Friday, February 12, 2010

What do covenantal sacrifices tell us about Christ?

Scott Hahn has noted that covenantal sacrifices symbolize the content of the covenant. In a section of my book on atonement, I suggest that the covenant sacrifices of the OT tell us a great deal about Christ. After all, they should since they are all fulfilled in Christ (see 2 Cor. 1:21!):

"The covenantal signs that occur through sacrifice or quasi-sacrificial ritual, therefore tell us a great deal about the coming of the Messiah whom they symbolize. These covenantal ceremonies also represent the covering of humanity's shame through sacrifice (Gen. 3:21), the renewal of creation and universal peace through an act of sacrifice (8:20,9:12-17), the promise of the death of God himself (15), the coming of the holy seed (17), a father offering his only son in the form of sacrifice (22), the offering of a substitute (Gen. 22, Exod. 13) and the death and resurrection of a beloved son (Gen. 22, 35, 45, the whole Exodus narrative)."


  1. Certainly...

    Now, I wonder whether the word symbolize is correct. I know I'm possibly splitting hairs, and I'm not actually sure as to the correct answer. But is it correct to refer to these OT sacrifices as symbolic? You didn't actually refer to the main covenental sacrifice (unless I missed it) in Exodus 24 or the sacrificial system, but is it actually possible that Jesus' fulfillment is more of a filling up the old rather than making reality out of symbol?

    Anyhow, I appreciate your mention of the death-resurrection of a beloved son which is easily overlooked. Oh, and by the way, consider adding Gen 40 (the cupbearer + baker) to your list of death-resurrection signs. If you want, I can explain more on how it works. But consider briefly the significance of the baker hanging on a tree, the three-day timeframe, and the eating of bread and wine...


  2. George- Those later types never occurred to me. Thanks!

    Regarding your first point- I mean symbolize in the sense that they "represent" the content of the covenant. Perhaps I should revise the chapter and use that term instead so that there's no confusion. But I of course do not mean that they are mere symbols. People had faith in what they promised and received it, and therefore they were effectual signs.

    Exodus 24 I do not refer to because I'm talking about the promise of the coming Christ, which I see present in all these covenant ceremonies. They are unilateral covenants or better "testaments" which are received by faith. Exodus 24 simply makes the implicit law of creation explicit. It shows that Israel will be killed like the bulls slaughtered and that the "life" blood of the bull (symbolizing their life and YHWH's) are mutually involved in upholding it.

    I then am going to argue that the atoning sacrifices of the Temple cult represent a reconciliation between the unilateral covenant of grace and the one of law. In them, YHWH gives access to his holiness and maintains his covenant loyalty to Israel by providing a substitute for unintentional sins. This of course prefigures the final reconciliation of the two covenant in Christ (Hebrews, Galatians, etc.)

  3. I'm having a hard time understanding the difference between "symbolize" and "represent". What do you mean by the different words?

  4. What I mean is that "symbolize" might be taken the wrong way to mean that I think that the signs of the OT were mere symbols that did not convey God's grace. Roman Catholicism has generally thought so, as have the Reformed. Lutheran theology has considered them to be sacraments with equal validity with those in the NT era. What they promised they gave to those who received them.

  5. I think that in the modern sense, something that's either a symbol or a representation conveys what it does through the mind (there is a link between two unrelated things which I recognize through my knowledge). Perhaps you mean symbol or representation in a different way. The word tends to make me uncomfortable because I tend to think of grace being mediated first by the institution of God and then by faith, to the whole man. In this way Sasse revised the post-Communion blessing to "...strengthen you in body and soul unto life everlasting." "Sign," "symbol," and "representation" seem to me to make intellectual recognition a separate step in the process (sacrament -> intellectual recognition -> faith -> the person).