Without the shedding of blood
I am often surprised when people fail to distinguish properly between descriptive and normative statements, or between contingency and necessity. For those unfamiliar with philosophical terminology:
- Descriptive statement - a statement that simply describes how things are. It doesn't make any value judgments about whether things ought to be that way, it just observes the facts.
- Normative statement - a statement about how things ought to be. Rather than describing the facts of any given instance, it makes claims about what is ideal, correct, normal, or best.
- Contingent - something is contingently true if it happens to be true but didn't have to be true. ie if things could have happened differently, if something could have been done another way, then the fact that things happened in the way they did is called contingent.
- Necessity - this is where something that is true could never have been different.
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)Many people read or quote this verse and assume that it is speaking of something normative or necessary. The assumed idea is that either "without the shedding of blood there can't be forgiveness of sins", or that the law is basically correct in its ideas about purification through blood. They implicitly assume the phrase is not a descriptive one describing a contingent truth.
Yet the phrase seems to me to be obviously descriptive. The writer is observing that "under the law" things are purified with blood and sins aren't forgiven apart from blood sacrifice. In this sentence he makes no value judgment about this fact, he simply makes an observational statement. Elsewhere he does make value judgments and those value judgments are negative, not positive! (Heb 10:4, "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.") Far from describing a necessary truth or a normative method of sin-removal in Heb 9:22, the writer is making a descriptive comment about how the law does things that elsewhere he makes clear he disapproves of. In his view, the law's method is neither the only method nor the best method - neither necessary nor normative.