The blood of Jesus is a popular theme in African Christianity with deep roots in the Bible and African traditions (see Machingura and Museka 2016). Before the arrival of European and African missionaries, blood was an important symbol in many African religions and was used for a variety of ritual purposes. The missionaries realised this and emphasised the power of the blood of Jesus in their sermons and hymns. Soon African Christians took up the theme, developing it in new ways.
The idea of cleansing through the blood of Jesus became one of the characteristic teachings of the East African Revival and has been very influential in Christian art and music. Njau 1959 is an important example of modern African art that emphasises the blood of Jesus in its portrayal of the crucifixion. Jehovah Shalom Acapella 2021 is a contemporary version of a classic Revival hymn that speaks about salvation through the blood of Jesus. This key notion has also been taken up in African liturgies, such as the Kenyan Service of Holy Communion that was used at the opening service of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the closing service of the 2010 Cape Town Conference (see Lausanne Movement 2011).
The practice of invoking the blood of Jesus for protection, healing and prosperity became more widespread with the rise of new African Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches. Oyedepo 2012, originally published in the 1990s, is an influential treatment of the topic by a leading Pentecostal bishop that encourages believers to appropriate the power of the blood in their daily lives. Similarly, Duncan-Williams 2016 is an example of an African Pentecostal sermon on having faith in the blood of Jesus. Western Pentecostal and Charismatic evangelists, such as Reinhard Bonnke, have also contributed to the popularity of the notion. Bonnke 2012 is an articulation of the theology of the blood that he developed during his African crusades. Some African theologians see the popularity of the blood of Jesus as a positive development. Mwombeki 2005 argues that the Lutheran theology of the cross needs to be supplemented with the theology of the blood. Other theologians, however, have condemned the invocation of the blood of Jesus in prayer. Olarewaju 2003 provides a forceful critique of the practice, arguing that it has no biblical basis. Dami 2018 arrives at a similar conclusion but develops an alternative theology of the blood for African Christians.
Bonnke, Reinhard. Marked by the Blood of Jesus. Sermon Video, 52:23. Given at the Hillsong Conference, Sydney, Australia, in 2006. Posted 24 August, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxbaIDcdpVU.
Bonnke was a German Pentecostal evangelist who, inspired by a vision of a “blood-washed Africa,” launched a pan-African crusade to spread revival across the continent. In this sermon he draws on biblical texts (1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 John 1:7 and Leviticus 8:23) and uses illustrations from earlier sermons in African contexts to proclaim that Christians are not only washed by the blood of Jesus, but also protected against demons, witches and all kinds of evil.
Dami, Caleb D. The Theology of the Blood of Jesus: Its Meaning, Usage, and Implications. Jos: COCIN, 2018.
A systematic discussion of the blood of Jesus by a Nigerian Evangelical theologian. Responding to common practice of invoking the blood of Jesus, Dami takes a biblical-theological approach, discussing the meaning of blood in the Ancient Near East and African traditional religion, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. He argues that the blood of Jesus is primarily a way of referring to Christ’s death and explains its multifaceted salvific implications.
Duncan-Williams, Nicholas. The Place of the Blood in a Believer’s Life. Sermon video, 1:05:22. Given at the Prayer Cathedral of Action Chapel International in Accra, Ghana. Posted 23 May, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KI_XVWwtQwg.
Duncan-Williams is the Archbishop and General Overseer of Action Chapel International, a Ghanaian Pentecostal megachurch with a worldwide network of churches. After a worship song about the blood of Jesus and a prayer (0:00-4:00), he draws on Rev. 13:8 and 12:11 to argue that the blood is the key to a believer’s identity and a life of victory. Having faith in the blood means believing in and invoking it in daily life, as well as participating in sacrificial giving.
Jehovah Shalom Acapella. Tukutendereza Yesu. Music Video, 3:40. Posted 25 June, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0wwQaoVOos.
A classy rendition of the legendary hymn of the East African Revival (0:00-4:00). The words of the chorus proclaim the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus: “Tukutendereza Yesu / Yesu Mwana gwendiga / Omusaigwo gunazi’za / Nkwebaza Mulokozi” (We praise you Jesus / Jesus the Lamb of God / Your blood has cleansed me / I thank you my Saviour). The hymn is also closely connected with stories of sacrificial martyrdom in East Africa.
Lausanne Movement. The Holy Communion - Closing Ceremony - Cape Town 2010. Worship video, 21:10. Celebrated at the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town 2010 Congress on 24 October, 2010. Posted 8 October, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bumWSpYbkYk.
The text of the Eucharistic Prayer and Institution (5:40-7:20, 11:01-13:50) is taken from the Church of the Province of Kenya’s A Kenyan Service of Holy Communion (Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1989). The words explicitly draw on both biblical and African understandings of sacrifice. In particular, the phrase “We are brothers and sisters through his blood,” (12:18) uses the African notion of blood brotherhood to proclaim the new kinship that believers have through Christ’s sacrifice.
Machingura, Francis, and Godfrey Museka. “‘Blood as the Seat of Life’: The Blood Paradox among Afro-Christians.” Perichoresis 14, no. 1 (2016): 41–62. https://doi.org/10.1515/perc-2016-0003.
Machingura, a Zimbabwean theologian, and Museka, a Zimbabwean scholar of religion, discuss the sanctity of blood in the Old Testament, New Testament and amongst Shona Afro-Christians. They argue that blood is associated with both life and death, and suggest that the sanctity of blood in Shona tradition has greatly contributed to the Afro-Christian practice of invoking the blood of Jesus (p. 59).
Mwombeki, Fidon R. “The Theology of the Cross: Does It Make Sense to Africans?” In The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology, edited by Niels H. Gregersen, 101–14. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005. https://books.google.nl/books?id=Gr6AyFhAf64C.
A well-presented and systematic article by a Tanzanian Lutheran theologian, who later became the general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches. Mwombeki considers the cross in Luther’s theology and African theologies before arguing that “the theology of the blood” is a way to enrich the theology of the cross (p. 111). For further analysis, see his doctoral dissertation, “Biblical Interpretation in a Current African Situation: The Case of Blood” (Luther Seminary, 1997).
Njau, Elimo. Crucifixion. 1959. Photograph of mural on the interior north wall of the Saint James and All Martyrs Memorial Cathedral in Murang’a, Kenya, 3.5m x 4.5m. Pinterest. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/62417144810802902/.
Njau is a Tanzanian artist who studied at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. The painting is one of five murals depicting scenes from the life of Christ in a church that was built as a memorial to Christians who had died during the Mau Mau rebellion. Njau draws on Kikuyu culture and the local landscape in his portrayal of Christ’s sacrificial death. The blood of Jesus trickles down from the cross, cleansing the people and the land.
Olarewaju, Samuel. “The Efficacy of Prayer in the Blood of Christ in Contemporary African Christianity.” Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology 22, no. 1 (2003): 31–49. https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/articles_ajet-03.php.
A careful study of the use of blood in African traditional religion and the Bible by a Nigerian Evangelical theologian. Olarewaju argues that “to pray and cover various objects with the blood of Christ as protection against demonic attacks, epidemics, natural disasters, accidents, and other such experiences is . . . without scriptural warrant.” Given that “the practice is paralleled in various traditional religions,” Christians should consider it “syncretistic” (p. 45).
Oyedepo, David O. The Blood Triumph. Lagos: Dominion Publishing House, 2012.
Oyedepo is a Nigerian Pentecostal bishop and founder of Winners’ Chapel International, as well as chancellor of Covenant University and Landmark University. In this book, originally published in 1995, he argues that the blood of Jesus is the weapon that delivers from Satan and gives power and blessings. As he writes, “Every time you invoke the Blood of Jesus in faith, you are bringing God on the scene and He has never been known to fail” (ch. 2).
Samuel K. Bussey is a doctoral student in Intercultural Theology at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen, the Netherlands.
Photo: Detail of Crucifixion by Elimo Njau.
For more resources on the Blood of Jesus, see the related bibliography in the Collaborative Bibliography of African Theology.