Ryken, Leland, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III, eds. “Blood.” In Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 98-99. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. [Israel/Solomon/Herod/
Symbolically in the Bible, blood is usually not a good sign. It is a powerful and ominous symbol of death, violence, wrong, guilt and punishment. “Only in the framework of sacrifice could blood portend good news.” (p. 100) Sections of this article deal with blood as death, as guilt, as impurity, as omen, as sacrifice and propitiation, and as wine. The most relevant to the temple are impurity and sacrifice. Regarding impurity, the authors write that blood “symbolized a rupture in the fabric of life.” It destroys the cleanness of creation. Animal blood must be handled by strict ritual. Human blood had even more power to defile. Chronic conditions left sufferers ostracized. Isaiah contrasts man’s “righteousness” to menstrual rags (Isa. 64:6).
Shedding of blood was a capital offense (Gen. 9:6), but shedding animal blood was allowed, however, only through ritual slaughter. In this ritual the blood is treated with great respect. It is an essential element in the temple sacrifice. It is shed and also brought into contact with the holy that is symbolized , for example, by the altar of the mercy seat. The blood of the offerer is identified with the blood of the offered animal. The ritual release of an animal’s blood is viewed as the release of the individual’s life; it is to be used for making atonement for the lives of the offerers (Lev. 17:11). Shedding the blood is “a surrender of life to the holy as seen, for example, in the sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement (Lev.16:15).
This Old Testament background is a proper setting for understanding shedding blood in the New Testament. For Paul, Christ is not a martyr, but a sacrifice for sin. Christ is “a mercy seat.” His blood atones for sin and achieves human justification. (Rom. 5:9) The letter to the Hebrews further develops the importance of sacrificial blood. The blood of Jesus does much more than that of sacrificial animals; it “purifies our consciences from dead works to worship the living God (Heb. 9:13-14; 10:4; cf. 4 Macc 6:29) At the Last Supper Jesus speaks of “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mk. 14;24). This can be compared to Moses taking the ox blood and throwing half of it against the altar and the other half against the people of Israel. “In both cases, blood seals a covenant (Heb 9:18; cf. Zech 9:11 and Gen. 15:9-18, where animals were killed to seal Abraham’s covenant with God.