What is the reasoning behind the prohibition from eating the lifeblood of an animal?

It isn't until Moses that purposing of the blood for atonement is provided as some additional reasoning behind the prohibition:

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.
-Leviticus 17:11

Does the Mosaical reasoning still apply to the command given to Noah? And does this reasoning apply even to animals that are not sacrificed?

How does connecting life to blood explain its prohibition?

  • The Hebrew word is actual "nephesh" which is "soul" (literally).
    – Dottard
    Nov 24 at 19:58

4 Answers 4


There are several questions here about Gen 9:4 which literally reads:

But you shall not eat flesh with its life [literally, "soul", nephesh], that is, its blood.

The same commend is repeated in numerous other places such as: Lev 3:17, 7:26, 27, 17:10-14, 19:26, Deut 12:16, 23, 24, 15:23. (see also Ps 50:13, Eze 33:25, Acts 15:20, 29, 21:25). In all cases, the justification is the same - the life/soul of the animal is in the blood.


The prohibition for not eating blood because it contained, or was the seat of the "soul/life" appears justification enough. Ellicott offers this comment:

(4) But flesh. . . . —The words are remarkable. “Only flesh in its soul, its blood, ye shall not eat.” The Authorised Version is probably right in taking blood as in apposition to soul, which word means here the principle of animation, or that which causes an animal to live. This is God’s especial gift; for He alone can bestow upon that aggregation of solids and fluids which we call a body the secret principle of life. Of this hidden life the blood is the representative, and while man is permitted to have the body for his food, as being the mere vessel which contains this life, the gift itself must go back to God, and the blood as its symbol be treated with reverence.

Such a command was to instill the following ideas:

  • absolute reverence for life of all creatures, especially fellow humans, as explicitly stated in Gen 9:5, 6.
  • that only God can create life and thus is the only source of life (1 John 5:11, 12, Gen 1:30, 2:7, 6:17, 7:15, 22, Num 27:16, Job 33:4, 14, Eccl 12:7, Dan 5:23, Rev 11:11, etc.)


As to whether the command in the Noahide covenant of Gen 9 is still binding can be judged by its repetition in Acts 15:20, 29, 21:25.


To understand the relationship of life to blood, we must acknowledge that Jehovah God is our creator (Genesis 2:7) and the giver of life (Psalm 36:9; Revelation 4:11).

When Jehovah God created us, he put within us a vital ingredient to our survival, blood. The topic of "Soul" in the Insight on the Scriptures helps us to understand the importance of blood:

Because the creature’s life is so inseparably connected with and dependent on blood (shed blood standing for the life of the person or creature [Ge 4:10; 2Ki 9:26; Ps 9:12; Isa 26:21]), the Scriptures speak of the neʹphesh (soul) as being “in the blood.” (Ge 9:4; Le 17:11, 14; De 12:23) This is, obviously, not meant literally, inasmuch as the Scriptures also speak of the “blood of your souls” (Ge 9:5; compare Jer 2:34) and the many references already considered could not reasonably be applied solely to the blood or its life-supporting qualities.

The sanctity of life is paramount to Jehovah God. This can be seen in the case for man and beast:

5 Besides that, I will demand an accounting for your lifeblood. I will demand an accounting from every living creature; and from each man I will demand an accounting for the life of his brother. 6 Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image He made man. (Genesis 9:5, 6)

13 “‘If one of the Israelites or some foreigner who is residing in your midst is hunting and catches a wild animal or a bird that may be eaten, he must pour its blood out and cover it with dust. 14 For the life of every sort of flesh is its blood, because the life is in it. Consequently, I said to the Israelites: “You must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh because the life of every sort of flesh is its blood. Anyone eating it will be cut off.” (Leviticus 17:13, 14; see also Deuteronomy 12:23-25.)

So the restriction of eating blood, or "the life", is more than a dietary regulation. It is a moral principle to recognize the value and origin of life.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]


Surely the answer lies in the fact that the speech which contains "You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is its blood" also contains a penalty for "whoever sheds the blood of man" (from Genesis ch9 vv4-6, RSV)

They are both expressions of the principle that the life in living creatures belongs to the God who supplied it, symbolised by the rule that the blood belongs to God. Therefore we are not allowed to shed the blood, in the case of fellow-humans, and we are not allowed (while under the rule of law) to consume the blood, in the case of animals.

I qualified that last statement because Christians now serve "not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit" (Romans ch7 v9, RSV). I'm sure the Spirit has renewed the prohibition on the shedding of human blood, but the rule on animal blood may have fallen by the wayside.


Several points need to be addressed to fully answer this question.

  1. What does the Hebrew actually say?
  2. What symbols and principles are present?
  3. What effect on one's longevity does the eating of blood have?

The Hebrew

The words translated as "blood" and "life" occur consecutively, with no verb between. Because the word for "life" (nephesh) has a pronominal suffix, it technically is grammatically definite. It also has a prepositional prefix which could mean "in" or "with" in this case (it is the same prefix that we find on the very first word of the Bible, usually translated as "In" the beginning...). The word for "blood," having no article attached, is non-definite.

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The specific arrangement of these two words leaves some subjective possibilities for translators. Should "damow" (blood) be regarded as adjectival in usage? If considered as an attributive adjective, there should be no verb, as in: "with its life-blood." However, if considered as a predicate adjective, the linking verb is implied, as in: "with its life, [which] is the blood." Various English translations will show that scholars have differed on this, going either way in their translations.

It is true that in some contexts, "nephesh" (life) is translated as "soul." In this context, it makes better sense to render it as "life." Consider: does a "soul" have blood? We ordinarily think of the soul as something intangible, more related to one's thoughts, feelings, or character; whereas "life" is obviously connected to blood.

The Symbols

Blood, as a symbol of life, is connected Biblically with the concepts of murder (see Numbers 35); of sacrifice, with the blood of animals representing the blood of the Lamb--Jesus giving his life for us; and of unity, i.e. "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, . . ." (Acts 17:26, KJV). To shed "innocent blood" was a crime of no small magnitude.

The root word "nephesh," meaning "life" or "soul," can be applied to souls of man as well as to animal life. It technically means "breathing creature," and, as it relates to blood, implies the oxygenation of that blood through the breath. The definition statement for a human soul comes from Genesis 2:7, where it was first pronounced by God that, having breathed into Adam the breath of life, he "became a living soul (nephesh)." Therefore, the blood which carries the breath of a creature, maintaining its life, represents that life.

Consuming Blood versus Longevity

Following the Flood, when meat was permitted to be eaten, the lifespans dropped precipitously. We may safely assume they were draining the blood as God had asked, but even then there is a residual amount that is not removed, and must be eaten when one consumes flesh foods.

Today, some studies have shown that vegetarians may outlive their meat-eating counterparts by as much as 6-13 years (there is statistically more benefit/effect for a male than for a female). Whether studies show this or not, the Biblical record honors those who were vegetarian. Consider Daniel and his three friends in Babylon.

It is interesting to note that women tend to outlive men in most every society on earth. Some believe this may be due, in part, to their regular loss of blood during their childbearing years. This eliminates excess levels of iron--an element that the body tends to conserve and, in men, has no mechanism for natural removal. Iron is an oxidizer, and tends to increase the rate of cellular aging.


It comes back to the core of the question: "Why can't we eat the life?" God desires us to live long and healthy lives. Blood will not keep our body in its best condition. Not only does it provide an additional source of iron--which most of us, especially men--do not need, but also it contains the body's wastes, toxins, and diseases.

If one wishes to live longer, it is quite possibly wise to do the opposite of eating blood: becoming a blood donor. Giving life to others would, ironically, extend our own. As the Bible says: "...It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35, KJV)

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