Review of Hermann Kuma. The Centrality of Αἷμα (Blood) in the Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews
In part one Kuma explains the purpose of his research. He suggests, the “use and significance of the term αἷμα in the epistle [Hebrews] has never been thoroughly examined in the context of the epistle” (2). The purpose of the book is thus to analyze the role and significance of αἷμα in the theological argument of Hebrews in light of the Old Testament (OT), Ancient Near East (ANE), and New Testament (NT) world (3).
Before examining each of these respective worlds, Kuma devotes part two of his analysis to a survey of the literature on the highly debated meaning of blood in the NT. At the heart of the blood debate is the term’s symbolic import with reference to Christ. Does “blood of Christ” in the NT indicate death or life or both? It is the ambivalent view that “carried the day” in NT scholarship until the “blood debate” lost steam during the 1950s (33).
Part three is a thorough analysis of the OT perception of blood (דם). Kuma considers דם in 1) the cultic practices of the ANE, 2) the pre-Israelite setting of the Patriarchs, 3) the OT cultus, and 4) the OT covenant relationship. Kuma argues that the Torah establishes blood (דם) as a means of atonement and makes a close connection between life and blood (169). He concludes that the OT perception of blood is ambivalent in that it both defiles and cleanses, and coveys both life and death.
In part four Kuma assesses the concept of blood in the NT world. He considers the meaning of blood in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran literature, Philo, Josephus, Rabbinic literature, and the NT. In the extra-biblical sources, blood is most often used in reference to humanity, family relationships, murder or death, and cultic issues involving purity and defilement. These same concepts for blood are also found in the NT. However, in the NT, blood is also used symbolically as signifying the vicarious death of Christ.
Part five is the main point of the book. Kuma investigates αἷμα in the Epistle to the Hebrews and how the term is connected to Hebrews’ primary theological motif of the superiority of Christ. According to Kuma, the term ‘blood’ has a multivalent quality in Hebrews. “The term ‘blood’ encapsulates and connotes all that has to do with the vicarious self-oblation of Jesus in the Epistle to the Hebrews” (345).
In part six, Kuma reports the conclusions and implications of his research. His conclusion is that the term ἇιμα in Hebrews is multivalent and ambiguous (359). The term connotes all that has to do with the vicarious self-sacrifice of Jesus (359). Furthermore, blood can represent either life or death. It represents life in the sense that the sinner is liberated through the blood of Christ to serve the Living God (360). It represents death by both pointing to the death of Christ and by having the ability to effect death on those who despise the new covenant (360).
Kuma helpfully connects his exegetical and philological analysis of αἷμα to the theological argument of Hebrews. He recognizes that the major theological motif of Hebrews is the supremacy and superiority of Jesus Christ over all that defined the old era of redemptive history. The Christological argument of Hebrews is supported by the author’s presentation of the blood of Christ. At every point the blood of Christ is depicted as superior to the blood shed in the old covenant because Christ’s blood is able to effect forgiveness for all time. Kuma insightfully notes that of the 21 occurrences of ‘blood’ in the epistle, 14 occur in chapters 9 and 10 “which embody the main Christological/theological argument of Hebrews alone” (349). Christ’s blood, being superior to the blood of dumb animals, was shed once for all to atone for sin.
Kuma’s conclusion deserves a slight critique. Does blood mean death or life? Kuma argues for both, but appears to over emphasize the dimension of life. He suggests that there is a strong connection between blood and life in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Thus, the author of Hebrews’ “chief interest,” according to Kuma, is not the death of Christ, but the life that is possible as a result of Christ’s death (347). The fact remains however, that the life that is possible for the believer is only possible as a result of the blood spilt in sacrifice. The shed blood of Christ represents a life that was surrendered. The sacrifice of Christ’s blood necessarily refers to his death at Calvary. It therefore appears that Kuma overemphasizes the effect of Christ’s blood and underemphasizes its actual referent, namely sacrificial death.
Overall, The Centrality of Αἷμα (Blood) in the Theology of The Epistle to The Hebrews is an insightful contribution to the meaning of αἷμα in NT studies. Kuma successfully analyzes the meaning of blood in the primary sources and relevant secondary sources. He accomplishes his purpose of demonstrating the importance of αἷμα in the theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Any future study on the significance of ‘blood’ in the NT should interact with Kuma’s book.