Old Testament Offerings

Old testament offerings have specific names for specific purposes: Burnt offerings, sin offerings, fellowship offerings, guilt offerings and grain offerings.

Leviticus, an obscure book of the Bible to many, draws its name from the Levites. The tribe of Levi is one of the twelve tribes of Israel. They performed the religious functions in ancient Israel. After the children of Israel escaped from Egypt, the firstborn of all men and animals were devoted to God. Parents either handed their firstborn over to Temple service or paid an offering to the Levites to redeem the son.

The Levites were in charge of these offerings and in maintaining the tabernacle. When the Promised Land was divided among the twelve tribes, the Levites did not get a territory but received cities in each territory for the purpose of maintaining the tabernacle, and later, the Temple. They did not own land but lived off of the offerings.

Part of the religious requirements set down in Leviticus is the giving of certain offerings to God, through the Levites and priests. The offerings are designed to bridge the gap between a holy God and sinful man. The first few chapters of the book are instructions for these Levites. There were five main offerings to be made to God.

Burnt Offering:

(Leviticus 1; 6: 8-13; 8: 18-21; 16: 24)

The burnt offering was for unintentional sin.

This was a blanket sacrifice for wrongdoing in general. The price was a male bull, lamb or goat. It had to be a perfect animal, without defect. The poor could offer a pigeon or dove. The penitent would present the animal at the entrance to the tent, which housed the altar and the tabernacle.

After presenting the animal, the sinner would place his two hands on the animal and thus, it was accepted as an offering for sin. Probably this act transferred the sin from the human to the animal, which paid the penalty and was sacrificed. They would kill their own offering and then the priests took over.

The priests bled the animal and cut it up ceremonially. The priests sprinkled the blood on the altar. Some of the internal organs and legs were washed. They then burned it whole on the altar. The aroma was said to be pleasing to God. The fire had to be continually burning and was never extinguished.

Grain Offering:

(Leviticus 2; 6: 14-23)

Voluntary worship and thanks:

A grain offering is just what it says. The grain had to ground into flour and could be put into loaves or cakes. Olive oil and incense were added to make a pleasing aroma when it burned. Yeast was forbidden for this offering. The cakes had to be salted. The offering was presented to the priests who burned a small portion of it on the altar. The rest was food for them and the Levites.

Fellowship Offering:

(Leviticus 3: 7: 11-34)

A voluntary act of worship, thanks and fellowship:

This is called a fellowship offering because the sacrifice is eaten communally instead of burned. Any clean animal, male or female could be offered. Bread, both with and without yeast, was also part of the offering. These were presented at the gate of the tent. The priests would sprinkle the blood on the four corners of the altar. The internal organs, the fat on them and the best part of the liver were burned as a food offering. The rest had to be eaten within two days or else it was burned also.

Sin Offering:

Leviticus 4: 1-5: 13; 6: 24-30; 8: 14-17; 16: 3-22)

Mandatory for specific sins:

All of these offerings for sins are for unintentional transgressions. If you were guilty of premeditated infraction, these offerings didn't help you. Your stature in the community determined the kind of sacrifice that you were required to offer.

A young bull was required for the sin of a high priest or for a community sin. Leaders had to present a male goat. The common people could bring a female goat or a lamb. The poor were permitted to offer a dove or pigeon and the very poor could get away with a tenth of an ephah of fine flour.

The bull's fat was burned inside the camp but the rest was burned outside. Leviticus 5 records the sins for which a sin offering was required. These include unintentionally touching an animal that is ritually unclean, touching something unclean of human origin or making a careless promise.

Guilt Offering: (Repayment Offering)

Leviticus 5:14 - 6:7; 7: 1-6)

Mandatory for unintentional sin requiring restitution:

This is a repayment offering for a sin committed against God, like holding back your tithe. A ram or lamb was brought to the tent to be sacrificed. The debt would have to be paid plus an additional twenty percent.

These were the offerings outlined in the first seven chapters of Leviticus. God could forgive mistakes but intentional sins were another matter.


Good News Bible, Canadian Bible Society, 1992

Halley's Bible Handbook, Zondervan, 2000

William Neil's One Volume Bible Commentary, Hodder & Stoughton, 1962

© High Speed Ventures 2011