Regardless of the original motivation for the texts that appear to call for animal sacrifice, people today are not in a similar situation. In fact, more than 20 billion animals slaughtered for food in the United States every year, three times the global human population. The way these animals are treated makes an absolute mockery of God, rather than paying any sort of tribute. As just one example, God's creatures are genetically bred to grow so quickly that many experience chronic pain for their entire lives. For complete details on the treatment of animals who are turned into meat, click here: GoVeg.com.
The Hebrew Scriptures:
There is no animal sacrifice in God's ideal world, as represented by the Garden of Eden and God's holy mountain foreseen by the prophets (Isaiah 11). In fact, the Garden is entirely vegetarian (Genesis 1:29).
Unfortunately, the Hebrew Scriptures have been used over time to justify many atrocities, from slavery to witch burnings to the Inquisition to spousal and child abuse. Galileo was sentenced by the Pope to be tortured until he recanted the heresy that the Earth revolves around the sun, which is contradicted by Genesis. According to Leviticus, witches should be burned, and adulterers, disobedient children, and people who violate the Sabbath should be stoned to death. Lepers and the disabled were unclean and were not to enter the temple. One poor fellow in the book of Numbers (16) was stoned to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath. He is killed by Moses and the Israelites as God gives the orders. Lot is considered righteous, even after offering his virgin daughters to the men outside the gate in the Genesis story (19).
The point here isn't that God is violent and cruel. God is love, as His words through the prophets make clear. The Old Testament is more of a history than an explanation of God's intention, with the exception of the Garden of Eden (God's ideal world, toward which we're all called to strive) and the Prophetic visions (where He tells us that to know him is to be just, merciful, and humble). Meat-eating is part of the fallen creation, like stoning for adultery and "an eye for an eye" morality, both of which are called for by God according to a provincial reading of the Hebrew Scriptures but are denounced by the prophets and condemned as misinterpretation by Jesus.
Micah, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea all condemn animal sacrifice.
Hosea and Jeremiah state explicitly that human beings created animal sacrifice
as an excuse to consume flesh: "They offer sacrifices to me because they are
those who eat the meat, but Yahweh does not accept their sacrifices, for He is
mindful of their sin and remembers their wickedness" (Hosea 8:13).
The Christian Scriptures:
Jesus opposes animal sacrifice from the first action of his ministry (baptism) to his final action (crucifixion). His life is one spent preaching mercy and compassion and explicitly opposing the Temple cult, a cult of animal sacrifice. Three points are especially relevant.
First, in Jesus' time, animal sacrifice was considered by many to be the only method of forgiveness for sin. Those who opposed it looked to the eternal law of God, the law of the Garden of Eden and the Prophets (e.g., Hosea 2:18, Isaiah 11:6-9), and instituted baptism for forgiveness of sins. Thus, in the course of his ministry, Jesus says multiple times, quoting the prophets, that his followers must learn to understand what God means when He says through the prophet Hosea, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." (Mt 9:13, 12:6-7). God is speaking here of animal sacrifice.
The stress on baptism in the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles doesn't have the same impact on us as it would have in first-century Palestine, but the people of Jesus' time understood that baptism represented a complete rejection of the violence and bloodshed involved in killing animals for forgiveness. John the Baptist prepares the way of Jesus by appearing in the desert, "preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins." Luke explains that "the will of God" is baptism for forgiveness of sins, "whereas the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, in not letting themselves be baptized, ignored this will of God." This complete rejection of animal sacrifice (and the carnivorous diet which accompanies it) cannot be over-emphasized.
Second, animal sacrifice was carried out in the temple, which is why those who objected opposed the temple. Jesus speaks consistently of casting down the temple and overthrowing the temple. Jesus enters the temple and casts out the money changers and animal traders. He quotes from Jeremiah 7, which first-century Palestinians would have recalled:
Jeremiah 7 finds God saying that He never intended animal sacrifice and making the direct link between animal sacrifice and meat-eating. John the Evangelist places this as the first act in Jesus' ministry and places it just prior to the Sabbath ("As the Passover was at hand, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple court?"). So Jesus enters the temple and prevents people from sacrificing animals for the Sabbath meal. The crucial point is that these people were only selling animals and only for sacrifice. The people would eat the flesh of the animal sacrificed.
Third, and finally, Jesus' death on the cross is, for Christians, the final sacrifice, and Jesus' followers continue to celebrate His memory with vegetarian food, bread, and wine.
Animal sacrifice was never a part of God's plan, as clearly stated in Genesis 1. Animal sacrifice was condemned by God through the prophets and by Jesus throughout his entire life.
The Nazarenes of Mount Carmel
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