Home » Hebrew Word Study: BLOOD (DAM)

Hebrew Word Study: BLOOD (DAM)

by Dr. Eitan Bar
5 minutes read

In this era, filled with action movies, violent video games, and incessant news reports of violence, it’s hardly surprising that the term ‘blood’ often conjures negative associations such as violence, terrorism, war, suffering, and wrath. This perspective might explain why some preachers assert that God tortured, abused, and killed Christ. However, the Hebrew Bible approaches the concept of blood from a distinctly different angle.

In Genesis, the Hebrew words “Adam” and “DAM,” meaning “blood,” share a linguistic root. This commonality leads to a profound theological insight into the nature of humanity, according to the Bible. The name “Adam” is also closely tied to the Hebrew word “ADAMAH,” meaning “ground.” This connection is evident in Genesis 2:7, where God forms the first human, Adam, from the ADAMAH. Therefore, “Adam” signifies humanity’s earthly origin. On the other hand, “DAM” (blood) represents life. (Leviticus 17:14).

DAM = Blood. ADAMAH = Ground.

The name “Adam” intriguingly embodies a fusion of these two concepts. It can be interpreted as suggesting a deep connection between mankind (Adam) and the life force (blood) as well as the earth (ground) from which we were created. This connection suggests that while humans are formed from the earth, the blood/life force within them animates and gives them life.

Two common words can best describe the functions of blood in the Bible. If you were to ask modern-day Christians what they are, some would probably answer with something like ‘wrath and punishment.’ However, for the Israelites living in the days of the Hebrew Scriptures, it would probably be something like ‘purifying and cleansing.’

Do you remember greeting someone with a handshake during Covid-19 and wanting to sanitize your hands instantly? Or maybe how we wash away stains using a detergent. These liquids are a great way to understand the role of blood in the biblical ritual of purification and sanctification. For the Israelites, the blood of the sacrifices was something like iodine, bleach, or detergent—a ‘magical potion’ used to keep and protect life.

For the ancient Israelites, blood held profound significance – it was viewed as the embodiment of life and a vehicle for purification, atonement, and healing. This concept is deeply rooted in the verse from Leviticus 17:11:

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

The verse from Leviticus provides a foundational understanding of atonement within the biblical context. In this scripture, blood symbolizes life and plays an instrumental role in rituals aiming for reconciliation with God. This reflects the immense value placed on life in Hebrew tradition and theology. Today, we understand scientifically that our life force is indeed contained within our DNA, which is in our blood.

In Judaism, Rashi, the famous 11th-century Jewish rabbi and commentator, wrote in his Commentary on Leviticus 17:11:

For the life of the flesh of every creature, not only of animals brought as sacrifices, is dependent on its blood, and it is for this reason that I have placed it [on the altar] to make expiation for the life of man: let life come and expiate for life!

Some things in life are inseparable. You can’t make soup without liquid, build a log cabin without trees, or make a bonfire without flames. The same goes for sacrifice. Sacrifices are where life meets death—they are two sides of the same coin. Without an animal being killed, there would be no blood. The two are tied together because you cannot have the animal’s blood without killing it. This is also true in our physical world—we cannot live unless something else dies, as we must eat to survive. Eating means something else—either an animal or a plant—dies. Life and death are strongly intertwined.

However, in the book of sacrifices (Leviticus), the animal substitute is not offered by Israelites hoping to appease a volatile and angry God. That is why the pagan nations around Israel would sacrifice to their gods. For Israel, it was a different story…

In the context of sacrifices, the focus was less on the death of the animal and more on its blood – the representation of life. In other words, the animal’s death was a consequential necessity for obtaining its life-giving blood. Hence, the phrases ‘Christ died for us’ and ‘Christ’s blood was shed for us’ can be used interchangeably when discussing Christ’s atonement. Both statements aim to communicate the same profound message – Christ’s death signifies the shedding of His blood.

In the sacrificial rituals, death wasn’t what atoned for sins; blood did. Death was a significant, unavoidable side effect of the sacrifice. If an animal was to provide all its blood – its life force – it inevitably had to die. This death was a sort of penalty paid for extracting its blood. Thus, if someone owed their life to you, it implied they owed their blood.

In the same vein, just as the blood of sacrificed animals served to purify, sanctify, and cleanse Israel from its sins, so does Christ’s blood for our transgressions. His crucifixion wasn’t about him being subjected to torment and abuse by God but about His blood, symbolic of His life, washing away our sins.

This perspective leads us to the real crux of the Bible’s message – it’s not about the wrathful death of Christ at the hands of his Father, but the significance of Christ’s blood. To state ‘Christ’s blood was shed for us’ is equivalent to saying ‘Christ gifted us His life.’ This is why New Testament authors consistently reiterate that it is Christ’s blood that covers our sins, redeems us, and justifies us. The true value lies not in His death but in the life-representing blood of Christ:

…we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins… (Ephesians 1:7)

…to make the people holy through his own blood… (Hebrews 13:12)

…him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…” (Revelation 1:5)

…we have now been justified by his blood… (Romans 5:9)

…we have redemption through his blood… (Ephesians 1:7)

…have been brought near by the blood of Christ… (Ephesians 2:13)

…making peace through his blood, shed on the cross… (Colossians 1:20)

…you were redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ… (1st Peter 1:18-19)

…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin… (1st John 1:7)

Because life is in the blood, it holds the power of purification, sanctification, justification, and atonement. Blood, being life, is why it was said about Jesus that unless you “drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). It is through Jesus’ life that we receive eternal life, and his life was in his blood. This means the gospel is not about death but about life! And the gospel is good news not because Jesus died at the hands of an angry God but because Jesus gave us His life! Since Christ is God, if we “drink” His blood (life), we get to enjoy everlasting life!

This article was an extract from my new small book,
Lost in Translation: 15 Hebrew Words to Transform Your Christian Faith.

You may also like:

Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist