Table of Contents
1. The Burden of Proof
2. Approaching the Subject With An Open Mind
3. Impossible to Say Lives Are Lost?
4. “The Truth” Paradox
5. Exactly What Does Blood Symbolize?
6. Which is More Important – The Symbol or That Which it Symbolizes?
7. Examining the Hebrew Scriptures
7.1 The Noachian covenant
7.2 The Passover
7.3 The Mosaic Law
8. The Law of the Christ
8.1 “Abstain … from blood” (Acts 15)
8.2 A Strict Application of the Law? What Would Jesus Do?
8.3 The Stand of Early Christians
9. Additional Bible Accounts That Reveal Relevant Principles
10. The Ultimate Sacrifice – The Ransom
11. Bloodguilt for Christians
12. Blood Fractions and Components – What Principle is Really at Stake?
13. Ownership of Life and Blood
14. Is It Truly Our Duty to Preserve Life?
15. Who Decides What is Life-Threatening?
16. Does the Resurrection Hope Make a Difference?
I believe that the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses that compels individuals to reject the medical use of blood under any circumstances is flawed and in opposition to God’s Word. What follows is a deep examination of the topic.
1. The Burden of Proof
Is it up to the believer to defend his or her belief that blood transfusions are wrong? Or do certain Bible injunctions place the burden of proof on those who would deny such a belief.
As is often the case when assigning the burden of proof, there are at least two ways of looking at this. I suggest that the primary alternatives in this case are:
1) The prohibition on blood is universal and unconditional. Any exception, or any claim that blood can be used for a particular purpose, must be directly proven from scripture.
2) The Bible contains prohibitions against the use of blood, but these are based on an underlying principle. They must be understood within the context and scope of each prohibition. Since there is no explicit prohibition on the medical use of blood, it must be shown that the principles implied by the prohibitions that are stated clearly apply to all situations, including those where life or death might be involved.
I contend that option #2 is true, and will further my arguments around this framework, but even though I do not believe that the burden of proof is on me, I will generally treat the matter as if it were, in order to fully explore the arguments.
2. Approaching the Subject With An Open Mind
If you are a long time JW then it will likely be difficult to approach this subject objectively. The great power of taboo may be virtually impossible to shake. There are Witnesses who mentally recoil at the sight (or thought) of a bag of blood or blood-based product. Such a reaction is not surprising. JW literature has frequently equated the idea of receiving blood into one’s body with abhorrent acts such as rape, child molestation and cannibalism. Note the following quotation:
Hence, since Christians would resist rape—a defiling sexual assault—so they would resist court-ordered blood transfusions—also a form of assault on the body (Watchtower 1980 6/15 p. 23 Insight on the News)
Then consider these accounts (all of which pertain to children):
The way I feel is that if I’m given any blood that will be like raping me, molesting my body. I don’t want my body if that happens. I can’t live with that. I don’t want any treatment if blood is going to be used, even a possibility of it. I’ll resist use of blood. (Awake 1994 5/22 p. 6 He ‘Remembered His Creator in the Days of His Youth’)
Crystal told the doctors that she would “scream and holler” if they attempted to transfuse her and that as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she viewed any forcible administration of blood to be as repulsive as rape. (Awake 1994 5/22 p. 11 Youths Who Have “Power Beyond What Is Normal”)
On the fourth day of the trial, Lisa gave testimony. One of the questions put to her was how the forced midnight transfusion made her feel. She explained that it made her feel like a dog being used for an experiment, that she felt she was being raped … She said if it ever happened again, she “would fight and kick the IV pole down and rip out the IV no matter how much it would hurt, and poke holes in the blood.” (Awake 1994 5/22 pp. 12-13 Youths Who Have “Power Beyond What Is Normal”)
When such emotive parallels are drawn, is it any wonder that the brain will find ways to reject any notion of acceptance, and shore up arguments for taking such a position?
But we must recognize that it is not difficult to make people feel distaste for things – especially when it comes to the internal parts of humans and animals. I know many who will never eat offal just because they don’t like the idea. Offer them a cow’s heart and they would be disgusted. Perhaps that is true of you, even though flavour-wise you might find it perfectly tasty if you ate it in a stew. (Cooked slowly it is truly a tender and delicious cut of meat.)
Ask yourself this: Would I mentally recoil if shown a human heart available for transplant? Perhaps or perhaps not, depending on your general squeamishness for all things medical. But if your small child is on a hospital bed about to die unless she receives a heart by transplant surgery, how do you feel about it then? Surely that bloodied piece of human organ becomes transformed into an object of hope and joy. If not then perhaps some block has been placed on your natural parental feeling.
In 1967 the Watchtower identified organ transplants with human cannibalism. How would you have felt about accepting an organ transplant if your life depended on it back then?
When men of science conclude that this normal process will no longer work and they suggest removing the organ and replacing it directly with an organ from another human, this is simply a shortcut. Those who submit to such operations are thus living off the flesh of another human. That is cannibalistic. However, in allowing man to eat animal flesh Jehovah God did not grant permission for humans to try to perpetuate their lives by cannibalistically taking into their bodies human flesh, whether chewed or in the form of whole organs or body parts taken from others.
“Medical cannibalism.”… The most remarkable example of this practice occurs in China. Among the poor it is not uncommon for a member of the family to cut a piece of flesh from arm or leg, which is cooked and then given to a sick relative.
(Watchtower 1967 11/15 p. 702 Questions From Readers)
One study of 292 kidney-transplant patients showed that nearly 20 percent experienced severe depression after the operation, a few even attempting suicide. By contrast, only about one out of every 1,500 general-surgery patients develops a severe emotional disturbance.
A peculiar factor sometimes noted is a so-called ‘personality transplant.’ That is, the recipient in some cases has seemed to adopt certain personality factors of the person from whom the organ came. One young promiscuous woman who received a kidney from her older, conservative, well-behaved sister, at first seemed very upset. Then she began imitating her sister in much of her conduct. Another patient claimed to receive a changed outlook on life after his kidney transplant. Following a transplant, one mild-tempered man became aggressive like the donor. The problem may be largely or wholly mental. But it is of interest, at least, that the Bible links the kidneys closely with human emotions.—Compare Jeremiah 17:10 and Revelation 2:23.
(Watchtower 1975 9/1 p. 519 Insight on the News)
I don’t know whether anyone was ever dealt with judicially for accepting an organ transplant, but at that time how would the loyal readers of the Watchtower and Awake have felt about it? If Jehovah’s spokesman tells you directly that He views it as cannibalism, and likens it to cutting flesh from your living relative and eating it, are you not going to quickly develop a revulsion for the very idea?
I contest that the “natural” revulsion that Witnesses claim that they feel toward blood products in the context of medical usage has been generated in the same way.
Some may conclude that their feelings against blood are validated by the dangers of infections and rejections that sometimes accompany the medical use of blood. In effect they seem to presume that if God wanted us to use blood in this way then such things wouldn’t be a problem. But of course they overlook the fact that such dangers accompany all types of organ transplantation, and blood is in effect an organ of the body. In fact the cases of rejection with major organs is actually much higher than it is with blood. We accept that almost everything medical carries with it some degree of risk, whether these be side effects or as a result of faulty practice or for a myriad other reasons. We do not take these as signs from God that he disapproves of all medical practice. It’s just the way things are in our imperfect world.
3. Impossible to Say Lives Are Lost?
A supporter of the blood ban will often argue that in cases where Witnesses die having refused a transfusion, it is impossible to say that they would not have died anyway. Therefore they claim that we cannot say that blood saves lives, and we cannot say that the JW policy costs lives.
It is an important point to address since, if a person can be persuaded that the acceptance of blood is at best neutral from a medical standpoint, and at worst harmful, then the no-blood doctrine would appear to be the “safe” belief all round.
In my opinion, to assert that it is impossible to say that lives are lost is a very disingenuous argument, and not even one strenuously made through our own publications.
It is doubtless true that blood products continue to be used unnecessarily in some situations. On the other hand there are still many situations in which refusal of treatment that involves any blood product seriously decreases a person’s chance of survival.
The argument that we can never fully attribute the death to refusal of blood is disingenuous because we know that decisions or activities which simply increase our chances of death, even though death is not guaranteed, are both foolish and wrong. We do not take part in extreme and risky sports for precisely this reason. A person cannot argue – well, jumping off this cliff attached to this frayed bungee rope is okay, because I am on balance more likely to survive than die. Simply increasing our risk of dying in an unnecessary way would demonstrate an improper view of the value of life.
It is true that the medical field is making advances in the use of bloodless surgery, and this is indeed encouraging. No doubt many will benefit just as they will in general from the ongoing advances that are being made in medical science across the board. But as you examine the arguments made in this article, it is important to realize that what may or may not be achievable without blood, both now and in the future, is totally irrelevant to the principles under scrutiny.
The question is whether in principle it is right to refuse blood in a life-threatening situation. Despite any advances that might be made in the future, we know that many have faced this precise decision over the past 60 years or so.
This from a twelve year old:
‘I don’t want any blood or blood products. I would rather accept death, if necessary, than to break my promise to Jehovah God to do his will.’” … After a long, difficult night, at 6:30 a.m., September 22, 1993, Lenae fell asleep in death in the arms of her mother. (Awake 1994 5/22 p. 10 Youths Who Have “Power Beyond What Is Normal”)
Would Lenae have survived if a blood product was not prohibited? I’m sure no one can say for an absolute certainty. But that does not alter the fact that Lenae believed that it was necessary in principle to sacrifice her life in order to please God. The writers of the Awake article are also not shy about implying that the choice was between accepting blood and death.
To that end it is also important to point out that this is not an argument for the general medical use of blood or blood-based products. Rather it is to examine God’s laws on blood, and determine whether they are absolute to the point of sacrificing one’s life rather than contravening them. This would be equally true if the issue was eating blood in a life or death situation, rather than taking it medically – a matter which will be examined later.
Let’s be sure to separate the issues. A recent “Vancouver Sun” article is circulating among JW’s at the time of writing this article. It is entitled: “Too much blood: Researchers fear the ‘gift of life’ may sometimes endanger it”. It’s a fine article in my opinion. As with many practices in the field of medicine there is much to be learned. Some things which are rightfully used in one situation may wrongfully and detrimentally be applied in another. That obviously doesn’t lead us to the conclusion that they have no rightful use. Such a logical leap would be ridiculous.
Note this important extract from that same article:
“In cases of massive ‘bleed outs’ from trauma or hemorrhage, or for patients with leukemia or other cancers, blood transfusions can be lifesaving. At the same time, experts say there is remarkably little evidence to show which patients — short of those suddenly losing large amounts of blood — actually benefit from blood transfusions.“
Blood is sometimes, perhaps often, used unnecessarily for medical purposes. Of this I have no doubt. That is not what is under discussion here. We are in particular focusing on whether in principle it is correct to use blood in life threatening situations. The Vancouver Sun article acknowledges that in certain situations blood can be “lifesaving”. This can be glossed over by the JW reader who wishes to filter the facts, but it is at the heart of our moral, ethical and scriptural argument.
4. “The Truth” Paradox
Those that believe that the Governing Body acts as God’s spokesman, and are the caretakers of unique Truth can simply skip this section. For you there is no paradox. It makes perfect sense that only Jehovah’s Witnesses would have God’s true view on blood, along with all the other unique truths that make up our doctrines.
For those of us who have identified the deep scriptural problems with many of those, including 1914, 1919 and related chronology, the two class Christian system, the limited mediatorship of Jesus Christ, etc, an interesting question arises.
Refusing blood in a life threatening situation has been painted as a salvation issue. It is asserted that if we choose a limited lengthening of our life now then we do so at the cost of our eternal life.
It may result in the immediate and very temporary prolongation of life, but that at the cost of eternal life for a dedicated Christian.
(Blood, Medicine and the Law of God, 1961 pg 54)
Adrian replied: “Mom, it’s not a good trade. To disobey God and extend my life for a few years now and then because of my disobedience to God lose out on a resurrection and living forever in his paradise earth—that’s just not smart!”
(Awake 1994 5/22 pp. 4-5 He ‘Remembered His Creator in the Days of His Youth’)
If this position is true then it would suggest that JW’s as an organization have been divinely entrusted with the custody of a correct and unique interpretation of a salvational aspect of God’s law. If such a stand is truly required for salvation then the organization that uniquely promotes it must indeed be a modern-day Noah’s ark. In turn we would have to accept that other unique “truths” – although often without basis in scripture (and sometimes contrary to it) – might also have been somehow entrusted to this same organization. If not, then how is it, within the whole realm of Judeo-Christian thought, that this tiny minority has correctly interpreted such an important life or death “truth” as this?
Also, to whom was this revelation made precisely?
Let us recall that during J.F. Rutherford’s reign as president of WTBS he condemned inoculations and aluminium among other things. However, it appears that he did not condemn the medical use of blood. That came in 1945 after Knorr took up the presidency. It would seem that F. Franz was actually the person who theologically implemented the doctrine.
A person might argue that the doctrine on blood was part of a progressive revelation of “new light” to God’s appointed channel. If so, how does the subsequent 1967 directive that organ transplants equate to human cannibalism in God’s sight factor into that picture? Was that part of the progressive revelation?
Let us also recall that the original principle under which transfusions were banned was by defining them as “feeding upon blood” (Make Sure of All Things, pg47, 1953). This is inaccurate in medical terms since transfused blood is not digested by the body. Rather it is actually a form of organ transplant.
The original representation of the medical use of blood as a form of cannibalistic consumption seems now to have been somewhat toned down, although the underlying idea of “feeding” is still used. But we should not ignore the past reasoning that has brought JW doctrine to the current position. It speaks volumes as to whether this doctrine is from God or from man.
5. Exactly What Does Blood Symbolize?
One thing that I hope that it is simple to agree at the outset is that blood is a symbol for something. And the something in question pertains to life. Here are some variations on how the question might be answered:
- Blood symbolizes life
- Blood symbolizes the sanctity of life
- Blood symbolizes God’s ownership of life
- Blood symbolizes the sanctity of life in view of God’s ownership of it
Even though the variations may seem subtle, our conclusions will depend on the truth of the matter, and so I ask you to keep the question firmly in mind.
How does official JW doctrine frame the answer?
The avenging of blood is based on the mandate regarding the sanctity of blood and human life stated to Noah
(Insight on the Scriptures Vol 1 p. 221 Avenger of Blood)
After the Deluge, when Noah and his family came forth from the ark, Jehovah communicated to them his purpose regarding the sanctity of life and blood
(Watchtower 1991 9/1 pp. 16-17 par. 7)
You can see from this declaration to the whole human family that God views a man’s blood as standing for his life.
(Watchtower 2004 6/15 p. 15 par. 6)
Therefore I hope we can agree at the outset that the symbolism of blood has to do with the sanctity of life. It may not be limited to that, but neither can that fundamental truth be brushed aside. As we reason on the scriptures we will establish this point further, and it will then become our foundation to harmonize the full body of information that God’s Word includes on the subject. I will also address the matter of ownership of life later on.
6. Which is More Important – The Symbol or That Which it Symbolizes?
Fools and blind ones! Which, in fact, is greater, the gold or the temple that has sanctified the gold? Also, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is under obligation.’ Blind ones! Which, in fact, is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? (Matt 23:17-19)
If Jehovah wishes to impress upon us that life is sacred by using a symbol, then we must ask whether the symbol itself can ever be more important than that which it symbolizes.
An illustration was once given me by a reader of this site as follows:
In some countries it is considered a crime to burn the national flag. This is so because the flag is held as a sacred symbol representing the country. It is because of the greater esteem of, and pride in, the nation, that the flag, being associated with the nation, is held as a sacred symbol. Now, how would the prosecutor of a nation with such a law judge this scenario:
The country is on the brink of certain, imminent destruction by an enemy. Its only hope of survival lies in the hands of a lone individual who has just one means of saving his country at his disposal – using his nation’s flag as part of a Molotov cocktail to ignite a huge explosion that would defeat the enemy. Given the circumstances surrounding his burning of the flag, do you think the prosecutor in that country would pursue charges of desecration of the national flag against the individual? How could the prosecutor justifiably charge him for sacrificing the national emblem to save the very thing of greater value that it represents, namely the nation? To prosecute the man would amount to holding the sacredness of the national emblem as being of greater importance than, and wholly divorced from, the very much more important thing it represents – the nation.
I believe that this is a masterful illustration that highlights the absurdity of putting the symbol above that which it symbolizes. But as we will see, this is not just a wishful excuse to save our skins if under test. The principles are deeply rooted in the Word of God.
7. Examining the Hebrew Scriptures
Despite my contention that the burden of proof rests with those who would prohibit the use of blood for life saving medical purposes, I will address the standard scriptural arguments used by JW’s in support of the doctrine. The question that I will be asking is whether we can truly find a universal law in scripture that prohibits the use of blood in all circumstances (other than sacrificial use).
7.1 The Noachian covenant
It is important to consider the first mandate on blood in the full context in which is was given. Context will be essential to all the scriptures we consider, and no JW should have a problem with examining the scriptures in this manner – especially for such a serious matter involving potential life and death. Therefore I ask the reader to carefully read the passage in context. Please read it in your own Bible if possible, but I will reproduce it here for those reading online who do not currently have access to hard copy.
(Genesis 9:1-7) And God went on to bless Noah and his sons and to say to them: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth. And a fear of YOU and a terror of YOU will continue upon every living creature of the earth and upon every flying creature of the heavens, upon everything that goes moving on the ground, and upon all the fishes of the sea. Into YOUR hand they are now given. Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for YOU. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to YOU. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—YOU must not eat. And, besides that, YOUR blood of YOUR souls shall I ask back. From the hand of every living creature shall I ask it back; and from the hand of man, from the hand of each one who is his brother, shall I ask back the soul of man. Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man. And as for YOU men, be fruitful and become many, make the earth swarm with YOU and become many in it.”
Here the vital principles regarding life and blood are first stated. Also the commission given to Adam and Eve to procreate is restated. These are not unrelated themes. The importance of life to God in the outworking of his purpose is what interconnects them.
It is important to note that the command regarding blood is in effect a clause. It is not something that was stated as a universal law without any context. Specifically it is a clause that modifies the newly granted permission to eat animals.
At this point we should pause and ask why such a clause was stipulated. It is of utmost importance that we do so because it sets the foundation for every other reference in the Bible as to how humans were to treat blood. So please do carefully consider this question. If you were Noah, and did not have any further command on the matter besides that given right there on the slopes of Ararat, what would you have inferred about the reason for Jehovah making this stipulation? (This is not an invitation to make a human interpretation of God’s command. But we do need to clear our minds of preconceptions if we are to have an honest understanding of what God’s Word does, and does not, say.)
Is the subject of the passage above primarily to do with blood? No. It is primarily to do with life, the procreation of life, and the concession that Jehovah makes for the taking of animal life. But given that man would now be permitted to kill for food, surely there was a danger that life would become devalued in his sight. There needed to be a mechanism by which man would continue to remember that despite the concession, life is sacred and belongs to God. The ritual of bleeding an animal prior to eating it would both serve as a reminder of this fact, and would give man the opportunity to demonstrate to Jehovah that these things were recognized and respected.
That the passage continues by focusing on the value of human life puts this into further context. In v5 Jehovah says “YOUR blood of YOUR souls shall I ask back.” What does he mean by this? Is there to be a ritual shedding of blood when a human dies? Of course not. The symbolism becomes clear to us, especially when “anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed.” Jehovah’s asking back of the blood means that he holds us accountable for how we value of the lives of others (compare Gen 42:22). The common point throughout the entire passage is that we must value life even as God values life. Despite the fact that man is permitted to take animal life we are still to recognize the value of it, just as we are to recognize the value of human life.
In the light of these principles given so far, would it make sense to refuse potentially life-saving medical treatment that involved blood or blood components, or to withhold it from others?
Of course there is much more to come, but this is a question I will be asking you consider at each juncture. It will help us to see how every scripture that might be brought to bear on this subject fits into the overall framework, and whether any of them truly do support the blood-ban doctrine.
At this stage I posit that the overriding principle stressed in Genesis 9 is not any ritual involving the use or misuse of blood. It is rather the need to treat life – all life, but especially human life – as something valuable. It belongs to God. It is precious to him. He commands that we respect it.
Which of these actions would therefore contravene such a principal?
1) Increasing risk of death through a perceived (although unstated) application of God’s law.
2) The use of blood to potentially preserve a life (in a situation where no life was taken to obtain it).
This would be an appropriate place to also make an important distinction between the principles of the Noachian Covenant and what goes on when blood is used medically. As we have seen the commands given to Noah on physical blood all pertain to situations where a life is taken. When blood is used medically it does not involve the death of the donor.
When blood is used medically it does not involve the death of the donor.
Keep that in mind also as you examine the further scriptures. Is there any scriptural command on blood that does NOT involve the taking of life in some way? If not, then what grounds are there to apply any of the principles to “donated blood”?
7.2 The Passover
Although the Mosaic Law had not yet been given at the time of the original passover in Egypt, the ritual itself was the prelude to the ongoing sacrificial use of blood in the Jewish system, pointing to, and culminating in, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself.
Therefore this would be a good place to address one of the arguments presented in the “Reasoning from the Scriptures” book.
Only sacrificial use of blood has ever been approved by God (rs p. 71)
This is surely a logical fallacy.
Consider these commands:
1) You must NOT use Product X for Purpose A
2) You must use Product X for Purpose B
… and then respond to the following …
Logically is it permissible to use Product X for Purpose C?
The answer is that we cannot know without additional information. To state that only Purpose B has ever been approved by God and therefore no other purpose is permissible would require the second command to be restated such as:
You must not use Product X for ANY other purpose than Purpose B
The commands in the Mosaic Law regarding blood are not stated in such a universal way. Certain uses are specifically excluded, some are explicitly included, and everything else must either be excluded based upon some established principle, or simply considered outside of the scope of the commands given.
Besides all these things the premise isn’t even true. The first plague on the Egyptians in Exodus 7 was to turn the Nile and all the stored water in Egypt into blood. Although the blood was not produced by the taking of a life, it was apparently real blood, and its use was for something other than sacrificial purposes. If we wish to modify the argument to say “only sacrificial use of blood has ever been approved by God in cases where the taking of life is involved” then all well and good. But then bear in mind that the medical use of blood from human blood donors does not involved the taking of life either.
With this in mind ask yourself whether the splashing of blood on the doorposts as part of the original passover adds anything to the Noachian Covenant insofar as the rights and wrongs of the medical use of blood to potentially preserve life, or to reduce the risk of losing it.
7.3 The Mosaic Law
By far the majority of the laws given with regard to blood in the Bible form parts of the Mosaic Law. To that end it is possible to discount the entire application of all of the scriptures containing commands about the use of blood from Exodus through to Malachi with one simple observation:
Christians are not under the Mosaic Law!
Rom. 10:4: “Christ is the end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness.”
Col. 2:13-16: “[God] 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. Therefore let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a festival or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath.”
However, since we will need to later address the admonition to Christians to “abstain from … blood” (Acts 15:20), it will be important to carefully examine all aspects of the Mosaic Law in order to understand the possible scope and application of this later injunction to Christians. James and the holy spirit were evidently not expanding on a previous law, but simply preserving it, either in some aspect or as a whole (see Acts 15:21). Therefore unless the law in its original form can be shown to apply to blood transfusions or other medical uses of blood (even if just in principle) then it would be illogical to argue that the Christian law could do so.
I will sequentially list the most relevant scriptural references in the Law that refers to blood as a way of organizing the information.
One interesting point to note at the outset is that the use of blood is nowhere mentioned in the Ten Commandments. We can argue whether these first ten hold any special significance. We do treat them as immutable except for the sabbath, and even that has its own application for Christians. If there were to be a life and death immutable law regarding blood that would ultimately transcend the Mosaic Law itself then we might expect to find it featuring somewhere near the beginning of the list of laws, even if it didn’t make the top ten. But before we get to any mention of the sacrificial use of blood and the prohibition on eating it we find laws on slavery, assault, kidnap, compensation, seduction, sorcery, bestiality, widows, orphans, false witnesses, bribery, and more.
If someone were to compile a list of JW commandments how far down the list in importance would the blood-ban doctrine come? I cannot think of another that is more firmly fixed in the minds of the faithful, other than perhaps not fornicating.
The first mention of blood in the Mosaic Law is:
(Exodus 23:18) You must not sacrifice along with what is leavened the blood of my sacrifice
At this point we are perhaps getting into triple digits if we were to list the laws in sequence. And is it a ban on the use of blood? No. It is a regulation about mixing blood with what is leavened for sacrificial purposes.
Now does this add anything to the principles that we have established thus far as to the rights and wrongs of the medical use of blood to potentially preserve life, or reduce the risk of losing it? Evidently not.
Let us continue.
Oh wait. That’s actually it! The above regulation is one of the last things mentioned and that’s where it ends. At least that’s where the original law covenant that was spoken to the Israelites ends. Do you recall when they agreed to the covenant at Mount Sinai and answered with one voice “All that Jehovah is spoken we are willing to do.”? (Ex 24:3) Well that’s all they officially signed up for. Yes, the law was later expanded to include all of the finer points and sacrificial regulations, but nowhere in the original covenant do we find strict regulations on the use of blood. There is nothing mentioned, except the aforementioned command not to mix it with leaven in sacrifice.
If an absolute ban on using blood for any purpose is a transcendent and immutable law then how do we explain its complete absence from the original Law Covenant?
After the Law Covenant is read by Moses, the covenant itself is concluded with blood and Aaron and his sons are inaugurated using blood to sanctify them.
(Exodus 24:6-8) Then Moses took half the blood and put it in bowls, and half the blood he sprinkled upon the altar. Finally he took the book of the covenant and read it in the ears of the people. Then they said: “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do and be obedient.” So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it upon the people and said: “Here is the blood of the covenant that Jehovah has concluded with YOU as respects all these words.”
(Exodus 29:12-21) And you must take some of the bull’s blood and put it with your finger upon the horns of the altar, and all the rest of the blood you will pour out at the base of the altar. … And you must slaughter the ram and take its blood and sprinkle it round about upon the altar. And you will cut up the ram into its pieces, and you must wash its intestines and its shanks and put its pieces to one another and up to its head. And you must make the entire ram smoke upon the altar. It is a burnt offering to Jehovah, a restful odor. It is an offering made by fire to Jehovah. “Next you must take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons must lay their hands upon the ram’s head. And you must slaughter the ram and take some of its blood and put it upon the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and upon the lobe of his sons’ right ear and upon the thumb of their right hand and the big toe of their right foot, and you must sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar. And you must take some of the blood that is upon the altar and some of the anointing oil, and you must spatter it upon Aaron and his garments and upon his sons and the garments of his sons with him, that he and his garments and his sons and the garments of his sons with him may indeed be holy.
We learn that blood was symbolically used to sanctify the priesthood and give it a holy standing in God’s sight. This ultimately points to the value of Jesus’ shed blood. But do these rituals tell us anything about whether a Christian could accept the use of blood for medical purposes in a life-threatening situation? No they do not. In order to assert that they do requires us to return to the flawed logic of “Product X is to be used for Purpose A, therefore Product X can ONLY be used for Purpose A”. This is indeed a non-sequitur.
That’s it for Exodus and the original Law Covenant. The not mixing blood with leaven is restated in 34:25, but this is simply a repeat of the same terms.
And so we proceed on to Leviticus, which as the name implies, “consists chiefly of the regulations of the Levitical priesthood” (All Scripture Inspired pg25). The detailed regulations set out in Leviticus can surely be identified with what the Apostle Paul describes as “ordinances of sacred service” (Heb 9:1). Note that he continues by providing the Christian perspective on these: “They were legal requirements pertaining to the flesh and were imposed until the appointed time to set things straight.” (Heb 9:10) Christians are living in that appointed time.
Nevertheless we will examine these ordinances so as to leave no stone unturned. I will not quote every scripture in full since most are concerned with the use of blood in sacrifice, and what we as Christians may or may not infer from these rituals in a general sense has already been covered. Instead I will just cite the references to what I believe to be the most relevant passages for those who wish to review them all in detail: Lev 1:5-15; 3:1-4:35; 5:9; 6:27-29; 7:1, 2, 14, 26, 27, 33; 8:14-24, 30; 9:9, 12, 18; 10:18; 14:6,7, 14-18, 25-28, 51-53; 16:14-19, 27; 17:3-16; 19:26. Furthermore blood is dealt with in the context of menstruation in chapter 12 as well as 15:19-27. Other references to blood are primarily in regard to blood relationships.
As one can see there are an awful lot of references to blood in the detailed regulations of the priesthood and sacrifice in Leviticus. It stands in sharp contrast to the almost complete absence of blood law in the original covenant given in Exodus. But only a select few of these scriptures pertain to the eating of blood.
Let us isolate the scriptures in Leviticus that have a direct bearing on the JW blood doctrine.
(Leviticus 3:17) “‘It is a statute to time indefinite for YOUR generations, in all YOUR dwelling places: YOU must not eat any fat or any blood at all.’”
This is the first direct command about not eating blood. The first thing to note is that the command is not limited to blood, it also encompasses fat. Yet we have no qualms about using fat today. Ah, but the argument is that the law on blood transcends the other laws because of the Noachian Covenant and the injunction to Christians. Okay then, one step at a time, but unless you were convinced otherwise the Noachian Covenant was at its heart to do with the preservation and valuation of life, not the risking of life due to an extended application of the law.
The law given here in Leviticus is very specific. “You must not eat … blood”. In order to argue that this specific scripture applies to the medical use of blood products we must surely have to demonstrate that such use is in principal the same thing as eating blood. But there is clearly a difference between killing an animal and eating its blood, and receiving what is effectively an organ transplant from a living donor. If you truly cannot see the difference then I suggest you need to do a little more research and give it further thought. You might also ponder why our most up to date brochure on the topic seeks support for such equivalency between eating and transfusing blood from a 17th century professor of anatomy, who also brings cannibalism into the picture just as we used to claim of organ transplants. (See “How Can Blood Save Your Life”, online version at jw.org)
Also, please keep in mind the stipulation is to be observed “in all your dwelling places”. This will become a point of interest soon.
(Leviticus 7:23-25) “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘YOU must not eat any fat of a bull or a young ram or a goat. Now the fat of a body [already] dead and the fat of an animal torn to pieces may be used for anything else conceivable, but YOU must not eat it at all.
Even though this passage is concerned with fat, rather than blood, I raise it to demonstrate an essential point. God makes a distinction between eating something, and other uses. The fat was to be used in a special sacrificial way just like the blood (Lev 3:3-17). In fact this lays the basis for the first direct command not to eat fat or blood in Lev 3:17 (quoted above). What this clearly demonstrates is that a directive that Product X be used for Purpose A and not Purpose B, does not automatically exclude Purpose C. In fact in this case Purpose C along with “anything else conceivable” except Purpose B is acceptable. Of course I hear the opposing argument already that no such concession is explicitly made for blood. We’ll see about that soon enough.
(Leviticus 7:26, 27) “‘And YOU must not eat any blood in any places where YOU dwell, whether that of fowl or that of beast. Any soul who eats any blood, that soul must be cut off from his people.’”
A second clear directive not to eat blood. But again note the attached clause “in any places where you dwell”. Did these words need to be there? We will answer that when we consider the following passages from Leviticus 17 in detail. Before we get into that, I should acknowledge that some readers who support the blood-ban might think I am reading too much into the detail of these passages that follow. I have no sympathy for those readers. If they wish to impose a heavy life and death legalistic burden on Christians by their own interpretation of these laws then the least they can do is give consideration to the finer points of God’s Word and consider what it really teaches us.
(Leviticus 17:10-12) “‘As for any man of the house of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in YOUR midst who eats any sort of blood, I shall certainly set my face against the soul that is eating the blood, and I shall indeed cut him off from among his people. For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for YOU to make atonement for YOUR souls, because it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul [in it]. That is why I have said to the sons of Israel: “No soul of YOU must eat blood and no alien resident who is residing as an alien in YOUR midst should eat blood.”
The prohibition against eating blood is repeated and the reason is explained. Eating blood is a capital offence. It shows disregard for life and the sacrificial arrangement. According to JW reasoning a person would under NO circumstances eat any sort of blood, or he/she would have to die. Even in a life or death situation a person could not save himself by the use of blood, since the law is so immutable. Or is it?
Let us read the passage that immediately follows.
(Leviticus 17:13-16) “‘As for any man of the sons of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in YOUR midst who in hunting catches a wild beast or a fowl that may be eaten, he must in that case pour its blood out and cover it with dust. For the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood by the soul in it. Consequently I said to the sons of Israel: “YOU must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh, because the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood. Anyone eating it will be cut off.” As for any soul that eats a body [already] dead or something torn by a wild beast, whether a native or an alien resident, he must in that case wash his garments and bathe in water and be unclean until the evening; and he must be clean. But if he will not wash them and will not bathe his flesh, he must then answer for his error.’”
Now, to extract the principles that are revealed in this passage please consider the following:
“A body already dead” would necessarily mean that it had not been bled. Any readers who hunt, or occasionally recover venison from the highway, will know that the window of opportunity for properly bleeding an animal is fairly short. A person eating such an “already dead” body referred to in Lev 17:15 would knowingly be eating the blood of an animal.
Question #1: Why would a person choose to eat a body already dead?
Context is everything. Of course a person would NOT normally choose to do such a thing. It would contravene God’s law on blood and besides which it just wouldn’t be very pleasant. Imagine coming across a carcass that has been “torn by a wild beast”. Would your first thought be to throw it on the grill? Unlikely. But what if your life depended on it? Note carefully that v13 talks of a man who is out hunting. This is where I believe the significance comes in of the appended clauses to the first statement of the prohibition “And YOU must not eat any blood in any places where YOU dwell”. When you are in the place where you dwell you presumably always have means to properly deal with the bleeding of an animal. But what if a man is away from his dwelling, perhaps some distance. If he catches something he must show that he respects the life of the animal by pouring the blood out to Jehovah. But what if he does not catch anything and yet comes across a freshly killed carcass? Now what is he to do? This is an unbled animal. Probably if he has a choice he will pass it by and continue hunting. But if necessity demands then there is a provision for him to eat this carcass even though it will mean eating the blood. God kindly made concession for circumstances in which it would have been cruel for him to withhold the blood just based upon the principle. You may be able to think of other circumstances in which someone might choose to eat the body already dead. But I bet you they all involve necessity.
Question #2: What was the penalty for eating the unbled animal?
Recall that the principles established right from the Noachian Covenant involve our recognition that life is sacred to God. Pouring out the blood to him rather than eating it when an animal is killed demonstrates to God that we honor his ownership of life, and simultaneously serves as a reminder to us that we should keep his principles firmly in mind.
Therefore it would have been inconsistent if the concession to allow the eating of an unbled animal had no strings attached. But instead of the penalty being death, the person taking advantage of Jehovah’s provision to eat the unbled animal when no alternative was available, would simply become ceremonially unclean. Now he still has the opportunity to demonstrate that he understands the principle, not by refusing the blood, but rather by a ceremonial cleansing for his having eaten it. There is a pretty big difference between death and ceremonial cleansing.
What does this tell us about Jehovah’s law on the eating of blood.
1) It is not immutable
2) It does not trump necessity
Based on the laws in Leviticus 17 what would you do in the following circumstance? You are a few days journey from your Israelite camp hunting food to sustain your family. But you catch nothing. Perhaps your navigation skills aren’t the best and you start to get into a difficult situation. You have water but no food. You are seriously concerned for your life and welfare, and you wonder what will happen to your dependents if you die out here. Not having food increases your risks of not making it back. You come across an animal torn and partially eaten. You know it is unbled. Based upon the full range of Jehovah’s laws what will you do?
Let’s bring it up to date. The doctor tells you that your best chance of survival might involve the use of a blood product. You are seriously concerned for your life and welfare, and you wonder what will happen to your dependents if you die. Based upon the full range of Jehovah’s laws what will you do?
Now we should additionally note that the penalty for eating the unbled carcass could still be death if the person refused to go through with the simply act of ceremonially cleansing. In other words it was his attitude to Jehovah’s principle that made the difference. To ignore entirely the value of the life that was taken, even if by a wild beast, was to flout Jehovah’s standard on the matter, and that would put a person in the same category as the one who just casually killed an animal and didn’t bother bleeding it.
But the crucial point is that Jehovah did not require his people to sacrifice their lives over this law.
It is at this juncture that I ask the reader to do some soul-searching. Are you one of those people who likes to eat meat, but prefers it not to look like the original animal?In fact, perhaps you don’t want to really think about the fact that it is was an animal at all. And yet you would deny the saving of a life by the medical use of a blood product? If so, then I have to say – shame on you. You are observing what you perceive to be the letter of the law, and completely missing its spirit.
When we eat an animal we should think about the life that was given. Most of us are separated from the process by factory-farms and supermarkets, but how do you think Jehovah feels when we gobble down the dead animal and give no thought to the life that was given? At every stage his law was there to continually remind us that lives were not just commodities to be taken lightly. But when was the last time you acknowledged this to Jehovah when thanking him for the meal that is based around that succulent rib-eye, or your marinated chicken breast.
I venture that as dinner is served today to the Bethel family at JW headquarters no such mention will be made of the lives that were taken to feed those present. And yet certain individuals there will be working hard to uphold the policy to withhold potentially life saving medical treatment. Well shame on them too. (Matt 23:24)
I urge you to think deeply about the true meaning and spirit of Jehovah’s laws on life and blood.
Let us continue through God’s Word.
The book of Numbers has nothing significant to add to the above points.
(Deuteronomy 12:16) Only the blood YOU must not eat. On the earth you should pour it out as water.
My commentary on this is simply that the JW doctrine on blood is confused and confusing. If the underlying principle behind not using blood for any purpose involves pouring it out on the ground, how is it that accepting “blood fractions” is a conscience matter? Where did those fractions come from exactly? More on this later.
(Deuteronomy 12:23-27) Simply be firmly resolved not to eat the blood, because the blood is the soul and you must not eat the soul with the flesh. You must not eat it. You should pour it out upon the ground as water. You must not eat it, in order that it may go well with you and your sons after you, because you will do what is right in Jehovah’s eyes. … And you must render up your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, upon the altar of Jehovah your God; and the blood of your sacrifices should be poured out against the altar of Jehovah your God, but the flesh you may eat.
(Deuteronomy 15:23) Only its blood you must not eat. Upon the earth you should pour it out as water.
I include these passages on the topic, only in order to show that no new principles are revealed here.
But there is one more intriguing passage in Deuteronomy that does not mention blood as such, but again deals with the treatment of an already dead (i.e. unbled) animal body:
(Deuteronomy 14:21) “YOU must not eat any body [already] dead. To the alien resident who is inside your gates you may give it, and he must eat it; or there may be a selling of it to a foreigner, because you are a holy people to Jehovah your God.
The first question that comes to mind is, if the stipulation regarding blood and unbled meat was a law to all humanity as per the Noachian Covenant, thus transcending the Mosaic Law itself, why would Jehovah make provision for an unbled animal to be given to, or sold to, anyone at all? Even if we make the assumption that the recipient might use it for something other than food (which is not specified either way) it is still a clear sanction for someone to use blood for something other than sacrifice.
This crushes the argument that blood could not be used by humans for any other purpose than sacrifice. Since a foreigner is not going to be able to extract the blood from the animal, and since he is not going to pay for an animal that he is not able to use, it necessarily follows that God was making a concession that allowed a human to use animal blood in some way other than for sacrifice. There is simply no escaping this conclusion except to argue that the foreigner was doing wrong by buying and using the animal, but in that case why did God’s “perfect law” allow for it? (Ps 19:7)
As we did with Leviticus 17, let us reason on a circumstance under which this law would come into play. Although the common factor is the unbled carcass, the circumstance is unlikely to be the same. An Israelite would hardly drag the mauled body of an attacked animal back from a hunting trip in the hope of selling it to a foreigner.
However, it’s perfectly possible that a domestic animal might be found dead in his own back yard. The Israelite gets up one morning and finds that one of his animals was attacked by a predator in the night, or even died from natural causes. The animal can no longer be properly bled as too much time has passed. Should the Israelite now suffer complete financial loss based on the fact that an unbled animal is unusable by anybody under God’s law? Apparently not. The Israelite himself indeed had to adhere to a higher standard than a non-Israelite, “because you are a holy people to Jehovah your God.” Therefore he was not able to eat the animal. But that did not rule out someone else doing so, or using it for another purpose.
Again this might not be the first choice for the purchaser. An “already dead” animal probably isn’t as appealing as a freshly slaughtered one. So again we can reason on this concession a little deeper.
Note the difference between the potential transaction with an “alien resident” to that with “a foreigner”. It could be sold to the foreigner, but it would be given to the alien resident. Why?
Being at a disadvantage because of not being a natural-born Israelite, the alien resident was given special consideration and protection under the Law covenant, which had many provisions for the weak and vulnerable. Regularly Jehovah called Israel’s attention to the fact that they themselves knew the afflictions that beset an alien resident in a land not his own and hence should extend to the alien residents among themselves the generous and protective spirit that they had not received. (Ex 22:21; 23:9; De 10:18)
(Insight on the Scriptures Vol 1 p. 72 Alien Resident)
Alien residents, along with widows and orphans were considered among the needy in Israelite society. Therefore it makes complete sense that the Israelite who finds himself with an already dead body on his hands might either choose to sell it to a foreigner, or to donate it to an alien resident. But in essence the alien resident was one closely associated with the Israelites. He could even be a proselyte bound by the Law Covenant himself. (In fact the previous law we examined in Leviticus 17 regarding hunting and eating an unbled carcass explicitly says that both “the native and the alien resident” are bound by it.) If God’s laws on the use of blood had no exceptions, then why make this further provision in Deuteronomy?
Now we get an even more complete picture of how Jehovah wanted his view on blood to be treated. They were important laws that would be enforced to the maximum degree of punishment if flouted, but they were not universal or unbending. Situations of necessity could provide exceptions to the general rules on how blood was to be treated.
Is this all just a private interpretation of scripture?
First of all, you are welcome to come up with your own explanation as to why those finer points of the law are there. Perhaps you will be able to rationalize something that fits with the blood-ban doctrine. You will find “Questions from Readers” articles on these scriptures. Look them up. Ask your self whether the answers given fully explain the principles. If the law is universal in God’s sight right from Noah, then just how is it acceptable to even allow the foreigner to use the blood. You will not find an explanation for this.
What you must not do is simply brush these finer laws aside as if they have less value and therefore can be ignored. They are part of God’s inspired Word and are every bit as valid as the other commands. If you cannot explain them, then you must accept that they allow for the concessions that I have given as examples.
You might also read up on how the Jews interpret their own law. They observe a principle known as “Pikuach Nefesh”, that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious consideration*. When the life of a specific person is in danger, almost any “mitzvah lo ta’aseh” (Command to not do an action) of the Torah becomes inapplicable.
Is this some cop-out by modern Jews who do not wish to observe the letter of the law? No, this is something observed by very devout Jews who have understood the spirit of the law according to the following passages:
(Leviticus 18:5) And YOU must keep my statutes and my judicial decisions, which if a man will do, he must also live by means of them. I am Jehovah.
(Ezekiel 20:11) And I proceeded to give them my statutes; and my judicial decisions I made known to them, in order that the man who keeps doing them might also keep living by them.
(Nehemiah 9:29) Although you would bear witness against them to bring them back to your law,… which, if a man will do, he must also live by means of them.
The implication here is that Jews should live by Torah law rather than die because of it. Besides, in the case of blood as we have seen specific laws were given that allowed for this.
But lives cannot be preserved at all costs I hear you say. True. And the Jews understand this too. Therefore there are exceptions. God’s name cannot be defamed even to save a life. Idolatry and murder also cannot be excused. We will return to this most important principle when we later look at the early Christians who had their loyalty tested. It helps us to see a sharp distinction.
That wraps up our section on the Mosaic Law. The remaining references to blood in Deuteronomy are primarily to do with bloodguilt by the shedding of innocent human blood. There are some Bible accounts within the Hebrew Scriptures that also shed light on the application of the principles, but I want to continue on to the Christian Greek Scriptures first, in order to logically examine the progression of actual law.
* Some of the material for this section is taken directly from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pikuach_nefesh. Please see that page for more detailed information.
8. The Law of the Christ
8.1 “Abstain … from blood” (Acts 15)
(Acts 15:20) but to write them to abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.
As noted near the outset, the injunction given in Acts 15:20 cannot broaden the scope of the principles and commands that precede it, no more than it was redefining the law on fornication or idolatry. Therefore unless we have already established that the Noachian Covenant and the Mosaic Law would explicitly preclude the preservation of life through the medical use of blood, then neither does the Christian injunction.
I believe that in fact we have firmly established quite the opposite. Firstly there is no direct application to the medical use of blood. Secondly God never expected lives to be risked or lost as a result of his laws on blood, and even made particular provision so that this would not occur.
We might give consideration though to the question of why certain observations and laws were singled out at all by James and the holy spirit i.e. things polluted by idols, fornication (Gr. porneias), what is strangled, and blood. Why not remind Christians of other valid aspects of the law such as murder, theft, false witnessing, etc? The answer cannot simply be that the list given was of things that Christians would otherwise not know still applied, unless you wish to argue that fornication was potentially a grey area. No, it appears that there is something specific about this list in accord with the context.
The decision rendered pertains to the dispute that arose between the Jewish and Gentile Christians about circumcision. Was it necessary for new Christian converts from the Gentile nations to observe the law of Moses or not? The decision was that circumcision was not a requirement for Gentile Christians, but they were requested to observe certain “necessary things”.
The first on the list of things they should abstain from is “things polluted by idols”. Hold on though. Didn’t Paul argue that for Christians this was a conscience matter?
(1 Corinthians 8:1-13) Now concerning foods offered to idols: we know we all have knowledge. … 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? Really, by your knowledge, the man that is weak is being ruined, [your] brother for whose sake Christ died. But when YOU people thus sin against YOUR brothers and wound their conscience that is weak, YOU are sinning against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat flesh at all, that I may not make my brother stumble.
So the reason to abstain from “things polluted by idols” was not because this was a transcendent and immutable law, but simply not to stumble others. Specifically in the context of Acts 15 it was in order for the Gentile converts not to stumble the Jewish converts, because as James says in the following verse “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.” (Acts 15:21).
The second item on the list – fornication – is of course a different matter. It is something that is distinctly wrong in itself. It appears that, having not been under the Mosaic Law, the Gentiles simply had not yet developed the hatred of sexual immorality that they should.
So what of blood? Was this included for the same reason that “things polluted by idols” were? Or is it more in the category of fornication?
I honestly don’t know the definitive answer to that, but in reality is doesn’t matter. Even if it were a firm command to observe God’s law on blood already given in the Noachian Covenant and the Mosaic Law, we have already seen that it is not God’s will that we give our lives by the observing of it.
Nevertheless I will include a few commentaries for your consideration.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary:
They were counselled to abstain from things strangled, and from eating blood; this was forbidden by the law of Moses, and also here, from reverence to the blood of the sacrifices, which being then still offered, it would needlessly grieve the Jewish converts, and further prejudice the unconverted Jews. But as the reason has long ceased, we are left free in this, as in the like matters.
The things forbidden are all practices not looked upon as sins by Gentiles, but now enjoined upon them as portions of the Law of Moses which were to be binding upon them, at least for a time, with a view to their living in communion and fellowship with their Jewish brethren.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
and from blood—in every form, as peremptorily forbidden to the Jews, and the eating of which, therefore, on the part of the Gentile converts, would shock their prejudices.
8.2 A Strict Application of the Law? What Would Jesus Do?
It may sound cliched to some, but the fact remains that for a Christian “what would Jesus do?” remains the most valid question that can be asked. If an answer can be reached from scripture, then it can cut through misapplication of the law and legalistic attitudes, just as Jesus himself often did.
(Matthew 12:9-12) After departing from that place he went into their synagogue; and, look! a man with a withered hand! So they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” that they might get an accusation against him. He said to them: “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! So it is lawful to do a fine thing on the sabbath.”
(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.
Jesus is here being tested by the religious leaders based upon his treatment of the Sabbath law. Let us recall that the first capital offence within the Jewish nation was that of the man who broke the law of the Sabbath (Num 15:32). What was the letter of the law, and what was the spirit of the law? Was the man collecting wood by necessity, or in flagrant disregard for Jehovah’s law? The context would suggest the latter. He had six other days to do his wood gathering. This was an act of contempt. But if a person’s sheep were to fall into a pit on the Sabbath would it be right to leave it until the next day? Of course not. A higher principal clearly takes precedence.
In the case of the man with the withered hand, Jesus could have waited until the following day. And yet he chose to demonstrate that human suffering needs to be dealt with, and doing so transcends what might appear to be even the most fundamental of God’s laws. How much more so when a human life is on the line?
Perhaps the most powerful scripture of all is when Jesus quote Hosea: “However, if YOU had understood what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice,’ YOU would not have condemned the guiltless ones.”(Matt 12:7)
Is the refusal of blood not presented as a form of sacrifice in order to supposedly demonstrate our loyalty to God?
Consider this extract from our publication:
Understandably, some persons are shocked at the thought of anyone’s refusing blood if doing so could be dangerous or even fatal. Many feel that life is the foremost thing, that life is to be preserved at all costs. True, preservation of human life is one of society’s most important interests. But should this mean that “preserving life” comes before any and all principles?
In answer, Norman L. Cantor, Associate Professor at Rutgers Law School, pointed out:
“Human dignity is enhanced by permitting the individual to determine for himself what beliefs are worth dying for. Through the ages, a multitude of noble causes, religious and secular, have been regarded as worthy of self-sacrifice. Certainly, most governments and societies, our own included, do not consider the sanctity of life to be the supreme value.”22
Mr. Cantor gave as an example the fact that during wars some men willingly faced injury and death in fighting for “freedom” or “democracy.” Did their countrymen view such sacrifices for the sake of principle to be morally wrong? Did their nations condemn this course as ignoble, since some of those who died left behind widows or orphans needing care? Do you feel that lawyers or doctors should have sought court orders to prevent these men from making sacrifices in behalf of their ideals? Hence, is it not obvious that willingness to accept dangers for the sake of principle is not unique with Jehovah’s Witnesses and the early Christians? The fact is that such allegiance to principle has been highly regarded by many persons.
(Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood 1977 pp. 22-23 pars. 61-63)
Certainly some things are worth dying for. Our Lord himself set the example in this. But in view of the foregoing examination of Bible principles in detail, is the JW doctrine on blood one of those things worth dying for, or is it an incomplete and incorrect interpretation of scripture?
Would an adherence to this strict and unstated interpretation be a sacrifice to God or to men?
8.3 The Stand of Early Christians
I accept that it is reasonable to consider the actions of the early Christians in determining how we should act. However, even better is to consider the actions of Jesus Christ. If we can determine the right thing to do by looking at him, and the inspired writings that gave the good news about him, then the case is closed. I believe we have already done that. To step into anecdotal history is to risk simply imitating a flawed human interpretation of God’s law, especially if the period we choose is beyond the first century, since we claim that the essence of true Christianity was already being lost to apostasy beyond the death of John.
Nevertheless, our literature has on occasion appealed to the writings of Tertullian – a man who at the same time we have ironically claimed to have corrupted the truth (See Watchtower 2002 5/15 p. 30).
But let us leave the inconsistency aside for now, and assess the testimony of Tertullian with an open mind.
Tertullian wrote: “Consider those who with greedy thirst, at a show in the arena, take the fresh blood of wicked criminals and carry it off to heal their epilepsy.” Whereas pagans consumed blood, Tertullian said that Christians “do not even have the blood of animals at [their] meals. At the trials of Christians you offer them sausages filled with blood. You are convinced, of course, that [it] is unlawful for them.” Yes, despite threats of death, Christians would not consume blood.
(Watchtower 2004 6/15 p. 21 par. 8 Be Guided by the Living God)
I personally have no reason to doubt Tertullian. But what does the account really tell us? If Christians would not eat blood then they were simply abiding by the command not to eat blood – a command that I wholeheartedly agree with and abide by myself. The additional twist is that they were being tempted to do so under threat of death. A cursory consideration of the principles might make it seem similar to the situation whereby a Christian must resist a blood transfusion even though death is the predicted outcome. But it is not, and here’s why.
Let us return to the principles in Leviticus 17. We saw that it was not wrong to eat an unbled animal if necessity required. This was not a flouting of Jehovah’s law provided one made the necessary arrangements to show that it had been taken into consideration i.e. Ceremonial cleansing afterwards. The principal at stake is whether the person would respect Jehovah’s view of life.
But if the same individual was taken captive and was asked to eat a blood product in order to represent his repudiation of the Jewish faith, well what then? An entirely different principle is at stake. This time the eating of the blood is not an acceptance of the provision from Jehovah, but is an outward display of the rejection of one’s relationship with him. Context is everything.
Therefore for the Christians in the arena who may have been encouraged to eat blood, the question was surely not whether the law of the Christ allowed for it, but rather what statement they would be publicly making – a rejection of Jesus Christ himself, just as surely as a signature on a piece of paper would accomplish the same thing. Signing a piece of paper is also not wrong in itself. It just depends on what its significance is in any particular case.
Returning to the Jewish principle of “Pikuach Nefesh” helps us to see the distinction. The preservation of life overrode the Jewish Law in general, but there were exceptions, and those could be based on situation. For example if no kosher food was available then a Jew could eat non-kosher food to avoid starvation, or he might do so to cure an illness. But an act of idolatry or defaming God’s name was not permitted even if a person’s life was on the line. The situation of the early Christians under test of faith was not to do with diet, health and necessity. It was a test of whether they would defame God’s name by making a statement against him through their actions – whether it be eating blood or a pinch of incense to the emperor.
In situations where we may have to make a life or death decision involving the medical use of blood, the supposed test of loyalty is not imposed by God, but by limited human reasoning. Even so, for JW’s who fully believe this doctrine the test may be valid, even though self-imposed and not based on scripture. If a Christian truly believes in his mind that there is a choice between preserving his life and being loyal to God, and decides to try to preserve his life anyway, then that person has revealed that God is less important in his heart than his own soul is. This would surely be a Christian sin. We probably frequently impose such tests on ourselves in moments of spiritual immaturity. Even if a test wasn’t from God or based on his principles, it may still reveal to him something about our heart condition.
9. Additional Bible Accounts That Reveal Relevant Principles
Here I will examine Bible accounts that purport to support the principles of an absolute blood prohibition, along with other accounts that have a bearing on the principles involved.
(1 Samuel 14:31-35) And on that day they kept striking down the Phi·lis′tines from Mich′mash to Ai′ja·lon, and the people got to be very tired. And the people began darting greedily at the spoil and taking sheep and cattle and calves and slaughtering them on the earth, and the people fell to eating along with the blood. So they told Saul, saying: “Look! The people are sinning against Jehovah by eating along with the blood.” At this he said: “YOU have dealt treacherously. First of all, roll a great stone to me.” After that Saul said: “Scatter among the people, and YOU must say to them, ‘Bring near to me, each one of YOU, his bull and, each one, his sheep, and YOU must do the slaughtering in this place and the eating, and YOU must not sin against Jehovah by eating along with the blood.’” Accordingly all the people brought near each one his bull that was in his hand that night and did the slaughtering there. And Saul proceeded to build an altar to Jehovah. With it he started altar building to Jehovah.
This passage is a great example of how we can interpret the information to suit our point of view.
The principle that JW leaders extract to support their doctrine is:
In view of the emergency, was it permissible for them to sustain their lives with blood? No. Their commander pointed out that their course was still a grave wrong.
(How Can Blood Save Your Life, online version at jw.org)
What I personally learn from this account is:
Of course they did wrong. They not only ate blood, but they did so greedily, without any regard for Jehovah’s sacred principles on the matter. However, the strict penalty of the law (death) was not enforced. They were permitted to make atonement for their sin by means of sacrifice. Evidently Jehovah saw an extenuating circumstance. They had been fighting on his behalf and they were tired. Very likely, between their fatigue and hunger, their judgement was impaired (I think mine would be). Jehovah being a merciful God, took this into consideration when dealing with the situation.
But what was it that they specifically did wrong? This is an essential question to answer in order to extract the real principle here. The quotation from our literature above draws attention to the “emergency”. Such a word is never given in the account. Clearly the word is used in order to draw a parallel with medical emergencies. I contest that this is a manipulative interpretation of the scripture. The fact is that the soldiers had a need, but there was a simple alternative to the action that they took. They could have bled the animals in question, thus observing Jehovah’s law. But it was their greed that made them overlook Jehovah’s standards on the value of life, and this was their sin.
The account is in no way a reflection of a situation where the blood could be medically used in a life or death emergency given no alternative.
(1 Chronicles 11:17-19) After a while David showed his craving and said: “O that I might have a drink of the water from the cistern of Beth′le·hem, which is at the gate!” At that the three forced their way into the camp of the Phi·lis′tines and drew water from the cistern of Beth′le·hem, which is at the gate, and came carrying and bringing it to David. And David did not consent to drink it, but poured it out to Jehovah. And he went on to say: “It is unthinkable on my part, as regards my God, to do this! Is it the blood of these men that I should drink at the risk of their souls? For it was at the risk of their souls that they brought it.” And he did not consent to drink it. These are the things that the three mighty men did.
The principle that JW leaders extract to support their doctrine is:
Because obtained at the risk of human life, David counted the water as human blood, and he applied to it the divine law regarding all blood, namely, pouring it out upon the ground.
(Watchtower 1951 7/1 p. 414 Questions From Readers)
What I personally learn from this account is:
That which is represented is far more important than that which represents it.
David understood the spirit of the law. Water is H20. Blood is something entirely different. And yet in this case they represented the same thing as far as he was concerned – the sanctity of life. David understood that the particular substance in itself (blood or water) was not the key issue. The key issue was how Jehovah values life and does not want it to be jeopardized needlessly, which is what his men were doing.
That which is represented is far more important than that which represents it.
Are you capable of seeing the principle as clearly as King David was? It’s not the blood in itself that matters. It’s what it represents. If you jeopardize the life in order to give attention to that which symbolizes it then it really doesn’t matter whether the symbol was blood, water, or vinegar. You’ve missed the point!
10. The Ultimate Sacrifice – The Ransom
Does the fact that blood has special meaning in God’s eyes because of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ change things?
We have seen how the JW doctrine consistently elevates the symbol – blood – above that which it symbolizes – life. Therefore it might be unsurprising to discover that when making reference to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice the symbol – blood – is again elevated above what was actually sacrificed – his life.
Some churches emphasize Jesus’ death, their adherents saying such things as “Jesus died for me.” … More was needed than a death, even the death of the perfect man Jesus.
(Watchtower 2004 6/15 pp. 16-17 pars. 14-16 Rightly Value Your Gift of Life)
You should look up and read this quotation in context in order to grasp the reasoning that is employed and the full implication of it. Essentially the writer concludes that because the ransom is referred to as represented by Jesus shed blood, the blood itself is what is important.
Is that your belief? That the death of the Son of God was insufficient in itself? Read the quote again. “More was needed than … the death of the perfect man Jesus.” It really does say that.
Further on the article states this:
When reading the books of the Christian Greek Scriptures, you will find numerous references to the blood of Christ. These make plain that each Christian should put faith “in his [Jesus’] blood.” (Romans 3:25) Our gaining forgiveness and having peace with God is possible only “through the blood he [Jesus] shed.” (Colossians 1:20)
If you are a Christian I doubt that you intuitively have any problem in understanding the symbolism of the term “Jesus’ blood”, and that when the Christian Greek Scriptures make reference to it they are simply using the term as a consistent phrase to describe his death, and indeed helping us to see the link with the sacrifices under the Mosaic Law pointing forward to the validation of the New Covenant. Our first reaction is probably not to see the substance of Jesus blood as some sort of talisman in itself, and to elevate its value above the life that was given.
Hebrews 9:12 tells us that Jesus entered into the heavenly presence of his Father “with his own blood”, thus presenting its value to “obtain an everlasting deliverance for us”. But he was a spirit and presumably his physical blood was not literally in view.
Also if the blood was the elevated thing in itself why did the method of Jesus’ death not involve a literal pouring out of blood as was the case with the animal sacrifices? Jesus died a terrible death which was preceded by bloody torture, but ultimately it was a death of suffocation not of bleeding. Only after he died does John say that a spear was used to shed his blood, and that was so that the scripture in Zech 12:10 would be fulfilled which says only that he would be pierced. The prophecy makes no reference to the significance of the blood. (Matthew’s gospel places the piercing before the death, but the text is uncertain and excluded from certain manuscripts.)
Much seems to be made of the “numerous references to the blood of Christ”. Paul also often refers to the implement that was used for Jesus’ execution, which is translated in NWT as “torture stake” (Gr. Stauros), as another metaphor for the sacrifice itself (1 Cor 1:17,18; Gal 5:11; Gal 6:12; Gal 6:14; Eph 2:16; Phil 3:18). Does that give us licence to elevate the “torture stake” as something special in itself? Many in Christendom certainly treat the icon of the cross in this way, and make the error of elevating the symbol above that which is represented by Paul’s words. So just because there are “numerous references to the blood of the Christ” we cannot conclude that the value of the life that was given is in itself somehow insufficient. But that is exactly where the reasoning of the JW doctrine on blood logically leads, and our literature has gone so far as to say so in print.
There is another scriptural example that is relevant to this. Recall the copper serpent that Moses was instructed to make to save the people from the serpent bites (Num 21:4-9). This also foreshadowed the faith that people would later be able to exercise in Jesus in order to be saved (John 3:13-15). This is the same faith that we can have in “Jesus’ shed blood” and yet the copper serpent account has no reference to blood. That is because both the blood and the copper serpent are symbols pointing to that death – not the other way around. And yet later on the Israelites lost the symbolism of the copper serpent and started to elevate it as something to be venerated in its own right. They began to call it “Nehushtan” the copper-serpent idol, and offered sacrificial smoke to it.
I find it significant that our ritual at the Lord’s Evening Meal is to pass the cup that represents the blood of Christ among us with reverence, and a belief that it is in some way too good for us to partake of. From an early age I recall feeling a sense of awe in touching the cup and passing it on. The fact is that Jesus commanded all Christians to partake of a simple meal with one another in order “to keep proclaiming the death of the Lord until he arrives” (1 Cor 11:26). Of course the bread and the wine are important symbols for his body and blood. But again these are reminders of the sacrifice he gave, and the covenant that he concluded with Christians. They are not in themselves more important than the life that was given.
11. Bloodguilt for Christians
According to JW doctrine the misuse of blood by using it to preserve our present life fits into a broader category of sins identified as “bloodguilt”.
These include murder, manslaughter, abortion, negligence leading to death, and other variations.
It also includes a failure to carry out the watchman’s warning work as identified in Ezekiel chapter 3.
Here it is hard for me to resist commenting on an anecdotal truism. On more than one occasion I have personally been in field service with Witnesses who have made a half-hearted effort to place a magazine at a nice residence, and having been refused by the occupant, have commented on how they have earmarked that property as their “new system” home. The implication is sickening. If you are a JW and you have not been exposed to this syndrome then I apologize that I have to tell it to you. The person is essentially looking forward to when the resident of that home is annihilated by our God Jehovah so that his material possessions can be reassigned to the desiring Witness.
This thought process is very bad indeed by anybody’s standards, and contravenes the tenth commandment which most certainly is immutable and transcends the Mosaic Law (Ex 20:17). And yet this same person would refuse potentially life-saving medical treatment for a family member based upon an interpretation of the law that is at the same time limited and stretched?
(Mark 3:5) And after looking around upon them with indignation, being thoroughly grieved at the insensibility of their hearts.
I make this point not to be sensational, but in order to shake up my fellow brothers and sisters to get things into their proper perspective. If you have reached this point in my article and you are still of the mind that Jehovah wants you to sacrifice your life or that of your dependents to the unique blood-ban doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses then there is probably little further that will persuade you otherwise. Very likely you consider the Governing Body to be God’s final Word on all things, and will entrust your life to that foundational belief. If so, then you have made this into an article of your personal faith and you will have to lie in that bed when the time comes. Or for some of you you may have already had to do so. As James says “good health to you” (Acts 15:29). I mean that most sincerely as a brother. But I also beg you to prayerfully consider God’s Word on these matters in as much detail as a matter of life or death should naturally entail.
Let us also consider the bloodguilt of teaching a doctrine to others that might end in unnecessary death. Many have in good faith and great sincerity encouraged others to go to war. They may believe that is a noble and worthy cause. Recall that in the “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood” booklet we actually used this as a valid parallel to show that our stance was not unreasonable in the grand order of things. I will repeat part of the quotation again here for emphasis:
Mr. Cantor gave as an example the fact that during wars some men willingly faced injury and death in fighting for “freedom” or “democracy.” Did their countrymen view such sacrifices for the sake of principle to be morally wrong? Did their nations condemn this course as ignoble, since some of those who died left behind widows or orphans needing care? Do you feel that lawyers or doctors should have sought court orders to prevent these men from making sacrifices in behalf of their ideals?
(Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood)
But the fact is that those sacrifices were morally wrong, at least by JW standards.
The bigger question is whether their sincerity allows them to escape the judgement against Babylon the Great. She is held accountable for the blood of all those slaughtered upon the earth. False religious and political belief i.e. human thinking outside of God’s clear directive, is what leads to innocent blood being shed. But it comes in many forms. Do you truly believe that compelling people to make life-threatening medical decisions falls outside of the scope of such sin?
When the motto of those going to war was “for God and country”, were they exempt from bloodguilt because of good intentions? Likewise, do good intentions by the JW leadership (assuming they exist) exempt them from bloodguilt if they have incorrectly applied God’s Word to dictate other people’s medical decisions that have proved fatal?
For these reasons I suspect that it is unreasonable to expect any “new light” on the matter of blood. At least not in the form of a full retraction based upon the scriptural principles. The Watchtower Corporation is too deeply invested in this matter. The legal consequences if they were to admit that they had been wrong would likely be massive, as well as the backlash of people losing faith and leaving. No, as an organization we are up to our necks in this, and have backed ourselves into a corner.
12. Blood Fractions and Components – What Principle is Really at Stake?
I briefly alluded to this point already in the consideration of the Mosaic Law. But it is worthy of more in-depth consideration. The policy of JW’s is built around observing Jehovah’s law on blood in the strictest sense. Note the following detailed instruction regarding procedures that involved the storing of our own blood:
How was blood to be dealt with under the Law if it was not used in sacrifice? We read that when a hunter killed an animal for food, “he must in that case pour its blood out and cover it with dust.” (Leviticus 17:13, 14; Deuteronomy 12:22-24) So the blood was not to be used for nutrition or otherwise. If taken from a creature and not used in sacrifice, it was to be disposed of on the earth, God’s footstool.—Isaiah 66:1; compare Ezekiel 24:7, 8.
This clearly rules out one common use of autologous blood—preoperative collection, storage, and later infusion of a patient’s own blood. In such procedure, this is what is done: Prior to elective surgery, some units of a person’s whole blood are banked or the red cells are separated, frozen, and stored. Then if it seems that the patient needs blood during or following surgery, his own stored blood can be returned to him. Current anxieties about blood-borne diseases have made this use of autologous blood popular. Jehovah’s Witnesses, though, DO NOT accept this procedure. We have long appreciated that such stored blood certainly is no longer part of the person. It has been completely removed from him, so it should be disposed of in line with God’s Law: “You should pour it out upon the ground as water.”—Deuteronomy 12:24.
(Watchtower 1989 3/1 p. 30 Questions From Readers)
Note that the clarity of this matter is specifically asserted in the second paragraph. “This clearly rules out …”. Also note that such clarity is based solely on the command that shed blood should be “poured out” and “disposed of”. Let us keep firmly in mind that this direction involves life or death for many people, so we would naturally expect God’s spokesman to provide regulations that are at least consistent based upon the principles that they highlight.
But now consider this:
Today, through further processing, these components are often broken down into fractions that are used in a variety of ways. Could a Christian accept such fractions? Does he view them as “blood”? Each one must personally decide on this matter.
(Keep Yourselves In God’s Love, chap. 7 p. 78 par. 11 Do You Value Life as God Does?)
The “God’s Love” publication refers to “further processing”. Of what exactly? Blood. Whole blood. Real blood. Blood that was donated and stored.
If the principle on which the blood-ban is based rules out the use of stored blood, then how is i