This question is filed under: Bible, Mankind, Diane Eager,

Question

Are the instructions about eating blood a matter of conscience, as Paul refers to in I Corinthians?

Answer

The original question was:
You have an article on why Christians shouldn’t eat blood pudding, but wouldn’t this issue be considered a ‘meat sacrificed to idols’ type of liberty as in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14?  Is Paul saying that nothing in itself is unclean unless it is unclean to the person who is eating it?  So is Paul trying to make sure we are sensitive to other believers who may be defiling their consciences if they do eat blood or meat sacrificed to idols? I’m asking because we eat blood in lots of our foods, such as a nice medium rare steak. Also, there is a rich Filipino dish in my family called “chocolate meat” made from entrails with cooked blood in the sauce.

The “blood pudding” article referred to in the question is our answer a previous question: Black Pudding? What should a Christian attitude be toward eating blood products? Answer here.  It may help to read that question first, if you are not already familiar with it.

To clear up one practical red meat issue first: the red fluid that seeps out of uncooked meat, and is still there in rare steaks, is not blood.  It is tissue fluid stained with myoglobin, which is the protein that gives red meat its colour.  Myoglobin is also found in white meat, but in smaller amounts.  (More on this later).

This question raises two issues: one concerning clean and unclean animals, and one about blood. 

Clean and Unclean

The classification of animals as clean and unclean is first mentioned before Noah’s Flood (Genesis 6 and 7), was not related to blood, but probably to the animals diet, i.e. if they were scavengers or predators.  The rules God gave to the people of Israel about eating clean animals, shows that even the clean animals had to have their blood removed prior to cooking, so let’s do a quick review of Bible history to set the scene.

At creation eating blood wasn’t a problem – people were clearly instructed to eat plant foods, and plants don’t have blood ( Gen 1-2)  After Noah’s flood God gave us permission to eat meat, but God immediately banned eating blood, with these instructions:

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Genesis 9: 3-4

The only way to follow such instructions was to drain the animal’s blood immediately and dispose of it.  If the blood is not drained straight away it will clot and cannot be drained out.  For this reason, killing the animal by strangling, but without immediately cutting it open and draining the blood would be disobeying God’s instructions if you ate it.

When God gave these instructions to Noah the human race consisted only of Noah’s family, but they gave rise the all tribes and nations that lived after the flood.  Therefore, instructions to Noah were meant for all people for all time, unless God gave new instructions at some later time.  However, He never has. The instructions about blood were included in laws for the nation of Israel, included in commandments given by the Apostles to the Gentiles (everyone else) at the beginning of the Church age, and have never been rescinded.

When God gave the Law to the Israelites he repeated the instructions originally given to Noah, and gave more details to Moses to make the rule more forceful.  The Israelites were clearly told they were not to eat the blood of any animals they were allowed to eat, whether they were farmed, or hunted for food.  This meant the instructions about blood applied to all the animals classified as “clean” for them, i.e. fit to eat on the basis of characteristics such as chewing the cud, cloven hooves, etc.  God’s instructions were:

“Moreover, you shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwelling places. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.” Leviticus 7:26-27

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.  Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life.  Therefore, I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.”  Leviticus 17:10-14

Note the basis of the instruction has always been God’s statement that “the life is in the blood.”  This statement appeared first during Noah’s day (Gen 9), long before Jewish laws about clean and unclean animals commenced, and it was not based on any hygiene involved in killing or preparing an animal. 

Note also, God insisted the Mosaic instructions must be applied to non-Jews who were living in Israel, i.e. those who wanted the benefits of living within God’s nation had to live by God’s laws. 

Jew and Gentiles

In New Testament time the Apostles had to deal with questions faced by converts from Judaism and converts from paganism.  Jews had to deal with how much Old Testament law still applied to them now that Jesus had fulfilled the laws relating to sacrifices for sin.  Pagans had to deal with how to turn away from idols and pagan practises, and worship God alone.

When it came to eating, the problem for newly converted Jews was which animals were considered fit to eat.  This was the issue for the Apostle Peter, a converted Jew, and was the reason for the vision of the sheet containing many animals and birds.  (Acts 10:10-16)  We are not told what animals and birds were presented, but Peter’s response indicates his problem was with creatures that were considered unclean, and therefore could not be eaten by Jews at all, no matter how they were prepared.  God tells Peter that these animals and birds are now made clean, and therefore Peter the Christian was now free to eat them.  Note that in Peter’s vision God did not change the instructions about eating blood.

The same Holy Spirit who instructed Peter in the vision is also the one who guided the Apostles and Elders when they met to decide what laws Gentile converts to Christ should follow.  At the Council of Jerusalem Peter reminded them of how he had been sent to the Gentiles, and no doubt had the vision of the sheet of animals in mind as he spoke.  He would have also known God’s instructions to Noah, the ancestor of the Gentiles as well as the Jews.  Peter suggested that Gentiles be instructed to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, meat from strangled animals, and from blood.  The other Council members agreed, and sent the following instructions to the Gentiles: 

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15: 28-29

These instructions were maintained by the Apostles and Elders of Church as the standard teaching to the Gentile believers.  This was affirmed years later when Paul returned to Jerusalem after his missionary journey with Luke.  The elders told Paul:

“But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgement that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”  Acts 21:25

In each case the instructions about blood are clear and unequivocal, and there is no record of any of the new Gentile converts questioning it.  The biggest problem they had was how to separate themselves from the pagan culture around them, but still participate in day to day life in the local community.  In his letter to the Corinthians Paul gives instructions people who have been converted from idolatry to Christ, but still have to live in a society where life revolves around the idol temples.  There is no mention of blood in I Corinthians 8, but rather how much the meat has been involved in idol worship.  The problem for the Corinthians was the relationship with the idolatrous temple, rather than how the meat had been prepared. 

The same applies to the advice given in Romans 14 about finding the balance between freedom of conscience within the law, and not causing others to stumble on account of what you eat.  Here Paul contrasts vegetarianism with meat eating, presumably because of the same problem of the meat being associated with the idol temples, rather than eating blood or not.

The last word on what to eat comes from the letters dictated by the risen Christ to the seven churches of the book of Revelation.  Christians who had been converted from pagan religions were still struggling with this problem of food sacrificed to idols at this time, and Christ warns them against it, and against those who promote it.  (Revelation 2:13, 20)  He says nothing about revoking his rules on eating blood, so the instructions given by the Apostles in their letter to the Gentiles still stand. 

As the Book of Revelation is the completion of God’s word we can stand firm in saying the law regarding blood eating remains valid for the rest of the Church age, which is until Jesus comes, so let’s consider how to apply God’s instructions to us who live in the 21st century. 

Eating Meat Now

Meat that is killed in a modern day western abattoir has the blood drained out immediately after death, by a cut throat, and so fits with God’s instructions.  However, to fit with God’s instructions the blood is not to be consumed, no matter how hygienically it can be collected. 

Again, we remind you that the red fluid that seeps out of uncooked meat, and is still there in rare steaks, is not blood.  It is tissue fluid stained with myoglobin, which is the protein that gives red meat its colour.  Myoglobin is also found in white meat, but in smaller amounts.  It is contained within the muscle cells that make up the flesh we eat as meat.  After death cell membranes break down, and myoglobin leaks out into the surrounding fluid.  Therefore, it is quite in order for Christians to eat rare steaks if they like them.  However, don’t get too used to them, as I don’t think they will be on the menu in the new heavens and new earth.  It seems we were only allowed to eat meat post flood because the environment of this world was ruined by sin and judgement.  In the new heavens and earth all things will be made new, and there will no death, which will govern also what we eat.

Meanwhile on this earth, no matter how tasty people may find a dish of “chocolate meat” in the Philippines, a haggis in Scotland, a blood pudding in England, a blood sausage in Germany, or any equivalents of these, Christians should not eat them.  After all, if you are a Christian you should obey Christ’s commandments, and be guided by the same Holy Spirit who guided the Apostles and Elders.  We recommend you read John 14 and enjoy the blessings Jesus Christ promises to those who obey God’s commandments.

For more on clean and unclean animals see the question:
Kangaroos would be called unclean according to Leviticus, so was there only one pair on the Ark?  Answer here.