Is Blood Really Thicker Than Water?

Like most people, I’ve always assumed that the saying “blood is thicker than water” meant that family comes before friends. I never really thought about what the water meant. I figured it was a way to refer to anyone outside of your family. But in the context of Biblical covenant relationships, this phrase doesn’t seem to work. I’ve wondered to myself, “Is blood really thicker than water?”

Recently I came across an interesting interpretation from a Messianic rabbi. He says the original meaning of this phrase has been lost. The original meaning of the phrase is:

“The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

As I thought through this, it started to make sense. I began to look at covenants in scripture. They are always sealed by blood. It began with Abraham and ended with Jesus. Every covenant was sealed with blood. Even the Hebrew word (karath) translated “made” is literally “cut”. In other words, you cut a covenant. The cut draws the blood. The blood is the bond and seal.

With this interpretation, a few other verses seem to make more sense. I look at the verse, “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother” from Proverbs 18:24. I think of the covenant between David and Jonathan. They cut a covenant as well. They were closer than brothers.

I think of one of the hardest verses in the Bible to process in Luke 14 where Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Does he really mean that you have to hate your family, or is Jesus saying that the blood covenant with Him is more important than any other relationship? It seems to point to the latter with this interpretation.

I highly value family. Hispanic culture puts an incredibly strong focus on family. I’m thankful that my immediate family is all serving the Lord. More than water relations, I have covenant relationship we them through the blood Christ. But that’s not the case for everyone. That can make the passage in Luke 14, that much more difficult. It’s definitely not your “watered-down” Gospel message any way you cut it (both puns intended).

If I’ve been misinterpreting this phrase, this gives God’s covenant even deeper meaning for me. It gives it even more validity in my life and relationships. It helps me realize how important it is to maintain relationships in the body of Christ. These relationships have to go beyond agreeing on doctrinal positions. We are in blood covenant with each other. It’s not something that can be easily broken by offense and disagreement. Jesus died for relationship with us. I want to honor that.

How do you interpret this saying? Does the rabbi’s version resonate with you? Are you close with your family?

Comments

  1. Tony,

    Your last post on Overcoming the spirit of Fear was very good!

    Like so many cliches in this world have had their negative impact b/c most people rely on them or just accept them, more than on understanding God’s Word.

    And yet, what did Jesus answer the devil in the wilderness?

    “Man will not “live” on bread alone, BUT by EVERY Word that God has spoken.”
    That testing was not to get the message to Him, but to us…
    Steve recently posted..Rapture Part 3

  2. I have always thought this phrase in it’s modern interpretation didn’t apply to me. I like this interpretation much better.

  3. I feel the Lord personifies himself with Goodness,Kindness and oneness of the Universe. And guides us not to indulge in the web of worldly relations .
    Only then one can follow him truthfully & be happy , blessed and blissful.
    GOD (Good ) is SUPREME

  4. Kathy Young says:

    i am very close to my husband, children and grandchildren. My birth family is not as close. When I came to Christ they did not understand me and as an adult I think I struggled to keep the bond there due to always defending my faith. My close family is all born again and we thrive in our faith with one another. In this case, the words of the Rabbi makes complete sense to me. My faith in Christ was thicker than the ties to my family.

  5. Hi Tony :) It’s a great revelation for me. I just questioned God and myself about the phrase “Blood is thicker than water” which we also have here in Indonesia. I’m currently struggling about this among our “Eastern cultural demand” regarding to our position and behavior toward family. I had no idea why I browsed this phrase in Google, but I know somehow God has directed me to your blog.

    Thank you so much. You are a blessing! :)

  6. I have always thought that Scripture meant that our relationship with Jesus is to be more important than any other relationship. If it is then the rest will all fall in line. Great post as always!!!
    April recently posted..Be Born in Me

  7. Hi Donald,

    Please read Genesis 8:20-21
    20Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even thougha every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

    It was after the shedding of blood (animal sacrifice)in which God was well pleased that He made a covenant with Noah.

    God bless you

  8. Tony,

    Good thoughts. Thanks for showing us the wrestling you have done with the text and this concept. I hear you when you say that Jesus is calling people to view a relationship with him as the most important. Still, I wonder if it is less of a priority list and more of a center issue. He does use strong language like “hate” to refer to close relationships. I think he is saying that those people are meant to be loved, but we should hate those relationships in the “center” of our lives. Again these people are meant to be loved but not in the center. Simply because what is in the center determines what flows out. What do you think?

    • I think I see where you’re going. I’m not much for priority laundry lists either but Jesus does make it pretty clear what is most important and what is second in Matthew 22:36-40:

      “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

      That tells me He is always first. But just behind that is loving your neighbor. He answers the question of who your neighbor is in Luke 10 (i.e. everyone, not just Christians).

  9. Thanks for showing us the meaning behind the phrase!

  10. Wow. This was awesome. Family was very important growing up as well and has continued to be since I have a family of my own now.

    Never heard the rabbi’s version before, but it does provide a more vivid perspective on other passages.

    God bless you, Tony. Keep up the good work.

  11. Seriously a great post friend! I love your question of blood covenant with him being more important than any other relationship. I wrestle with the tension all time about making his relationship above all. I know i can place my covenants with others higher than they should be. So thankful for his blood that stands firm forever.

  12. This really resonates with me. Esp Luke 14. As much as I love my family, I have a blood covenenant with others in the Body of Christ.

    • I’ve always struggled with that passage. However, the longer I’ve been a Christian, the more I understand the covenant that I am a part of. The body of Christ really is my family.

  13. ooooh i love that interpretation. and it totally resonates with what i’ve seen in my own life. my relationships borne out of Godly covenant run far deeper than my own birth family. and i’m so thankful for it.

  14. tony,

    i love what the rabbi said; i’ve never heard that but of course it’s true.

    jesus made his blood covenant with us on the cross, didn’t he?

    thank you so, so much for this. what a powerful message.

    xo

  15. Love this interpretation Tony. Thanks for sharing this Tony. Never looked at it in that way before.

    Very close to my family. Love’m!

  16. Love your exposition here, Tony! We are a covenant people and we need to understand this to greater depths. Thank you–great post.

  17. I like what the rabbi had to say about that old saying…makes sense to me. Reminds me of these Scriptures.

    Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. HEBREWS 10:19-22

  18. Anonymous says:

    Thought provoking piece! I like the rabbi’s perspective. If nothing else it forces me to think about my relationship with Christ. Is it the most important relationship in my life? It should be.

    I do have strong ties with my family…some family members not so much. I also have some great friendships.

    • Justin,

      I dig how you are honest without coming across like a sissy.
      “Is it the most important relationship in my life? It should be.”

      Most people would say something like, “I love Jesus all the time and I serve Him with all my heart and I just love Him, oh I love Him, He is my most important relationship, ever!” But you actually were honest, and your honesty is something a great many people can relate to.

      Dude. Rock. Kickin’ it Justin-style.

    • I hear you man. It should be. I don’t want to talk about it, I want to live it. Only by His grace.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I love this post! You’ve hit the sweet spot of my heart, Tony.

    In my former church in Burbank, Calif. my pastor Wade Mikels called this concept “familia,” which Tony as you know is the Spanish word for family. In the Hispanic culture (which is also my heritage), the word familia tends to run deeper culturally—”through thick and thin come what may, I’ve got your back.” My pastor said this should be the culture of the church body and that the Book of Acts was a true reflection of “familia.”

    I never forgot that sermon. It’s been about 8 years—that’s how much Jesus’ words about the body of Christ have affected me. It’s always my goal to “assume” that relation with people I meet in my church today. Sometimes I get hurt or disappointed in Christians’ understanding of this concept. About 85% of the time—because I approach my church “familia” this way—the response is reciprocated and God’s glory is multiplied! What a blessing it’s been in my life to grab hold of this awesome teaching!

  20. Interesting post, Tony. I’ve never known the origins of “blood is thicker than water” and, like you said, I don’t know if what the Rabbi said is true, but it definitely gives a new twist to the saying and to scriptures…and soemthing I could believe is true. I am close with my family, but I have seen friendships be just as close, if not closer, as well.

  21. Matthew says:

    My family is why I work, why I work hard. The only reason I get up in the morning is for my family. God is first for sure but a very very very close race to 2nd is my family!

  22. I really don’t know the roots of the saying, but your perspective is very interesting. I agree in that the covenant in the blood of Christ is deeper than any other. The previous covenant was by the law, this one is by the blood of Christ. So deep, so awesome.

    To me, being latino, we rock and roll with family man. But I also have a family in Christ that is just as important. Thanks for this awesome reminder Tony!

  23. Anonymous says:

    My family and I are very close, especially my mother and I. I think that the saying that blood is thicker than water is so true on so many levels. Great post!

  24. Great stuff Tony, I love your thoughts. I am very close to my family. I’ve always interpreted that passage to show that the only thing worthy of worship is God himself. Not even the closest things to you in life (most of the time, family) are worthy of worship.

  25. Jesus’ language here is hyperbolic, which is the kind of rhetoric we’d come to expect from an ascetic Jewish preacher of His time (think of the eye plucking and hand chopping in Mark 9). The idea here is that His followers were to love their families less than God, which was a hefty commandment for Jews.

    • I think Jesus also intentionally offended mindsets to see who was really with Him rather than just following the miracles show and what they could get from Him. (see John 6:25-59)

  26. I have never heard that particular thought on that saying before. Very interesting and something I will have to think about some more. Good thoughts Tony!

  27. Such wise words, Tony. I am like you – I have an incredibly special relationship with my family. I am grateful they are all serving the Lord, and I have a great example in my father. But….it is also important to remember the covenant relationship we enter into as believers.

    I have someone that needs to read this today. Forwarding along. Thanks!

    • Thanks man. I know so many people who will cut off people in the body of Christ at the drop of a hat. If we fully understood that we are in covenant through Christ, I think unity in the body would be a bigger focus.

      I love that you have a close relationship with your family. I don’t hear that as much as I hope to anymore.

      • Tony,

        Question:
        You said- “If we fully understood that we are in covenant through Christ, I think unity in the body would be a bigger focus.”

        Are you implying that since I am in covenant with Christ, and you are in covenant with Christ, that this means we are in covenant with one another? As in A=B, B=C, so A=C.

        Could you clarify, please.

  28. bill (cycleguy) says:

    I can honestly say I have never thought of it this way Tony. It is my covenant with the Father that keeps me loving my AWOL earthly father. ‘Nuff said. I have 3 brothers-one in PA; one in Louisville, KY but soon to be back in PA; and one in SanDiego. I am in IN. Close? No. Love each other? Yes. We are one by covenant. We are also one by womb. Good word today tony, especially since I will be preaching about Abe in May.

    • Ooh, that should be good. It’s interesting that I’m so much more fascinated by the Old Testament as I grow in my relationship with the Lord. I go back through and I can see Christ woven into everything. It’s amazing!

  29. I think you’re right on the money Tony.

  30. Good words, Tony. It seems appropriate for us to make a bigger deal out of our re-birth day than our birth day.

    • Similar but unrelated, my sister had a bone-marrow transplant 13 years ago because she had leukemia. She calls the day of her transplant her re-birthday.

  31. I’m not very close with my family. So even the common understanding of the phrase means little to me. “Blood” in the genetic sense, really doesn’t equal family in my life. Family are the friends who like you despite of your flaws, and who you can share anything with. Including brothers and sisters in Christ.

    • I know a lot of people that have your experience. Interestingly though, it’s only within the past 100 years or so (very rough guestimate) that family ties have weakened. Throughout history you see the intense loyalty within family circles.

      This is kinda off topic, but I believe the enemy has attacked families to where it is normal to regard friendships as more valuable than family. The body of Christ is a family. If nuclear families are broken, it’s easy to bring that brokenness into the body of Christ.

  32. Tony,

    You are definitely growing in strength and truth. As a covenant son, I have walked this out for quite a while. It is a hard teaching, to be sure. Here you are, tonight, showing your understanding of it. How utterly appropriate, indeed.

    Some of us still cut covenant today. And rightly so, for our God and Father is all about the significance and importance of blood. Read that for what it says.
    ———————————–

    Allow me to add a little something to this for anyone who would wish to wax theological. Please note verse 5:

    1Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;
    2this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
    3Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
    4Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
    5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
    6“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
    ————————————

    There is blood, water, and fire, all in this Scripture, and all significant. Just sayin’.

    Covenant is not for the timid nor the ignorant. It is eternal. It is at times painful. It is our Father’s way. Throughout our history as His creation, He has repeatedly dealt with us through covenant.

    Good stuff, Tony.

    • I love that you are so passionate about covenant. We need that voice in the body. Like badly.

      • Tony,

        As you eluded to in your brilliant dissertation, :), our father has always dealt with us through covenants. Like you said, starting with Abraham (although the one in Genesis 9 did come first) and going all the way to the final home-run of The New Covenant.

        Covenant is everything in the life of a son; in the life of a person who walks in the spirit of sonship. Without covenant, what are we but animals walking upright, pretending to be men.

        Your covenant voice is needed as well, sir. Please don’t stop. I know some people ouot here are listening, and rightly so.

  33. It does resonate with me. Great treatment of an interesting question.

    As for Luke 14, um…I’ll ask when I get there :)

  34. I took a class on Hebrew Scriptures in college – and that “cut a covenant” phrase has remained with me. You can’t have a covenant without blood.
    Interestingly enough, Jesus is both the blood sacrifice and the living water… so, you have a juxtaposition of those two elements in Him.

    • Kristin,

      You said:
      “You can’t have a covenant without blood.”

      I’d ask you if you could explain that further.

      • If it’s not sealed by blood (the blood of an animal sacrifice, the Blood of Christ or a “blood brotherhood/sisterhood”), it’s not a Covenant, it’s an agreement or contract.

        • Kristin,

          What about the covenant The LORD struck in Genesis 9: 8-17. It was and is a bloodless covenant. Your statement that ‘if its not sealed by blood, it’s not a Covenant’ doesn’t really add up.

          I look forward to your response.
          (Tony, if you would like Kristin and me to take this elsewhere and dig deeper, I understand. I would be happy to do as you wish.)

    • Yeah, I believe there is a metric TON of symbolism in the fact that when he was pierced blood and water flowed. Now the full revelation of that? I’m still waiting for God to show me! :)

      • I thought this phrase originated in Medieval Germany, according to wikipedia, anyways.
        And I think it means just what it says. People with common genetic origins are drawn to each other.

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