A popular assertion that has been raised multiple times in the dialogues from some of my posts is the claim that "The Bible forbids the shedding of innocent blood." It is complete, clear, overt, undeniable. I think that most any Christian who would read that claim would likely simply nod his/her head and agree. The subsequent claim, then, is that "There must be 'innocent blood' for this command to be valid." And that was what brought me up short. You see, if there is genuine innocence, then we have some very hard conclusions to deal with. First, of course, we'd need to deny the historically orthodox view of Original Sin. Okay, fine. If we must, we must. But, second, we'd have to admit that Paul was wrong when he said, "There is none righteous" because, well, there is. So either he was in error or he didn't actually mean what he said. Then there's the whole issue of abortion. Frankly, I'd have to back off my opposition to abortion. I mean, if 2 million babies a year are being sent straight to heaven, it's frankly the biggest gain for Christ of all time. If some 40 million children were saved since 1973 without having to evangelize them, how could that be a bad thing? I mean, I doubt you'll find such large numbers among the living in the last 36 years turning to Christ.
So I decided to see what my Bible says. Are there actually commands forbidding the shedding of innocent blood? Or are we, once again, taking other people's word for it? As it turns out, there are.
The phrase "innocent blood" is first seen in Deut 19. The command is pretty straightforward: "So innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance" (Deut 19:10). Well, folks, there you have it, plain and simple. The Bible forbids the shedding of innocent blood. Toss out Reformed Theology, rethink Paul's nonsense in Rom 3, and let's leave those poor abortionists alone, okay?
Now wait a minute. Before we start anything radical, there is a standard rule of thumb that you need to follow. It is so standard and so important that it can often be found repeated: "Context, context, context." What is the context of this command? Is it clear and out of the blue like "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination" (and therefore simply meant in a straightforward, face-value way) or is there context that explains what it means?
As it turns out, there is very clear context. The topic at hand (starting in verse 1) is the establishment of what was called "the cities of refuge". God commanded Israel that when they took over Canaan they were to "set aside three cities for yourself in the midst of your land" (Deut 19:2). The purpose of these three special places was this: "So that any manslayer may flee there" (Deut 19:3). A manslayer? Yes, someone who "kills his friend unintentionally, not hating him previously" (Deut 19:4). Someone, then, guilty of manslaughter, not murder. What was the problem? "Otherwise the avenger of blood might pursue the manslayer in the heat of his anger, and overtake him, because the way is long, and take his life, though he was not deserving of death" (Deut 19:6). "Innocent blood", then, has very clear context. It is someone "not deserving of death".
Notice that this phrase, "innocent blood", does not convey that the person was sinless. It doesn't suggest in the least that this person had never sinned or that he was not currently guilty of sin. And we all know that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23), so in God's terms there was actually no one who was of "innocent blood" since all are "deserving of death". This, then, was a law given to humans to prevent humans from putting to death people whom humans had no right to put to death. They may have violated God's law (Cosmic Treason) and deserved God's righteous judgment, but that wasn't an option given to Man. Humans were only given the option to enforce the penalties that God allowed for the crimes that God allowed, and if someone had not committed the crime for which they were being sentenced to death, they were classified as "innocent blood".
The theme goes throughout the Old Testament. In 1 Sam 19:5, Jonathan argues with his father, Saul, against killing David who had done nothing to Saul -- "innocent blood". David, then, was innocent of the accusations of treason against Saul ... not wholly "innocent blood". A common use of the phrase "innocent blood" was when people sacrificed their children to Molech. It wasn't a statement that these children (of whatever age) were guiltless. It was a statement that they were "not deserving of death" at the hands of those who killed them. In Deut 21 (and others) "innocent blood" references anyone who is murdered ... "not deserving of death".
There is a theme here. It is absolutely true that God forbids the shedding of innocent blood. No doubt. But "innocent blood" in this context (in every context I could find) was not a reference to sinlessness, but a reference to people who were killed by willful human beings and didn't deserve to be killed by willful human beings. It was a differentiator from people who were killed by human beings because they deserved to be killed (as in the case of God's commands regarding the death penalty in certain cases). Of those, God repeatedly says, "Their bloodguiltiness is upon them." Then guilt or innocence of blood simply referenced the right of humans ordained by God to execute someone. If they were guilty of a God-given violation, they were "bloodguilty". If they were not (even though they were all guilty of sin), they were "innocent blood".
Context, context, context. We often hear things that we take completely out of context and leave it lie. You know, things like "Judge not" because we've been told it so long that we just don't look anymore. The Bible is not to be read out of context. The Bible, if it is the Word of God, is to be read in the context of the entire Bible. If "innocent blood" means what the context appears to say it means, then we don't have a contradiction of Scripture (absolving God from error), of historical orthodoxy (absolving the Church from error), or the ramifications that would follow. Something to think about.