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In Leviticus 7:26 (NASB)

And you are not to eat any blood, either of bird or animal, in any of your dwellings.

What's is the relevance of blood which makes one being prohibited of eating it?

Related question.

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  • 1
    This is a great question. I'm going to also provide an answer, but it will be this weekend.
    – Robert
    Feb 4 '21 at 20:23
  • 1
    +1. This is a very interesting question Feb 7 '21 at 0:46
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+50

Gathering background on the Prohibitions

Before Noah, man was only given the green plants to eat, not animals, so there was no issue of blood. But after the flood, we get the first prohibiton

Prohibition in Noah's covenant

Gen 9.1-7 (LEB):

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And fear of you and dread of you shall be upon every animal of the earth, and on every bird of heaven, and on everything that moves upon the ground, and on all the fish of the sea. **Into your hand they shall be given. Every moving thing that lives shall be for you as food. As I gave the green plants to you, I now give you everything. Only you shall not eat raw flesh with blood in it. ** And your lifeblood I will require; from every animal I will require it. And from the hand of humankind, from the hand of each man to his brother I will require the life of humankind. “As for the one shedding the blood of humankind, by humankind his blood shall be shed, for God made humankind in his own image. “And you, be fruitful and multiply, swarm on the earth and multiply in it.”

There are a couple of things going here:

  • God gives all animals on the earth for Noah to eat
  • God gives all animals into Noah's hand (a hand = power, so they are subordinate to him)
  • Noah can't eat raw flesh with blood in it
  • Anyone who sheds human blood (whether the killer is an animal or man), his "life-blood" is required, for God made humankind in his own image.

Let's dig into verse 4-5 a little more. Literally this says "Only you shall not eat flesh (basar) with blood (dam). And your lifeblood I will require; from every animal I will require it."

This phrase, "lifeblood" is first introduced here. What is life-blood? The phrase is literally, "the blood of your life (nefesh)".

Prohibitions against eating fat and blood in sacrifices

The next prohibition occurs in Lev 3.17, when giving instructions for a fellowship offering. The instructions for the fellowship offering are:

  1. Priest lays hands on the head of the offering (this shows dominion (e.g. the offering is "in his hand") and it also transfers the sins of the priest onto the offering.
  2. The fat of the offering goes to YWHW (fat is the best part, or good part)
  3. The kidneys are burned for YHWH as well (kidneys are the seat of emotions and subconscious, what we call "the heart" was viewed as being in the kidneys)
  4. The blood is sprinkled all around the altar
  5. And the meat would be eaten with the priest and the person making the offering, they would eat the meat together.
  6. But they could not eat any of the fat or any of the blood:

This is a lasting statute for your generations in all your dwellings: you must not eat any fat or any blood.’ ”

We have a similar prohibition in Leviticus 7:25-27 (LEB)

When anyone eats fat from the domestic animal from which he presented an offering made by fire for Yahweh, then that person who ate shall be cut off from his people. And in any of your dwellings, you must not eat any blood belonging to birds or domestic animals. Any person who eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.’ ”

General prohibition

So far, these two prohibitions deal with eating fat and blood of sacrificed animals. We see a blanket prohibition on eating blood (but not fat) in Leviticus 19.26. Here this is in the context of being a holy (set apart) people.

“ ‘You must not eat anything with the blood; you shall not practice divination, nor shall you interpret signs.

We see the general prohibition re-iterated in Deut 12:16, with the added requirement that the blood be poured out on the ground like a drink offering:

Only the blood you must not eat, but on the ground you must pour it like water.

Finally we have an explanation of why in Deut 12:23-24:

Only, be sure not to eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the meat. You shall not eat it, but on the ground you shall pour it out like water.

Life here is again "nefesh".

and again in v 27

And you shall offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood on the altar of Yahweh your God, and the blood of your sacrifices you shall pour out on the altar of Yahweh your God, but the meat you may eat.

And again in Deut 15.23:

But you shall not eat its blood; you shall pour it on the ground like water.

Gathering background on the "the blood (dam) is the life (nefesh)"

Lev 17.14: Indeed, the life (nefesh) of all flesh, its blood, is in its life (nefesh)

To understand what this means, we need some background first on nefesh, and second some cultural background on dam (blood)

Nefesh

Here is a brief summary of the semantic range of nefesh. All quotes that follow are excerpted from the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament and scripture is LEB:

  • **In Akkadian, napištu means life, vigor, vitality, good health; living beings; person, somebody, (negated) nobody; capital case; personnel, persons of menial status, animals counted in a herd; body, self; sustenance, provisions; throat, neck. It is one of the two common words for "life", but is not used in terms of "long life" but as a state opposite of death. Thus it has a meaning of vitality or the state of being alive. Expressions referring to saving a life or ending a life require napištu. napištu also means “sustenance,” as in napišti māti, “sustenance of the land,” and napišti nišī, “sustenance of the people,”

  • Glosses in Ugaritic:

“gullet, throat; appetite, desire(?); soul; living being, human person.” The meaning “soul,” it should be noted, is far from certain. The following noteworthy texts may be cited with assurance: bnpš bn ȝlm mt, “into the maw of the divine son Mot”; cf. npš ḫsrt bn nšm, “my [Mot’s] npš had a lack of [= hungered for] human beings.” We also find yqrʾ mt bnpšh, “Mot roars with his throat,” and ṣʾt npšh, “the screams that issue from her [Anat’s] throat.” Finally, npš mm means “water maw, whirlpool.”

  • The LXX translates nefesh primarily as psyche. As per TDOT:

“The basic meaning of psychḗ is ‘breath’; it often occurs in the meaning ‘life’ and can indicate the seat of desire, of emotions, and the ‘center of religious expression; … it can also stand for ‘person’ or in place of a pronoun.

This background should help motivate the OT glosses:

  • as throat/neck. Isaiah 5.14: “Sheol enlarges its nep̱eš, opens its mouth beyond measure.” Proverbs 10.14: "Yahweh does not let the nep̱eš of the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving (hawwâ) of the wicked". Proverbs 25.25: “Cool water to a thirsty nep̱eš is good news from a far country.”

  • Breathe. "“In this archaic anatomy, therefore, the throat stands without terminological distinction for both the windpipe and the esophagus. When ‘the floods rise to the nep̱eš,’ there is danger of drowning (Jon. 2:6[5]; Ps. 69:2[1]; cf. Ps. 124:4f.)." Ex 23.12 “ ‘Six days you will do your work, but on the seventh day you will stop so that your ox and your donkey will rest and the son of your slave woman and the alien will be refreshed (nyinnafesh, or "breathe easily"). Jer 15.9 "She who gave birth to seven has withered away. She gasps her breath (nefesh)".

  • Desire. "The meaning “desire, appetite” is obviously closely related to the meaning “throat.” Thus nep̱eš can denote simple hunger, as in Hos. 9:4: “Their bread is only for their nep̱eš.” Dt. 23:25(24) allows grapes to be eaten for one’s nep̱eš in a vineyard, but they must not be carried away. Isa. 29:8 uses the image of a hungry person who dreams of eating but wakes up with empty nep̱eš and dreams of drinking but wakes up with thirsty nep̱eš." Not unrelated to this sense is the usage that speaks of enemies’ thirst for vengeance, as in Ex. 15:9: “I [Egypt] will satisfy my nep̱eš”; Ezk. 16:27: “I gave you up to the nep̱eš of your enemies”; cf. Ps. 27:12: “Do not give me up to the nep̱eš of my enemies” (similarly 41:3[2]).

  • Soul/vitality. "As is well known, it is quite possible to translate nep̱eš as “soul.” The more vaguely and naively this word is used, the more correct and appropriate this translation becomes. " the specialized meaning “soul” can be considered only in a relatively small number of passages. The nucleus comprises a group of texts that speak of the grief and sadness (less often the joy and consolation) of someone’s nep̱eš. They also speak of placing hope in Yahweh". "Johnson is correct in pointing to vitality as the defining characteristic of nep̱eš—impassioned, abounding vital energy. The phrase mar nep̱eš therefore denotes human existential inauthenticity."

Dam

The following excerpts are also from the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament's entry on "dam" (Blood):

"The word for “blood” is basically the same in all Semitic languages: Akk. dāmu, Ugar. dm, Arab., Ethiop. dam, Aram. dam, demāʾ (Mandean zemāʾ), ʾaḏmāʾ Phoen. ʾdm (?), edom, ʾeḏmāʾ"

Blood is naturally associated to vitality and life, since when an animal's blood drains away, it slowly loses this vitality and eventually dies. And from menstruation, we have an association of blood with feritility. This is true across all semitic cultures.

  • Mesopotamia: "In the Babylonian myth man is created from the blood of the slain god (EnEl VI, 33).26 Blood is regarded as the true life substance, so that dāmu and balāṭu can be used in parallelism (so a vocabulary from Assyria). Relatives have the same blood: “I am your brother, your flesh, your blood (dāmuka).” Blood plays an important role in magical rites and medicine. In rites of renewal, the blood of the person being renewed is obtained by cutting the skin, or an animal is slaughtered as his substitute and its blood is used."

  • Egypt: "In Egypt the idea that blood is a bearer of life can be deduced from certain myths which state that living creatures and objects originate from drops of divine blood"

  • Israel: "dam, we may say that it is the bearer of personally differentiated life, the vital element in the individual. Thus the word is semantically close to nephesh to the extent that this can denote life as such (2 S. 23:17; Lam. 2:12). Since, however, nephesh, the breath of life, is present in a living person, but blood is found in one who is bleeding to death, the emphasis in the former is mainly positive, but in the latter negative: when a man’s life is saved, it is called his nephesh, but when he loses it, it is called his dam"

Exegesis of the prohibition

Now we have enough background to understand this prohibition. Note that even without the explanation that "the blood is the life", we already know that these two words (dam and nefesh) have very close semantic overlap when it comes to life, with the distinction that dam refers more to life being killed and nefesh more to life being renewed. Here, life is best interpreted as vitality, that is the state of being alive.

As per Genesis 2.7, God created all of creation by speaking with the exception of man. God formed man (adam) out of the dust of the ground (adamah) and blew (yippah) into his nostrils (appay) the breath (nishmath) of life (hayyim) and man became a living nefesh. So we have God's breath in our necks, and with this divine breath Adam not only has vitality but can also speak and can subdue the whole earth and rule over all the animals, fish, and birds (Gen 1.28). Man is both a subject and object vis-a-vis creation, and his role of naming all the animals and tending the garden of eden speaks to his participation in God's creation as well as being himself a created being. At this point, man is given only the plants to eat. (Gen 1.29)

Now after the flood, man is given all the animals to eat, but he is forbidden from eating the blood, as the blood is symbolic of the nefesh, or life, and man's life, or nefesh, should come from God even as his protein needs can come from the animals. It would be an inversion of the divine hierarchy for man to obtain his life from the animals he is to rule over, and it would also be an insult to God who has given his own breath to man for his life.

At the same time, the drained life (dam) of the animals is to be poured out as a drink offering to the earth, as the life of the animals belongs to the earth even as the life of man belongs to God.

Application: Drinking the blood of Christ

We are required to drink Christ's blood (John 6.53) Why is this OK? Because Christ's life comes from God and is not an inversion of the divine hierarchy. In fact this is the only blood we are allowed to drink. Here, drinking the blood has to be viewed as obtaining a source of nefesh, or vitality. It must come from somewhere, and can only come from God, but the Father has decreed through his Son that it must only come from the Son, that is, Christ. It cannot come from the creation. As the source of our life is Christ (John 14.6) we must drink his blood, for "in him was life, and that life was the light of men" (John 1.4).

Application: Plague of Blood

As man must get vitality somewhere, he is always drinking blood, but he is either drinking the blood of Christ, obtaining his life from Christ, or he is trampling the blood of Christ underfoot, and thus trampling underfoot the blood of all the righteous who are part of Christ's body (Matt 25.35), (Heb 10.29) by obtaining life from the creation. Such a man can be punished with a plague of blood, as per the Exodus account (Ex 7.20) or Revelation (Rev 11.6, 16.6).

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What's is the relevance of blood which makes one being prohibited of eating it?

  1. The blood has atoning power.
  2. It is the seat of life.

Leviticus 17:10“ ‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. 12Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”

This prohibition carries over to the time of the NT.

Acts 15:29

You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.

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What is one of God's intended uses for blood? (Deut. 12:23 NKJV)

"Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life; you may not eat the life with the meat."

What is one of God's intended uses for blood? Moses said, "the blood is the life". This purpose endures to this day, as we can not live without blood.

What else is one of God's intended uses for blood? (Lev. 17:11 GNB)

"The life of every living thing is in the blood, and that is why the Lord has commanded that all blood be poured out on the altar to take away the people's sins. Blood, which is life, takes away sins."

What else is one of God's intended uses for blood? God said, "Blood, which is life, takes away sins".

Although we no longer sacrifice the blood of animals, does this purpose still endure to the Christian Era? (Heb. 9:13-14 NKJV)

"For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

Similar to the effect of the sacrifice of the blood of animals, what effect will the blood of Christ have on a person? Paul said, "cleanse your conscience". Hence, God's purpose that blood takes away sin endures to this day.

Because of this, what were the Christians, like the Jews before them, instructed not to eat? (Acts 21:25 GNB)

"But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent them a letter telling them we decided that they must not eat any food that has been offered to idols, or any blood, or any animal that has been strangled, and that they must keep themselves from sexual immorality.'"

Because God has set aside blood for a holy purpose, what were the Christians also instructed not to eat? James said, "any blood".

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