Q & A: Does The Story of Abraham and Isaac Support Human Sacrifice?



Question of the week: does the story of Abraham and Isaac support human sacrifice?

-- Richard 





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I really don't think it does. I know a lot of atheists on the internet try to use this instance in Genesis 22 to make a moral argument against God or at least an inconsistency in the Christian worldview, but I think their arguments using this is very weak. I think they simply look at this story and prima facie conclude "Oh look! God wanted a human sacrifice! He's no different than the pagan gods surrounding Israel! He's just as bloodthirsty as they are!" Like a lot of scriptural arguments against Christianity atheists appeal to, the subject isn't as simple and clear cut as they make it out to be. 

For one thing, while it is true that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son on an alter, that isn't what God actually wanted from Abraham. This is clear from the fact that God stops Abraham from carrying out the order at the last minute. If God really wanted Isaac's blood as a human sacrifice, He wouldn't have intervened. God had other reasons for making this command of Abraham as I have pointed out the blog post titled "Why Did God Test Abraham's Faith By Asking Him To Sacrifice Isaac?" such as wanting to show future generations how much faith Abraham had in God such that he would carry out such a bizarre order, and that we too might be inspired by his faith so that when God asks us to do things we don't understand, we'll remember that He is faithful to keep the promises He has made and that He always has a reason for everything. They'll think "Even if what God is asking me to do sounds crazy, I must obey. God knows what he's doing. He will always do what is right. Good will come out of this." We are to be inspired by Abraham's great faith. His situation was a lesson to us. GotQuestions.org concurs. They write "When we obey as Abraham did, trusting that God’s plan is best, we exalt His attributes and praise Him. Abraham’s obedience in the face of this crushing command extolled God’s sovereign love, His trustworthiness, and His goodness, and it provided an example for us to follow. His faith in the God he had come to know and love placed Abraham in the pantheon of faithful heroes in Hebrews 11." A second reason I think Abraham did it (which I didn't include in the article linked to above) is that the incident closely paralleled God sacrificing up His own Son for us as an offering for our sin, so this story would provide a powerful typological prophesy that would testify to Jesus' authenticity as the messiah sent from God.

The Bible makes it quite clear that God hates human sacrifice. God said unequivocally that such a practice was detestable to Him and that He hates it. Deuteronomy 12:31 says "You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods." (ESV) and Deuteronomy 18:10 says "There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer" (ESV) As pointed out above, God had a couple of reasons for asking Abraham to do what he almost did, but neither of them was because He wanted a human sacrifice. It's also noteworthy that we never see God ask someone to do something like this ever again. If God really approved of human sacrifice, we would expect, as we continue to read through The Bible, to see more instances like this. We don't.