The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Why Was Blood Necessary?

I’m not really educated on this aspect of the Hebrew law-ordained animal sacrifice or even Christ’s sacrifice. Why did God require blood to be shed? I brought up the notion that animals were required to be sacrificed because they were the currency of the day, but I’m not educated on the subject much beyond that.

This is what somebody on another forum I go to said:

I know this verse provides some explanation:

but I’m still not all that enlightened.

Can anyone bring their historical, cultural and exegetical research in and give some more explanation for all of this? That would be much appreciated, thanks!

Well, penal atonement theory was developed more or less in it’s current form by St. Anselm in his work Cur Deus Homo, although of course it had it’s precursors (in Augustine’s thought and others). Though many Evangelicals hold belief in penal atonement to be some kind of test of orthodoxy, it hardly should be so considering it was absolutely not the dominant atonement theory for the first 1000 years of Christianity. The “classic” atonement theory is that, and here I prove my laziness by quoting from wikipedia: “Christ’s death represents the cosmic defeat of the devil to whom a ransom had to be paid (or the rescue of humanity from the power of sin and death)”. This is currently held in modified forms by a lot of mainline Protestant churches and by the Eastern Orthodox churches.

In my view, the cross was to prove that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Christ forgave many before he went to the cross, that’s plain and clear from the Gospel narratives.

As Stanley Huerwas has apocraphally said, “if you need an atonement theory to worship Christ, worship your %$^$#$ theory!” Maybe I wouldn’t go that far, but don’t let competing theories on the atonement stress you out or anything.

This is something I have pondered a lot, and I’m not satisfied yet, but I’ll give you what I have so far, and you can make of it what you will. :sunglasses: This will be rather disjointed, I think, but here goes:

The first mention of not eating blood, is with the permission to eat animals, clear back at the end of the Flood and long before the covenant with Israel, in Gen 9:3-4:
“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.
But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

In Leviticus, it is explained that* God gives them* the blood for the altar to make atonement:
Lev 17:11 “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.

This is counterintuitive–we expect that it is we who give the offering to God, yet God says He gives it.

Eating blood was strictly prohibited–even for strangers in the land–because “the life is in the blood.” I get the impression that the blood of an animal is to be honored because it is the animal’s ‘life’.

Hebrews explains that this is all a foreshadowing of Christ. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
Yet it is possible for the blood of Christ to take away sins. I think it is not the shedding of innocent blood that takes away sin.

Jesus tells us (in John 6):

Here he is telling the Jews that they must both eat his flesh and drink his blood! No wonder many left him at that time. We must take His life into us–he is the source of our being. He sustains us, gives us life and nourishes us.

So, then, my thinking is that it is not his physical blood itself, but the life which the blood represents. His life in us removes our sins from us, as we live it out–in fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is at work in us.

There’s a difference between the OT sacrifices and Christ. With the sacrifices, the blood was sprinkled and/or splashed on the altar and poured on the ground. With Christ we drink his blood. Perhaps it is because the blood of bulls and goats does not take away sin–they are merely symbolic of the coming Christ. Christ is the true reconciliation and when we take His life into us we enter into his life, and He into ours and then there is no place for sin.

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 Jn 3) That’s a different picture, but the same principle, I think.


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Thanks for your input, guys. I too have had a severe backlash to Atonement theory. I don’t think that God arbitrarily decided that a sacrifice was necessary, but I’m wondering if there are some facts of reality that made it necessary. Scripture sure seems to indicate that that’s so. If not, explain to me what those scriptures mean. I don’t have time to list them right now (need to get ready for work).

I also understand the part about Christ’s blood giving us life. However, the questions are coming from someone who is kind of unsettled that God would require so much violence in both the OT and the NT with the death of Jesus (they’re actually an ex-JW!! :astonished:). What I really need is proof of certain facts of reality that make sacrifice a necessary action. Not just how it’s a good metaphor or why God thought it was a good idea. Know what I mean?


The most relevant “fact of reality” I can think of would be the self-sacrificial giving of God as the foundation of all not-God reality (as well as of His own eternally self-existent reality); but that’s a pretty hefty metaphysical idea, not easily derivable from clear scriptural witness (much less from common experience). So I’m reluctant to appeal to that as the solution to the meanings in scriptural testimony–without doing the metaphysical math, and agreeing upon the results, any exegesis from the scriptures on this topic will be spotty I’m afraid.

Still, the idea fits what has been noted from the scriptures in this thread. The life is in the blood–not literally but figuratively, using what we would call the ‘ascertained scientific results’ of the time :wink: as a metaphorical image for something more real and fundamental. That sacrificial blood, and so (as an enacted symbol of what is more real) that sacrificial life, is given by God for our sakes.

The Hebraist references a deed of inheritance as an analogy for illustration of the principle. To me that’s pretty telling. Who is it who is giving the inheritance? God! Who is receiving the inheritance? However many who accept it, out of however many God lovingly gave it for (not to argue between Calv, Arm and Kath theology at this point.) Who has to die for that inheritance to go into effect? The authority giving the inheritance! That would be God Himself. Not us (the receivers), and therefore not animals as supposedly substituting for us. The animals substitute for the reality of God’s self-sacrifice (even for the sake of the animals’ existence), and not in the sense of actually swapping one out for the other, but as an image or shadow of the true reality.

Notably, even the first covenant could not be put into effect without blood; but by the Hebraist’s analogy it could still only be by the self-sacrificial death (for life) of the one from whom the inheritance comes. So without the self-sacrificial death-into-life of God, even the first covenant would have been worth nothing! On the Hebraist’s reckoning, this must have been what the rituals of Moses were symbolizing.

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Thanks, Jason. You also refreshed my mind about some things I’ve thought on before.

I think at this point there are no solid facts of reality that required animal sacrifice, or else we would still need them. But I guess I was just getting at the symbol, why we need the actual blood of Christ, which I think I’ve found the answer to now.

Again, appreciate it, all!

Sustenance! You have to remember that the sacrificed animals were EATEN. Life giving life.

"I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.

Those around Him understood what He was talking about.

Beside the Temple was the butcher shop where the meat was sold to support the Temple.

Thanks Sonia…I was wondering this question myself too. If blood represent life, then if we substitute the word “blood” with “life” into those verses. Things start to make sense. For example, "the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness . becomes
" the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with life (a perfect, loving sacrificial life), and without a sacrificial life, there is no forgiveness

If we are asked to take up our own crosses daily and die to our own sins, following the footsteps of Christ who died for our sins, so that we can be dead towards the power of sin, we no longer live for ourselves, but for Christ who died for us. Then logically, I deem, we can be forgiven, as we are being restored to life from death, which is the power of sin.

I may not have totally appreciate your insights, but I think we are thinking along the same line?!

And then God is not blood-thirsty but life-thirsty. He’d like to see all of us cleansed by the life of Christ who bestowed His life upon us to live like Him and love like Him.


Hermia, here are some similar thoughts from an essay you may find of interest:

I think the matter is not so convoluted… blood and thereby sacrifice pre-dated the law — right back to the Garden of God. Due to Adam’s sin God had to offer-up and destroy part of His good creation to provided covering for sin… that in a nutshell is where this all began.