The majority of Christians today don’t actually eat or drink blood, and I can’t say that I have met one yet that has done this. But the New Testament raises concerns in some believers when it comes to eating meat that is undercooked and bloody. And perhaps that is you.
Blood sausage or a juicy steak with blood still in the meat, whatever it is, it is important to have a clear conscious on this matter. And there is no doubt that it is a somewhat confusing topic, as some say it is not wrong to eat or drink blood, while others say it is. So what is the right answer?
Can Christians Eat or Drink Blood? Yes, Christians can eat and drink blood. The command not to eat or drink blood was given prior to Jesus dying on the cross for our sins and giving us a new covenant by which we live and are set free.
This topic is somewhat more complex than a simple yes or no answer, so I am going to dive a little deeper so that we can understand exactly why it was forbidden to begin with, and why it’s a question we face today, as well as why we are now free from it.
Understanding Mosaic Law
First, we need to understand the basics of the Mosaic Law and how Jesus’s sacrifice set us free from the obligations of the law. So, let’s jump into the key aspects of these two central elements of the Christian faith.
After Israel was delivered from the Egyptians in the book of Exodus, God led them through the desert where He gave them righteous laws and requirements by which they were to live. These requirements were detailed and covered a vast array of things, from how they should eat, maintain cleanliness within the camp, to temple practices.
Animal sacrifice was a fundamental part of the old covenant, and it was done in order to offer atonement for sins committed both knowingly and unknowingly. The Mosaic Law was tough but also a blessing; it showed both God’s majesty and depth of His holiness, while also revealing to humans that we are utterly incapable of being righteous without the help of God, thus our need for the coming savior––Jesus.
Not only this, but the law was actually a way for the Lord to greatly bless His people, over and over again God tells the Israelites that if they obey His commands they would be blessed.
For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.Deuteronomy 30:16
Once Jesus entered the scene everything changed.
Jesus’ blood on the cross was the complete and final atonement for all of our sins. When he died, believers were released from the weight of the Mosaic Law and forever made clean and pure in God’s sight.
Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the law, in other words, the Mosaic Law pointed to Jesus Christ, as with the command not to eat or drink blood. So when He died, it shifted from works based, to faith-based freedom.
Now, this is a very basic explanation of the old covenant versus the new covenant, and since this concept is so deeply central to our faith, I highly encourage pursuing a deeper understanding of it.
Why It’s Okay for Christians to Consume Blood
There are three different time periods in which the command to not eat or drink blood was given, the first time was pre-Mosaic Law. After the great flood had subsided God blessed Noah and his family and instructed them specifically on this matter
“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.Genesis 9:4-5
The second instance is found multiple times in the Mosaic laws in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy. These books were given at a time much later after the flood, and after the Israelites had been delivered from Egyptian captivity.
Only be sure not to eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat.Deuteronomy 12:23
And finally, the third period is post-Mosaic Law/New Covenant, and this is where Christians get a little confused because the command is given in the New Testament, therefore making it relevant to us today, though part of the old law.
But, in order to come to the proper understanding, we need to read the scripture in its proper context.
The Jerusalem Council
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”Acts 15:19-21
In the above passage James is addressing his brothers as a dispute arose among the church and he, along with Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and many others were discussing how best to handle the situation.
The dispute was that some men were teaching the Gentiles (non-Jewish Christians) in the church of Antioch that they must be circumcised in order to be saved. The law of circumcision was part of the old Jewish covenant we discussed earlier. So these men were teaching them that grace through faith was not enough and that they needed to practice the law in order to be saved. But this was contrary to the true Gospel message that says Jesus died for our sins and set us free from the law of sin and death and the requirements of the mosaic law.
This became what we know as the Jerusalem Council.
At one point during the Jerusalem Council, Peter addresses the teachers saying, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear (Acts 15:10)?”
So James, in verses 19-21, is actually addressing an issue of tradition and culture. He was saying that out of love for each other, the Jew and Gentile, these are the laws we will require them (the Gentiles) to maintain in order to keep from causing their brothers to stumble.
Proper understanding of scripture comes through a right understanding of exegesis, which put simply, is interpreting scripture by way of understanding how the original audience would have interpreted it.
This seems like a closed case, but there are two other factors that might deter someone from quickly accepting the above explanation.
The first is that the same scripture that speaks of cultural context, mentions sexual immorality–-something that is always wrong, no matter the culture or tradition. And the second is that this particular law was given before the Law of Moses was given to Israel
So how do we reconcile both of these issues?
Sexual Immorality Explained
It is likely that in the requirements that were given by the apostles in Acts 15, they were addressing specific issues that the Gentile community dealt with while also addressing a needed sensitivity towards customs that the unconverted Jews were still practicing.
For instance, sexual immorality among the Gentiles was a common thing, fornication and sexual practices in honor of pagan gods was a daily practice. So the early church leaders were bringing the two divides together and instructing the Gentile converts not to practice what is normal to their culture, while also being sure not to cause their Jewish brothers to stumble.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.1 Corinthians 9:20-23
As Paul explains in the verse above, both the Jewish and Gentile believers, as well as Christians today, are free, yet we are called to love God and love our brothers as ourselves. Paul is then saying we need to be sure that whatever our actions, we need to be sure that we do our best to not cause another to stumble.
And this goes for outsiders as well, though we may possess certain liberties, their conscience may be weak, and thus we need to be sensitive to this, and in the case of unbelieving Gentiles, if they saw Christian Gentiles fornicating then they would assume that there is nothing wrong with it.
So in this particular instance, the letter that they sent is addressing prevalent issues in that community and in that era in history.
Understanding Pre-Mosaic Law
The second problem is answered by this: just as the prohibition of eating and drinking blood was given before Moses came on the scene, so was the establishment of animal sacrifice.
And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering….Genesis 4:4
This indicates that not only did Jesus’ death and resurrection go deeper than fulfilling the Mosaic Law but also restored the original design of God. When Jesus’ blood was shed for us, there was then no longer a need for animal sacrifice to cover and atone for our sin.
At the fall, humans violated the covenant of life that God established with all creation. Humans now obey something within creation allowing it to rule over and through human beings. This distorts and corrupts humanity and all creation. It infects the human race with death. In order for this to be fixed humans are going to need a transplant of “life” from God to repair our human situation.Melanie Hurlbut
Drinking blood was therefore prohibited by God because life was considered to be in the blood, and abstaining from drinking displayed a reverence for life. Additionally, we were restricted because man and the world in its fallen state, were bound to a law of sin and death. And this fallen state both distorted God’s original purpose and demanded the need for a savior to revert the effects of sin.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the prohibition to consume blood is the fact that God used it to point to our need for life-giving blood. Blood from animals was never enough to cover our sins or bring life. Therefore, God used this command to point to Jesus Christ and the blood that he would shed for us.
This is a rather interesting and weighty theological concept, that can be very helpful in opening the door to many other deep, underlying topics and principles in the Bible. And it also helps us to better understand the importance of Jesus’ blood on the cross.
How Jesus’ Blood Ties In
We can see that God’s command not to eat or drink blood was a giant arrow pointing to Jesus and his sacrifice for all. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus states that He came to fulfill the law not abolish it, and when we connect the command not to eat or drink blood found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, with the verse below, we find that Jesus is fulfilling this law.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.John 6:54-56
First, for Jesus to preach this in the synagogue was incredibly controversial and offensive to the Jews, but he did this on multiple occasions during His ministry on earth. The point of this was not to cause dissension, but to reveal the intent of the law.
The Pharisees and Sadducees had gotten far off track and viewed everything from a legalistic standpoint and in their attempt to uphold the law they had missed the entire point and could no longer see the ‘why.’ So, Jesus did this to show them that he was the fulfillment of the law and to do away with legalism and works.
So in the OT, not eating the lifeblood of an animal was a teaching tool—a sign post—to help God’s people understand that nature of their problem (the human race is corrupted by death as a result of taking orders from creation at the fall instead of from their creator God) and the nature of the solution (They need the provision of life—but they can’t provide that for themselves through drinking animal blood (or human blood!) or in any other way.) Humans have this gaping need for life and a solution for death. God himself is going to have to provide it for humanity because humans can’t.Melanie Hurlbut
Jesus says that his flesh and blood is real food and real drink. Jesus is showing that what the blood of lambs could not do, his death and resurrection could do.
So what does all of this mean for us today? It means that Christians are free and that this command was given those who live according to the Law. But since we are Christians, we live under a new covenant.
This can bring freedom in many scenarios––perhaps you are a missionary overseas in a different culture and are faced with consuming blood, this is something you can do in freedom (though it is a pretty gross idea).
But also, understanding this frees us up in our understanding of law versus grace through faith/new covenant. The topic of drinking blood opens up a whole can of worms that can lead us to other avenues of study in the Word of God.
So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.Romans 14:16-19
I conclude with this, though we have all religious freedom, we need to be careful to love our neighbors in our actions, as well as those who watch us so that we may be the most effective in all that we do for the Kingdom of God.