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Sacrifice: A Bible Word Study

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


The word "sacrifice" is mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible about 218 times. Most of those times, the word is recorded in the Old Testament. However, there are some instances of sacrifices in the New Testament as well.

Sacrifice: Definition

The true meaning of a sacrifice is the act of making an offering to God or a god, especially on an altar. It is something offered as a religious act. A modern-day definition of a sacrifice is an act of giving up something especially for the sake of someone or something else. For example, a person could sacrifice valuable time to help a friend in need.

In the Old Testament, people knew that a sacrifice was an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God.

In modern times, a sacrifice can be identified as the following:

  • An offering or a giving up of something.
  • To give away something that you want to keep for yourself

A true sacrifice is giving away something that you have that you want to keep for yourself, but you choose to give it away to someone who wants or needs it.

You can tell that a true sacrifice exists when it is given willingly and freely. A sacrifice loses its value when it is given grudgingly. The greatest sacrifice is given without expecting anything in return. When you get something in return, it is an exchange and not a gift, and surely not a sacrifice.

Sacrifices in the Bible

In early Judaism and Christianity, the word “sacrifice” was best defined as the ritualized slaughter of animals and offered to God.

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Sacrifices in the Old Testament were mostly animals or grains. Careful study will show that there were several types of sacrifices.

Poor people could sacrifice animals of lesser value. For instance, if they didn't have a sheep to offer to God, then they could sacrifice something as small as a dove.

When Something Is Not a Sacrifice

Everything given away is not a sacrifice. A billionaire buying $35 worth of groceries for a poverty-stricken family is a kind gesture, but it is not considered a sacrifice because it is so little from the amount of money he had. If he had only $35 and he used all of it to pay for groceries, that would have been a sacrifice because he offered all he had.


In Mark 12:41-44, a poor widow put two small copper coins into the temple treasury. It wasn't much, but it was a sacrifice because it was all she had. The Bible said she gave more than the rich people who put in large sums of money. Jesus noticed what she had done, and He taught the disciples that the woman gave more than the rich. Her story goes down in biblical history as an example of a true sacrifice.

As a widow, the poor woman had no source of income after her husband’s death. Therefore, the two small copper coins were all she had, and she willingly gave it all away.

On the other hand, the rich had a lot of money. So what they offered to God was money they did not have to depend on because they had much more to spare. Besides, more than likely they had resources to get more.

Sacrifices That Please God

God is pleased with a sacrifice that costs us something. According to 1 Chronicles 21:18-26, King David refused to accept land to build an altar without paying for it. He said he would not sacrifice a burnt offering that cost him nothing. Therefore, what you give to God that costs you nothing is not a true sacrifice. God accepts sacrifices that cost the giver something in terms of himself, his time, or his finances.

God is pleased with a sacrifice that comes from true love and obedience. In other words, a person's heart must be in the sacrifice he offers instead of doing it out of obligation or being forced to do it.

Final Words

Be careful when you are tempted to claim you sacrificed something to God or to someone else. If it did not cost you anything, it was not a sacrifice. If you had plenty left over after you gave away a portion of something, then it was not a sacrifice.

Finally, remember that if you give someone something and you expect something of the same value in return, then it is merely "an exchange" and not "a gift" and surely not "a sacrifice."

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