Part I

Chapter 2

Where the Life Is

Q: What is the world's most precious substance?

A: Blood.

* * *

The Bible contains an almost mystical regard for blood. By it, covenants are made, sins covered, and worship is sanctified. Eating it is forbidden and shedding it -- if it is innocent -- is repaid with death. At once it is a purifier and a defiler.

Most of this is unfamiliar territory for American Christians, but must be explained for the remainder of the book to be clear. For this reason, a look at the Biblical meaning of blood is necessary.

The first bloodshed in history was that of an animal killed by God to make coverings for Adam and Eve's nakedness. The bloodshed has not stopped since. Cain shed Abel's and set the standard for the shedding of innocent blood. But God marked Cain so that others would not shed his blood -- though he was guilty.

God established a principle for capital punishment after the Deluge saying, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God He made man." (Genesis 9:6) He gave permission to man to eat meat but prohibited him from eating "flesh with its life, that is, its blood." (v. 4) God later reiterated all this in the law of Moses and assigned blood to a pivotal role in sacrifices of atonement and purification.

All ancient cultures, devolving from the Noahic knowledge of God, have clung to blood sacrifices -- human or animal -- in an intuitive recognition of the value of blood for appeasing the gods.

Blood was the sign of the Old Covenant as well as the New. It was a token of the bond between man and God. Improperly used, it made one unclean. Wrongly shed, it made one worthy of death.

The locus of this emphasis placed on blood is the Biblical assertion that "the life of the flesh is in the blood." This is certainly true in the physical sense as blood carries all the oxygen and nourishment to the body. Any part of the body which is deprived of blood circulation dies! But there is spiritual aspect to that blood as well. God created life -- originally meant to be everlasting -- and no one was to spill that life out. The entry of sin into the human equation did not alter the value of life in God's eyes. Blood became the expression of the life that God had created -- and a fulcrum in man's eternal relationship with God. As such, God would not allow blood for common usages like eating.

Contracts in Blood

Anyone who grew up watching Westerns on television remembers the inevitable "blood brother" ceremony of the Indians. Most older cultures recognized the sacredness of blood in binding a covenant. Abraham made a blood covenant with God when he "passed between the pieces" of the animals he had killed for the purpose. (Genesis 15: 12-21) God also passed on the bloodsoaked ground between those pieces for this covenant. Such an oath was common in middle-east countries at the time. The implicit statement of that act was, "If I break this covenant, I will be a bloody corpse like these."

Another blood covenant was circumcision. This was a binding blood covenant between the man and the God of Israel. Descendants of Abraham were automatically inducted, but others, wishing to follow the ways of the true God, submitted voluntarily.

Atonements in Blood

Many believers have wondered why God chose to incorporate blood sacrifices into the first covenant. It seems to us so primitive. It almost appears that God Himself was tied into the cultural milieu of the time. Everyone else used blood sacrifices and so did Israel -- at God's direction. Some have suggested that this is just another proof that the transcendent God we speak of does not exist. But the truth is, since the fall of man blood has always been important to God's prescribed worship. So-called primitive man was merely much closer to this truth than we moderns. Even when "primitive" man abandoned the true God, they retained parts of this essential truth.

Nor is there an absence of blood in New Testament Christianity. In fact, the blood of Jesus is at the very core of our faith. Without it there would be no salvation. In communion, both the atonement and the covenant features of this blood are recognized and celebrated.

Innocent Blood

The idea of innocent blood is one unique to Biblical thought. The commandment against murder is specifically directed against the shedding of innocent blood. All of Christian civilization is based on the prohibition against shedding innocent blood. In other cultures murder is defined by the wealth or importance of the person killed and that of the killer. The circumstances under which the death took place were far less important. For instance, if a slave or hired servant killed his master, it did not matter that the overlord was trying to kill him because the servant's position in life ruled against the killing. If the slave were killed, it was nothing.

Western civilization developed the legal principle of capital punishment for specific crimes based upon the Biblical pattern. Though the application of the injunctions of Scripture were sometimes spotty, the central idea was that the innocent ought to be left alone by individuals and government. In the West, the institution of slavery in the United States was a clear reversal of the concept. Slaves, just as in pagan cultures, were not permitted to defend their own lives against "more valuable" members of society (i.e., white people).

The presumption of innocence and the requirement of due process of law were other developments that were founded upon protection of innocent blood.

Dozens of times in Scripture we find God forbidding that people shed innocent blood. 1 The idea was tied to the condemnation of death for sin found in Genesis -- blood was the price of sin. Under the law of Moses, only those who sinned in specific ways were required to give their blood unto death. Others were considered innocent -- though it was recognized that all men sinned.

It was required, as it was told to Noah, that the guilty die. No man could arbitrarily decide to let a murderer go free. That would bring the vicarious guilt of the innocent blood of his victim on the whole land.

Under only one circumstance was innocent blood spilled -- in sacrifices. The burnt offerings of the Israelites were done as typology of the coming Messiah. God required the sacrifice animals to be "without blemish" as a pattern of the sinlessness of Christ and they were, like Christ, offered for the sins of the people.


"The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground."

-- Genesis 4:10

* * *

The importance of blood is displayed in yet another way -- the idea of bloodguilt. The concept is foreign to most Americans because we regard discussions about blood as morbid and because we view as "primitive" any religious system which places value on blood. This squeamishness has caused a large part of the American Church to abandon or minimize its emphasis on the blood of Jesus Christ. This, however, does not change the situation in the eternal eyes of God.

The verse above is the first recorded description of bloodguilt. I believe it is more than merely poetic -- that there is a sense in which innocent blood that is shed cries to God from the ground. This theme runs throughout the Bible until we see the martyrs crying out for vengeance from under the throne of God. The principle is that the shedding of innocent blood requires the shedding of guilty blood to repay it. The exception is the shedding of the innocent blood of Jesus to remove the bloodguilt from killers who cast themselves upon His mercy.

But being removed from the defilement of blood was so crucial that extraordinary steps were taken. God commanded, for example, that if a murdered man were found outside a city that the elders must assemble at the site and swear that they had not participated in the death nor did they know anything about it. If they did not do this, the bloodguilt for the slain was against that city. (Deuteronomy 21: 1-9) If the nation refused to execute murderers, that bloodguilt would be against Israel. (Deuteronomy 19: 11-13) Those who saw or knew of child sacrifice and who refused to act against it were accounted as guilty of the blood of the sacrificed children. (Leviticus 20: 1-5)

God cuts very little slack when it comes to bloodguilt -- and America is a bloodguilty nation as we will see in the next chapters.

Go To Chapter Three

Return To Table of Contents

Copyright © 1999 Paul deParrie