The recent discussion about calling the Eucharist a sacrifice is (surprise!) based a lot on different understandings of words. People talk past each other – using the same word to mean different things.

Here is a typical English-language definition of the word sacrifice:

1. to give up something that is valuable to you in order to help another person: 2. to kill an animal or a person and offer them to a god or gods.


as is so often the case, when the Bible and the Judeo-Christian tradition uses a (common) word, it uses the word in quite a different way, with quite a different meaning. If you want to reflect further on this, here is a reflection around church teaching that

Between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying a greater dissimilitude

This meant that ‘the word “god” is a deeply misleading starting place for us with which to begin to talk about God, but the one we have which is least inadequate’.

So, to return to “sacrifice” – in common parlance, “sacrifice” is essentially “giving something up”, it is about a “personal cost“.  Sacrifice is giving up something valuable for a greater purpose. Whilst it is seen as the right thing to do, it involves loss.


that is not the heart of biblical sacrifice.

In the First Testament, what we translate as “sacrifice” is קָרְבָּן (qārbān). The Semitic root (karev קרב) of that word means “be near”, and it is connected to the word for “close” and “relative”. Sacrifice, in the Hebrew Bible, is not so much about giving something up that is valuable; it is much more about a God-given means that draws us near to God, that gives us intimacy with God. Sacrifice is the word that applies to God taking into God’s possession; about growing union with God.

To be continued…

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image source: High priest offering a sacrifice of a goat, as on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; from Henry Davenport Northrop, Treasures of the Bible, published 1894

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