In Genesis 9 Noah receives a covenant from the Lord. Part of the covenant removed the prior restrictions against eating meat, allowing Noah and his family to kill animals for food. However, the allowance came with this proviso: “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it” (verse 4).
One reason God prohibited the consumption of animal blood in the Old Testament was to teach respect for the sacredness of life. Blood is viewed as a symbol of life throughout the Bible (see Leviticus 17:11). The Bible’s first mention of the word blood is found in Genesis 4:10 where God asks the murderer Cain, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” The shedding of blood represents the loss of life. In the New Testament, the “blood of Christ” is a common figure of speech for the “death of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:19).
Under the Law of Moses, certain foods were considered unclean for consumption, including any meat with the blood still in it (Deuteronomy 12:16). The early church urged Gentile believers to abstain from eating bloody meat in order to not offend their Jewish brothers and to distance themselves from the practices of the pagans (Acts 15:20).
Another reason for God’s command not to eat bloody meat undoubtedly concerned the sacrifices. Blood was the only atonement for sin (2 Chronicles 29:24; Hebrews 9:22); therefore, blood was seen as a sacred thing. God wanted to ensure that the blood of the sacrifices was always considered precious. To preserve the people’s appreciation of the sacrifices, God could not allow blood to become a common food.
The humane treatment of animals may have been another reason why God told Noah not to eat meat with the blood still in it. God did not want mankind to act like the carnivorous animals, who caught their prey and began eating it immediately. Instead, they were to drain the blood from the carcass and thus ensure the animal was dead before it was consumed.
Further, some have suggested God may have given this command for health reasons. Blood present in meat means it is not fully cooked, and eating uncooked meat can lead to disease or sickness. We recognize this danger today, as attested by the USDA-mandated warnings found in modern-day menus: “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.” In ancient cultures, the risk could have been even higher, given the lower standards for food safety.
In Christ, these food laws are obsolete, and the New Testament gives no blanket instruction for the church concerning food (Romans 14:14; 1 Timothy 4:3). Romans 14:1–4 teaches, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Scripture allows the Christian to have individual freedom regarding the consumption of meat and how it’s cooked.
In summary, God forbade eating bloody meat in the Noahic Covenant and in the Law of Moses. Both spiritual and physical reasons were likely behind this prohibition. In Christ, we have freedom of choice in this matter. However, as with all Christian freedom, we are to use self-restraint to avoid hurting another believer (Romans 14:13–22). Ultimately, eating anything should be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).