Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"sacrifice"

Kline, in his Kingdom Prologue, noted that the word "sacrifice" is derived from two Latin words: sacra and facer. A literal translation of sacrifice, then, would be "to make sacred" or "to make holy". Unfortunately, what Kline didn't pursue, was why this is interesting.

Typically "sacrifice" is associated with some sort of transaction, often a bloody one. But strictly speaking, the word itself says nothing about a making holy through transaction or through death. For some reason, though, those things are always assumed to be the nature of the case. Christians impute entire atonement theologies to the word despite the fact that "sacrifice" has no inherent qualities of transaction, be they transactions of ransom or imputation. On the face of it, "sacrifice," etymologically, is roughly approximate to "sanctify."

An obvious reply at this point would be to take note of the fact that the actual manuscripts on which our English translations are based don't actually say "sacrifice" or some proleptic Latin form of the term. The places in the Old Testament where some Hebrew words are translated "sacrifice" and the places in the New Testament where some Greek words are translated "sacrifice" may carry all those connotations that we (arbitrarily?) attribute to the English word, however absent they may or may not be. But my reply would be, then why that word? Why "sacrifice" to describe the gruesome mutilation of perfectly pleasant creatures? Why not "slaughter"?

To offer one possible solution, perhaps Christian theology's magnification of the slaughter of Christ and the generally sanctifying effects of that slaughter created such an inseparable fusion of the two things, that every other slaughter in Scripture was renamed, not as the aimless butchery of Cainite wickedness, but as the means to a greater end. That is to say, if we name Christ's death on the Cross a "sacrifice," then it must only be named so because we know as well of the glorious end of Resurrection.

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