You must not eat meat that has its blood still in it. Genesis 9:4
One of my preaching practicums had us select passages to preach on a doctrinal or ethical subject, and the passages were up for grabs among the students. Through my own choice (thinking I’d “challenge” myself) and what my peers had narrowed in options, I ended up with Leviticus 17. Preaching in the Old Testament? Sure. Preaching from Leviticus? Definitely more challenging. But I had not ever really grappled with the “blood ban” before, and I am so grateful for the opportunity. I hope to do a series of looking at different aspects of the Blood Prohibition.
Why the Blood Prohibition?
The “blood ban” is actually a fantastic opportunity for the student of Scripture to stretch themselves in the whole discipline of theology. Following the likes of Geerhardus Vos, true theology is a multi-discipline process, and looking at the Blood Prohibition allows one to utilize all of their skills. First, there is the exegetical component. The Blood Prohibition comes to us in several different texts, and perhaps the three most important are as follows:
Genesis 9:1 – 7
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth… Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”
Leviticus 17:10 – 12
“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.”
Acts 15:19 – 21; 28 – 29
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues… For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
These passages need to be translated and exegeted in their contexts before any further work can be done. And, since they occur in both the OT and the NT, the exegete must work with both Hebrew and Greek translation idioms and questions.
Secondly, there is the redemptive-historical dimension. How does the NT use the OT, and how do the various genres of narrative and law code shape these texts? Each of the passages listed above represents a different covenant (Noahic, Mosaic, and New Covenants, respectively) and yet all are united in the one Covenant of Grace. How does this affect the understanding and the application of the “blood ban?” Related to this question is how the Jerusalem Council’s letter (in Acts 15 above) was received by Paul and the rest of the Gentile church. Are these moral laws (perhaps the force of Genesis 9)? Ceremonial Laws (perhaps the force of Leviticus 17)? A mixture of both?
Thirdly, the above results must be collated to develop a dogmatic doctrine concerning blood. What can be said systematically about blood, and its prohibition, from the “pattern of sound doctrine” in Holy Scripture? Further, once such a doctrine is developed (and good luck finding a chapter heading in any of the standard dogmatics entitled “Blood Prohibition”!), there are questions of how this doctrine relates to others: anthropology and the imago Dei (especially in Genesis 9), to soteriology (broadly) and the atonement and hamartiology (more particularly; in Leviticus 17), to doctrines of revelation and Law/Gospel, and more. An approved workman must situate the Blood Prohibition within the whole counsel of God.
Finally(?), there is the ethical consideration. How should the “blood ban” come to bear on the daily life of the Christian? Does this apply to how rare I can order my steak at Outback Steakhouse? What about the missionary who is offered a meal that contains blood? If it is abolished, what is the “general equity” that may or may not apply? How does the command not to eat blood square with Christ’s command to drink His blood (cf. Matthew 26:27 – 28; John 6:53 – 56)? Actually, this fourth dimension could be subdivided further, into homiletic (preaching) and application categories, but you get my point. How does the doctrine of the Blood Prohibition inform obedience?
So as you can see, the opportunities for carefully mining God’s Word – even in a passage as bizarre as blood prohibitions – can be incredibly rewarding. As I go forward, I’ll try to post helpful resources and insights so that you can form some opinions on the meaning of this concept for Christians as well. If you ever come across helpful resources, be sure to leave a comment or drop me a note! Leave your questions as well, in the hope that this will stimulate further – and better – thinking about God’s holy commands.