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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 5: Harmony of the Law, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

The Ceremonial Supplements of the Sixth Commandment

Deuteronomy 21

Deuteronomy 21:1-9

1. If one be found slain in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him;

1. Quum inventum fuerit cadaver hominis occisi in terra quam Jehova Deus tuus dabit tibi ut possideas eam, prostratum in agro, nec cognitum fuerit quis percusserit eum:

2. Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain.

2. Tunc egredientur seniores tui, et judices tui, et metientur usque ad civitates quae sunt in circuitibus cadaveris hominis illius occisi.

3. And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;

3. Et seniores urbis, propinquioris urbis illi cadaveri occiso, capient vitulam de armento qua nemo usus fuerit, et quae non traxerit jugum.

4. And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither card nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer’s neck there in the valley:

4. Et adducent seniores ejus urbis vitulam ad vallem asperare, quae nunquam fuerit arata, neque seminata, et praecident cervicem vitulae illic in valle.

5. And the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near; (for them the Lord thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the Lord;) and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried

5. Et accedent sacerdotes filii Levi (eos enim elegit Jehova Deus tuus ut ministrent ipsi, et ad benedicendum in nomine Jehovae: et juxta quorum sermonem erit omnis lis atque omnis plaga.)

6. And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley:

6. Et omnes seniores ejus urbis ubi accesserint ad cadaver hominis occisi, lavabunt manus suas super vitulam percussam in valle.

7. And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.

7. Et testificabuntur, ac dicent, Manus nostrae non effuderunt sanguinem istum, neque oculi nostri viderunt.

8. Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel’s charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.

8. Expia populum tuum Israel quem redemisti Jehova, et ne imputes sanguinem innocentem in medio populi tui Israel: et expiabitur ab eis sanguis.

9. So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord.

9. Tu autem auferes sanguinem innocentem e medio tui, quum feceris quod rectum est in oculis Jehovae.


1. If one be found slain in the land. This Supplement: is of a mixed character, relating partly to the civil, and partly to the criminal law. We are informed by it how precious to God is the life of man; for, if a murder had been committed by some unknown person, He requires an expiation to be made, whereby the neighboring cities should purge themselves from the pollution of the crime. Whence it appears that the earth is so polluted by human blood, that those who encourage murder by impunity, implicate themselves in the guilt. The question here is as to a secret crime, the guilt of which attaches to the neighboring cities, until, by the institution of a diligent inquiry, they can testify that the author is not discovered; how much less excusable, then, will they be, if they allow a murderer to escape with impunity? The rite prescribed is, that the elders of the nearest city should take a heifer which had not drawn in a yoke, and bring it into a stony and barren valley, cut off its neck with the assistance of the priests, wash their hands, and bear witness that their hands as well as their eyes are pure, as not being cognizant of the criminal. God chose a heifer that had not born a yoke, in order that the satisfaction made by innocent blood might be represented in a more lively manner; whilst it was to be killed in a desert place, that the pollution might be removed from the cultivated lands. For, if the blood of the heifer had been shed in the middle of the market-place of the city, or in any inhabited spot, the familiarity with the sight of blood would have hardened their minds in inhumanity. For the purpose, therefore, of awakening horror, it was drawn out into a solitary and uncultivated spot, that they might be thus accustomed to detest cruelty. But although, properly speaking, this was not a sacrifice which could be offered nowhere except in the sanctuary, still it nearly approached to the nature of a sacrifice, because the Levites were in attendance, and a solemn deprecation was made; nevertheless, they were not only employed as ministers of the altar, but also as judges, for their office is expressed in the words, that they were “chosen to minister to God, to bless the people, and to pronounce sentence as to every stroke.”

6. And all the elders of that city. The washing of their hands had the effect of stirring them up the more, so that they should not inconsiderately protest in that solemn rite that they were pure and guiltless; for it was just as if they had presented the corpse of the dead mall before God, and had stood themselves opposite to it to purge away the crime. At the same time, also, they ask for pardon, because it might have been through their carelessness that the man was smitten; and again, since, by the sacrilege of Achan alone the whole people were contaminated, it was to be feared lest the vengeance of God should extend more widely on account of the offense committed. And thus they were again taught how greatly God abominates murders, when the people pray that they may be pardoned for the crime of another, as if, by the very looking upon it, they had contracted guilt. God at length declares that He will not impute it to them, when they have duly performed this rite of expiation; not because the heifer was the price of satisfaction to propitiate God, but because in this way they humbly reconciled themselves to Him, and shut the door against murders for the time to come. On this account it is said — “Thou shalt put away the blood from among you;” for if the murder be passed over without observation, there remains a blot upon the people, and the earth itself, in a manner, stinks before God.

Deuteronomy 12

Deut. 12:15, 16, 20-25

15. Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee: the unclean and the clean may eat thereof, as of the roe-buck, and as of the hart.

15. Pro omni desiderio animae tuae mactabis, et comedes carnes secundum benedictionem Jehovae Dei tui, quam dederit tibi intra omnes portas tuas: immundus et mundus comedet eas, sicut capream et cervum.

16. Only ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water.

16. Tantummodo sanguinem non comedetis, super terram effundetis illum instar aquae.

20. When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border, as he hath promised thee, and thou shalt say, I will eat flesh, (because thy soul longeth to eat flesh,) thou mayest eat flesh, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.

20. Quum dilataverit Jehova Deus tuus terminum tuum, quemadmodum loquutus est tibi, et dixeris, Comedam carnem, quod concupiscat anima tua vesci carnibus: juxta omne desiderium animae tuae comedes carnes.

21. If the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to put his name there be too far from thee, then thou shalt kill of thy herd, and of thy flock, which the Lord hath given thee, as I have commanded thee, and thou shalt eat in thy gates whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.

21. Quum longinquus a te fuerit locus quem elegerit Jehova Deus tuus ut ponat nomen suum ibi, mactabis de bobus tuis et de pecudibus tuis quas dederit Jehova tibi: quemadmodum praecepi tibi, et vesceris in portis tuis secundum omne desiderium animae tuae.

22. Even as the roe-buck and the hart is eaten, so thou shalt eat them; the unclean and the clean shall eat of them alike.

22. Certe quemadmodum comeditur caprea et cervus, sic comedes illas: immundus pariter et mundus vescentur illis.

23. Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh.

23. Tantum roborare ut non comedas sanguinem: quia sanguis est anima, et non comedes animam una cum carne.

24. Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water.

24. Non comedes illum, sed in terram effundes illum instar aquae.

25. Thou shalt not eat it; that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord.

25. Non vesceris illo, ut bene sit tibi, et filiis tuis post te, quum feceris quod rectum est in oculis Jehovae.


Leviticus 7

Leviticus 7:26-27

26. Moreover, ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings.

26. Nullum sanguinem comedetis in cunctis habitationibus vestris, tam de avibus quam de jumentis.

27. Whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people.

27. Omnis anima quae comederit ullum sanguinem, excidetur anima illa e populis suis.

Leviticus 19

Leviticus 19:26

26. Ye shall not eat anything with the blood.

26. Non comedetis cum sanguine.


Deuteronomy 12:15. Notwithstanding thou mayest kill. What precedes I have introduced in its proper place, viz., that they should not kill the sacrifices anywhere but in the sanctuary, of which there was only one in Judea. Here the permission to eat meat is given, provided that they do not offer the animals to God, but eat of them as of wild beasts. By way of example, two kinds are mentioned, the roe-buck and the hart, of which no offering was made. They are, therefore, freely allowed to eat meat wheresoever they pleased, with this exception, that they should not taste the blood; for, although this was observed by their forefathers before the giving of the Law, God ratifies it anew when He would gather a peculiar people to Himself. We know that immediately after the deluge, Noah and his posterity were commanded to abstain from blood; but, inasmuch as the greater part of mankind soon degenerated, it is probable that all nations neglected God’s command, and permitted to themselves a universal license on this point; and it is even questionable whether this observance, which was everywhere fallen into desuetude, prevailed among the family of Shem. Certainly it may be conjectured from the renewed promulgation of the law, that it was altogether obsolete; at any rate, God would have His chosen people distinguished by this mark of separation from heathen nations.

The reason of the prohibition which is now mentioned had already been declared,  18 viz., because the blood is the seat of life. But although it, was allowable to kill an animal for food, yet, was it a useful restraint to prevent inhumanity, that they should not touch the blood; for if they abstained from the blood of beasts, much more necessary was it to spare human blood. After God, therefore, has forbidden blood to be eaten, He immediately proceeds to speak of men themselves: “Whose sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”  19 (Ge 9:4-6.) Hence I have deemed it appropriate to annex all the passages in which God commands the people to abstain from blood, to the Sixth Commandment. In itself, indeed, the eating of blood was a thing of no great importance: since, therefore, God so often inculcates a point of so little weight, it may be inferred that the law has some further object. To this may be added the severity of the punishment, for surely it was not a crime worthy of death to taste the blood of some little bird; and hence, also, it is manifested that the prohibition had another meaning, viz., that cruelty might be abhorred. And the words of Moses show that the eating of blood is not forbidden because it infected man with its uncleanness, but that they might account the life of man to be precious; for it is said, “the blood is the life,” which, in the opinion of Augustine,  20 is equivalent to its being “the sign of life;“ but Moses rather means that animal life is contained in the blood. Wherefore, blood, which represents the life, was not interdicted without reason, nor was it only sinful to eat the blood by itself, but also together with the flesh, as is expressly declared both in Deuteronomy and in the last passage from Leviticus.

23. Only be  21 sure that thou eat not. It is not without cause that he earnestly exhorts them to inflexible firmness, because it was both a matter trifling in appearance, and its observation troublesome, whilst it was easy to decline from it on account of the universal example of the Gentiles. For if they considered within themselves that it contributed not to holiness that they should not touch blood, hence a snare to indulgence might easily have arisen.

Leviticus 17

Leviticus 17:10-14

10. And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.

10. Quicunque e domo Israel, et e peregrinis qui peregrinantur in medio eorum, comederit ullum sanguinem, ponam faciem meam in animam quae comederit sanguinem, et excidam eam e medio populi sui.

11. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.

11. Quia anima carnis in sanguine est: ego autem dedi illum vobis super altare ad expiandum animus vestras, quia sanguis animam expiabit.

12. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.

12. Ideo dixi filiis Israel, Nulla anima ex vobis comedet sanguinem, et peregrinus qui pregrinatur in medio vestri non comedet sanguinem.

13. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.

13. Et quicunque e filiis Israel, et e peregrinis qui peregrinantur in medio eorum, venatus fuerit venationem bestiae vel avis quae comeditur, effundet sanguinem ejus et cooperiet pulvere.

14. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof; whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.

14. Quia anima cujusque carnis, sanguis ejus est in anima: dixique filiis Israel, Sanguinem cujuscunque carnis non comedetis, quia anima cujusque carnis est sanguis ejus: quicunque comederit illum, excidetur.


10. And whatsoever make there be of the house of Israel. God here not only condemns to death whosoever shall have polluted themselves by eating of blood, but declares that He will Himself take vengeance on them, though they may escape from the hands of the judges; for He not only prescribes to the judges what it is right for them to do, but asserts for Himself the office of inflicting the punishment. For, if we consider the intention of the Law, is there anything to surprise us in this; for although it be not consistent that the blood of a brute should be compensated for by the death of a man, still we must remember that this mode of instruction  22 was necessary for a rude people, lest they should speedily lapse into barbarism. But, lest they should complain that no use remained for the blood, He reminds them that since it was given for atonement, they would be very ungrateful if they were not content with so great a blessing; and surely, since it was the price they were to pay for appeasing God, this was an employment of it far to be preferred to food. If, then, they desired to exchange into ordinary food the blood, which was destined to the altar for the reconciliation of God, Moses indirectly reproves their ingratitude; for when God took away the right of eating it, He left them something better, which should have abundantly satisfied them. But we have elsewhere  23 seen in what manner blood atones for souls, i e., in a sacramental manner, upon which it must be observed that what properly belongs to Christ is thus transferred by metonomy to figures and symbols, yet in such a way that the similitude should neither be empty nor inefficacious; for in so far as the fathers apprehended Christ in the external sacrifices, atonement was truly exhibited in them. In this passage also, I do not understand “the strangers” to be all such visitors as may have journeyed amongst them on matters of business, but those who had devoted themselves to the worship of God; for many foreigners, abandoning their superstitions, were circumcised, and it behooved that such as these should be expressly laid under the bonds of the Law, lest, if it had not referred to them, they should have withdrawn themselves from obeying it. This point must, therefore, be briefly adverted to, lest we should suppose that heathen sojourners were prohibited from the eating of blood, whereas they were allowed to buy for food  24 even flesh that had been torn by beasts.

Since, however, the Patriarchs before the Law had abstained from blood, and its prohibition had no reference to the First Table or the legal service, hence it came to pass that when the Apostles abrogated the ceremonial law, they did not dare to allow immediately the free eating of blood, lest great scandal should arise from this new and unwonted thing. (Ac 15:20.) Wherefore, lest so trifling a matter should cause deadly schisms in the Churches, they commanded the Gentiles not to eat of blood; adding as the reason, that those who were accustomed to read the writings of Moses, would be disturbed at this innovation; yet this was only observed for a short period, as we gather from Paul.  25 It was, not without superstition and misplaced zeal;. retained by some even to the days of Tertullian.



See on Leviticus 3:17, vol. 2, p. 335, whence, however, he refers to Genesis 9:4. C. Society’s edition, vol. 1, p. 293.


Lat. “Qui effuderit sanguinem hominis in homine;” he who shall have shed the blood of man in man. — Vide C. in loco.


Quaest. in Leviticum, 57 Section 2. “Illud appellatur anima, quod significat animam.” — Edit. Benedict. tom. 3, p. 1 pag. 516.


Lat., “Roberare.” Margin, A. V., “Heb., Be strong.”


“Hanc paedagogiam.” — Lat. “Ceste doctrine puerile.” — Fr.


See on Exodus 12:21, ante vol. 1 p. 221.


See on Deuteronomy 14:21, ante vol. 2, p. 69.


There is no reference here in the Latin, but the Fr. is, “comme il se peut recueillir par ce que Sainct Paul en escrit aux Corinthiens;” as may be gathered from what St. Paul writes respecting it to the Corinthians. In C.’s Commentary on the Acts, 15:28, he says, “We know that this law was foredone by Paul, so soon as the tumult and contention was once ended, when he teacheth that nothing is unclean, (Ro 14:14,)and when he granteth liberty to eat all manner of meats, yea, even such as were sacrificed to idols. (1Co 10:25.)” — C. Societys edit., vol. 2, p. 79. Tertullian, Apol., cap. 9, speaks as follows; “Erubescat error vester Christianis, qui ne animalium quidem sanguinem in epulis esculentas habemus, qui propterea quoque suffocatis et morticinis abstinemus, ne quo modo sanguine contaminemur, vel intra viscera sepulto.” See Bingham, book 17 ch. 5 sec. 20 “But on the other hand, because it was the custom of the Catholic Church, almost to the time of St. Austin, to abstain from eating of blood, in compliance with the rule given by the Apostles to the Gentile converts; therefore, by the most ancient laws of the Church, all clergymen were obliged to abstain from it under pain of degradation. This is evident from the Apostolical Canons, and those of Gangra, and the second Council of Orleans, and the Council of Trullo. But as this was looked upon by some only as a temporary injunction, so it appears from St. Austin that it was of no force in the African Church. (Contra Faust., lib. 32, c. 13.) He that would see more about it may consult Curcellaeus, who has written a large dissertation upon the subject.”

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