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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. Meaning of the term.-Among its simplest designations, ‘blood’ represents the blood which flows From wounds in the body (Acts 22:20); the extremity of human endurance of evil (Hebrews 12:4). The phrase ‘flesh and blood’ signifies the lower sensuous nature (1 Corinthians 15:50; cf. Matthew 16:17); any one whatever (Galatians 1:16); the substantial basis of human life (Hebrews 2:14); and human power antagonistic to the gospel (Ephesians 6:12). Thus ‘blood’ may symbolize any aspect of human life inferior to that of the ‘spirit.’

2. Origin.-The meaning of the term is derived from OT usage, as in St. Peter’s reference to the portents of the Day of the Lord, quoting Joel’s words, ‘blood … the moon [shall be turned into] blood’ (Acts 2:19-20; cf. Joel 2:30-31). The same usage together with dependence on the story of the plagues in Egypt appears in Rev. (Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 8:6; Revelation 11:6; Revelation 16:3-4). Blood thus represents the greatness, awfulness, and finality of the Divine judgment, by which either a wicked condition is simply brought to an end (cf. also Revelation 19:13), or a temporary dispensation gives place to the last age of human earthly existence in the fulfilment of God’s purpose.

3. Usage.-(1) The word is related to Jewish ordinances. Among the prohibitions put forth by the council at Jerusalem was one enjoining abstinence from blood (Acts 15:20-29; Acts 21:25; cf. Leviticus 3:17). The reason for the edict was doubtless that assigned for the earlier restriction, that ‘the life of all flesh is in the blood’ (Leviticus 17:14). (2) Blood further symbolizes the life violently taken (Acts 1:19; Acts 22:20, Romans 3:15, Revelation 16:5), for which the murderer is responsible (Acts 5:28, Revelation 17:6; Revelation 18:24), and liable to the just judgment of God (Revelation 6:10; Revelation 19:2), perhaps, in poetic justice, a punishment like the crime (cf. Revelation 14:20). It may also signify the unpitying violence with which men treat their fellows (Romans 3:15). (3) In his denunciation that blood shall be upon one’s own head, St. Paul meant that the Corinthians who had refused belief in the gospel were both responsible for their rejection and exposed to God’s judgment against them (Acts 18:6; cf. Acts 5:26, 2 Samuel 1:16, Matthew 27:25). In like manner one might be ‘guilty of the … blood of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:27). (4) Blood represents the life of men capable of redemption, for which any herald of the gospel is responsible and of which he may be found guilty if he fails in his duty as a preacher of Christ (Acts 20:26). (5) It signifies the life given up for an atonement, both as presented to God and as having reconciling virtue for men (Hebrews 9:7; Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:18-22; Hebrews 13:11 f.; Hebrews 13:20 f.).

4. The term used in connexion with the work of Christ.-The most important uses of the word centre in the work of Christ. In the Epistle to the Romans the reference to blood involves its relation on the one hand to the sacrificial-offering, on the other hand to the sin-offering, wherein it appears that the sacrificial is the sin-offering. In other letters of St. Paul the references to blood are incidental and determined by the particular feature of redemption in the mind of the Apostle at the moment. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the meaning of the word is derived from the analogy of the OT Scriptures, which in a very inadequate manner prefigured the offering which Christ made of Himself. Revelation is dominated by the OT usage of the word and is in a large degree influenced by prophetic language, although the common note of redemption through the blood of Christ is heard here also. As related to the work of Christ, then, the apostolic teaching concerning blood involves the following specific features: (a) It is connected with sacrifices, as that of the Day of Atonement (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 9:7 ff.), by means of which the relation of men to God, and indeed of God to men (cf. Romans 5:10), broken by sin, is restored by the death of Christ. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, while the animal sacrifices as such were irrational, destitute of personal consent, intermittent, incapable of purifying, spiritual efficacy (Hebrews 10:4), this lack was more than set off by the blood of Christ, (b) As in the Old Dispensation all persons ministering at the altar, utensils of service and worship, and means of approach to God were cleansed with blood as a medium of purification (cf., however, Leviticus 5:11 ff.), so the blood of Christ signifies that all that which pertains to salvation in the heavenly sanctuary into which both He and His followers enter has been for ever purified in His blood (Hebrews 9:22 ff.). It is as if the author of the Hebrews conceived of sin as having penetrated and defiled even the unseen heavenly world, which therefore needed to be set free from contamination and made holy in the same way as things belonging to the earthly tabernacle. (c) It is the sign and pledge of Christ’s free surrender of Himself to His atoning death (Hebrews 9:12-14, Revelation 1:5), and symbolizes the experience through which Jesus must pass on His way to perfected communion with God and the final stage of His mediatorial agency (Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 13:12, 1 John 5:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:28, Revelation 19:13). (d) The blood is also the means for the ratification of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25, Hebrews 9:15-20; Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:20; cf. Matthew 26:28, Exodus 24:6-8). It could not but be that a ceremony, the meaning of which was so deeply embedded in the religions experience of the race, and which was so well fitted to symbolize the solemn consecration to mutual obligations, should find its significance completely expressed in the blood of Christ through which God would reunite Himself in even more spiritual bonds to the lives of Christ’s followers. (e) the blood is represented as the purchase price of deliverance from sin (Acts 20:28, Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 5:9; cf. Hebrews 9:22). The vivid imagery of this word receives nowhere a closer definition; its force lies in its suggestion of one aspect of the experience of the man who passes from the consciousness of the bondage of sin to the joyful freedom of forgiveness. (f) Hence the word is associated with forgiveness of sins. As a sacrificial offering Christ was at the same time a sin-offering (Romans 3:25; Romans 5:9, Hebrews 9:12), and as such His offering has expiatory efficacy. (g) By His blood as our High Priest He enters into the presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:12-24; Hebrews 10:19), there both perfectly realizing fellowship with God for Himself and carrying forward His mediatorial work. (h) The blood has efficacy in the actual life of believers, disclosing its energy in their progressive personal sanctification (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 12:24, 1 Peter 1:2, 1 John 1:7, Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14), and in the power which it confers on thorn to overcome that which resists the Christian aim from without (Revelation 12:11). (i) Blood is also a symbol of the inner fellowship of believers with one another and with God-the reference is social (1 Corinthians 10:16, Hebrews 13:12).

Looking back over this subject as a whole, it is evident that the apostolic writers do not let their attention rest on blood as such, but only on blood as it is a vehicle and symbol of life. For the blood represents the life, even if this is taken by violence. Christ’s blood freely given, with the sole aim of recovering men in sin to fellowship with God and to their Divine destination as children of God. The efficacy of the life of Christ thus given is continuous from the unseen world and in the purpose of God. Thus the blood which flowed once for all is not of transitory worth, but is endowed with the energy perpetually to create new redemptive personal and social values-it is eternal.

Literature.-B. F. Westcott, The Epistle of St. John, 1883, ‘Additional note on i. 7:1,’ p. 34ff., also The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1889, note ‘On the Use at the term “Blood” in the Epistle,’ p. 293f.; W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, The Epistle to the Romans 5 (International Critical Commentary , 1902), p. 91ff.

C. A. Beckwith.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Blood'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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