To blood is ascribed in Scripture the mysterious sacredness which belongs to life, and God reserved it to himself when allowing man the dominion over and the use of the lower animals for food. Thus reserved, it acquires a double power: (1) that of sacrificial atonement; and (2) that of becoming a curse when wantonly shed, unless duly expiated. ( Genesis 9:4 ; Leviticus 7:26 ; 17:11-13 )
blud (dam, probably from 'adham "to be red"; haima):
Used in the Old Testament to designate the life principle in either animal or vegetable, as the blood of man or the juice of the grape (Leviticus 17:11, et al.); in the New Testament for the blood of an animal, the atoning blood of Christ, and in both Old Testament and New Testament in a figurative sense for bloodshed or murder (Genesis 37:26; Hosea 4:2; Revelation 16:6).
1. Primitive Ideas:
Although the real function of the blood in the human system was not fully known until the fact of its circulation was established by William Harvey in 1615, nevertheless from the earliest times a singular mystery has been attached to it by all peoples. Blood rites, blood ceremonies and blood feuds are common among primitive tribes. It came to be recognized as the life principle long before it was scientifically proved to be. Naturally a feeling of fear, awe and reverence would be attached to the shedding of blood. With many uncivilized peoples scarification of the body until blood flows is practiced. Blood brotherhood or blood friendship is established by African tribes by the mutual shedding of blood and either drinking it or rubbing it on one another's bodies. Thus and by the inter-transfusion of blood by other means it was thought that a community of life and interest could be established.
2. Hebrew and Old Testament Customs:
Notwithstanding the ignorance and superstition surrounding this suggestively beautiful idea, it grew to have more than a merely human significance and application. For this crude practice of inter-transference of human blood there came to be a symbolic substitution of animal blood in sprinkling or anointing. The first reference in the Old Testament to blood (Genesis 4:10) is figurative, but highly illustrative of the reverential fear manifested upon the shedding of blood and the first teaching regarding it.
The rite of circumcision is an Old Testament form of blood ceremony. Apart from the probable sanitary importance of the act is the deeper meaning in the establishment of a bond of friendship between the one upon whom the act is performed and Yahweh Himself. In order that Abraham might become "the friend of God" he was commanded that he should be circumcised as a token of the covenant between him and God (Genesis 17:10-11; see CIRCUMCISION).
It is significant that the eating of blood was prohibited in earliest Bible times (Genesis 9:4). The custom probably prevailed among heathen nations as a religious rite (compare Psalms 16:4). This and its unhygienic influence together doubtless led to its becoming taboo. The same prohibition was made under the Mosaic code (Leviticus 7:26; see SACRIFICE).
In all probability there is no trace of the superstitious use of blood in the Old Testament, unless perchance in 1 Kings 22:38 (see BATHING); but everywhere it is vested with cleansing, expiatory, and reverently symbolic qualities.
3. New Testament Teachings:
As in the transition from ancient to Hebrew practice, so from the Old Testament to the New Testament we see an exaltation of the conception of blood and blood ceremonies. In Abraham's covenant his own blood had to be shed. Later an expiatory animal was to shed blood (Leviticus 5:6; see ATONEMENT), but there must always be a shedding of blood. "Apart from shedding of blood there is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22). The exaltation and dignifying of this idea finds its highest development then in the vicarious shedding of blood by Christ Himself (1 John 1:7). As in the Old Testament "blood" was also used to signify the juice of grapes, the most natural substitute for the drinking of blood would be the use of wine. Jesus takes advantage of this, and introduces the beautiful and significant custom (Matthew 26:28) of drinking wine and eating bread as symbolic of the primitive intertransfusion of blood and flesh in a pledge of eternal friendship (compare Exodus 24:6,7; John 6:53-56). This is the climactic observance of blood rites recorded in the Bible.
Trumbull, The Blood Covenant and The Threshold Covenant; Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas; Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites.
Walter G. Clippinger
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