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The literal rendering given for Genesis 9:4 states six Hebrew words :

... but flesh ('with its' from prepositional inflection) life blood not ('shall ye' from verbal inflection) eat.

As it stands, the clause would appear to be a proscription regarding flesh not to be eaten. 'Flesh with its life blood' . . . 'not shall ye eat'.

I am certain, myself, that there is a spiritual meaning couched in these words and it may well be (as in other scriptures) that wording is very carefully and very precisely chosen to serve that spiritual purpose.

A previous question asked 'what does the verse grammatically mean ?' and 'I want the linguistic meaning'.

I am not asking for that as I am certain in my own mind that the clause is not, primarily, about physical eating (though that is the figure for the time then present). So I am interested in the unusual structure for its own sake, as that will lead to the certainty of the spiritual intent of the words.

There are three nouns : flesh, life, blood. There is a prepositional inflection governing 'life'. There is a verb 'eat', inflected, and it is negated. There is a subject 'ye' embedded in the verbal inflection. There is a direct object 'flesh'.

(I am referring to the English literal as I do not pretend to be an Hebrew expert in any way.)

The apparent difficulty with the clause is the three nouns juxtaposed as either direct objects or genitive cases or a prepositional clause.

To ask for a 'linguistic' meaning is, in my view, unhelpful as that often results in much jargon being introduced which does not actually aid interpretation.

I am seeking the relationship of the words, one to another, in simple terms.

Which word belongs with which word, is the first stage I am seeking.


NOTE 1. :

This question is related to a BH-Meta question.

NOTE 2. :

It is my own suspicion that 'life' is adjectival in the above clause. (For 'the life of the flesh is in the blood' Leviticus 17:11. In which case, 'lifeblood' would be a correct translation.

... but flesh, with its lifeblood, shall ye not eat.

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4 Answers 4

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This is my layperson’s perspective on the relationships between the three nouns: flesh, life, blood.

1/ Flesh is the direct object of the verb eat, which is negated.
2/ Life with its prepositional inflection takes on the role of an adjective prepositional phrase modifying the word flesh.
3/ Blood and life are nouns that are in apposition.

The first two relationships are fairly straightforward. The third relationship between blood and life is less so and requires some explaining. The word blood is seen as identifying rather than modifying the word life, and the two can switch positions without significantly changing the meaning. Given these observations, the word blood is considered to be an appositive for the word life.

The view that the nouns life and blood are in apposition favors the more literal translations that keep life and blood as separate words. For example:

But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood (NASB)

If we accept the premise that life and blood are nouns that are in apposition, then their relative position in the text takes on greater significance. The author could have written, “But you shall not eat flesh with its blood, that is, its life.” Given the context, exchanging the placement of life and blood would have been a more natural/organic way to position the words and suggests that the way they are actually positioned is deliberate.

As it is written, the emphasis is given to the word life. It literally takes a central position between flesh and blood. It occurred to me to think of these three nouns in the way one thinks of a chiasm – with life at its center, and flesh (representing the physical/transitory aspect of life) on the one hand and blood (representing the metaphysical/inviolable aspect of life) on the other.

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  • Your thoughts are very much appreciated. Thank you. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 4 at 16:54
  • Thank you. It is I who am learning from your questions.
    – Nhi
    Apr 5 at 13:17
  • I trust we shall continue to learn together.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 5 at 13:48
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    Accepted as answer as I think 'apposition' is perhaps the key to understanding the figurative proscription within the old covenant and also the key to understanding the spirituality of the New Testament purpose for that original proscription. This is a fine example of the masterful use of language by the Holy Spirit to manage the precision of wording within old testament revelation yet not fail to hint at the coming revelation of the New.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 5 at 16:27
  • "The precision of wording..." Yes! The way the nouns are related and positioned grammatically, life is more closely linked to blood than to flesh, as if to say that life is a reality of which flesh is but a shadow and blood is its true form.
    – Nhi
    Apr 9 at 14:54
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בָּשָׂ֕ר - Flesh

בְּנַפְשׁ֥וֹ - In (that's the bet) him(that's the wav)self (that's the stem)

דָמ֖וֹ - His (wav) blood (stem)

Now, this verse isn't so peculiar - look at Exodus 22:31 with another dietary restriction that follows the same pattern.

And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs.

וּבָשָׂ֨ר - And flesh בַּשָּׂדֶ֤ה - In the field טְרֵפָה֙ - Torn

It is precisely the same pattern.

Whose self and whose blood

In context this can only be the flesh's blood and the flesh's self

You shall not eat flesh [where] in flesh's self [is] flesh's blood.

The where is added since it is not the location of the eater with which we are concerned - if it were we could do nothing with the blood.

The most interesting word of the three is certainly the middle. And I would say it is the possessive at the end that is its most interesting quality. Without that then we we would have בְּנַפְשׁ֥, that we could easily translate as in-the-creature (as in Exodus above, we say in the field).

By walking this sentence through with our Exodus we see what is going on.

Flesh (this is what we shall not eat) should it meet the condition of having in it's flesh it's blood then one should not eat, compared to flesh meeting the condition of having in the field tears. The third word is intimately related to the second, but the second is intimately related to the first.

נַפְשׁ֥ is an interesting word. It is a broad word, a meaty word (perhaps too meaty to be used for meat). And at first glance it doesn't appear to be necessary. If the opposition is to meat with its blood then say בשר מדמו, if blood in its meat then say דם בבשרו. Yet we do not have that, but we have three words.

Do we have three words - including the rich נַפְשׁ֥ - to allow for discovery of later spiritual truths? I wouldn't rule it out.

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  • Very helpful. Much appreciated. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 3 at 4:42
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I am not sure this will answer the question but it may help.

Gen 9:4 is part of the Noahide covenant where the ancient dictum is announced that the life/soul of a creature is in its blood. This is repeated in the Levitical covenant - see appendix below.

The structure of the Hebrew in Gen 9:4 is quintessential Hebrew - one can make a sentence by simply putting two nouns together without a verb - the implied verb is the verb "to be". Gen 9:4 then becomes, rather simply:

But flesh with its life blood you shall not eat [my translation]

Various modern versions attempt to smooth this out by inserting the implied verb "to be" such as:

  • ESV & NKJV * NASB: But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
  • CEV: But life is in the blood, and you must not eat any meat that still has blood in it.
  • ISV: However, you are not to eat meat with its life—that is, its blood—in it!

A few versions take the noun "nephesh" = soul/life and make it an adjective thus producing:

  • NIV: “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.
  • NLT: “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.
  • CEV: “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.

This is more dubious but grammatically possible, even if a stretch.

Spiritual Significance

The NT makes much atonement and soteriological mileage out of this concept.

  • Heb 9:22 - According to the law, in fact, nearly everything must be purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
  • John 6:53 - So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life [zoe] in you.
  • John 6:54 - Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
  • 1 Cor 10:16 - Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
  • 1 Cor 11:25 - In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
  • Rom 3:25 - God presented Him as the atoning sacrifice through faith in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had passed over the sins committed beforehand.
  • Heb 13:20 - Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep,

That is, only via the metaphoric drinking of Jesus' shed blood can sinners have access to eternal life. Jesus' shed blood also signified that He died.

APPENDIX - "Soul"/life in the Blood

The following verse repeat the OT dictum that the soul of a creature is in its blood

  • Lev 17:11 - For the life [lit: "soul"] of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for your souls upon the altar; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
  • Lev 17:14 - For the life [lit: "soul"] of all flesh is its blood. Therefore I have told the Israelites, ‘You must not eat the blood of any living thing, because the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it must be cut off.’
  • Deut 12:23 - Only be sure not to eat the blood, because the blood is the life [lit: "soul"], and you must not eat the life [lit: "soul"] with the meat.
  • Acts 15:29 - You must abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
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I have provided a fresh translation below, not that it differs substantially from the traditional ones.

Genesis 9:1-4 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: Be fruitful and multiply: and fill the earth. The fear of you is upon every living thing on earth, and fowl of the sky, and everything that moves upon the ground, and all the fish of the sea: they are delivered into your hands. Every thing that moves, and in which there is life, shall be your food, as the green herb is food: I have given you all things: but flesh wherein is life, that is, the blood, you shall not eat.

The word akh simply means "but" or "indeed," among similar translations, and here denotes an exception to a rule;" I have given you all things, but." "You shall not eat" governs only the noun "flesh" ("wherein is life"); and "blood" is in apposition to "life," since:

Leviticus 17:11 ... the life of the flesh is in the blood ...

A word in apposition leaves the rest of the sentence complete in itself and intact, and stands more or less as elaborative commentary. As such, there is actually only one noun ("flesh") for every verb ("eat") in the passage.

That is:

I have given you all things: but the flesh wherien is life you shall not eat.

stands alone without the addition of "its blood," yet it serves to disambiguate, that is, stands in apposition to "life."

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