Questions From Readers

What is the meaning of the comment at Hebrews 12:4: “You have never yet resisted as far as blood”?

The phrase “resisted as far as blood” implies going to the extreme point of dying, literally shedding one’s lifeblood.

The apostle Paul knew that as a result of their faith, some Hebrew Christians had already “endured a great contest under sufferings.” (Hebrews 10:32, 33) When pointing that out, Paul seems to have been using the metaphor of a struggle in a Greek athletic contest, which could include foot racing, wrestling, boxing, and discus and javelin throwing. Accordingly, at Hebrews 12:1, he urged fellow Christians: “Let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Three verses later, at Hebrews 12:4, Paul may have been shifting from the image of a footrace to that of a boxing contest. (Both figures appear at 1 Corinthians 9:26.) Ancient pugilists had their fists and wrists bound with leather thongs. The thongs might even have been weighted “with lead, iron, or metal studs, which produced grave injuries to the boxers.” Such brutal matches caused bleeding, sometimes even death.

In any event, the Hebrew Christians had adequate examples of faithful servants of God who had suffered persecution and brutal abuse, even to the point of death, “as far as blood.” Note the context in which Paul called attention to what ancient faithful ones experienced:

“They were stoned, they were tried, they were sawn asunder, they died by slaughter with the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, while they were in want, in tribulation, under ill-treatment.” Thereafter, Paul highlighted the Perfecter of our faith, Jesus: “He endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”—Hebrews 11:37; 12:2.

Yes, many had “resisted as far as blood,” that is, to the point of dying. Theirs was more than an inner struggle against the sin of lack of faith. They were loyal under brutal external abuse, maintaining their faithfulness till death.

Newer ones in the Jerusalem congregation, perhaps having become Christians after the bitter persecution of the past had died down, had never faced such extreme tests. (Acts 7:54-60; 12:1, 2; Hebrews 13:7) Yet, even trials of a less severe nature were discouraging some of them from continuing to carry on the contest; they were ‘getting tired and giving out in their souls.’ (Hebrews 12:3) They needed to progress toward maturity. That would build up their ability to endure whatever might come, even if that included physical abuse to the point of shedding their lifeblood.—Hebrews 6:1; 12:7-11.

Many Christians in modern times have “resisted as far as blood,” being executed because they would not compromise their Christianity. Rather than letting Paul’s words at Hebrews 12:4 be a cause of terror, we can take them as indicating the extent to which we are determined to go to remain loyal to God. Later in the same letter to the Hebrews, Paul wrote: “Let us continue to have undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe.”—Hebrews 12:28.