Monday, November 6, 2023

“An approach present and a sacrifice to God”

In his article “The Approach Present” (, fellow believer Clyde Pilkington defends the view that, in contrast with the “approach presents” that were offered to God in accord with Levitical law, Christ was an “approach present” offered by God to humanity to “win our favor.”

Although I believe Clyde’s article is helpful with regard to the background information it provides on the subject of the “approach present,” I also believe that the article presents a somewhat deficient view of what Paul (as well as the author of the letter to the Hebrews) had in mind when referring to Christ as an “approach present.” Thus, in this article I want to defend what I believe to be a more accurate understanding of this important subject. In accord with this subject, I’ll also share my understanding of why Christ had to die in order that sinners could be saved (and why it would be impossible for God to justly save sinners if Christ hadnt died).

Clyde begins his article by correctly pointing out the fact that, in Ephesians 2:8, salvation is referred to by Paul as God’s “approach present” to believers. Here is how Eph. 2:8-9 reads in the Concordant Literal New Testament:

“For in grace, through faith, are you saved, and this is not out of you; it is God's approach present, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting.”

As noted in Clyde’s article, the term translated “approach present” in Eph. 2:8 is the Greek word dōron (δῶρον). Commenting on this verse, Clyde writes, “The unimaginable has happened: here we see that, instead of humanity bringing an Approach Present to God, it is God that has brought one to humanity.”

So far, so good; what Paul referred to as an “approach present” in this verse is most definitely something that God has graciously given to believers (and the careful reader will note that I wrote “something” and not “someone”). However, I believe Clyde begins to veer off course when he goes on to ask, “Exactly what is the Approach Present God has made? Well, the question more accurately should be “Who is the Approach Present?

The problem with this question is that, in Eph. 2:8, what Paul referred to as “God’s approach present” is not a “who.” It’s a “what.” The “approach present” in this verse is that which Paul went on to say is “not of works, lest anyone should be boasting.” In other words, what Paul was referring to as “God’s approach present” in Eph. 2:8 is the salvation of the believer. So it would not, in fact, be more accurate to ask “who” the approach present referred to in this verse is.

Although Paul had a “what” (and not a “who”) in view when he referred to “God’s approach present” in Eph. 2:8, Clyde goes on to answer his question by quoting Ephesians 5:2. Here is how this verse reads in the CLNT:

“…be walking in love, according as Christ also loves you, and gives Himself up for us, an approach present and a sacrifice to God, for a fragrant odor.

In contrast with Eph. 2:8 (where the “approach present” is our salvation, and not a person), the “approach present” referred to in this verse most definitely is a person (i.e., Christ). However, as noted in Clyde’s article, the Greek word translated “approach present” in this verse is not dōron (which is the word Paul used in Eph. 2:8) but rather prosphora (προσφορα).

In Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, prosphora is defined as follows:

προσφορά, προσφοράς, ἡ (προσφέρω), offering; i. e. 1. the act of offering, a bringing to (Plato, Aristotle, Polybius). 2. that which is offered, a gift, a present (Sophocles O. C. 1270; Theophrastus, char. 30 under the end). In the N. T. a sacrifice (A. V. offering), whether bloody or not: Acts 21:26; Acts 24:17; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 10:5, 8, 14, (Sir. 14:11 Sir. 31:21 (Sir. 34:19); Sir. 32:1, 6 (Sir. 35:8); once for מִנְחָה, Psalm 39:7 (); περί ἁμαρτίας, offering for sin, expiatory sacrifice, Hebrews 10:18; with the genitive of the object, τοῦ σώματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Hebrews 10:10; τῶν ἐθνῶν, the sacrifice which I offer in turning the Gentiles to God, Romans 15:16.

Not only was a different word used by Paul in Eph. 5:2 when referring to Christ, but a more careful analysis of this verse reveals that a different truth was also being affirmed by Paul concerning the identity of the recipient of the “approach present” in view. In his Concordant Commentary on the New Testament, A.E. Knoch commented on Eph. 5:2 as follows:

“The sacrifice of Christ has many aspects. The opening chapters of Leviticus deal with these in detail. The sin and trespass offering seem to be entirely for man's benefit. But the first offering of all, and the most important, the ascending offering, called a "burnt" offering, seems to have been entirely for God; nothing in it was for man. So with Christ. The questions of human sin and transgression were secondary in His sacrifice. It was, first of all, His obedience to the will of God which gave His death its infinite value. His object was to please His Father. This is the true motive for service acceptable to our God.”

As noted by Knoch, there are many aspects of Christ’s sacrifice. One aspect is that which we find referred to by Paul in Romans 5:6-8:

For Christ, while we are still infirm, still in accord with the era, for the sake of the irreverent, died. For hardly for the sake of a just man will anyone be dying: for, for the sake of a good man, perhaps someone may even be daring to die, yet God is commending this love of His to us, seeing that, while we are still sinners, Christ died for our sakes.

From these verses it’s clear that Christ died for the benefit of sinners (which is the truth expressed by the words “for us” in Eph. 5:2, and “for our sakes” in the above passage). It’s also evident that Christ’s death for our sakes commends or exhibits God’s love to us.

This is in accord with the fact that Christ’s death for our sakes was in accord with God’s will “that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4-7). After affirming God’s will to save all mankind in 1 Tim. 2:4, Paul went on to write the following in verses 5-7:

“For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and mankind, a Man, Christ Jesus, Who is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all (the testimony in its own eras), for which I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth.”

The word translated “correspondent Ransom” in v. 6 (antilutron) refers to the payment by which a person’s release from captivity (or some other undesired condition) is secured. It thus follows that everyone for whom Christ gave himself a correspondent Ransom – i.e., all mankind – will, in fact, be saved. But saved from what? Answer: from the condemnation of which our sins make us deserving (i.e., death; see Romans 1:32; 5:12-14 [cf. Gen. 2:16-17, 22-24]; 6:22-23; 8:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:54-57).

In accord with the fact that Christ’s death was “for our sakes” (and that he gave himself a “correspondent Ransom” for us), we read in 2 Cor. 5:21 that, when Christ died on the cross, he died as a “sin offering” for our sakes:

“For the One not knowing sin, [God] makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God’s righteousness in Him.”[i] 

A sin offering is a sacrifice offered to God which results in the sin of the one for whom the sacrifice was offered being no longer reckoned to them by God (see, for example, Lev. 4:20, 26, 35 and Lev. 5:6, 10). In other words, it’s a sacrifice that, once offered, results in the sin of the one for whom it was offered being “eliminated” or “blotted out” by God (such that the individual’s sin ceases to be a source of condemnation for him or her).

The truth that we find more explicitly affirmed in 2 Cor. 5:21 is, I believe, implied in 1 Cor. 15:3 (where we read that “Christ died for our sins”). As I’ve noted elsewhere, the term translated “for” in this verse (huper) occurs a number of times in the letter to the Hebrews in connection with sins (see Heb. 5:1, 3; 7:27; 9:7; 10:12), and in all of these verses the author had a sin offering in view. And insofar as a sin offering is a sacrifice offered to God that has, as its intended purpose, the elimination of the sins for which the sacrifice is offered (i.e., it results in God’s ceasing to reckon the sins of those for whom the sacrifice is offered against them), it follows that the sins of everyone for whose sake Christ died shall be eliminated (which means that all past, present and future sinners – whether they’re dead, alive, or yet to be born – will eventually be justified and reconciled to God).

Although it’s clear that Christ died for the sake of sinners, I believe Paul’s words in Eph. 5:2 point us toward an even more fundamental truth (a truth which helps explain how Christ’s death is able to result in the salvation of sinners). When Christ gave himself up for us and “died for our sins,” it was as ”an approach present and a sacrifice to God, for a fragrant odor.” That is, it was God himself (and not humanity) who was the actual recipient of the “approach present” referred to by Paul in Eph. 5:2.

This truth is confirmed in the letter to the Hebrews. In Hebrews 10:10-14, Christ’s body (and thus Christ himself) is represented as an “approach present” given by Christ to God on behalf of those among God’s covenant people who had been “hallowed”:

“By which will we are hallowed through the approach present of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time. And every chief priest, indeed, stands ministering day by day, and offering often the same sacrifices, which never can take sins from about us. Yet This One, when offering one sacrifice for sins, is seated to a finality at the right hand of God, waiting furthermore till His enemies may be placed as a footstool for His feet. For by one approach present He has perfected to a finality those who are hallowed.”

That “the approach present of the body of Jesus Christ” was offered to God (and not to human beings) is evident from what was said earlier in this letter concerning Christ’s self-sacrifice. In Hebrews 7:26-27 and 9:13-14 we read the following:

“For such a Chief Priest also became us, benign, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and coming to be higher than those of the heavens, Who has no necessity daily, even as the chief priests, to be offering up sacrifices previously for their own sins, thereupon for those of the people, for this He does once for all time, offering up Himself.

“For if the blood of he-goats and of bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the contaminated, is hallowing to the cleanness of the flesh, how much rather shall the blood of Christ, Who, through the eonian spirit offers Himself flawless to God, be cleansing your conscience from dead works to be offering divine service to the living and true God?”

From these passages it’s clear that, when Christ offered up himself as a sacrifice for sins, he was offering himself to God. Thus, the ultimate meaning and significance of Christ’s death is not found in the fact that it was for us (even though it’s absolutely true that Christ’s death was for our sakes). As noted by Knoch in his commentary, ”The questions of human sin and transgression were secondary in [Christ’s] sacrifice. It was, first of all, His obedience to the will of God which gave His death its infinite value.” I believe Knoch “hit the nail on the head” here. The reason Christ’s death is able to benefit sinners is because it was, first and foremost, an act of faithful obedience to God. That is, Christ died for our sakes (or gave himself “up for us”) by giving himself to God in an act of perfect obedience (a sacrifice which, as is evident from the words for a fragrant odor” in Eph. 5:2, was greatly pleasing to God).

[i] We know that in the Hebrew Scriptures (and in the LXX – i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, from which Paul often quoted) the word translated “sin” was used to mean both “sin” and “sin offering.” Here’s every verse from the Hebrew Scriptures where, in the Greek translation, the exact word used by Paul in 2 Cor. 5:21 (hamartia) was used to mean “sin offering”: 

Ex 29:14, Ex 29:36 : Lev 4:3, Lev 4:8, Lev 4:20, Lev 4:21, Lev 4:24, Lev 4:25, Lev 4:29, Lev 4:32-34; Lev 5:6, Lev 5:7, Lev 5:8, Lev 5:9, Lev 5:11, Lev 5:12; Lev 6:17, Lev 6:25, Lev 6:30; Lev 7:7, Lev 7:37; Lev 8:2, Lev 8:14; Lev 9:2, Lev 9:3, Lev 9:7, Lev 9:8, Lev 9:10, Lev 9:15, Lev 9:22; Lev 10:16, Lev 10:17, Lev 10:19; Lev 12:6, Lev 12:8; Lev 14:13, Lev 14:19, Lev 14:22, Lev 14:31; Lev 15:15, Lev 15:30; Lev 16:3, Lev 16:5, Lev 16:6, Lev 16:9, Lev 16:11, Lev 16:15, Lev 16:25, Lev 16:27; Lev 23:19 : Num 6:11, Num 6:14, Num 6:16; Num 7:16, Num 7:22, Num 7:28, Num 7:34, Num 7:40, Num 7:46, Num 7:52, Num 7:58, Num 7:70, Num 7:76, Num 7:82, Num 7:87; Num 8:8, Num 8:12; Num 15:24, Num 15:25, Num 15:27; Num 18:9; Num 28:15, Num 28:22; Num 29:5, Num 29:11, Num 29:16, Num 29:22, Num 29:25, Num 29:28, Num 29:31, Num 29:34, Num 29:38; 2Ch 29:21, 2Ch 29:23, 2Ch 29:24 : Ezr 6:17; Ezr 8:35 : Neh 10:33 : Job 1:5 : Eze 43:19, Eze 43:22, Eze 43:25; Eze 44:27, Eze 44:29; Eze 45:17, Eze 45:19, Eze 45:22, Eze 45:23, Eze 45:25. 

In light of this fact, one can’t simply object that Paul didn’t use the word “offering” in 2 Cor. 5:21. In each of the above verses (both in the original Hebrew and in the LXX) the word “offering” is implied when the word “sin” is used.

Moreover, any alternative to understanding “sin” as “sin offering” in 2 Cor. 5:21 results in either an unintelligible/impossible idea (a human can’t literally be made “sin”) or requires that “sin” be understood figuratively. But there’s no need to try and figure out what non-literal meaning Paul had in mind when he wrote “sin” in 2 Cor. 5:21, because we know that “sin” could mean “sin offering” (and Paul knew this, too). 


  1. In your article, you note in Heb 10 "the approach present of the BODY of Jesus Christ" with a parenthetical comment "and thus Christ himself". I'm wondering why the author chose the phrase "BODY of..." here. I thought the gift was primarily Christ's obedience to the point of his death, which would be the giving up of his soul (body and spirit). I may be looking for this in scripture more given the misunderstanding of what death is in christianity.

    Also in Col 1:21 "...yet now He reconciles, by his body of flesh, through his death..." What do you think of this, Aaron?

    1. Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      As we read in Hebrews 7:27, 9:14 and 9:25-26, when Christ offered his body to God, he offered himself to God. This is in accord with the fact that our body is an essential part of us (apart from which we do not and cannot live/exist). As far as what Christ gave to God, it's my understanding that Christ sacrificially gave himself/his body to God BY becoming obedient to the point of death. In that sense, the "gift" given to God was Christ himself being obedient unto death (this is in accord with the fact that it's Christ who gave himself a correspondent Ransom for all - that is, by becoming obedient to the point of death, Christ himself secured the salvation of sinners).

      As far as why Christ's body is specifically mentioned in Hebrews 10:10 (rather than just saying "through the approach present of Jesus Christ"), I think it's meant to emphasize the fact that the approach present in view was such that it necessarily involved Christ's death. Ordinarily, of course, an approach present would be something that the one giving it could continue to live without. As valuable as it may be, giving it wouldn't result in one's death. So I think the author wrote "the approach present of the body of Jesus Christ" (rather than simply "the approach present of Jesus Christ") to emphasize the point that Christ didn't continue to live after he performed the ultimate act of obedience through which his approach present was given to God.

      In addition to this consideration, I also found the following comments from Charles Ellicott helpful: "In the word “body” lies a reference to Hebrews 10:5, where the body is looked on as the instrument of obedient service (comp. Romans 12:1); but the word “offering” still preserves its sacrificial character, and contains an allusion to the presentation of the body of the slain victim. (Comp. Hebrews 13:11)."

      Concerning the prior reference in Heb. 10:5 to a "body" being prepared for Christ, Joseph Benson notes the following in his commentary: "The words, a body hast thou prepared me, are the translation of the LXX.; but in the Hebrew it is, Mine ears hast thou opened, or bored; an expression which signifies, I have devoted myself to thy perpetual service, and thou hast accepted of me as thy servant, and signified so much by the boring of mine ears. So that, though the words of the translation of the LXX., here used by the apostle, are not the same with those signified by the original Hebrew, the sense is the same; for the ears suppose a body to which they belong, and the preparing of a body implies the preparing of the ears, and the obligation of the person for whom a body was prepared, to serve him who prepared it; which the boring of the ear signified."

      As far as Colossians 1:22, I'm inclined to believe that Paul's use of the expression "His body of flesh" was intended to combat a certain false view of Christ that, in certain areas at least, was being promoted by false teachers, and had the potential to lead believers astray. The false view to which I'm referring is rooted in Gnosticism, and involved the idea that Christ was a spirit-being who didn't have a flesh-and-blood human body. According to one version, Christ was a spirit-being who only appeared to have a mortal human body; according to another view, Christ was a spirit-being who temporarily indwelled a mortal man (Jesus), but left the man before he died on the cross. The apostle John was likely warning his readers against one or both of these Gnostic views in his letters (see 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7).

      Hope that helps.


    2. Hi Aaron. This is my first time commenting. It's about Jesus' sinless life. Is that fact presented in scripture as a revelation, as opposed to first hand knowledge? And how was that even possible? Or is it more his inherent nature instead of specific acts?

    3. Hi Rick,

      Thanks for the comment. While the first-hand knowledge that Jesus' disciples had of him could've led them to believe (or at least suspect) that Jesus never sinned, I think the more conclusive knowledge of Jesus' sinlessness (as we find affirmed in verses such as 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15, 1 Pet. 2:22) was based on the fact that, had Jesus sinned, then that which we know took place after his death wouldn't have occurred. The fact that he was roused from among the dead by God with an incorruptible body, given all authority in heaven and on earth and ascended to heaven to sit at God's right hand is itself conclusive evidence that he never sinned. Had Christ sinned just once during his lifetime, it would've made him just as condemned and deserving of death as those for whom he died, and unworthy of the status and authority that he was given because of his obedience to the point of death.

      Hope that helps.