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TitleSacrifice in Biblical Times
Publication TypeEncyclopedia Entry
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsDraper, Richard D.
Secondary AuthorsLudlow, Daniel H.
Secondary TitleEncyclopedia of Mormonism
Place PublishedNew York
KeywordsBurnt Offerings; Covenant; Law of Moses; Ordinance; Sacrifice
Citation Key9451

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Sacrifice in Biblical Times

Author: Draper, Richard D.

The first commandments received by Adam and Eve after being driven from the Garden of Eden were to worship God and to offer the firstlings of their flocks and herds (Moses 5:5-6). Adam and Eve obeyed. Later, an angel explained to them the purpose for the law of sacrifice: it was made in similitude of the offering that the Son of God would make of his own life for all mankind (Moses 5:7). Each offering was to point to the necessity of the Savior's sacrifice. Thus, Adam and Eve knew that a future Atonement was to be made by Jesus Christ and that only through him could fallen man be reconciled to God.

Latter-day Saints believe that to perform any ordinance, a man must hold the priesthood, which includes the authority from God necessary to offer sacrifices after the pattern that Adam received. But because of an unwillingness to follow God, historically many turned away, worshiped falsely, and followed selfish practices for personal aggrandizement, as did Cain (Moses 5:18-31). For the faithful, because sacrifice promoted faith in the Lord and reliance on him, selfishness was superseded, for the best was not to be used for self but for God. Men and women could thus recognize that it was not the earth, sun, or idols that supplied necessities, but God.

From Seth to Jacob, God's people renewed their covenant relationship with him, apparently by offering two kinds of sacrifice: the burnt offering and slain offering. Through Moses, Israel received and practiced further ordinances to remind them daily of their duty toward God (Lev. 1-7; Mosiah 13:30). Types and symbols which were woven into the Law of Moses taught God's people of the Savior's atoning sacrifice (2 Ne. 11:4; Mosiah 13:31; Alma 25:16).

The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi and his family brought the Mosaic sacrificial system to the western hemisphere. Nephites continued those sacrificial practices until the resurrected Savior appeared to them (3 Ne. 9:19-20).

The Lord specifically forbade human sacrifice (Lev. 18:21; Jer. 19:5; Morm. 4:14, 21). Thus, when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he was testing Abraham's faith and teaching him of the Redeemer to come (Gen. 22; Heb. 11:17-19; Jacob 4:5; John 3:16; Gal. 3:8). The trial proved that Abraham loved God unconditionally; therefore, he could be blessed unconditionally.

The Bible prophet Malachi predicted a time when Levites would again offer sacrifice in righteousness (Mal. 3:3). Such offerings will not be of the Mosaic type, which were fulfilled in Christ. However, the sacrificial system that antedated Moses was not fulfilled in Jesus. The Prophet Joseph Smith, taught that blood sacrifices similar to those revealed to Adam will once again be performed prior to Christ's second coming in order to complete the restoration of all things (TPJS, pp. 172-73; DS 3:94-95). These may be undertaken for only a brief period and perhaps only by a selected group. In a very different sense sacrifice continues in modern LDS temples (D&C 124:38-39), for those laboring therein are modern equivalents of Levites, and performance of temple ordinances in behalf of the dead constitutes an offering of righteousness (D&C 128:24).


DeVaux, Roland. Ancient Israel, Vol. 2, pp. 415-56. New York, 1965.

Draper, Richard D. "Sacrifices and Offerings: Foreshadowings of Christ." Ensign 10 (Sept. 1980):20-26.

McMullin, Phillip W. "Sacrifice in the Law of Moses: Parallels in the Law of the Gospel." Ensign 20 (Mar. 1990):37-41.