PMW 2019-055 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Genesis 9:4 reads: “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” This command is not a ritual directive confined to old covenant symbolism, but a moral one constraining mankind’s conduct. We may see this and its fundamental meaning from the following lines of evidence, which will incrementally build the case step-by-step.

(1) This is a Noahic commandment for the entire world (Gen. 9:9–11). It is not a command given to Israel as a distinctive people, for she will not exist until several hundred years later (after Abraham, Gen. 12), as we can see from the genealogy connecting Noah to Abram (Gen. 11:10–26).

(2) We must understand that verses 5 and 6 are united in expressing one complete thought. Verse 6 is re-iterating, expanding on, and therefore emphasizing the idea already stated in v. 5. This can be seen not only in the inter-relationship of the elements of the idea involved, but in the Hebrew grammar. The statements in both v. 4 and vv. 5-6 begin with the restrictive (untranslatable) Hebrew particle ak. Thus both begin with a negation, though in the English translation this is not grammatically clear. So then, in vv. 4–6 we have two negations presented: the one in v. 4 (regarding animals) and the other in vv. 5-6 (regarding humans). Consequently, both thoughts are commanding, “you shall not kill” (except in qualified instances).

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(3) Now we should note that the flowing context of the textual unit in Gen. 9:1–17 is dealing with fundamentally moral issues relating to the protection of life. It is not presenting symbolic issues securing the practice of ritual. We see the context’s disinterest in ritual issues in that God states “every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you” (v. 3). And this is stated even though Noah understood the distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals for sacrificial purposes (Gen. 7:2, 8; 8:20). This does, however, serve as the foundation for the future Levitical ritual that goes a step further (cf. Lev. 17:14; Deut. 12:23)

(4) More particularly, note that in the concept found in vv. 5-6, human life is being protected from dangerous animals (v. 5; cp. Exo. 21:28–32) and wanton murder (v. 6) by God’s ordaining the killing of dangerous animals and capital punishment of murderers. And this appears immediately after v. 4, which also deals with a life issue, though v. 4 is speaking of animal life.

(5) The prohibition against eating animal “flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (v. 4) is actually prohibiting eating animals while they are still alive. Life is not present in the blood as a substance, but in pulsating, flowing blood that maintains and shows the presence of life. Blood drained out shows that death has occurred (cf. Num. 23:24; 1 Kgs. 22:35; Jer. 26:15; Eze. 3:18; 18:13). The Hebrew word for “flesh” is basar which appears to present the animal’s body as a whole, not in consumable pieces.

Thus, this prohibition does not speak of a dead animal butchered for eating, but ones that are complete and intact, therefore still alive. This prohibition, then, is protecting animal life from human brutality and needless cruelty, as seen in the manner of eating by carnivorous animals such as wild dogs. This serves as the explanation of why later in Israel animal’s killed for food must have their blood drained (Deut. 12:23–24): to ensure that they are dead, and not suffering.

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(6) This law not only prohibits animal cruelty (which is a worthy law in Christian cultures), but serves an additional moral function. It recognizes that animal cruelty can lead to human blood-lust, killing for killing’s sake alone, thrill-seeking through murder.

(7) The two prohibitions in vv. 4–6 place restrictions on the taking of life by both animals and man. In v. 5 God declares that be ordaining these restrictions he alone has the right over life: “I will require” is stated two times. God does allow certain, restricted acts of life-taking, but he does so by concession since man is sinful from his youth (Gen. 8:21). This sort of concession is clearly seen in God’s allowing divorce (Deut. 4:1–4) even though marriage was designed to be permanent (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:6). Jesus explained to the Pharisees: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matt. 19:8) Thus, here in Gen. 9 man’s God-given dominion over the creatures (Gen. 9:2; cp. Gen. 1:28) is restricted.

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  1. Stephen July 9, 2019 at 10:27 pm

    This is very helpful! I like my steak a little medium rare, no more guilty lol

  2. Alvin Plummer July 16, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Reblogged this on Across the Stars and commented:
    A good clarification on the Noahic command against “blood eating”, that is, eating animals while they are still alive. “Life is not present in the blood as a substance, but in pulsating, flowing blood that maintains and shows the presence of life.”

    So, rare stakes (and blood pudding) are permitted: there is no cruelty to the animal here. Although I’m still skipping the blood pudding…

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