AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies

"Drink my Blood": A Theological Rationale from the Jewish Blood Prohibitions

by Roland van Noppen

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: blood; Jewish; prohibition; blood prohibition; drink my blood; eucharist; John 6; John 6:51c-58; theological
Record ID: 1315457
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5427


Traditionally, in both eucharistic and non-eucharistic interpretations of Jesus’ call to drink his blood, “ingestion” means “belief.” Thus, “drinking blood” means believing in Jesus’ cross-work. Those Jews in John 6 who, out of respect for Mosaic law, “stumble” at such drinking have manifestly failed to perceive of new Christian realities. Such an analysis raises questions however. Accruing salvation by “drinking” Jesus’ blood, even metaphorically, may demonstrate the efficacy of such drinking, but not its legitimacy - not in light of the Mosaic blood prohibition. How then is faith in Jesus legitimately established by “drinking” blood? This study attempts to explain John’s assertion of the need to drink Jesus’ blood, and to derive a rationale for faith from these words, by demonstrating how drinking blood has become legitimate for his readers in light of the prohibition. First, a historical overview of interpretation is undertaken. This reveals that traditional analyses of John 6:51c-58, rather than resolving the “Jewish” objection to drinking blood, either avoid it, or obliterate it via “Christian” interpretation. A proposal emerges: perhaps the theological meanings attached to the Jewish objection to drinking Jesus’ blood may provide rewarding ground in which to search for answers as to why John insists that Jesus’ disciples do so. An exegesis of John 6 goes on to establish that in vv. 51c-58 John does indeed invite his reader to think theologically about ingesting blood. The superlative nature of the claims Jesus attaches to drinking blood, the divine sanction they presuppose, and the harsh literalism of his language all assume that drinking blood carries theological significance for John. We thus propose an hypothesis: in framing vv. 51c-58 of ch. 6, John has assumed a commonly-held theology relating to consuming blood which existed among first century Jews. Though unspoken, it is this body of ideas which lends sense to drinking blood for the Gospel’s implied reader, and which must now do so again for its real reader. An attempt to describe a first century blood prohibition theology follows, by analysis of the blood prohibition texts in Genesis and Leviticus, parts of the pseudepigraphical Book of Jubilees, Acts 15 and the Mishnah tractate Keritot. For Jews at the time of Christ the ingestion of blood resonated with various theological significances. We re-read John 6, applying as hermeneutical preunderstandings these theological significances. Under this interpretive rubric Jesus’ call to drink his blood, though radical, becomes both explicable and legitimate. John’s appeal is not to the literal eating of Jesus’ flesh and blood per se, but to those theological categories attached to literal eating which originate with the Torah blood prohibitions. Jesus, as a life-giving flesh-gift to the world, to be eaten with the blood, embodies the very presuppositions that originally prohibited blood; hence, “drinking” Jesus’ blood now fulfils that gracious reality which avoiding blood earlier…