been squandered. There is no demand that a substitutionary victim be killed for the sins of the son. There is no claim that “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.”

The Good News that Jesus taught in this parable was the revelation of the true nature of God: the God He told His followers to address as “Our Father.”  Like the father of the Prodigal Son, the heavenly Father had great compassion and love for sons and daughters who had fallen by the wayside.

Jesus used the parable of the Prodigal Son and many others to counteract the prevailing belief in a wrathful god whose outrage at sinful behavior could be averted only by the death of a victim. But Paul had never heard those parables. If he had been less enamored of his own visionary experiences, and more willing to listen to those who had walked with Jesus and knew what he had revealed about the nature of God, Christianity might have been spared the doctrine of the Atonement.

Although he was responsible for developing it, Paul was not responsible for the fact that this regressive doctrine became foundational to Christianity. It was those who came after Paul who, unlike him, had the witness of the written Gospels, who made that choice. They chose Paul’s concept of a ‘god whose outraged sense of justice demanded the death of a victim in order to forgive sins, over the revelation that Jesus gave of a compassionate and loving heavenly Father.

Jesus told his followers “love your enemies, do good to them without expect6ing to get anything back. Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”[17]

Jesus rejected the concept of a God, who like a man, could go from mercy to malice in a moment of time; whose wrath was stayed by the killing of a sacrificial victim. In-stead, He likened God to a good shepherd who went out of his way to seek and to save the lamb that had strayed from the fold. This Good Shepherd would never demand that the rescued lamb be taken to the Temple to be slaughtered as expiation for the sins of the people.

But Paul claimed that Jesus died in place of the sinner and that his shed blood met all the demands for retribution demanded by a God who was outraged by sin. Paul said that Jesus paid the death penalty for the sins of others “Therefore, since we are now justified--acquitted, made righteous and brought into right relationship with God--by Christ’s blood, how much more certain it is that we shall be saved by Him from the indignation and wrath of God.”[18]

In the two thousand years since Paul wrote his Epistles there have been various interpretations of the Doctrine of the Atonement. From the early Church Fathers, through Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, until the present time, theologians have offered various perspectives on the doctrine.[19]  But the basic endorsement of sacrificial religion as having been commanded by God, as reparation for sins committed, remains intact.

So it is that Paul prevailed over Christ. The belief that Jesus was the victim who finally stayed the “indignation and wrath of God”  is celebrated throughout Christendom. And any attempt to question its premise, in the light of Christ’s revelation of a loving and compassionate God, is considered heretical.

[1]  Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 KJ; quoting Hosea 6:6  KJ

[2]  John 4:19-24  NIV

[3]  Acts 6:14  AMP

[4]  Acts 7:43, quoting Amos 5:21-25  JB

[5]  Acts 7:51  TEV

[6]  Acts 7:58, 60  TEV

[7]  Bertrand Russell, “The Wisdom of the West

[8]  Acts 9:3-5  TEV

[9]  Galatians 2:1-2, 6-9  TEV

[10]  Galatians 1:1, 11-12  TEV

[11]  Galatians 1:8  TEV

[12]  Galatians 2:11, 13-14  TEV

[13]  Hebrews 9:22  NIV

[14]  Hebrews 9:12  TEV

[15]  Romans 3:25  NIV

[16]  Luke 15:11-32 JB

[17]  Luke 6:35, 36  NIV

[18]  Romans 5:9  AMP

[19]  A basic reference work like The Encyclopedia Americana, gives an overview of the Doctrine of the Atonement and the various interpretations it has engendered through the centuries.

Go on to: Chapter 24 HOLY WARS
Return to: What the Bible Really Says