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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Innocent Blood

There are words and phrases that we understand and use without actually analyzing and, perhaps, understanding. This is one we all know: "innocent blood". Now, don't think about it too hard because it becomes silly if you do. What is "innocent blood"? It must be blood that hasn't committed a crime, right? Well, no, of course not. So what is innocent blood? What do we know about it?

We know that the Bible is clear that shedding innocent blood is a bad thing. In Deut 19, God tells Israel to set up cities of refuge. These cities are safe places that people who accidentally commit manslaughter can go to be safe from reprisal. God told His people, "You shall add three other cities to these three, lest innocent blood be shed in your land" (Deut 19:9-10). In Deut 27 there is a series of curses including this one: "Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood" (Deut 27:25). The psalmist bemoaned the horrors of Israel's idolatry when they sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons and "poured out innocent blood" to the idols of Canaan (Psa 106:38). Joel says that "Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land" (Joel 3:19). From these we see that God doesn't want "innocent blood" to be shed.

So we see this concept of "innocent blood" and we see that God doesn't want "innocent blood" to be shed. What does that mean? "Come on, Stan, aren't these stupid questions? Seems rather obvious, doesn't it?" You'd think so ... until you start to think it through. You see, Paul was adamant. "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom 3:10ff). "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). So if there is a category of human beings who actually have "innocent blood" -- who are genuinely innocent of all sin -- then we also have a category of Scripture that we would call "contradictory". That is, either all have sinned or there is such a thing as people who have not sinned ("innocent"), else we have contradiction. There is another possibility. What does "innocent blood" mean?

The dictionary lists as the first definition, "Uncorrupted by evil, malice, or wrongdoing; sinless" and uses the phrase "an innocent child" as an illustration of the idea. If this is the definition of the term as it is used in the examples I offered, then we have an absolute contradiction without remedy. But the second definition is equally as common: "Not guilty of a specific crime or offense; legally blameless." We would say, for instance, "He was innocent of the charges" in a court case without implying in the least that he was sinless or uncorrupted by evil. So what is intended in the biblical texts?

Well, in the first example from Deut 19, it is clearly a reference to the second definition. The person who was "innocent" in this case was not guilty of a specific crime, the crime of murder. The word in Hebrew is naqiy (sort of) which means "to clean or acquit". Thus, the language here is not of someone who is sinless, but who is not guilty of a specific charge. It is possible, therefore, to be "innocent" and "not innocent" at the same time if we understand that we are speaking of innocent in two different senses. (The definition of a contradiction is for something to be "A" and "not A" at the same time and in the same sense.) A person can be innocent of specific crimes without being wholly innocent of all sin. If this is the case, then the concept of shedding "innocent blood" would reference people who were killed for crimes they did not commit or by people who did not have the authority to prosecute such guilt and not a reference to being sinless.

This, of course, may be viewed as gymnastics with semantics. "You're just jumping through hoops for no good reason." And why would I be going through such "gymnastics"? Well, I contend that there is no such thing as actual "innocent blood" except in the sense that I have offered. That would include the concept of "the innocent child". There is none who is sinless. No, not one. So am I playing games with semantics? Perhaps. If I'm wrong, however, we do have the problem of Scripture contradicting Scripture. We also have another problem. Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matt 28:18). That means that the authority to determine when someone lives or dies is also in His hands. And that means that any time a child dies, it is on the basis of His authority. Therefore, if there are genuinely innocent children, little ones completely untainted by sin, uncorrupted by evil, actually sinless, God Himself is guilty of shedding innocent blood. And that's a whole other problem.

I would agree with Paul that there is none righteous. I would agree that all have sinned. The Bible lists three categories of "innocent". One is to be genuinely and completely without sin in any form. That category is occupied by a single human being in all of history -- Christ alone. The second category is "blameless". This one refers to people who have sinned, but have dealt with the guilt of that sin. These people are not without sin. They no longer owe anything for that sin because it has been dealt with. There are no pending charges. Believers fall in this category. The third category is "innocent". These are people not classified as guilty of a specific charge or set of charges under current scrutiny. To say, for instance, that many Israelites were "innocent" of idolatry would not require that they were sinless. If this is the case, then when God ordered the deaths of men, women, and children (or, more to the point, when He carries it out Himself), He is not "shedding innocent blood", but acting justly. If this is not the case, the contradiction of Scripture and the charge of injustice laid at God's feet will need to be dealt with.

1 comment:

Miklós said...

In the film Avatar Jake Sully said, "There is nothing like a good old school safety brief to put your mind at ease".
I really like these logics and reasonings presented here. You engineer these Biblical principles quite well. : ))