Some commentators allege that the popular concept of being washed in the blood of Christ is pagan in origin, since nothing was ever washed in blood in the OT sacrifices. Surely this is wrong?
It is true that there is no thought anywhere in the OT of blood being using for washing. The blood was nearly always sprinkled on objects and persons––they were never washed in it. To have attempted to wash in blood would have brought defilement, not cleansing (compare Ez. 16:6, 22 AV).
Now washing and cleansing are not synonymous. In the OT both blood and water cleanse but only water washes. Perhaps the finest example of the use of blood and water is that of the cleansing of the leper in Lev.14. Two birds were used for the cleansing. One was killed in an earthen vessel over running water. The other bird, along with cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop, was dipped in the blood of the first bird. This blood was then sprinkled over the leper. He then had to wash his garments, shave all his hair and then bathe in water. He was then clean. Both the blood and the water had their respective parts in the cleansing, but only the water was used for washing. Eight days later, a trespass offering had to be offered. Here the blood was put on the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand and the big toe of the right foot. This was followed by the application of oil in a similar manner with the addition that the remainder of the oil was poured over the offerer’s head. There was no such application of the blood.
In the NT when the writer in Heb. 9: 16–22 refers to the blood he speaks of the sprinkling of the blood (vs 19, 21), not the washing of blood, saying “ and almost all things are purified with blood” (v22). Similarly, Peter in 1 Pet. 1: 2 speaks of the “sprinkling of [the] blood of Jesus Christ” not the washing of the blood of Jesus Christ. However the difficulty comes when we look at the English translation of two other Scriptures. Rev. 1: 5 reads “To him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his blood…” and Rev. 7: 14 reads “These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb”.
It is significant that both these Scriptures are in Revelation which, although originally written in Greek, possesses thoughts, idioms and linguistic peculiarities which are Hebrew. The imagery is also taken from the OT––the temple, the tabernacle, the altar etc. The OT is also quoted or alluded to some 285 times––more than any other NT book. From all this, it is imperative that any translation into English must not militate against OT teaching.
Taking Rev. 7 : 14 first: “These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. By giving the Greek word en its primary meaning of in, in the sense of position, the blood is presented to the English reader as the actual agent of the washing––that which was used to wash the robes. This is completely at odds with the whole of OT teaching. Now in Greek the preposition en gives the sense of in virtue of and can be used to express the basis on which an action takes place (e.g. Heb. 13: 20 “But the God of peace, who brought again from among [the] dead our Lord Jesus … in [the power of the] blood of [the] eternal covenant”) but it is not the agency. The word used for the instrument of activity is dia (by). If the blood was the agent by which their robes were washed, then the word used would have been dia and not en. Again, the action of washing the robes is that of the wearers. This is emphasised by the fact that the word used here for washed (its only occurrence in the NT) is employed in the Greek version of the OT (the Septuagint) for the washing of clothes in water. Just as the sense in Heb. 13: 20 is that in virtue of the blood of the eternal covenant, God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, so the sense of Rev. 7: 14, from the imagery used, is that these saints, realising the virtue of the blood of the Lamb, purified their lives from the surrounding defilements (washing their robes in water).
Rev 1: 5 reads “To him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his blood…”. The word for in is again en and hence the blood cannot be viewed as the active agent or instrument of the washing. Furthermore, the word translated “washed” (lousanti) is not the reading of all the Greek texts. The critical texts read lusanti. This is but the difference of a single letter, yet it makes a world of difference to the meaning! The word lusanti means “freed” or “loosed”. If this is due to a very understandable error on the part of a copyist, then the verse would read as “…and has freed us from our sins in [the power of] his blood…”.
Thus there is no difference between the teaching of the OT and NT. The blood cleanses, not by washing us from our sins, but by freeing us from them.