Words translated “blood” occur nearly four hundred times in the Hebrew Bible and nearly a hundred times in the New Testament. Of these occurrences, more than half in the Hebrew Bible and more than a quarter in the New Testament have to do with death by violence, by far the most frequent reference.

There are some passages in which life and blood are connected, principally in connection with the prohibition of eating meat with blood still in it (Gen 9.4–6; Lev. 17.11). This association has led some scholars to conclude that in the offering of sacrifice, the death of the victim is unimportant; sacrificial atonement does not depend on an animal dying in place of the worshiper but rather on life set free from the body and offered to God. Similarly, in the New Testament it is not the death of Jesus that is the atonement, but his life.

Such a view scarcely accords with the statistical evidence summarized above, nor with the obvious fact that it is death that occurs when an animal is offered in sacrifice. Leviticus 17.11 and similar passages are to be understood in the sense that it is the life given up in death, rather than the life set free from the flesh, that is the atonement. And in the New Testament, phrases like “the blood of his cross” (Col. 1.20) cannot point to the release of life, for relatively little blood was shed in crucifixion. Similarly, “justified by his blood” is parallel to “reconciled to God through the death of his son” (Rom. 5.9–10). In the Bible, therefore, blood normally points to the undergoing of death rather than to the release of life.

This association of blood and death partially explains the concept of blood taboo. Just as those who had contact with a corpse became unclean (Num 11.11–13), so contact with the blood of the slain rendered a warrior ritually impure (1 Chron. 22.8; 28.3).

See also Avenger of Blood; Purity, Ritual

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Leon Morris