The 5 Offerings in the Old Testament

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The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was a means of grace by which the relationship between God and humanity begins to be restored. Ultimately, the sacrificial system was inadequate, which is why Jesus came to earth. But the 5 main Old Testament sacrifices are worth knowing, and Jeremiah Garrett provides some basic information here.

The Old Testament can be said to revolve around a system of sacrificial offerings mitigated by priests during rituals to atone for the sins of humanity, especially of Israel. These offerings run throughout the majority of the Old Testament. Genesis 3:20 may allude to the first sacrifice, where the LORD God offered garments of skin to Adam and Eve to express devotion and commitment to His priests (humanity) serving in His temple (the Heavens and the Earth), an act that may foreshadow the Burnt Offering more fully described in Leviticus. The last of the Prophets, Malachi, cites improper animal sacrifices (1:8) as the reason God no longer accepts the Grain Offerings (1:10, 2:13). Malachi then builds to a climax that begins with the return to proper tithes and grain offerings (1:11, 3:3, 3:10) to initiate the day of the LORD.

These are just a few examples of the five types of offerings in the Old Testament. The following offerings—the Burnt Offering, the Grain Offering, the Peace Offering, the Purification Offering, and the Reparation Offering—should not be viewed as legalistic rites one must perform to earn God’s grace. The Prophet Samuel said, “to obey is better than sacrifice,” (1 Sam 15:22), and Jeremiah likewise negates Burnt Offerings for atonement and says that disobedience results in calamity (Jer 44:23). Rather, the sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a means of grace by which one who unintentionally sinned might make reparations for that sin without paying with his or her life, or with the life of his or her child. The system was an outward expression of a person or community’s inward desire to restore the broken relationships between humanity and God and humanity and the world.

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1. Burnt Offering

The first offering is the olah, literally, “an offering of ascent,” commonly called the Burnt Offering. The purpose of the Burnt Offering was for general atonement of sin and expression of devotion to God. The instructions for the Burnt Offering are given in Lev 1:3-17. The offering could be a bull (1:3), sheep or goat (1:10), or dove or pigeon (1:14). The animal was to be burnt whole overnight (6:8-13), though its skin was given to the priest (1:6). The Burnt Offering was likely the earliest type of atonement offering in the Old Testament (Job 1:5, Gen 8:20). The primary contrast between the Old Testament Burnt Offering and the Canaanite Burnt Offering was that the Canaanites would offer children as burnt sacrifices for their own atonement. Although this does occur during the worst of Israel’s history (Judges 11), God made it clear that He would not accept children as burnt offerings (Gen 22), and the instructions given in Leviticus explicitly limit the type of animals to be offered as burnt sacrifices to bulls, rams, and birds.

2. Grain Offering

The second type of offering in the Old Testament is the minchah, or Grain Offering. The purpose of the Grain Offering was a voluntary expression of devotion to God, recognizing His goodness and providence. The instructions for the grain offerings are given in Leviticus 2. Generally it was cooked bread—baked (2:4), grilled (2:5), fried (2:7), roasted, or made into cereal (2:14)—though always seasoned (2:13), unsweetened, and unleavened (2:11). Unlike the whole Burnt Offering, only a portion of the offering was to be burnt (2:9). The remainder went to the priests for their meal (2:10). Although the minchah was instructed to be a freewill offering of grains, it appears that earlier freewill offerings expressing devotion to God and gratitude for His goodness and providence may have been the “first fruits” of livestock (Gen 4:4).

3. Peace Offering

The third offering is the shelem, or Peace Offering. This category, first discussed in Leviticus 3, included Thanksgiving Offerings (Lev 7:12), Freewill Offerings (7:16), and Wave Offerings (7:30). The offering could be cattle (3:1), sheep (3:7), or a goat (3:12). It could be male or female, but must be without defect. If it was a Thanksgiving Offering, it could also include a variety of breads (7:12). The purpose of the Peace Offering was to consecrate a meal between two or more parties before God and share that meal together in fellowship of peace and a commitment to each others’ future prosperity. The portions unsuitable for eating were given to God (7:19-27). Depending on the type of Peace Offering, the breast may have been given to the High Priest (7:31) and the right thigh may be given to the priest officiating the meal (7:32). The rest of the meal was to be eaten within one day by the fellowship of parties (7:16), and the leftovers were to be burnt after two days (7:17).

4. Sin Offering

The fourth offering was called chattath, literally “sin” or “sin offering.” This offering is sometimes seen as an offering of atonement for unintentional sin (4:2-3, 4:20). Similarly, it is sometimes viewed as guilt offering, removing the consequences for lack of perfection (4:13-14, 4:22-23). As an atonement offering, it contained elements of a Burnt Offering (4:25), yet at the same time had elements of a Peace Offering (4:26). Conversely, some of the “sins” for which one needed atonement were not moral sins but rather matters of ritual impurity (5:1-5). As such, some have proposed the term “Purification Offering” instead of “Sin Offering.” The primary purpose of this offering is not to atone for sins but rather to purify oneself for re-entering the presence of God. The elements of a Purification Offering could be any of the elements of the previous three types offerings, though unlike the Peace Offering, the meal was not to be shared by the one offering the sacrifice.

5. Guilt Offering

The fifth and final offering was the asham, traditionally translated “Guilt Offering.” Unlike the English word “guilt” this does not refer to a matter of one’s conscience but rather to something one owes on account of a “sin.” Other suggestions for the name of this offering are the “Trespass Offering” or the “Reparation Offering.” The purpose of this offering was to make reparations for one’s sin. As such, this offering had a specific monetary value, and one who owed another on account of a debt due to a “sin” could repay it in silver rather than by sacrificing a ram (5:15). In addition, a 20% fee was assessed and given to the priest who mitigated the debt (5:16).

The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was a means of grace by which the relationship between God and humanity begins to be restored. Ultimately, the sacrificial system was inadequate, and none could repay the debt of life that was owed until Christ defeated death once and for all (Heb. 10:10). In the age of the Church, we live in light of Christ’s meritorious sacrifice for us while also offering our own lives as a living and holy sacrifice (Rom 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5).

Get the acclaimed Bible study series by Sandra Richter on the Old Testament from our store now! DVDs or streaming video available as well.

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Jeremiah enjoys learning and teaching about the Old Testament and inductive Bible study. He is married to Katie, and they have three children: Joshua, Alétheia, and Seraiah. Outside of his passion for the Old Testament, he loves good vegetarian cooking, anything to do with Star Trek, and the latest action-adventure video games.

35 COMMENTS

  1. When we read in the NT language about Christ being a sacrifice and then language about our own sacrificial actions do you think the NT writers may have had some of these differences in view?

    • Thanks for the comment/question, and sorry for the delayed response.

      I would expect that the NT writers may have had some of the different types of OT sacrifices in view. Of course, these categories were interchanged throughout the development of the OT, and to try to fit any single NT use into a single OT category may not be helpful. Rather, consider them fluid categories where a NT sacrifice
      could fit in one or more of the OT categories.

      For example, I do not think they would have compared Christ’s sacrifice to a grain offering, even though Christ’s life was one freely lived in devotion to the Father’s will. Rather, I would suggest they would think of it more in terms of atonement, like a sin offering or burnt offering. Conversely, although Christ is said to have paid the price for our sins, I do not think they would have thought it strictly as a Reparation Offering, at least not literalisticly as we often currently do in some schools of thought. Death is a natural consequence of sin, not a punishment that can be assessed a monetary value to avoid it. Christ’s perfect life and undeserved death should not be viewed as substitute that paid the price, which would in turn allow us to live a life of sin without the result of death.

      In the NT, our lives are said to be lived as living sacrifices. This would be similar to freewill offerings offered to God in gratitude, such as a Peace Offering or Grain Offering. If Christ’s perfect life, resulting in death, can be viewed as a sin offering; and we in turn live our lives as living sacrifices, a freewill offering, emulating the life of Christ; then together both of the primary aspects of the OT sacrificial system are met. Christ’s life and sacrificial death serves as the foundation upon which our living sacrifices are offered to God. In the end we still die, just as Christ did; but just as Christ has risen, in the end we may yet live again.

      • I would say Christ’s offering can actually be considered a grain offering as well because of how the Christian Church practices offering up the Eucharist. The community bakes the bread and offers it together with the wine to the presbyter who presents it to God on behalf of all and for all, but only part of it because of the prosphora — it is a shared meal and after the ceremony, it is the duty of the parish priest to consume any of the offering that is leftover, besides what is devotionally kept in the tabernacle at the altar. At least this is how I am led to understand it.

  2. The sacrifices of Christ for us- does it absorbs us from any type of sacrifices? e.g the sacrifys tithe or peace offering

  3. Great text,

    I’m interested in doing an exhaustive study of the Offerings and Sacrfices in the Old Testament.
    Do you have some good works (books, articles) for me to start with?

    Thanks

    • Not sure if you got an answer. Here is the meaning, best as I can explain it…God is perfect and cannot be in the presence of any blemish. God walked with man before man’s rebellion entered the world. With the first failure, God and man were separated. But God did not want to be separate from us, even in our failure. But since God is perfect, He must enforce perfect justice. To meet both goals (reunion and justice) God set rules for judgement. Each mistake must be paid for with equal value. God’s only currency (what He values, not paper money obviously) is life/blood. But if He were to bleed His His people, that would be counter-productive to reunion. So He instituted payment of blood through animals owned by people. Each mistake (sin) would require blood payment from an animal man owned, and in payment, God could be with man again. The priests (who were cleansed of all sin first, so that they could aid in the sacrifice – ( it’s impossible to bring your payment to God if you can’t get to Him) so they would take an animal from their flock, bring it to the priest. The priest killed the sacrifice, pouring blood out on the alter and burning the rest (according to God’s instruction) and pray for the man to be forgiven and restored in God’s site. Sometimes sin was so great, the sacrifices were done in bulk; large animals slain and the priests would pray for the whole nation. This is a sad thing. This is why there was so much joy when the Messiah was slain on the cross as priest and lamb. Because he brought forgiveness of our sin, past, present and future, for all time. Once and for all, restoring our union with God, forever. 🙂 Oh happy day! No more animals need be killed for our transgressions! God is to be with us again!

  4. “Ultimately, the sacrificial system was inadequate, and none could repay the debt of life that was owed until Christ defeated death once and for all”
    If the sacrificial system used in the past was “inadequate”. Makes you wonder about the perfection of our creator. How come or perfect creator is going to establish something “inadequate” and request to use our for hundreds of years.
    God is prefect, eternal and his ways are prefect even when we don’t understand them.

    • There’s so much to discuss about the sacrificial system. David said Your laws are perfect, and the last book of the OT the last chapter and the last few verses say, remember the laws of Moses my servant which I gave him in Horeb and if you don’t, I will Hormah, Utterly destroy the earth. Then turn a few pages into the NT and Jesus made cLear, that heaven and earth will pass away before one tiny law will pass away, ( Matt 5:17-21) and He doesn’t stop there but says if you don’t know the Law and TEACH the Law you will be least in the kingdom. Then Scholars get ahold of that and essentially say that Paul said the Law Is done away with. Very Confusing right? Not really, because Jesus clearly states the Law will not pass away. The issue is not the inadequacy of the Law, but the inadequacy of Man, the human heart. David said the Law is perfect but we are not. Why was Jesus SAVED so to speak? It was to some degree that the Law saved Him through perfect obedience. So the Law was adequate to save Jesus, because had He not sinned against one tiny Law and if He would have sinned He would have remained in the grave. Look at 119 ministries, a beginning stage to understand better the Law, and if you like that, then go to, teaching the Law.org. Mordakhai Joseph is one of the greatest teachers alive right now. Have fun.

      • Galatians 3: 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

        19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

        21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

        Galatians 4: 1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces[a] of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[b] 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[c] Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

    • Hi David, I am just trying to fix the question- how the sacrificial system is inadequate which was made by God- I do also viewed that a system that was made by God could not be inadequate, but the people who offered the sacrifice made the same in an inadequate way ex) Malachi Chapter 1.

      I opine that, all these sacrificial system that was given to Israelites only and not to gentiles means God wanted to indicate that the erstwhile sacrificial system would not suffice to fulfill the results of one’s sin. All the earlier sacrificial system was seasoning the humans that the erstwhile system would not sufficient and the death of Jesus Christ only can repair the relationship of human with the God!

      Kindly correct me if I have misunderstood.

  5. A subject that looks complicated from afar now broken down in understandable structure. Thanks Mr Garrett. Will definitely check out other articles.

  6. Thank you for the great work on these five offerings. To real understand the sacrifice of Christ, there is need of understanding the old testament sacrifices mainly the book of Leviticus.

  7. God addresses the man and the woman who ate fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which He forbade the man from doing in Genesis 2:16. Later in Genesis chapter 3, the man and the woman are clearly named Adam and Eve, respectively. Right before banishing them from the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:23, God provides garments of animal skins in 3:21*, demonstrating the first case of the undeserving grace humankind receives from God in the midst of his justice.

    Of incredible intrigue: The serpent and the woman were not original enemies. Nor were their offspring originally enemies i.e. in a literal sense snakes and humans were not inherently at war or wicked towards one another; and in a theological sense, the serpent as a representation of Satan, and the woman with her descendants as a representation for mankind, these two clans so-to-speak, were not inherently enemies prior to this point in Genesis 3:15 when God decrees, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” Rather, Scripture reads in Genesis 3:1 that, “the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'” The Serpent follows with, “You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Taking a step back, it appears that in the serpent’s cunningness, he had Adam and Eve complete a ‘trial run’ of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge almost as if he wanted to sit back and watch what would really happen before doing so himself. The serpent is not depicted as having mal-intent in trying to harm the man or the woman. Scripture writes that the snake was cunning and that there was no enmity between him and humanity until after the fall of mankind through the first couple and the subsequent banishment from the garden.

  8. Thankyou for briefly explaining the different offerings. It’s very helpful.
    (There is a sentence that you wrote under the heading Peace Offering, which I find is not right. You have written, ‘The portions unsuitable for eating were given to God (7:19-27).’ I read the particular portion you have refered to and I do not find it so).

  9. Thanks for this insights. However, I would like to know what options the modern society/ Christians have relating to this 5 types of sacrifices. Please let me know.

    Regards,

    Joseph Muema

  10. In fact I was so elated about how the writer has explained the five types of offerings in the Old testament. I read it with pure concentration and understanding to the best of my knowledge and I therefore say well done sir for impacting this knowledgeThe Almighty God will bless and favour you in all ramifications. May He refresh your anointing so it will not run dry IJMN amen. I will read it again and try to to teach the people in my church because some people are swimming in oceans of sin taking God for granted. People should be the doer of the word of God rather than the sayer or hearer only. You can not joke with your creator because He is a man of His words because whatsoever He promises to do He will surely do it. Whoever has ears let him hear what the spirit is telling the church. Remain greatly blessed and favoured sir. I do appreciate you and more grease to your elbows.

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