Thursday, April 30, 2009

Things not written

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. John 21:25

"With the use of the first person singular ("I suppose,") we are apparently back with the author of the book. He has before told us that he has made a selection from what is known about Jesus and has written simply that people may know that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that in this faith they may have life eternal (20:30-31). Now he comes back to the thought that there is much more that could have been written.

When he talks about the impossibility of the world’s containing all the books that would have to be written for a complete account, he fits into a pattern that we find in antiquity. Thus a saying of Rabbi Jochanan b. Zakkai (who dies somewhere around A.D. 80) survives:

"If all the sky were parchment, and all the trees were writing pens, and all the seas were ink there would not be enough to write down my wisdom which I have learned from my teachers; and yet I have had the pleasure of only as much of the wisdom of the wise as a fly, who plunges into the ocean, takes away."

Or we might notice some words of Philo, the great Jewish scholar: "Were [God] to choose to display his own riches, even the entire earth with the sea turned into dry land would not contain them."

We should not try to interpret this final statement of the Gospel by working out precisely how many books could be fitted into the world. John is not giving an exact number of books, but is speaking of the vast amount that would have to be put down if all that Jesus said and did and the meaning of his life and death and resurrection were to be recorded. "

(Morris, Leon. 2000. Reflections on the Gospel of John. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers., pgs 749-750)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kissing Calves

And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves. Hosea 13:2

“To them say: ‘They that sacrifice men kiss the calves’” (Hosea 13:2). This was a proverb used in ancient times to mock the idolaters. Normally, individuals kiss other people and slaughter calves for sustenance. Idolaters do the opposite and slaughter their fellow men and kiss the calves (see the commentary of the Ibn Ezra).

( Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, Vol. 13:3, Sept. 2000, 258-285. ©2000, by Hershey H. Friedman, Ph.D. & Bernard H. Stern)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ancient perspectives on ruling

I have been reading a great book called The Symbolism of the Biblical World by Othmar Keel. It is takes hundreds of scriptures from the Old Testament and places them in contrast and comparison with the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Babylon. These powerful nations (especially Babylon) were used anciently as prophetic types representing Israel’s greatest enemies.

Just like many countries today, those mighty powers sought to establish governments and kingdoms that would endure until the end of time.

That goal was shared by the Israelites who believed that the Davidic dynasty would rule forever under Israel’s God.

A famous passage from the psalms expresses that belief:

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the *ends of the earth. (Psalms 72:8)

Interestingly, Babylonian political documents state twice that their king ruled from sea to sea and from the River Euphrates to the ends of the earth.

Anciently, whenever a kingdom was established under God’s authority, it was always challenged by a rival kingdom who sought to destroy the freedom of the Lord’s people and impose their power and false precepts upon their subjects.

*In Hebrew, the ends of the earth means “end” in the sense of cessation or discontinuation of existence. In other words, “until life ceased to exist.” (pg. 21) In order for the Davidic dynasty to rule forever, it had to be furnished with new descendants (Ps 89:4a, 29a, 36a), through all generations (Ps 89:4b) (pg. 264).

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wrestling with Scriptures

Warning: This is a sensitive topic.

In the March/April 2006 edition of Biblical Archeology Review, Bible scholar Phyllis Tribble has an article called "Wrestling With Scripture." Tribble isn't afraid to ask hard questions, and yet she unflinchingly holds on to her faith. I admire that.

In the article, she shared an experience she had while teaching an Old Testament class. I was stunned when I read it because I consider Judges 19 a prime candidate for the most revolting story in the entire Old Testament. It is an account that horrified me, and if possible, I thought I could cheerfully delete those verses without a moment's concern.

But God's ways are not my ways. He hides blessings for his children in the unlikeliest of places.

Tribble writes:

"...a text can work both as a blessing and a curse.I was lecturing on that horrible story of the unnamed woman in Judges 19, gang-raped through the night, murdered and finally dismembered. Reading a story like that, how could anyone see it as a blessing?

After my lecture, a woman came up to me weeping. She said to me, "I didn't know the Bible had a story like that." I expected her to recoil in horror. But she did quite the opposite.

She said, "Physically, I have not been dismembered, but I have been raped, and I have been psychologically murdered. To know that the Bible is telling my story makes all the difference to me."

Right before me, she claimed that story as a blessing for herself, because it was a mirror of what she had experienced. I was startled by that. It helped me to see that you never throw away any part of the Bible. You never know when and in what situation it will relate to a reader."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ears opened to the Lord

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have opened; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Psalms 40:6

In Hebrew culture an indentured servant was required to work faithfully for his master for six years. In the seventh year, he was allowed to go free; but if he had a good master whom he had grown to love, then he could choose to stay in his master’s household. In that case, the servant’s ear was pierced, marking him as belonging to his master for life (Ex 21:2-6; Deut. 15:17).

This piercing (done with an awl into a wooden door) and the resultant scar have obvious significance as foreshadowings of the wounds Christ was willing to bear to be faithful to his Father's will and to serve and bless us.

David’s use of this image reveals his heart attitude toward his God (Ps 40:8). Not only has he voluntarily chosen to serve the Lord for life, but the ears that are pierced as a mark of ownership are also wide open to his master’s direction.

When we belong to the Lord, our delight is to be taught by him and to do his will (
Isa 50:4-5).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hygiene-HOORAY! for the Law of Moses

If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God...I will put none of these diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. I am the LORD who heals you. Exodus 15:26

"An obscure race of people attempting to cross the Sinai Peninsula about 3,500 years ago received a highly advanced system of disease prevention and medical hygiene. The people followed these instructions and somehow escaped the communicable diseases and social ills that devastated other civilizations over the millennia, as they were promised:

If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God...I will put none of these diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. I am the LORD who heals you. (Exodus 15:26)

What was their secret?

It sure wasn’t the prevailing wisdom of the times. Their leader Moses, who received the dietary and hygiene system, from God, had been trained as a prince of Egypt in the most “advanced” medical system of his era.

Yet, Moses did not advocate to Israel the sure-fire Egyptian prescription for avoiding epidemics. They did not embrace Egypt’s “two vulture feathers” and the promise from a god named “Flame-in-his-face” to save them “from every sickness.” History records that the Egyptians treated pinkeye with “the urine of a faithful wife” and favored other treatments such as the “blood of a worm” and a healthy plaster of the latest manure concoction! (S.I. McMillen, M.d. and David E. Stern, M.D., None of These Diseases [Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2000], 9-11, 13-14; citing excerpts from The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, trans. James H. Breasted [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930], 473-475)

Forensic examinations of mummified Egyptians indicate the upper-class Egyptians didn’t receive much benefit from the best that Egyptian physicians had to offer. They suffered from many of the same diseases that afflict us today. (They had a taste for unhealthy foods and a blatant disregard for hygiene.)

The Practice of Advanced Hygiene

In contrast, the Israelites followed advanced hygienic practices according to the divine instructions given to Moses. And they enjoyed an extraordinary resistance to sickness and disease. God’s hygiene system is remarkably up to date. In fact, modern hospitals everywhere follow nearly every one of the original guidelines God laid out in the Bible.

For example, the biblical hygiene regimen recorded in Numbers 19:11-22 required strict separation of the corpses of the dead from the living. When a person died, those present and anyone who prepared the body for burial (mandated before sundown) were considered unclean for seven days.

Those individuals were to wash their hands, clothing, and utensils with running water, extensive scrubbing, and a mild astringent. The water was treated with ashes—a key component of soap for millennia—and administered with hyssop, which contained the antiseptic thymol (the active ingredient in Listerine mouthwash). (ibid, 25)

In addition, this biblical hygiene system required that hands be washed before meals and at other key times to ensure cleanliness.

The Bible also prescribes specific techniques for purifying clothing and key instruments or utensils, along with the safe disposal of human waste, proper burial methods, childbirth procedures, sexual hygiene, feminine hygienic guidelines (for the menses), and more.

Leviticus 13 provides detailed instructions for the diagnosis of the disease called leprosy, with strict guidelines for the purification of fabrics contaminated by the disease. It also called for the quarantine of people with any highly infectious disease."

(Rubin, Jordan S., The Maker’s Diet, Siloam, Lake Mary, Florida, 2004, pgs. 62-63)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More beard insights

Wherefore Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away. 2 Samuel 10:4

"It is very difficult to convey to Western people how Easterners feel about their beards. It was a very ancient sacred belief of the Hebrews that a man’s strength was in his hair. They believed the hair contained life. Samson believed that his strength was in his hair. It served as a reminder of the divine promises which God had revealed to Samson’s mother and father.

Samson followed the Nazarite vow. No razor to touch his head. Among Semites, if anyone should make an unkind or unwise remark about another’s mustache, beard, or even dare to curse the beard of another man’s father, that one would be in deep trouble. He could lose his life over such remarks.

Eastern men love to swear on their beards. There is a great deal of body language with their beards. For instance, if an Easterner strokes his beard while you are speaking, this means he does not believe what you are saying. If he should hold his beard while you speak or teach, that means he trusts in what you say. (Watch the news about the Middle East with this in mind- it is very enlightening!)

The town officials will shave half the beard of a disgraced nobleman or a defrocked priest. They will also shave the hair of women who have committed acts of immorality. The women will also tear their garments as a sign of mourning over the deed they have done. Anyone looking at these men and women know they have received their punishment because of the half shaved beard or the shaved head (short hair). See I Cor. 11:5.

Semites consider the beard so highly that at times they will swear by the beards of a prophet, saint, or king. Some Moslems believe that a few hairs from the beard of their holy prophet Muhammad were preserved. Such holy relics are priceless. Pilgrims come from all over the world to visit holy places containing such relics….

David wanted to avenge his honor when he heard that the King of Ammon had disgraced his ambassadors. He commanded his men to stay at Jericho until their beards grew out again. In Eastern countries a man’s beard is a symbol of his dignity, honor, virility, and maturity. If the ambassadors had returned to Jerusalem with half-shaven beards, they would have become a laughingstock."

(Errico, Rocco A. Let There Be Light, Noohra Foundation, Santa Fe, New Mexico: 1994, pgs 174-175)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Facial hair symbolism

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Leviticus 19:27

The full, rounded beard was a sign of manhood and a source of pride to Hebrew men. It was considered an ornament, and much care was given to its maintenance. In fact, the wealthy and important made a ceremony of caring for their beards. Custom did not allow the beard to be shaved, only trimmed (Lev 19:27; 21:5), except in special circumstances. For example, shaving the beard was a requirement for the man cleansed of an infectious skin disease (Lev 14:9), and people in mourning would often shave or pull out their beards (Ezra 9:3; Is 15:2; Jer 41:5; 48:37). Ezekiel was told by God to shave off his beard as a symbol of coming destruction (Ezek 5:1).

The beard was also an object of salutation (2 Sam 20:9), the focus of oaths (Mt 5:36) or blessings (Ps 133:2) and even the focus of shame or curses. An attack on the beard is an attack on the person. Because the beard was a symbol of manhood, it was a great insult to degrade someone’s beard. Thus David’s men suffer grave humiliation when they return from a diplomatic mission with half of each man’s beard shaven by the Ammonites. In fact, they did not return to Jerusalem until their beards had grown back (2 Sam 10:4-5).

Similarly, Isaiah warns Israel that they will suffer a figurative emasculation at the hand of the king of Assyria who will “shave your head and the hair of your legs, and…take off your beards also” (Is 7:20 NIV). The messianic figure in Isaiah 50 is not only abused as his beard is pulled out, but suffers great humiliation and shame (Is 50:6).

(ed. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinios, 1998, pgs 80-81)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bruised For Our Sins

For thus saith the LORD, Thy bruise is incurable, and thy wound is grievous. There is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines. Jeremiah 30:12-13

In English, the term bruise usually refers to a contusion with no break in the skin surface, identifiable by discoloration. Sometimes the term is used metaphorically to speak of hurt feelings or spirit.

Whereas in modern parlance a bruise is viewed as a minor injury and is almost a positive image (e.g., “he escaped with only a few bruises”), in the Bible the image is stark and powerful, with connotations of serious and repeated injury that is virtually a death blow. No single biblical term names the image; instead a number of words encompass the semantic idea of bruise, all of them denoting injury, pain and wound.

(ed. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinios, 1998, pg 127)

Now we can read Isaiah 53:5 and Genesis 3:15 with greater appreciation.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Our Deepest Core

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. Hebrews 3:12

"We think of the heart as the seat of the emotions, but the Hebrews thought of it as the core of a person—emotions, intellect, and will. The heart is the wellspring of motivation. When the author speaks of the heart believing something, he is talking about deep convictions held in the core of one’s being, the beliefs that really determine what one does. Likewise, to harden one’s heart is to make one’s will, intellect, and emotions all insensitive to God’s presence and truth."

(NavPress Bible study, Hebrews, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1989, pg 54)

This idea fits perfectly with the Book of Mormon perspective regarding the crippling effects of a hard heart. It is literally a condition that can cause spiritual blindness and deafness.

And all this have they done that they...might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. 1 Nephi 13:27

Yea, today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; Jacob 6:6

The condition of our hearts is the determining factor in whether we are counted among the elect of God:

...mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts. D&C 29:7

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lend Your Strength

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
1 Thessalonians 5:14

"Comfort the feebleminded" (1 Thessalonians 5:14) does not convey the sense of the Greek, which means "encourage the fainthearted." Those to whom Paul refers were not mentally deficient but discouraged.

Another translation:: "And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." The term "Idle," as well as "fainthearted," is justified by the evidence of the Greek papyri."

(The Bible Word Book, Bridges & Weigle, pg 132)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Our Words Matter

I have a dear friend who has made a resolve to use her mouth to speak only words of kindness about others. She strives to uplift with her conversations, following the scriptural admonition to “speak the truth in love.” She is conspicuously absent whenever conversations turn to gossip or critical evaluations of Church leaders.

Our words to each other matter. I was struck with the vividness of the image used by Timothy in these verses:

But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker... 2 Timothy 2:16-17

The phrase profane and vain babblings can also be translated as worldly and empty chatter, irreverent talk and godless, foolish discussions.

Canker in 2 Timothy 2:17 means gangrene, translating the Greek word from which the Latin gangrena and the English "gangrene" are derived. Some translations use the word "cancer." RSV translates the passage:

"Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will eat its way like gangrene."

Such is the power of language. And how important it is to remember the corrosive nature of unworthy speech.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Uplifted Hands

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 1 Timothy 2:8

Semites, when praying, stretch out their arms and lift up their hands as though they were about to receive something. This is a gesture of supplication. When men plead before a high official of church or state, they lift up their hands, making gestures of sincere appeal. When they stand at attention, their hands are folded in front of them. When people beg for mercy they also stretch out or lift up their hands. “Lift up holy hands” means to plead with a sincere heart and motive.

(Lamsa, George. New Testament Commentary, A.J. Holman Co., Philadelphia: 1945, pgs 406-407)

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Wise Vinedresser

James Fleming is a scholar who writes about the Middle East and I enjoy his perspectives. Here is one on vineyards.

First, I would like to clarify something that is hard to see in English. In the Greek language, the preposition "take away," is the same preposition to "lift up." So, for the phrase, "any branch that bears not fruit," the translator has to decide whether to say, "Take away" or to say "lift up." You can’t tell from the Greek which way you should translate that into English or any other language. The problem was that during the rainy season, vines lay flat on the ground.

In the Bible, rain was a blessing and sun was a curse. When the Bible says, "the Lord wants to cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike, " in means he wants to bless everyone. When the Lord causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust alike, everyone is going to have some dry times and some famine.

There was so much rain sometimes in the winter that the vine rotted. The vinedresser kept a rock or two near each vine. The vinedresser, you might say, knew each vine by name and how it was doing. He would lift it up if it was not bearing fruit, to air it out and dry it so it would not rot. The vinedresser remembered how each vine did from season to season. Sometimes, listen carefully, we have so much blessing, so much rain, that we get rotten and we need to dry out a bit and the vine dresser lifts us up.

(Fleming, James W. Desert Spirituality. Biblical Resources Conference Lecture Series, June 2002., pg 110)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Our Eyes Wait Upon the Lord

Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us. Psalms 123:2

"In Palestine a servant is summoned, not by calling, but by clapping the hands, and, to show what you require of them, you gesture, but do not speak a word.

In a country where life is simple, this is much easier than in our part of the world. However, even there the servant must watch closely or he or she will fail in service. A devoted servant will been keenly aware of their master's will, even when the only indication is a lifted eyebrow or a small motion of the eyes.

What a beautiful illustration of the relationship which should exist between the Lord and His servants!

(Bowen, Barbara M., Strange Scriptures that Perplex the Western Mind, WM B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1944, pg 65)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wheat and Tares

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. Matthew 13:24-25

"The Aramaic word for tares is zivaney derived from zana which means to commit adultery. Zivaney or tares grow uncultivated. Even though they are carefully separated from the wheat seed, before it is sown, some tares spring up with the wheat to the farmer’s dismay. This is due to the tares which survived in the ground from the previous harvest. In the spring, wheat and tares grow together but the tares grow faster and shoot their branches over the wheat, preventing the wheat from growing and ripening. At this stage it is very hard to pull out the tares because their tendrils are wound around the wheat. If the tares are pulled, the wheat will suffer. The work of separation must therefore wait until the harvest season.

In the East it is not unusual for one to throw seeds of tares in the field of another. During the sowing season farmers are very suspicious and afraid of each other, especially those with whom they have had quarrels and troubles. It takes years of hard labor for a farmer completely to eradicate the tares from his wheat. When this is done, the farmer rejoices. On the other hand, when an Eastern farmer wants to avenge a wrong done to him by a neighbor, he takes some tare seeds in a little bag or in his pocket and at night he scatters them on his enemy’s field. When the tares spring up the owner immediately realizes this is a dastardly act of an enemy but he does not know which of his enemies. He does not hesitate to retaliate by scattering tares in several fields in the hope his enemy will suffer.

In this parable the wheat represents the good. Tares are the evil. Evil and good have always existed together. It is difficult to separate them because by punishing the bad, the good will also suffer. Evil and good therefore exist to the end but they will be separated at the last day just as the wheat and tares are separated at harvest time. The tares are burned with fire so they will not grow again and the wheat is stored in the barn. The good likewise will go to eternal rest and the wicked to the everlasting fire."

(Lamsa, George M. 1936. Gospel Light. San Francisco: Harper Collins., pgs 96-97)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Another Broken Heart

While Christ was on the cross, John tells us that for religious reasons, the Jews besought Pilate that his legs, and those crucified with him,might be broken. To show a fulfillment of Christ as the True Passover Lamb, verse 33 of John 19 tells us that:

When they came to Jesus and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs.

Anciently, David had prophesied:

He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken. (Psalms 34:20)

What gift then, did the broken bread represent? The next verse in John continues:

But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith there came out blood and water. (John 19:34)

In the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 21 March 1986, there is a medical analysis of the crucifixion. In it, the doctors conclude that the blood and water that poured out after the soldier's sword was thrust in his side was an indication that the largest factor in Christ's death was a cardiac rupture; in other words, a broken heart.

This was his supreme gift offered to us as the prospective bride, and we are reminded of it every time we partake of the sacrament bread. Only with an open, humble, and receptive heart can we fully appreciate and receive this great gift. Little wonder then that to show our grateful devotion and mutual commitment, he asks for a similar sacrifice on our part.

Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Doctrine and Covenants 59:8

(Beloved Bridegroom, pgs 116-117)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit

Today's post was written by the amazing friend who typed my book for me. We had such delightful Gospel discussions while she typed.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Psalms 34:18

You have probably read that you must have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Well, the contrite spirit sounded fine to me – but a broken heart (?!?) – no thank you! This always brought up mental images of my heart being made of glass and being thrown to the ground where it would shatter into a million pieces. Did coming unto Christ mean that I had to be left in excruciatingly painful little fragments? It seemed so cruel and made no sense to me whatsoever.

I would like to share an insight on that word which came to me as I discussed this very thing with a friend. She said that having a “broken” heart was really the opposite of being hard-hearted, and that it was more like it had to have cracks in it (“cracks” still sounded repulsive and failed to comfort me) to let the things of the Lord in – kind of like the way a person has to break hard ground. As soon as she said the word “ground,” instantly a “light bulb” went off and I was given to understand that that was exactly what this term meant – and it made perfect sense! Of course we need to have our hearts softened, turned, and broken – like the soil in a garden – because that is precisely where Alma and Amulek taught that the seed of faith is to be planted – in our hearts! “Broken,” then, simply meant “prepared for a specific intent.” I loved that! Better still – it was something I could do.

One last side benefit of another insight I got at the same time – I now also understood why the Church always has, what had seemed to me as a weird little ceremony when I was a child, a ground-breaking for every building to be constructed by the Church. That ceremony symbolizes that that land is being prepared and set apart for a sacred purpose (just like us). Further, it is a sign of faith, signifying that although it will take a long time to see the “full grown” finished product, nevertheless, the ground is now prepared to receive the “seed.” The Lord is always beautifully consistent. (From a talk by Lisa Phan)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Washed in the Blood

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

"Blood’s quality of cleansing appears throughout the Bible, from the earliest books to the latest. In Leviticus 14, for example, a priest sprinkles cleansing blood on a person with an infectious skin disease and on the mildewed walls of a house. New Testament authors often refer to Jesus’ blood “cleansing” us (e.g. 1 John 1:7), and Revelation describes a multitude who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).

Does this frequent reference to blood indicate primitive Christianity’s remoteness from modern culture? To the contrary, modern medical science has shown that the symbol of cleansing conforms closely to the function of the actual substance. Presumably biblical writers did not know the physiology behind their metaphor, but the Creator chose a theological symbol with an exact analogue in the medical world. All that we have learned about physiology in recent years confirms the accuracy of the still-jarring linking of blood and cleansing. The theological image makes for good biology as well.

If you truly wish to grasp the function of blood as a cleansing agent, I suggest a simple experiment. Find a blood pressure test kit and wrap the cuff around your upper arm. Have a friend pump it up to about 200mm. of mercury, a sufficient pressure to stop the flow of blood to your arm. Initially your arm will feel an uncomfortable tightness beneath the cuff. Now comes the revealing part of the experiment: Perform any easy task with your cuffed arm. Merely flex your fingers and make a fist about ten times in succession, or cut paper with scissors, or drive a nail into wood with a hammer.

The first few movements seem quite normal at first as the muscles obediently contract and relax. Then you feel a slight weakness. Almost without warning, after perhaps ten movements, a hot flash of pain strikes. Your muscles cramp violently. If you force yourself to continue the simple task, you will likely cry out in absolute agony. Finally, you cannot force yourself to continue; the pain overwhelms you.

When you release the tourniquet and air escapes from the cuff with a hiss, blood rushes into your aching arm and a wonderful soothing sense of relief floods your muscles. The pain is worth enduring just to experience that acute relief. Your muscles move freely, soreness vanishes. Physiologically, you have just experienced the cleansing power of blood.

The pain came because you forced your muscles to keep working while the blood supply to your arm was shut off. As muscles converted oxygen into energy, they produced certain waste products [metabolites] that normally would have been flushed away instantly in the bloodstream. Because of the constricted bloodflow, however, these metabolites accumulated in your cells. They were not cleansed by the swirling stream of blood, and therefore in a few minutes you felt the agony of retained toxins."

(Yancey, Philip, and Dr. Paul Brand. 1984. In His Image. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan., pgs 74-75)