How should I respond to the shedding of innocent blood?

James McGarvey  ·  Jan 01, 2016

Last year, Pastor Rusty Lee Thomas in his pamphlet, “Field Manual for Abortion Ministry,” raised two questions:

What does Christianity look like in a nation that murders its own children?

Has the church failed to be pro-life or have we failed to be Christian when it comes to rescuing our neighbors scheduled to be dismembered?

I’m reminded of God’s disbelief as His people persisted in the sacrifice of their children to the pagan demon god Molech as recorded by Jeremiah, “… they have filled this place with the blood of innocent children. They have built pagan shrines to Baal, and there they burn their sons as sacrifices to Baal. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed My mind to command such a thing!” (Jeremiah 19:4b-5 NLT).

Pastor Thomas again writes, “… I believe this cruel act is so foreign to God’s commandments, character, and will that He refuses to acknowledge it. In other words, this despicable practice is so far off the charts, so beyond the pale, that God will not dignify it with any sense of rationality. For parents to sacrifice their own children in order to obtain a better life is unthinkable in the mind of God” (Abortion Violation, pg. 28).

Shedding innocent blood is the Biblical term for the unjustified taking of human life. It is the Biblical term that best describes abortion. On January 22, 1973, two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, legalized abortion in all 50 states during all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason. This plunged America into a national tragedy that is unparalleled in American history, as the abortion death toll in America now exceeds 58 million preborn children.

Understanding the creation account is critical to knowing how to respond to the shedding of innocent blood. According to the Biblical record, God created man. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” (Genesis 1:26a ESV). “… then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2.7 ESV). The consistent declaration of Scripture is that God created man in His image and likeness.

The Apostle Paul identified the premise of the two competing worldviews when he wrote, “… they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:25 ESV). In other words there are ultimately only two worldviews. One denies there is a Creator and worships the creation. The other acknowledges the Creator and worships the Creator. The Biblical creation account is the foundation of a Biblical worldview.

Those who deny a Creator postulate that man was the product of a meaningless, random evolutionary process over billions of years, the result of a cosmic accident. Man therefore becomes just another animal who has risen to the top of the evolutionary chain having succeeded in the survival of the fittest, having no intrinsic value by virtue of his origin. By denying the Creator, man becomes his own god, accountable to no one but himself. This is the prevailing worldview of 21st-century Western civilization. It is the worldview that makes room for the shedding of innocent blood.

This is illustrated by Mary Elizabeth Williams in her article entitled, “So what if abortion ends a life?”, with the subtitle, “I believe that life starts at conception. And it’s never stopped me from being pro-choice.” She writes, “All life is not equal. … a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”

Williams defends the right to kill preborn children simply because the mother has the power to do so, a classic example of the survival of the fittest, the basic tenant of atheistic Darwinian evolutionary theory. When you deny the existence of a Creator, man is longer accountable to transcendent moral truth.

The Biblical evidence is clear. Man is created by God and for God. Man is created in His image and likeness. God recognizes the preborn to be distinct and unique persons from the moment of conception (e.g., Jeremiah 1:5). This truth is critical in forming a Biblical worldview that informs and shapes our response to the shedding of innocent blood. The Biblical creation account provides us with the foundation for cherishing and protecting human life from the moment of conception.

The doctrine of “blood guilt” emerges very early in history. Genesis 4 records the first crime in human history, the murder of Abel by his brother, Cain. “Cain spoke to his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:8-9 ESV).

The story continues in verse 10, “And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground’” (emphasis mine). The shed blood of Abel had a voice that cried out to God! This passage established the doctrine of blood guilt. The German commentator Franz Delitzsch writes, “Innocent blood has no voice, it may be, that is discernible by human ears, but it has one that reaches God, as the cry of a wicked deed demanding vengeance.”

Bible commentator H. C. Luepold writes, “That a voice should be attributed to blood is not strange inasmuch as the soul is regarded as lodged in the blood of the man (Leviticus. 17:11) and the death of God’s saints is precious in His sight (Psalms 116:15). … God requires blood, that is, seeks out and avenges all instances of unjust shedding of blood. … Men may esteem souls or blood lightly. Not so God” (Genesis, pg. 205).

Similarly, John Ensor writes, “Blood guilt’ is a blunt, almost vulgar term. It hits rudely, like a slap in the face. It is God’s chosen term to arouse godly fear and compel decisive action. It is a word awakening, forcing us to recognize an unbreakable linkage: God’s image is debased and his wrath justly incited every time a person made in God’s image is unjustly destroyed. There is no debasing of God’s image without consequences. Blood guilt requires God’s vengeance and vindication. It stands as an indictment against the sin of shedding innocent blood, but it is also a promise, of sorts, to victims” (Innocent Blood, pg. 39-40).

After the flood, God gave Noah these instructions, “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of a man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:5-6, ESV).

God formally announces His demand for an accounting for the shedding of innocent blood. If a man takes another man’s life, God said, “I will require a reckoning.” In other words, God saw the need to restrain evil behavior so he instituted civil government to act as the protector of human life. Martin Luther writes, “This was the first command having reference to the temporal sword. By these words temporal government was established, and the sword placed in its hands by God.”

Theologically, the depravity of man provides the moral necessity for government. Therefore, God instituted government to restrain evil. The governing authority is God’s servant responsible to restrain evil, “… God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4, ESV).

We have a problem in America at this point. Our government has failed to protect the innocent from being murdered in the womb. Government has betrayed our trust. Civil authorities, mayors, judges, congressmen, senators, and presidents, have denied preborn children their right to life.

Similarly the psalmist describes our leaders when he asked a rhetorical question of God. “Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death” (Psalm 94:20-21, ESV). Those words could have been written of our day. They describe what the Supreme Court has done in legalizing the killing of preborn children.

Isaiah gave this warning: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20 ESV).

Back to Genesis 9:6. Notice the reason God demands justice for the shedding of innocent blood. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” The preservation and protection of innocent human life is necessary because human life bears the image of its Creator. The shedding of innocent blood is a personal affront to a Holy and Righteous God. It is in essence killing God in effigy.

God revealed to Adam and Eve and their offspring a plan to atone for man’s sin. After calling Abram to leave his home and go to an unfamiliar land, God makes this remarkable promise, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing, I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3, ESV).

Through Abram’s offspring, a Savior would come through whom the families of the earth would be blessed. God the Creator has intricately and purposefully bound Himself to His creation. We see His love message woven into His dealings with mankind from the very beginning.

Blood atonement was the central principle of God’s plan of redemption. “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Leviticus 17:11, ESV). This truth is central to the Biblical doctrines of both incarnation and atonement. Jesus’ incarnation was the prerequisite to His work of atonement. The writer to the Hebrews understood this, writing, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

Theologically you cannot separate salvation through atonement from the sanctity of human life because the life, the soul of man, is in the blood. John Ensor writes, “Is there anything more valuable than human life and the redemption of human life? By virtue of our salvation, Christians have inherited from God a profound commitment to the sanctity of life and a devotion to make Christ known. Both come from holding blood (life) precious” (Innocent Blood, pg. 32).

With the incarnation we come full circle. The God who created human life in His own image becomes a man so that through an act of love He could bear our sin on the cross so we could live in fellowship with Him for eternity. That is the Gospel of Life. That is the greatest reason there is to be pro-life.

How should I respond to the shedding of innocent blood?

In Deuteronomy 21: 1-9, instruction is given to Israel regarding what to do when innocent blood is shed in the land. The body of a murdered man was found in a field, and no one knew who murdered him. The elders and judges were instructed to determine by measurement what town was located nearest the body. Then the leaders of that town were to lead the community in a process of atonement for the shedding of the innocent blood. Since the unknown murderer could not be punished, a heifer or young cow was killed to atone for the blood guiltiness in the land. The elders of the town washed their hands over the heifer declaring that “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. Accept atonement, O Lord, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for” (Deuteronomy 21:7-8, ESV).

Notice the result in verse 9, “So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood, from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord.” How should we respond to the shedding of innocent blood? We cannot ignore the shedding of innocent blood in our community or nation. In other words, we dare not go day after day, business as usual when innocent blood is being shed down the street from where we live, work, and worship. The county where I live has 23 abortion clinics, with three more just to the north and six just to the south of the county line. Can we say, as the elders of Deuteronomy, “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed”?

There is a role leadership must play in the effort to end the killing of the preborn. John Ensor writes, “Whenever the innocent are killed, no matter who they are, known or unknown, big or small, the Deuteronomic law instructs the spiritual leaders of the community to rearticulate the pro-life ethic. The people are to hear that the taking of innocent life or the passive acceptance of the death of the innocent is horrifyingly unacceptable” (Answering the Call, pg. 75).

A recent survey of women who have had an abortion found that “More than 1 in 3 (36 percent) women were attending a Christian church once or more times a month at the time of their first abortion”. In 2005 it was reported that “… one in six women who have had abortions are evangelical Christians. … This means 250,000 evangelical Christian women could choose to abort a child this year”. I wonder what role the silent pulpits of the Church have played in this tragedy.

Each of us can respond in some way to the bloodshed in our land. Michael Spielman has a website called and produces pro-life booklets. He writes, “It is unreasonable to suggest that everyone in the Church should be working relentlessly to end abortion, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that everyone in the Church should be doing something to end abortion” (A Biblical Mandate to do Something About Abortion).

You can volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center in your community. You can give financially to keep their doors open. You can pray for those at risk for abortion. And you can pray for the post-abortive, that they will come to know the forgiveness and healing available in the gospel. You can pray outside the abortion clinics, standing against the spiritual forces of darkness at work within. You can provide sidewalk counseling at abortion clinics for those being misled by the deceptive message of the abortion industry. You can support and vote for judges and political candidates who value human life. In one of the recent presidential elections around 25 percent of voting evangelicals voted for the pro-abortion candidate, and millions did not even bother to vote!

In Luke chapter 10, Jesus helped a lawyer understand what it meant to love his neighbor. The lawyer was evidently hung up on exactly what that looked like, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells him the story of a man on his way to Jericho from Jerusalem who was robbed and beaten and left half dead alongside the road. Three different individuals had the opportunity to come to his rescue, in all likelihood to save his life. Two of the three did not respond to the needs of the man bleeding by the side of the road. Those two were the church leaders of that day, a priest and a Levite, responsible for the spiritual care of their nation. And Jesus points out that not only did they fail to respond but they “passed by on the other side.” In other words, they consciously and deliberately distanced themselves from the needs of the man dying by the side of the road. Jesus then pointed out that the one who proved to be the neighbor to the dying man was the one who showed mercy to the badly beaten traveler. He then said, “Go and do likewise.”

In his book Innocent Life, John Ensor defines “Samaritan compassion” this way: “Doing right in the sight of the Lord means acting to stop the shedding of innocent blood. The only person in Jesus’ parable who is pro-life according to the demands of love is the Samaritan. Only he was willing to make the nearly dead man’s problem his own. Only he was willing to see the victim’s suffering as his own. Only he was willing to act according to what he would cry out for if their positions had been reversed” (pgs. 25-37).

The Church in America is struggling in its response to America’s abortion crisis. We have failed to expose the shedding of innocent blood and proclaim that repentance brings full pardon through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We have failed to grasp the implications of the Gospel with regard to the killing of over 3,300 preborn children each day. According to Jesus’ parable, salvation has a moral imperative built into it with regard to the needs of those around us, our neighbors, including the unborn whose lives are threatened by abortion. Again, John Ensor writes, “Loving my neighbor will occasionally arrest me, and maybe even require me to help prevent someone from being murdered.”

The writer of Proverbs said something very similar. It’s as though he wrote these words for our day, which of course he did. “Save those who are being led to their death; rescue those who are about to be killed. If you say, ‘We don’t know anything about this,’ God, Who knows what’s in your mind, will notice. He is watching you, and He will know. He will reward each person for what He has done” (Proverbs 24:10-12, NCV).

Copyright © James P McGarvey, all rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

The Rev. James (Jim) McGarvey is a Samaritan Ministries member. Through The Church for Life Jim serves the church in its response to America’s abortion crisis as it leads the nation in prayer to end abortion; communicates the message of the sanctity of human life; ministers healing and restoration to the post-abortive; provides compassionate and practical help to those at risk for abortion. He has spoken in churches, colleges, pregnancy center fundraising banquets, staff and volunteer trainings and to pastors and youth. You will find many of his messages and other resources online at and Contact Jim at or (954) 235-3482.