Word Study #183 — “The Blood”

There are few concepts that have generated as much heated rhetoric, from all sides of purported “Christian teaching”, as has the simple word haima, “blood.”

Classically (L/S), it referred to the blood circulating in the bodies of men and beasts, to anything resembling blood, such as dye, wine, or other red liquid; and to courage or spirit, as opposed to “spiritless or pale.” Secondarily, it became an euphemism for murder or other violence (as in “bloodshed”), a corpse, or revenge; and also frequently referred to kinship – “blood relationship” – or to simple humanity – “flesh and blood”. Bauer also notes its use as a synonym for “life”, and Thayer adds “one’s generation or origin” or “punishment for bloodshed.” Lexically, there is no justification, in any direction, for the multitude of theological constructs with which (presumably) well-meaning folks try to clobber each other!

Of the 99 appearances of haima in the New Testament, 14 are clearly references to the physical substance. Fourteen describe violence or murder, and 6 deal with responsibility for another’s violent death. Twelve, in the letter to the Hebrews, relate to the ancient ritual sacrifices of the Jewish Law (and their woeful inadequacy), and three (Ac.15:20, 29; 21:25) to the pagan equivalent. That is nearly half of the usage!
These ideas also account for most of the LXX uses: heavily weighted toward wars and vengeance (both personal and national) in all the historical books, and toward offerings and sacrifices in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It is these latter two (Lev.7:27 and 17:10-14, and Dt.12:23) where a significant explanation is given: one which is absent in the classical lexicons, but crucial to accurate understanding. The writer (who says he is quoting God’s directives) emphasizes the absolute prohibition of any consumption of blood (which was common in pagan rites – see Ac.15) on the grounds that “the life of every creature is in its blood”. Many times, the “taking of life” and the “shedding of blood” are used synonymously. And since all life belongs exclusively to God who gave it, even the blood of legitimately hunted game is to be avoided. Therefore, it should be borne in mind continually that any occurrence of the word “blood” MAY be a reference to life, rather than, or in addition to, actual physical blood.
Exactly how this relates to Jesus’ enigmatic statement quoted in Jn.6:53-56 is not clear, but I am sure that (1) there is a connection, and that (2) it is as obscure to us as it was to the original listeners (who were just more honest about their confusion!)

Although the gospel uses of haima also refer primarily either to violence (Mt.23:30, 32; Mt. 27:4,6,8; Lk.11:50, 51) or to responsibility for it (Mt.27:24,25; Lk.13:1), and they also include physical conditions (Mk.5:25,29; Lk.8:43,44; Lk.22:44; Jn.19:34), two entirely different ideas are also introduced. In Mt.16:17 and Jn.1:13, also picked up by Paul in I Cor.15:50, Gal.1:6, and Eph.6:2, (all but the John reference accompanied by “flesh”), the intent is simple humanity. The same phrase in Heb.2:14 emphasizes kinship – a critical element in Jesus’ identification with our human condition.
The only place where Jesus speaks of his own blood (beside the John reference above) is Mt.26:28 and its parallels in Mk.14:24 and Luke 22:20, where he relates it to the establishment of the New Covenant. This connection is explained in greater detail in Heb.9:20, 10:20, and 13:20, where (especially in chapter 9) the writer connects the idea of “covenant” to a legal will (see #79,80), which takes effect only upon the death of the testator. Please note also that although Matthew added “for the removal of failures [trad.: forgiveness of sins]” to the concept of covenant, neither Mark nor Luke quotes Jesus as making any such connection to “debt”, “sin”, “guilt”, “forgiveness”, or any of the other popular buzz-words, nor does the expanded treatise in Hebrews.

The twelve references in Acts cover a considerable spectrum as well. Ac.5:28 and 18:6 reprise the idea of responsibility, as does 20:26 with a slightly different (probably not physical) slant. Ac.22:20 refers to the stoning of Stephen, which is definitely physical, as is the mention of the purchased field in 1:19, while 15:20, 29 and 21:25 deal with pagan sacrifice. Paul’s sermon in Athens (17:26) highlights the kinship of common humanity. Only his message to the Ephesian elders (20:28) specifically mentions Jesus’ blood [life? violent death? humanity?] as having periepoiesato – traditionally “purchased” – the church for himself. That translation has to have been a “doctrinal” choice, since the word is classically defined (L/S) as “kept safe, preserved; procure secure; acquire, gain possession of”. Could this erroneous translation be the source of the otherwise undocumented notion of Jesus having satisfied some sort of a “debt”?
I do not feel competent to exegete the references to Joel’s prophecy (Ac.2:19,20), since my field of study is Greek, not Hebrew.

In contrast, with the exception of the few passages already noted referring to simple humanity (I Cor.15:50, Gal.1:6, Eph.6:12) and the Old Testament quote in Rom.3:15, Paul’s epistles uniformly reference “the blood of Christ” or “his blood”, although not nearly as frequently as the purveyors of “doctrine” would like you to believe. I was able to find haima used only nine times in that way in his writing, and although one, Col.1:20, specifically makes reference to the cross, the others are equally likely to intend the synonymous alternatives of life, kinship, or humanity explored above. Or perhaps (more likely) all of these figure into the picture, because the emphasis in each instance is not on the “substance” in question, but rather upon its effect.

Consider: (and please refer to the indicated studies)
Rom.3:25 – traditionally “propitiation” (see #69 and #151)
Rom.5:19 – we are “made just” (#3) by his blood (see also “transformation,” #97)
I Cor.10:16 – sharing (koinonia – #8) in the Body and Blood of Christ
I Cor.11:25 – Jesus’ statement regarding the New Covenant (#80)
I Cor.11:27 – the danger of not perceiving the Body of Christ (#84)
Eph.1:7 – redemption (#16) also in Col.1:14, and I Pet.1:18-19, where it is translated “ransomed
Eph.2:13 – previously alienated people are brought near,
Col.1:20 – making peace among former enemies (#70)

Every one of these is hugely more practical than most, if not all, of the common theological rhetoric about “the blood of Jesus” – as well as being more Scriptural!

Only the letter to the Hebrews relates the coming, life, and death of Jesus to the sacrificial system of the old covenant – and the burden of its entire narrative is to point out the abject failure of that system to produce the results for which it was designed, and to illustrate the absolute supremacy of the Lord Jesus! The detailed descriptions in Heb.9:7, 12,13,18,19,21,25; 10:4; 11:28; 12:24; 13:11 of the old ways, and their separation of “ordinary people” from the presence of God – an idea much more akin to pagan rituals – are in sharp contrast to the accomplishment of the Lord himself, who by offering his own “blood” [life? violent death? humanity?]
Heb.9:12 – secured eternal redemption (#61)
Heb.10:19 – allowed his people to enter the holiest place (#32)
Heb.13:12 – made all his people “holy” (#3,32)

Notice that it was “UNDER THE LAW” (the phrase that self-styled “evangelists” consistently omit) that “without pouring out blood, deliverance doesn’t happen.” (Heb.9:22), and that the oft-repeated message of the entire letter is that the law has been superseded!

Peter (I Pet.1:2) and John (I Jn.1:7, Rv.1:5) are the only ones who specifically connect the idea of “cleansing” with haima, and only in those three settings. How, then, did that idea become so central in so-called “gospel” singing and preaching, in spite of the fact that Jesus never said it? And why is it assumed that none of the other senses of the word are equally appropriate here? As elsewhere, the life, kinship, and humanity of Jesus factor equally into that process.

In no instance does any New Testament writer represent “blood” – whether of Jesus or anyone/anything else – as some sort of magical potion to be dispensed, either naturally or supernaturally, for the correction of physical, moral, or spiritual ills. They speak consistently of the kinship, with the Lord and with one another, graciously provided for those who joyfully submit to his sovereignty.

Thanks be to God!

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