Saturday, May 2, 2009

Female Offerings

BryanL asked on his blog, "The Art of Procrastination," Did the Savior Have to be a Man? And T.C. Robinson argues on New Leaven that the Passover lamb had to be a male, since the Passover lamb was a type of Christ, who was a man (see "The Passover Lamb had to be Male…").

I asked T.C. how he accounts for the female sin offerings in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 4:28, 32; 5:6). There were also peace offerings, which could be either male or female (Leviticus 3:1, 6). And Sue points out under T.C.'s post that the red heifer of Numbers 19 was a female. Were they a type of Christ? If so, then gender obviously doesn't matter, does it?

I have the same problem with typology that Richard expresses under T.C.'s post: "The problem that I have with most 'typology' is the severe lack of [hermeneutical] control, i.e. there are as many 'types' as people with imagination! Oftentimes it just degenerates into our reading what we want into the biblical text rather than letting it speak for itself."

For my weekly quiet times, I've heard a lot of Christian sermons--from Jon Courson, Chuck Missler, Bob Smith, and the list goes on. They like to use typology, as they seek to tie things in the Old Testament to Jesus Christ. The problem is that the "type" and the "antetype" are not always perfect fits. When this happens, the preacher usually says that the type is intentionally imperfect, since God wants us to focus not so much on the type, but rather on the antetype, the perfect Jesus Christ. But what makes them think that it's a type of Christ at all, when the two don't completely match?

As a Christian, I'm not totally against typology, since it's a way that I derive meaning from the Hebrew Bible. I personally don't slay giants or sacrifice animals, so I have to do something to make those concepts meaningful to my own spiritual life. But I don't expect typology to convince someone with non-Christian presuppositions, such as Jews, or historical critics who don't seek to force the Hebrew Bible into a Christian mold.

I try to understand the writings of the Hebrew Bible on their own terms, before I apply them to Jesus Christ. When the text says that the offering had to be "unblemished," for example, I don't limit my thoughts to "Oh my, this must be a type of the sinless Son of God." Rather, I ask why the offering had to be unblemished within the Hebrew mindset. My impression is that a lot of it had to do with the majesty of God (see Malachi 1), which required that God receive the best.

Then why did God have different gender requirements for his sacrifices? Unlike Sue (perhaps), I think that gender actually does matter in terms of this issue, for there were some sacrifices that absolutely had to be male (e.g., the burnt offering of Leviticus 1:3, 10). Some could be male or female (the peace offerings of Leviticus 3:1, 6). And some had to be female (some of the sin offerings of Leviticus 4-5).

I think a possible answer is that the gender requirements placed a hierarchy of importance on the sacrifices. Leviticus 4, the chapter on sin offerings, prescribes a bullock for the sins of the priest and entire community, a male goat for the sins of a prince, and a she-goat or female lamb for the sins of the individual. Priests, princes, and the entire community are more important than single individuals, so their sin offerings had to be from the gender that was higher on the hierarchy within the Hebrew mindset, the male. For evidence of such a hierarchy, see Leviticus 27, which places a higher redemption price on male human beings than females.

Similar rules appear in Numbers 15:22-28, though, here, the sacrifice for the entire community is one young bull for a burnt offering and one he-goat for a sin-offering. This differs from the command in Leviticus 4 that a young bull be the sin offering for the entire community, so I guess there's diversity within the Bible. (Who would have guessed?) But, still, Numbers 15 conveys the message that the more important offerings had to be male. Likewise, in Leviticus 16:5, 7, two male goats are used in the Day of Atonement ceremony, which is for the entire community.

Why is the burnt offering to be a male, whereas a peace offering can go either way? I think the answer may be that the burnt offering is the most sacred sacrifice. God gets all of the burnt offering, whereas the peace offering is shared between God and the worshipper (Leviticus 1, 7). The burnt offering may have been the sacrifice that invited God's presence at the outset, which would explain why it appears in so many rituals (Leviticus 16:3--Day of Atonement; Leviticus 23--the festivals in general; Leviticus 15--purification; etc.).

I'm not sure if this principle (that the more important sacrifices had to be male) makes sense of everything in the sacrificial system. The Passover sacrifice was for individuals, yet it had to be male. The red heifer helped cleanse the entire community, yet it was female. Maybe the Passover lamb was in a higher class because it was for a festival, so a male was required. As far as the red heifer goes, I'm not sure how to explain her. I think that the principle holds true in a lot of instances, but there are a few exceptions. So I guess I'm doing the same thing as the Christian typologists I criticized: seeing a pattern, while not knowing what to do with an exception.

I'm tired of writing now, and I kind of shot my day with this post! I may wrestle with the theological ramifications of this issue tomorrow. See you then!


  1. Thanks for a stimulating post.

    In the old WCG, we were dogmatic about every little thing, including typology. A prime example: The "scapegoat" in Lev 16 was a type of Satan. End of discussion.

    So in the mid-90s, when WCG leaders began suggesting alternate interpretations for the Azazel goat, I was initially uncomfortable. It took awhile for me to understand that it didn't make sense to be dogmatic about typology.

    Several years ago I did some reading on the range of symbolism that Christians and Jews have ascribed to the two goats in Lev 16. A good source here, actually, is the (Union Institute) doctoral dissertation of UCG elder Ralph Levy.

    There turn out to be a number of ideas about what the goats symbolize. (Origen by himself came up with several possibiliities.) I've got an article on this subject at my website. (It can be found in the list of articles on the festivals and the list of articles on the Pentateuch.)

  2. Thanks for the info, Doug. I actually met Ralph Levy, since he takes adult ed classes at HUC. I gave him a copy of a presentation I gave on Jewish interpretations of Genesis 3:15.

  3. I don't do a lot of typology, but I wonder-- what about the actual value of the animals in terms of farming? Wouldn't that be something the Hebrews would be taking into consideration?

    I know the Hebrews considered males to be above females, but the fact remains that a male animal can only give two things: meat, and stud. The female can be used for meat, but also can bear young and give milk. As a farmer, you need more females than males, and it is males that usually get slaughtered for meat, because they are more expendable. In a very real sense, then, the female is more valuable than the male, when it comes to farm animals.

    I don't know what this does to the ideas of typology-- but I do think it's something that should be taken into account.

  4. That could be, Kristen. My impression is that burnt offerings are the ones offered more often, and they had to be male. That would make sense in light of your statement that the males are more expendable. At the same time, my hunch is that the female sin offerings would have to be more in number than the male ones, since ones for individuals would outnumber ones for a community or leaders, since there are more individuals. I don't know.

  5. Abel's offering, the first animal sacrifice, was of a female firstling. Kristen's point about the importance of females for maintaining the numbers in a flock (you only need one stud male) is a good one. Having to offer females for a sin offering would surely bring home the point, to each individual sinner, that sin is costly.

    Nahum Sarna ("Understanding Genesis", Schocken Books, 1970, p29) says,
    The Bible ..., in its treatment of the very first recorded act of worship, [is] formulating two basic concepts that characterize the religion of Israel.

    The first is that the individual is the ultimate religious unit. In his relationship to God, man is a conscious personality who retains his distinctiveness within the community. Later on, the Bible is to add the new dimension of community to this religious individualism, so that society, too, is elevated to the status of a religious unit. But this principle can be operatively successful only because there must always be an underlying tension, religiously speaking, between the individual and the collectivized mass.

    The second concept postulated by the Cain and Abel story is the necessity of relating worship to piety.
    I don't think it's that priests and princes are more important than individuals but that they represent everybody else. Therefore, perhaps, the offering has to be a representative type of offering. Since the male is/was generally accepted as being representative of the kind, then a male animal should be used for representative sacrifices.

    Maybe that's a stretch. Who knows?

  6. James, I have gone to Calvary Chapel churches most of my Christian life and I do get weary of teachers trying to cram square pegs in round holes.

    I enjoyed your musings and appreciate the humility it takes to say, "I don't really completely understand this, but it doesn't ruin my hope in Christ."

    I would add that the Passover Lamb being male does make sense with Christian typology since He is called our Passover. But I have wondered about the female sin offering.

    Hierarchical? Agriculteral value? Interesting discussion.

  7. Thank you for your comment! This post did get some good discussion in the comments.


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