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SEMITIC UNDERSTANDING OF "FLESH" AND "BLOOD"

The main passage in John 6 that I want to look at is verses 51-58. It goes as follows:

51I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’52Then the Jews started arguing among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’53Jesus replied to them: In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day.55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person.57As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me.

The two words that John uses which I want to look at particularly are "flesh" and "blood". John uses the greek words sarx(savrx) for "flesh" and aima(ai|ma) for "blood". John does not translate the word "flesh" using the greek word soma(sw'ma) which means body, probably because he wanted to connect the Eucharistic Institution to the mystery of the Incarnation. Moreover, John wanted to stress the aspect of nourishment, i.e. on eating and drinking: whoever nourishes himself on the living totality of Christ, under the exterior signs of bread and wine, lives and will live forever.[4]

In the Eucharistic traditions of the Synoptics and St. Paul, the word body(sw'ma) is used for the institution of the Eucharist: "This is my body"(See Mk 14:22-24, Lk 22:17-20, Mt 26:26-28 , 1Cor 11:23-26). The true understanding of why John uses "flesh" and "blood" comes from the Semitic sense of the words. In the Hebrew there is only one word for flesh and body which is basar(rc;B;). The word for blood is dam(!D;). The word basar(flesh) has the meaning of flesh, the body of an animal, or the body of a person.[5] In the Septuagint, the word flesh is translated as kreas(kreva") and not sarx. The word dam(blood) is the more important of the two, because it was the vehicle for life. As we see from some quotes in the Old Testament:

[Gn 9:3-4] Every living thing that moves will be yours to eat, no less than the foliage of the plants. I give you everything,4with this exception: you must not eat flesh(rc;B;) with life(wvop]n"B]), that is to say blood(!D;), in it.

[Dt 12:15-16] This notwithstanding, and whenever you wish, you may slaughter and eat meat(rc;B;) wherever you live—as much as the blessing of Yahweh affords you. Clean or unclean may eat it, as though it were gazelle or deer.16You will not, however, eat the blood(!D;), but will pour that like water on the ground.

[Dt 12:23-25] Take care, however, not to eat the blood(!D;), since blood(!D;) is life(vp,n,), and you must not eat the life with the meat(rc;B;).24You must not eat it, but must pour it like water on the ground.25You must not eat it—so that you, and your children after you, may prosper, doing what is right in Yahweh’s eyes.

We can see from these texts that blood was a vehicle for life and that it could not be eaten. It had to be poured out and covered by earth. Even to this day a true Jew will never eat any meat which has not been completely drained of blood. I noticed that word used for life is nephesh(vp,n,) which also translates as soul. The soul is the life of the flesh and is associated with the blood of an animal or person. When the blood(soul) is separated from the flesh, then death will follow. All life belongs to God and thus it is returned to Him. Blood is sacred to God and was used for the expiation of the lives of the Israelites:

[Lv 17:10-14] If any member of the House of Israel or any resident alien consumes blood(!D;) of any kind, I shall set my face against that individual who consumes blood(!D;) and shall outlaw him from his people.11For the life(vp,n,) of the creature is in the blood(!D;), and I have given it to you for performing the rite of expiation on the altar for your lives, for blood(!D;) is what expiates for a life(vp,n,).12That is why I told the Israelites: None of you will consume blood(!D;), nor will any resident alien consume blood(!D;).13"Anyone, whether Israelite or resident alien, who hunts and catches game, whether animal or bird, which it is lawful to eat, must pour out its blood(!D;) and cover it with earth.14For the life(vp,n,) of every creature is its blood(!D;), and I have told the Israelites: You will not consume the blood(!D;) of any creature, for the life(vp,n,) of every creature is its blood(!D;), and anyone who consumes it will be outlawed.

[Lv 7:26-27] "Wherever you live, you will never eat blood(!D;), whether it be of bird or of beast.27Anyone who eats any blood(!D;) will be outlawed from his people."

The punishment for drinking or eating blood was separation from the people of God, because blood belongs to God. The Mosaic Law stipulated these precepts and they had to be followed precisely, otherwise they would incur the punishment of separation from their own people and ultimately death. In the next section I will discuss the liturgical implications that "flesh" and "blood" had in the Passover and Sinai Covenant.

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