This article discusses the Scriptural principles regarding blood. See Watchtower Blood Stance for historical and current Watchtower teachings.
The Watchtower teaches that accepting a blood transfusion goes against Bible principles and will lead to a person losing everlasting life. They have admitted this stance results in the loss of Jehovah’s Witness lives.
“In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first. They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue.” Awake! 1994 May 22 p.2
The foundation Scripture to support such a stance is from Acts.
Acts 21:25 “As for the believers from among the nations, we have sent out, rendering our decision that they should keep themselves from what is sacrificed to idols as well as from blood and what is strangled and from fornication.”
This article shows that application of this Scripture to blood transfusions is dangerous and wrong for a number of reasons. These include:
- The Rabbinic principle of Pikuach Nefesh (appealed to by Jesus at Mat 12:11) dictates that the Law be superseded if it would result in loss of life
- Paul showed that Acts 15 was only binding when it would result in stumbling (1 Cor 8)
- The Bible refers to eating blood from animals killed for food, not blood transfusions that do not result in the death of the donor.
Pikuach Nefesh – Life overrides Law
Throughout this article it will be shown the Bible identifies respect for life as important to God. The reason the Noahide and Mosaic Law’s stipulated bleeding an animal was out of respect for the life taken. Jesus shed blood at death was the ultimate gift, given to purchase the everlasting life of mankind.
Quite opposite to this Bible principle, the Watchtower Society admits that their stand against blood transfusions has led to the death of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Watchtower articles claim that it is wrong to attempt to save life through a blood transfusion, as this risks forfeiting everlasting life.
“As Christian witnesses of Jehovah, her parents, Darrell and Rhoda Labrenz, correctly viewed blood transfusion as a violation of God’s law and thus opposed it. They were concerned about their baby’s eternal welfare, for everlasting life is the prospect only of those adhering to God’s laws.” Yearbook 1975 p.224
“But suppose one’s wife or child were near death. … How foolish it would be to gamble away the prospect of life eternal for the very uncertain promise of a cure by blood transfusion!” Watchtower 1970 Apr 15 p.249
“What if a Christian is badly injured or is in need of major surgery? Suppose doctors say that he must have a blood transfusion or he will die. … Would a Christian break God’s law just to stay alive a little longer in this system of things? … We do not want to die. But if we tried to save our present life by breaking God’s law, we would be in danger of losing everlasting life.” What Does The Bible Really Teach (2005) pp.130-131
Do these statements indicate the Watchtower stance on blood shows respect for life? Compare them with what God wants.
Matthew 12:7 “However, if YOU had understood what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice,’ YOU would not have condemned the guiltless ones.”
It is pertinent that Jew’s are allowed to have blood transfusions. Strict Orthodox Jews soak meat in water, salt it and then drain it in order to draw out all the blood, tet no Jewish groups forbid blood transfusions. (Likewise, Muslims forbidden to drink blood are allowed transfusions as a life saving procedure.) This is because Jewish kosher probation’s are waived in regards to life-saving medical use. Sustaining life overrules the Mosaic Law; a principle referred to as pikuach nefesh.
Jesus showed that Christians are to follow this principle when he healed and harvested on the Sabbath. He used David as an example to show that that acts of mercy, such as saving a life, are more important than strict adherence to regulation. Consider the following examples:
Matthew 12:11 “Who will be the man among YOU that has one sheep and, if this falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not get hold of it and lift it out? All considered, of how much more worth is a man than a sheep!”
Mark 3:4-5 “Next he said to them: “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do a good deed or to do a bad deed, to save or to kill a soul?” But they kept silent. And after looking around upon them with indignation, being thoroughly grieved at the insensibility of their hearts, he said to the man: “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” – see also Luke 6:7-10
“Matthew 12:1-4, NW: “At that season Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath. His disciples got hungry and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. At seeing this the Pharisees said to him: ‘Look! your disciples are doing what it is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ He said to them: ‘Have you not read what David did when he and the men with him got hungry? How he entered into the house of God and they ate the loaves of presentation, food it was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests only?’” In these verses and in the ones following Jesus was calling attention to acts of mercy on the sabbath day, that it was perfectly legitimate to render a show of mercy to one who is in need even though it was the sabbath, and that there is, in effect, no violation of the sabbath by such course of action. He had no rebuke for David’s course.” – see also Mark 2:23-26″ Watchtower 1952 Sep 15 p.575
In these situations Jesus invoked the rabbinic principle of pikuach nefesh; that the obligation to save life supersedes Jewish law.
“According to pikuach nefesh a person must do everything in their power to save the life of another, even donate bodily organs. Ovaday Yosef, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, ruled that one may donate an organ to a person in critical need, so long as it does not put the donor’s life at risk. It is also permissible to travel on Shabbat to save a person’s life. Maimonides declared that a Jew should take the individual, even if a gentile is present, in order to encourage “compassion, loving-kindness and peace in the world” (Mishneh Torah, 2:3). The laws of the Sabbath may be suspended to provide any necessary medical care to a critically ill individual or to an individual in the likelihood of danger to life.” Pikuach Nefesh, Ariel Scheib (22 Apr 2007)
As respect for life is the most important issue for a Bible student, blood should be transfused in life-and-death situations. This raises the question, “is a blood transfusion ever necessary to sustain life?”
Blood transfusions are essential at times to sustain life. There is merit in not taking blood in many medical situations, just as there is merit in not taking antibiotics for every illness. Just as antibiotics have been harmfully over prescribed, so has the use of blood. However, antibiotics are essential in certain life and death situations, as is blood. Non-blood volume expanders are as yet not able to substitute for the oxygen carrying capabilities of red blood cells. When red blood cell count becomes low, your organs suffocate and die from lack of oxygen; in this situation survival demands a blood transfusion.
The Watchtower Society conceded to parliament that blood transfusions are necessary at times and even recommended that the law take Witness children off their parents in such cases. In the Hansard Committee Vin Toole, representing the legal department of the Australian Branch of the Watchtower Society makes such an admission to Senator SCHACHT.
“Mr Toole – What we have said is that there may well be circumstances arise where it does become an absolute life and death issue. We have said that in those circumstances that is the way the law should be framed. In its present form, the law is not framed that way and it allows an invasion of the family and an overruling of the principles of that family in circumstances that really do not call for that at all.” (COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA, Official Committee Hansard, JOINT COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE, Reference: Australia’s efforts to promote and protect freedom of religion and belief FRIDAY, 15 OCTOBER 1999)
When Watchtower articles say that surgery can be performed without blood, they divert the readers’ attention from the fact that there are circumstances where blood is absolutely necessary to survive. In these situations Jehovah’s Witnesses should have freedom to choose the most appropriate treatment for their own bodies. The essay Jehovah’s Witnesses, Blood Transfusions, and the Tort of Misrepresentation by Kerry Louderback-Wood, presents the important finding that the Watchtower has been dishonest in its presentation on information about blood transfusions in an effort to mislead its followers;
“The Society’s main resource regarding its blood policy, “How Can Blood Save Your Life?” (“pamphlet”), teaches both Witnesses and interested persons about the religion’s blood prohibition. In addition to giving the Society’s religious interpretation, the pamphlet relies on quotes from historians, scientists, and medical professionals to bolster its no-blood position. This essay will first discuss the pamphlet’s misrepresentations of these secular writers and the availability of private action suits for persons harmed when a religious organization misrepresents secular facts.”
Louderback-Wood provides examples of Watchtower publications being selective in the information presented to its members in regards to the dangers of accepting or refusing blood, going as far as to misquote in order to lead Jehovah’s Witnesses to an inaccurate understanding of the necessity for blood. It is one thing to demand a follower to strictly obey a Churches specific interpretation of doctrine, but quite another to be dishonest in the portrayal of medical information. Followers have a right to informed consent.
Scriptural Stance on Blood
The consumption of blood cells is not an issue in the Bible, as meat could be eaten despite containing blood. The issue was respect for the sanctity of life. Though Biblical laws on blood changed over time, showing respect for life never has. Is refusing blood in a life or death situation showing such respect? It is interesting to examine the scriptural development.
A key argument the Watchtower uses to say blood transfusions is wrong it that the command to refrain from blood originated with Noah, by reference to Genesis 9:4.
“God imposed this one restriction. They were not to consume blood.(Genesis 9:3,4)” Watchtower 2008 Oct 1 p.31
Genesis 9:4 does not prohibit the eating of blood! Rather, Noah was told:
“Only flesh with its soul – its blood – YOU must not eat.”
This command was about respect for animal life during the ritual of slaughter. This does not state that blood could not be eaten. In its strict Hebrew wording, it means that an animal should not have flesh torn off it for food, whilst the animal is still alive. In general, it is understood to mean that out of respect for the life of an animal, it was to be bled when being killed for food; a command against eating things strangled.
The Watchtower uses this as a key Scripture to show that blood transfusions must not be used, attempting to apply it to the consumption of human blood. Neither point is made in this Scripture.
Even the Watchtower originally recognised that Genesis 9:4 did not apply to eating blood, as shown in a Watchtower article that attempted to prove that vaccinations were wrong.
“All reasonable minds must conclude that it was not the eating of the blood that God objected to, but it was bringing the blood of the beast in contact with the blood of man.” Golden Age 1931 Feb 4 p.294
Showing that the Law to Noah was related to the act of killing an animal, rather than the blood itself, Deuteronomy 14:21 allowed Israelites to sell un-bled animals found dead as food for “alien residents” and “foreigners.” This is because the alien resident was bound by Noahide Law, but not Mosaic Law.
The Mosaic Law gave over 600 laws for the Nation of Israel, greatly adding to the laws that were given to Noah. For the first time, a law stated that blood was not to be eaten; to do so would result in death.
Leviticus 17:10 “And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.”
Yet, this too was related to the ritual of bleeding an animal killed for food, not the blood itself. This point can be seen from Leviticus 17:15;
“As for any soul that eats a body [already] dead or something torn by a wild beast, whether a native or a alien resident, he must in that case wash his garments and bathe in water and be unclean until evening; and he must be clean.”
If the animal was already dead the death penalty did not apply for eating an unbled animal; rather they were required to bathe due to being unclean from handling a dead body.
The strict requirements of the Mosaic Law were to show the necessity of Jesus’ Ransom sacrifice. As such, the Mosaic Law ceased to apply when Jesus died for mankind.
Colossians 2:13b, 14 “He kindly forgave us all our trespasses and blotted out the handwritten document against us, which consisted of decrees and which was in opposition to us; and He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake.
Jesus death did away with the legalist approach to life dictated by the Mosaic Law. His statement that Christians are not defiled by what they eat showed that Mosaic Law covering such things as pork, oysters and blood had ceased.
Matthew 15:11 “Not what enters into [his] mouth defiles a man; but it is what proceeds out of [his] mouth that defiles a man.”
All Mosaic Law ceased when Jesus died. (Romans 10:4) As the Mosaic Law no longer applies to Christians, Mosaic Law regarding blood are not required to be followed. As shown earlier, prior laws given to Noah did not cover eating blood, so with the death of Jesus all rules against blood ceased.
Despite this, the Watchtower refers to the Mosaic Law to formulate its blood stance.
“However, such collecting, storing, and transfusing of blood directly contradicts what is said in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Blood is not to be stored; it is to be poured out-returned to God, as it were. Granted, the Mosaic Law is not in force now. Nevertheless, Jehovah’s Witnesses respect the principles God included in it, and they are determined to ‘abstain from blood.’ Hence, we do not donate blood, nor do we store for transfusion our blood that should be ‘poured out.’ That practice conflicts with God’s law.” Watchtower 2000 Oct 15 p.31
By using the Mosaic Law to create binding legislation on its followers, the Watchtower undermines the value of the blood of Christ through the Ransom. Paul warned against those that revert to the Mosaic Law;
2 Corinthians 3:14-15 “But their mental powers were dulled. For to this present day the same veil remains unlifted at the reading of the old covenant, because it is done away with by means of Christ. In fact, down till today whenever Moses is read, a veil lies upon their hearts.”
Acts 15 – Abstain From Blood?
The strongest support for refusing blood transfusions is from Acts 15:21 and 21:25. At Acts 15:21 it is recorded that the Apostles and Older Men gave a decree to “abstain from blood”. At first glance this may be taken to imply that the Mosaic Law was to continue applying to Christians in regard to consumption of blood.
Acts 15:21 does not apply to blood transfusions when understood in its historical and religious setting. The majority of Christian religions do not understand this to be a binding command, nor was it understood as such by Pastor Russell, the founder of the Watchtower religion.
“He further suggested writing to them merely that they abstain … from blood … It will be noticed that nothing is said about keeping the Ten Commandments, nor any part of the Jewish law. It was evidently taken for granted that having received the spirit of Christ the new law of love would be a general regulation for them. The things mentioned were merely to guard against stumbling themselves or becoming-stumbling blocks to others.” Watch Tower 1892 Nov 15 pp.350-351
There are two aspects to consider about the decree regarding blood in Acts:
- It is not a binding command on all individuals
- It does not refer to blood transfusions
A new situation arose after the death of Jesus, with the admittance of Gentiles into Christianity. The situation at Acts was very specific. Jewish Christians were having difficulty accepting Gentile Christians, particularly in regards to circumcision. Paul, the “Apostle to the Nations”, was converting Gentiles and rightfully taught that they were not obligated to follow the Mosaic Law. Judaizers were a group of Jewish Christians claiming to be superior to the Gentile Christians due to following the Mosaic Law. As explained in the New Catholic Encyclopaedia, Judaizers were;
“A party of Jewish Christians in the Early Church, who either held that circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic Law were necessary for salvation and in consequence wished to impose them on the Gentile converts, or who at least considered them as still obligatory on the Jewish Christians.”
The Apostles and older men convened to discuss the application of the Mosaic Law and came to the conclusion that observation of the Mosaic Law was unnecessary. However, they recommended that “the believers from among the nations” observe fours things from the Mosaic Law.
Acts 21:25 “As for the believers from among the nations, we have sent out, rendering our decision that they should keep themselves from what is sacrificed to idols as well as from blood and what is strangled and from fornication.”
This is not an exhaustive list of things to abstain from, (murder being an obvious omission) so why was this unusual list given. It was to prevent stumbling Jewish brothers. This was explained in the Watch Tower 1909 Apr 15 pp. 116-117 and is the common Christian understanding. The New Catholic Encyclopaedia states;
“These four prohibitions were imposed for the sake of charity and union. As they forbade practices which were held in special abhorrence by all the Jews, their observance was necessary to avoid shocking the Jewish brethren and to make free intercourse between the two classes of Christians possible. With the disappearance of the Jewish-Christian community of Jerusalem at the time of the rebellion (A.D. 67-70), the question about circumcision and the observance of the Law ceased to be of any importance in the Church, and soon became a dead issue.” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08537a.htm 17/09/2005)
How do both scholars and Russell reach this conclusion? Firstly, as the Mosaic Law had ceased to apply, it does not make sense for Christians to be required to retain only this portion of it. Particularly is this so when considering that these four things are not the only Mosaic rules that a Christian must follow, nor are they the most important ones.
James explained why the four things mentioned at Acts 15:20 were specifically chosen in the very next sentence.
Acts 15:19-21 “Hence my decision is not to trouble those from the nations who are turning to God, but to write them to abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For from ancient times Moses has had in city after city those who preach him, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath.”
The Law of Moses was read in Synagogues every Sabbath. The passage from Leviticus 17:1 to 18:27 was applied to both Jews and Gentiles. This passage has the same four requirements, listed in the exact order as that given in Acts 21:25. (Lev 17:7 sacrifices to idol, Lev 17:10 eating blood, Lev 17:13 bleeding an animal, Lev 18 fornication) These were the compulsory rules for both Israelites and foreigners living in ancient Israel, which is why these four items meant so much to the Judaizers and why the Apostles concluded that upholding them was necessary to prevent stumbling within the surrounding Jewish congregations.
Paul specifically states that there is nothing wrong with eating food sacrificed to idols and explains that this prohibition was provided so as not to stumble others. This was only an issue in congregations that were having trouble between Judaizers and Gentiles.
1 Corinthians 8:4-13 “Now concerning the eating of foods offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one. … Nevertheless, there is not this knowledge in all persons; but some, being accustomed until now to the idol, eat food as something sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; if we do not eat, we do not fall short, and, if we eat, we have no credit to ourselves. But keep watching that this authority of YOURS does not somehow become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone should see you, the one having knowledge, reclining at a meal in an idol temple, will not the conscience of that one who is weak be built up to the point of eating foods offered to idols?”
See also 1 Corinthians 10:25-33
Even though the decree at Acts 15 says to abstain from eating food sacrificed to idols, Paul makes clear that there is nothing wrong with this practice unless it stumbled the brothers, in this case the Judaizers. The same principal applies to blood. Acts 15 included food sacrificed to idols, blood and animals strangled because they caused stumbling in the mixed congregations due to their being read “in the Synagogue on every Sabbath”, even though they were not offensive to God. This became less of an issue after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and holds no relevance in our era.
Further indication that blood use is not unholy is that abstaining from blood is never mentioned in any other context in the New Testament. It is not included as a reason to shun a brother at 1 Corinthians 5. Neither Revelation 21:8 nor 1 Corinthians 6 mention consuming blood as a reason for not inheriting God’s Kingdom. If avoiding blood was a key requirement of God it would be mentioned alongside sins such as fornication, murder and idolatry that are repeatedly condemned in the New Testament.
A Blood Transfusion is not the same as eating blood, which is what the Mosaic Law specifically forbade.
“Each time the prohibition of blood is mentioned in the Scriptures it is in connection with taking it as food, and so it is as a nutrient that we are concerned with in its being forbidden.” Watchtower 1958 Sep 15 p.575
A blood transfusion does not nourish the body as it would if eaten. When eaten, blood and other foods are broken down into simple components. When blood is introduced directly into the veins as a transfusion it circulates and functions as blood. A blood transfusion is a cellular organ transplant and organ transplants are permitted by the Watchtower Society. To show how irrelevant the illustration is, consider it when put another way;
“Consider a man who is told by his doctor that he must abstain from meat. Would he be obedient if he quit eating meat but accepted a kidney transplant?” (Source http://www.ajwrb.org/history/index.shtml)
As discussed above, blood was only prohibited under the Mosaic Law, which no longer applies today. Furthermore, in life and death situations, the principle of Pikuach Nefesh dictates that a life should be saved even if it resulted in a law being broken.
Forbidding blood transfusions is an example of legalistic Western minds formulating doctrine without an understanding of the native spirit behind ancient Eastern Biblical texts. A blood transfusion is not the same as eating blood. For one, blood transfusions do not involve digesting blood. Secondly, blood transfusions do not result in the death of the donor. Biblical commands on blood, such as given to Noah at Genesis 9:4, was that blood was to be poured out of a slaughtered animal. Blood law was given to show respect for life during the ritual of killing for food. In its naive endeavour to follow the Bible, the Watchtower has done exactly the opposite by leading innocent followers to needless death.