Animal Sacrifices and the Atoning Death of Christ in the Book of Acts Pt. 1

In a desperate attempt of trying to find ways to undermine the necessity and sufficiency of the death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, some Muhammmadans have begun to appeal to the following verses from the book of Acts https://bloggingtheology.net/2017/04/05/did-earliest-christians-believe-alleged-crucifixion-to-be-indispensable/:

“When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the next day Paul went with us to James, and all the elders were present. He greeted them and recounted one by one what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they glorified the Lord. Then they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been informed concerning you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to observe the customs. What then shall be done? The assembly will certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you. We have four men who have taken a vow. Take these men and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may have their heads shaved. Then all will know that what they were told concerning you is nothing, but that you yourself live in observance of the law. As for the Gentiles who believe, we have written and concluded that they should observe no such thing, except that they abstain from food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from strangled animals, and from blood.’ Then on the next day, Paul took the men and purified himself with them. And he went into the temple, announcing when the days of purification would be complete and an offering would be given for each one of them.” Acts 21:17-26

It is apparent that the men in question had taken a Nazarite vow, which means that the sacrifices that Paul paid the priest to offer on their behalf would have included burnt and sin offerings:

“This is the law of the Nazirite. When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he will be brought to the door of the tent of meeting. And he will offer his offering to the Lord, one male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, a basket of unleavened bread, loaves of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings.” Numbers 6:13-15

Paul himself relates that one of the reasons he had decided to return to Jerusalem was for the express purpose of offering sacrifices:

“Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, when some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a crowd nor an uproar.” Acts 24:17-18

The Muhammadans see this as being incompatible with the belief that Jesus’ death is perfect and final, which would therefore make the need for any other sacrifice obsolete.

With that in mind, I will refute this objection by first showing what these verses cannot possibly mean by examining what Acts itself has to say about the way in which a person is saved, whether it is by observance of the Law and temple sacrifices or through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And since the same author wrote Luke, I will also be appealing to that particular Gospel’s witness to the issue of salvation as well.

I start off by citing the following lengthy passage:

“Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised in the tradition of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others among them, should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. So being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles, and they brought great joy to all the brothers. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared what God had done through them. Then some believers of the sect of the Pharisees rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.’ The apostles and elders assembled to consider this matter. After much disputing, Peter rose up and said to them, ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God decided among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, approved of them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, and made no distinction between them and us, and purified their hearts BY FAITH. Now then, why test God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, WHICH NEITHER OUR FATHERS NOR WE HAVE BEEN ABLE TO BEAR? But we believe that THROUGH THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WE SHALL BE SAVED, EVEN AS THEY.’ The entire assembly remained silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they had become silent, James answered, ‘Brothers, listen to me. Simon has declared how God first visited the Gentiles to take from among them a people for His name. With this the words of the prophets agree. As it is written: “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things.’ Known to God are all His works since the beginning of the world. Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from strangled animals, and from blood. For Moses has had in every city since early generations those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.’ Then it pleased the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men from among them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas called Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers. They wrote this letter by their hand: The apostles and the elders and the brothers, To the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some of us, whom we did not commission, have gone out and have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law,’ it seemed good to us, being assembled in unity, to send chosen men to you with our BELOVED Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who will also speak to you, saying the same things. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to put on you no greater burden than these necessary things: Abstain from food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from strangled animals, and from blood. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:1-29

Seeing that James presided over this meeting and even issued commands for the Gentiles to observe, we can safely conclude that he was in perfect agreement with Peter that people are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus which they receive by faith in him. This means that James did not believe or advocate that salvation comes from observing the Law or by offering up the animal sacrifices prescribed therein.

With that said, here are all the places in Acts where Peter speaks of salvation:

“As the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the entrance that is called Solomon’s Porch, greatly amazed. When Peter saw it, he answered the people: ‘Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this man? Or why do you stare at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Son Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Creator of Life, whom God has raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, BY FAITH IN HIS NAME, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. And FAITH WHICH COMES THROUGH HIM has given him perfect health in your presence. Now brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold through all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He thus fulfilled. Therefore REPENT AND BE CONVERTED, that your sins may be wiped away, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the One who previously was preached to you, Jesus Christ, whom the heavens must receive until the time of restoring what God spoke through all His holy prophets since the world began.’” Acts 3:11-21

“On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes were assembled at Jerusalem with Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John and Alexander, and all who were of the family of the high priest. When they had stood them in the midst, they asked, ‘By what power or by what name have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we today are being examined concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, how this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that BY THE NAME OF JESUS OF NAZARETH, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, BY HIM this man stands before you whole. He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” There is NO SALVATION IN ANY OTHER, for there is NO OTHER NAME UNDER HEAVEN given among men by which we must be saved.’ When they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were illiterate and uneducated men, they marveled. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing with them, they had nothing to say against it… Then they called them and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot help but declare what we have seen and heard.’” Acts 4:5-14, 18-20

Peter performs a miracle in the name of the Lord Jesus in order to prove that salvation only comes by believing in the name of Christ since he alone has the power to save anyone.

There’s more from Peter:

“The word which He sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, the word, which you know, that was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all that He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. But God raised Him on the third day and presented Him publicly, not to all the people, but to witnesses previously chosen by God, to us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that whoever BELIEVES IN HIM will receive remission of sins THROUGH HIS NAME.” Acts 10:36-43

“And immediately three men sent from Caesarea to me came to the house where I was. The Spirit told me to go with them without hesitation. Moreover these six brothers came with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel in his house, who stood and said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter. He will speak words to you by which you and all your household will be saved. As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as He fell on us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave them the same gift as He gave us WHEN WE BELIEVED IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, who was I to be able to hinder God?’ When they heard these things, they were silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has granted to the Gentiles also repentance unto life.’” Acts 11:11-18

Peter’s proclamation is crystal clear. Salvation is only granted to those who trust in the name of Christ, not in the works of the Law or the temple sacrifices.

From the foregoing we see that this blessed Apostle did nothing more than to proclaim the same exact message that Paul later on preached wherever he went:

“Therefore, brothers, let it be known to you that THROUGH THIS MAN forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and BY HIM everyone who believes is justified from everything from which you could not be justified by the Law of Moses.” Acts 13:38-39

“He called for lights and rushed in, trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas. He then led them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They said, ‘BELIEVE IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, and you and your household will be saved.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his household. In that hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds. And immediately he and his entire household were baptized. Then he brought them up to his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced with his entire household believing in God.” Acts 16:29-34

“I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness both of what you have seen and of what I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from your people and from the Gentiles to whom I now send you, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified BY FAITH IN ME.’ Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those at Damascus, then at Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do works proving their repentance.” Acts 26:15-20

It doesn’t end right here. Luke makes it clear that this message of salvation did not originate with Peter or any of the other Apostles. Rather, it was Christ who personally went around telling people that they had to repent and believe in him if they wanted to be saved,

“Those along the path are those who hear. Then comes the devil, who takes away the word from their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” Luke 8:12

And have God’s wrath removed from them:

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: ‘Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: “God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, “God, turn Your wrath from me[i](hilastheti)—a sinner! I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 18:9-14

i. Luke 18:13 Lit God, be propitious to me; = May Your wrath be turned aside by the sacrifice HCSB

In fact, it was Christ himself who commissioned the Apostles to preach to all nations that repentance and forgiveness come from trusting in his name:

“He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning Me.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and accordingly it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached IN HIS NAME to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.’” Luke 24:44-49

This explains why we find multiple examples of Jesus forgiving and/or healing all those who placed their faith in him:

“On a certain day, as He was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby, who had come from every town of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal the sick. Now some men brought in a bed a man who was paralyzed. They searched for ways to bring him in and lay him before Him. When they could not find a way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his bed into their midst before Jesus. When He saw THEIR FAITH, He said to him, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ The scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is He who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered them, ‘Why question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ He said to the paralyzed man, ‘I say to you, rise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ Immediately he rose before them, and took up that on which he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. They were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen wonderful things today.’” Luke 5:17-26

“One of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. So He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down for supper. There, a woman of the city who was a sinner, when she learned that Jesus was sitting for supper in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment, and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, AND KISSED HIS FEET, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this Man were a prophet, He would have known who and what kind of woman she is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ He said, ‘Teacher, say it.’ A creditor had two debtors. The one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they had no money to pay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose he whom he forgave more.’ He said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house. You gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with ointment. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little loves little.’ Then He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Those who sat at supper with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is He who even forgives sins?’ He said to the woman, ‘YOUR FAITH has saved you. Go in peace.’” Luke 7:36-50

“… As He went, the people crowded Him. And a woman having a hemorrhage for twelve years, who had spent all her living on physicians, but could not be healed by anyone, came behind Him, and touched the fringe of His garment. And immediately her hemorrhage dried up. Jesus said, ‘Who touched Me?’ When everyone denied it, Peter and those who were with Him said, ‘Master, the crowds are pressing against You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me? But Jesus said, “Someone touched Me, for I perceive that power has gone out from Me.’ When the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling. And falling down before Him, she declared to Him before all the people why she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. Then He said to her, ‘Daughter, be of good cheer. YOUR FAITH has made you well. Go in peace.’” Luke 8:39b-48

“As Jesus went to Jerusalem, He passed between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood at a distance. They lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned with a loud voice glorifying God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. Jesus said, ‘Were not the ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Were there not any found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?’ Then He said to him, ‘Rise, go your way. YOUR FAITH has made you well.’” Luke 17: 11-19

“‘Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’… As He was drawing near Jericho, a certain blind man sat along the way begging. Hearing a crowd passing by, he asked what it meant. They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. He cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who went in front rebuked him, so that he would keep quiet. But he cried out much more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood and commanded him to be brought to Him. When he came near, He asked him, ’What do you want Me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, grant that I may receive my sight.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. YOUR FAITH has saved you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. When all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.” Luke 18:35-43

In light of the foregoing, could Luke have been any more explicit in affirming that salvation does not come from keeping the Law of Moses or by offering animal sacrifices at the temple?

With that said we are ready to proceed to the second part of our discussion https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/animal-sacrifices-and-the-atoning-death-of-christ-in-the-book-of-acts-pt-2/.

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