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Blood is Thicker Than Water

At the end of today’s reading in Mark 3, we learn that Jesus’ “mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him” (v31), but his response was, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (v34).
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Familial relations are powerful. There’s a famous saying “blood is thicker than water,” and what people mean by that is our family relationships take precedence over others. Family always comes first.

Family coming first is a noble sentiment, but Jesus completely reversed it. While he would have had as much fondness for his family as anyone else, he saw more value in spiritual associations not necessarily based on blood relationships. It is a principle taught on a fundamental doctrinal level too. As Paul says in Romans,

“not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring” (Rom. 9:7),

and John the Baptist said,

“God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9).

While the principle of the family is at the core of God’s purpose – He is, after all, creating a divine family – what Jesus said in Mark is what it means to be a child of God. If our natural families aren’t part of the household of faith, then we have to make a difficult choice who we put first.

So, should blood be thicker than water when it comes to the Bible? Well, here’s the twist in the tale because as it happens, if the theories of several scholars are correct, we’ve been using the idiom “blood is thicker than water” completely wrong. While that phrase has traditionally been held to come from medieval times, a newer theory says it comes right out of the Bible.

Here was a blood covenant of two men bound together by something greater than a familial relationship.

The passage in question is when “Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David” (1 Sam. 20:16). The word for “made” here, and in many instances where a covenant was made, literally means “to cut,” a reference to the way a covenant was made in the ancient Near East by cutting an animal in half. Here was a blood covenant of two men bound together by something greater than a familial relationship. Jonathan went on to say,

“’ May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.’ And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.” (v16-17).

Here was a blood covenant between Jonathan and David. Its power was in the way the two friends were bound together with godly love, something far more potent than familial relationships. Not only that, but Jonathan, in making this covenant with David, set himself up in direct opposition to his father, Saul.

So for Jonathan, blood was thicker than water. The “water” in this theory of the idiom meaning the water of the womb.

Jesus demonstrated the principle in Mark 3 and later demonstrated it even more powerfully by being the covenant victim on the cross. Paul tells us, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). It is the blood of Christ that should bind us together, and override any of our familial relationships. We aren’t related to Christ by the water of our mothers’ wombs, but there is something far more significant that binds us together; God’s eternal covenant of love.

Richard Morgan
Simi Hills, CA

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