We continue with the final segment of this series of five articles which have closely examined the No Blood doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The following are some highlights of what we have thus considered:
- The mindset and circumstance that fostered the doctrine
- A careful examination of the premise (an injection of blood is the same as digesting blood)
- The slippery slope attempting to defend the myth
- The silver lining the doctrine has provided for medical science
In this final segment, we return briefly to the precept given to Noah as it relates to the Mosaic Law. We then consider a couple of less known gems found in the Mosaic Law. Finally, we consider the Apostolic Decree and what it involved.
Is All Blood Equal?
Part 4 considered Genesis 9:4: “Only flesh with its life, its blood you must not eat.” (RNWT) JW leadership interprets this verse to be an absolute prohibition against eating any blood. They teach that Jehovah views all blood as sacred, something that man can not consume under any circumstance. The word “abstain” comes to mind. (Acts 15:20,29) The doctrine then connects the erroneous premise that a transfusion provides nutrition to the body, the same as digesting (eating) blood.
When considering Genesis 9:4 in context, we find the precept given to Noah (and mankind in general) forbid the eating of a specific blood in a specific circumstance. That circumstance was when man killed a creature for food. Nothing is implied that would have given Noah reason to view blood, of itself, as sacred. He was not instructed to collect it, sprinkle it on an alter in sacrifice, or pour it upon the ground and bury it (which later became the case in the Mosaic Law). Jehovah did not tell Noah that blood belonged to him, nor that it was sacred. Noah would interpret that live blood, circulating blood, in the flesh of a living creature was forbidden for man’s consumption. Once that live blood was separated from the creature’s flesh (drained out) the blood no longer supported life, the blood was no longer live blood. The blood could therefore be used in any practical way. It is noteworthy that some theologians hold the view that Noah could have used the drained blood as food (properly dressed and cooked – e.g. blood sausage, pudding). I have not found a verse in the book of Genesis that would have prevented him from doing so.
Allow me to insert an important thought here. It is often irresistible for us to interpret the precept given to Noah using hindsight, from a vantage point 800 years later (the Mosaic Law). But does history occur in hindsight, or realtime? We could illustrate this point with the United States Constitution. While it was no doubt influenced by certain European laws of the 17th and 18th century, when the pilgrims arrived on the shores of Cape Cod in 1620, did they have any knowledge of the laws found in the Constitution? Of course not. Likewise, Noah, his sons (and their sons) had no knowledge of any of the regulations regarding blood in the Mosaic Law. They were not bound by these, the only law they were bound to was to bleed an animal killed for food before eating its flesh. This was a new law. Prior to the flood (all the way back to the fall of Adam), man was not required to bleed the flesh of an animal he killed for food. Death could have occurred by strangling, drowning, or other means (e.g. in a trap). Moreover, in the period just prior to the flood, wicked barbarians might tear flesh from a living creature and gorge on the bloody flesh while the creature was still alive. From the fall of man, Jehovah had remained silent regarding such inhumane treatment. This changed after the flood. Man was officially authorized to kill animals for food (although he had been doing so since the fall) with the proviso that the animal must be bled before eating its flesh. This proviso hastened a humane death in a manner that lessened animal suffering. Jehovah’s respect for animal creation is confirmed (even after death) in a very peculiar regulation of the Mosaic Law: “You must not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” (Deut 14:21)
We find nothing implied in scripture from Adam to Noah (and beyond) suggesting animal blood is, of itself, sacred. Nothing was implied to Adam when Jehovah slaughtered the animal(s) used to provide their garments. (Gen 3:21) Nothing was implied to Abel when he slaughtered the fattest of his flock and offered the “fatty parts” to Jehovah. Fast forward 1600 years, we find nothing was implied to Noah when he offered the burnt sacrifice to Jehovah. (Gen 8:20) Fast forward another five centuries, we find nothing was implied to Jacob when he slaughtered an animal, offered it in sacrifice to Jehovah, and then ate it. (Gen 31:54) Of course, Jacob would have properly bled the animal under Noachian law. Being not under Mosaic Law, he could have used the blood in any practical way. Animal blood would not become sacred until the Passover, specifically involving the nation of Israel.
Gems In The Mosaic Law
Along with the Ten Commandments, additional, more extensive laws were given to Israel to prepare them to be a nation of priests to all the other nations of the world at that time. The laws pertained to no other nation or people except the nation of Israel, and most specifically to those dwelling in the land God promised to them, the land of Israel. Along with these laws were promises of blessings if they obeyed and penalties if they disobeyed. The Mosaic Law, including the detailed commands involving animal blood, applied exclusively to the Israelites. JW leadership would have us believe that the the precept given to Noah should be interpreted in hindsight from a vantage point some 800 years later. This position is flawed. The Noachian Law must be interpreted on its own merit if we are to correctly understand how Noah perceived Jehovah’s words.
Observance of the Mosaic Law was not required of Noah, nor any Gentile nation. The Gentile was bound only by the precepts given to Noah. Of course, by the time Jehovah gave the law to Israel, Gentile nations were notorious for disobeying the precepts. Still, the only stipulation regarding blood for the Gentile was that he bled the animal he killed for food before eating its flesh. Just as was the case with Noah (and all the way back to the fall of man), he could eat the unbled flesh of an animal that died of its own. This is clearly confirmed in the Mosaic Law, in a gem scarcely known to most JW’s. (De 14:21) When an Israelite lost one of his herd to death by natural causes, he could either (1) give the dead carcass (unbled flesh) to the Gentile living in Israel (not yet a proselyte) for food, or, (2) sell the dead carcass (for profit) to the Gentile passing through Israel and he could use it for food.
JW publications claim this to be a case where God makes an allowance for breaking his law, to prevent the Israelite from suffering loss. This position presents two major problems. First, we find nothing in scripture remotely suggesting this was in fact an allowance for breaking God’s law by eating unbled flesh. Leadership cites Matthew 19:8, wherein Jesus said Jehovah allowed divorce. Note that Jesus clearly stipulates this was an allowance of breaking God’s law. As sacred as blood was to the Israelite, would we not expect a reference in God’s Word that stipulates this was in fact an allowance for breaking God’s law? Here we have the Israelite giving (or selling) unbled flesh to a Gentile for food. The Gentile is going to eat unbled flesh. Would Jehovah have created a law allowing his people to enable Gentiles to break his law?
When closely examining the Mosaic Law, we see the blood of living creatures is sacred. An Israelite could not bring a dead animal to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting for sacrifice. Normally, blood begins clotting within minutes after death. It would be difficult (if not impossible) to properly bleed (and sprinkle the blood of the animal) on the alter. It was required that the sacrifice be a clean animal, healthy and alive when slaughtered. The live blood provided atonement for sin, having a sacrificial value. This fact is confirmed in another gem (scarcely known to JW’s) found in the Mosaic Law. This involved the circumstance where an Israelite came upon an animal that had died on its own. While eating “any sort of blood” (Lev 17:10 RNWT) carried the penalty of being cut off, it is noteworthy that there was effectively no penalty if an Israelite ate the blood in its flesh. We can say this because the penalty for eating the unbled flesh was the same as touching the dead carcass. In other words, touching the dead carcass carried the penalty, eating its unbled flesh carried no further penalty. The infraction was minor. The Israelite was to wash himself, his garments and declare himself unclean until the evening. (Lev 11:39-40; 17:15)
A seeming conflict between regulations surfaces. On one hand, the law states that the native (or proselyte) that eats “any sort of blood” (including unbled flesh) would be cut off from his people. On the other hand, the law states that the native (or proselyte) eating the unbled flesh of an animal that died on its own is guilty of only a minor infraction. So which is it? Cut off, or a slap on the hand? This seeming contradiction can be harmonized only if we understand that in the first case, the animal was killed by man. In the second case, the animal died on its own. We therefore see that when man took the life of a living animal, its blood was sacred. The blood of an animal already dead was merely another dead organ in the carcass. These two gems found in the Mosaic Law are problematic for leadership to explain and harmonize with the No Blood doctrine.
Though proven scientifically impossible, for the sake of discussion let’s say that some recognized authority in medicine came forward supporting the premise that our body receives an injection of blood in our veins the same as if eating and digesting it. Even were this the case, a transfusion would not break Noachian Law nor the Mosaic Law. We say this because no one is hunted, no one is killed, no one is harmed. Nothing is sacrificed, as there is no atonement for sin being requested. The act would actually be showing respect for the sanctity of life, which live blood supports. Is it not profound that even the strictest orthodox Jews (who still practice Old Testament dietary laws) have never equated a blood transfusion with eating blood? In fact, among all the sects who claim to follow Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only group that claim a connection between eating blood and transfusing it. Is this not troubling?
The Apostolic Decree – The Secondary Issue
Our consideration thus far has shown a difference between the sanctity of live blood, and non-living blood. This detail is helpful in understanding the Apostolic Decree. We will appreciate three important details regarding the blood mentioned in the Decree:
- The blood was live blood
- The blood was drained from a creature killed by man
- The creature was used in sacrifice to pagan gods and deities
Acts 15:20,29 (RNWT) reads:
“Therefore, 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, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood.”
For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you except these necessary things: to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you.”
The context reveals a racial issue was developing in the Antioch congregation. Jewish Christians (some of which had been former Pharisees) felt strongly that the Gentile converts needed to be circumcised in obedience to the law of Moses. Of course, this would be a painful and risky procedure, especially for older Gentile brothers. This matter had to be resolved, or the congregation might well have split. What is not obvious in the context is the secondary issue brewing between the two groups involving the dietary habits (especially meat) of Gentiles. The typical Gentile diet was downright disgusting to Jewish Christians, who remained vigilant to Jewish kosher regulations in the Mosaic Law. Gentiles ate unclean animals (e.g. pork) and much of the meat consumed was idol meat (some of which was unbled from a strangled animal). In addition, apparently some Gentile converts were continuing to frequent pagan temples with their idol worship. It would seem that mature converts would not be bringing an animal for sacrifice or participating in pagan rituals, but they might still be going there for a meal. A gentile Christian might cause stumbling to a fellow gentile worshipper or offense to a Jewish Christian were he seen dining in a pagan temple eating meat that was potentially both unbled and had been sacrificed to an idol.
It is helpful to understand a little about pagan temples. First, they were on nearly every street corner. A statue of a god or deity was on display. It was a local gathering place where weddings, feasts, and other special events were held, in conjunction with pagan worship. Animals brought for sacrifice could be bled or strangled. The meat was divided into three portions. A portion for the priest, a portion for the individual (and his guests) who brought the animal and a portion to be sold to those wanting only to dine for a meal. Butchers would come around at the end of the day to buy leftover idol meat, which they would sell in their meat market the next day.
So this is the setting in the Antioch congregation in the days prior to the Apostolic Decree being handed down. Paul, Barnabas and some others traveled to Jerusalem to settle this dispute with the older men, discussing matters at length. (Acts 15:7) The final decision? Circumcision was not required. However, the secondary issue involving Gentile brothers going into pagan temples was addressed. Critical to our understanding is to realize that the four elements mentioned (things sacrificed, strangled, blood, fornication) were all interrelated. These four “things” were connected to rituals involving idol worship in a typical pagan temple. The Gentile could take a live animal to the temple and advise the priest how he wanted the animal killed (bled or strangled). If bled, the blood could be collected and used in part of the ceremonial ritual (raw or mixed with wine). After dining, he could finish the ritual in adjacent quarters with his favorite temple prostitute (male or female). This was the culture in Syria and other Gentile nations. Gentile converts grew up steeped in this lifestyle. Some may have found it quite challenging to abstain from the temple, especially when they might only be dining for a meal.
In his Commentary On The New Testament, (2010) Robert H. Gundry had this to say regarding Acts 15:20, 21: (brackets included in quote)
“20 but to write them a letter to the effect they should avoid the things polluted by idols [which things will be specified in 15:29 as meat eaten in a pagan temple after the animal from which the meat comes has been sacrificed to the idol housed in the temple] and [to avoid] sexual immorality [practiced there in connection with feasting on the meat, for pagan temples and adjacent quarters featured prostitution and other sexual dalliance as well as dining] and what’s strangled [as pagan sacrifices sometimes were] and blood [which was sometimes tasted or drunk at sacrificial ceremonies in pagan temples].” In other words, Gentile converts are to forgo their past participation in idolatrous and immoral activities at pagan temples (compare I Corinthians 8 and especially 10; also 1 John 5:21; Revelation 2:14, 20-21). 21 For ever since ancient generations Moses has city by city those who proclaim him by reading [aloud his books, Genesis-Deuteronomy] Sabbath by Sabbath in the synagogues. It would scandalize weekly listeners to the Mosaic law, which condemns idolatry and the sexual immorality that accompanies it, if Gentiles were to keep attending pagan temples and participating in what goes on there. So Gentile converts should stay away, James says. Such participation is inherently wrong for Gentiles who according to Acts 15:19 have turned to the living God from idolatry.”
Gundry’s comments provide a fresh way of looking at the Apostolic Decree. I personally resonate with his approach as it resolves questions held with my previous understanding. For example, if we are to interpret the four necessary “things” to be remnants from the law of Moses that are binding upon Christians, are not laws pertaining to murder, lying, stealing and coveting equally necessary? Why are these necessary things absent in the Decree? Moreover, did not the blood of Jesus abolish the ordinances of the Mosaic Law? (Eph 2:14,15) Lastly, the four elements mentioned are specific and are connected only in the context of pagan idol temple worship. Outside of this setting, what connection is there with fornication (“porneia”) and eating meat sacrificed to an idol, or unbled meat from a strangled animal, or eating blood? As Gundry suggests, the Decree could have stated to “abstain” (avoid, keep away from, distance oneself from) going to pagan idol temples. The message to the Gentile convert would have been the same. The problems my previous view presented are resolved when I interpret the Decree as Gundry suggests.
An additional line of reasoning connects the four “things” to the pagan idol temples. About seven years later, Paul wrote concerning meat bought in a butcher’s market, or placed on the table of an unbeliever’s home. (1 Cor 10:25-27) The Gentile convert would be aware that meat sold in the meat market would likely be leftover idol meat. He would also be aware that according to custom, an animal killed by an unbeliever had likely been sacrificed (bled or unbled) to a pagan god. Well aware that the Decree strictly stipulated total abstinence, should not the Gentile Christian have been highly sensitive regarding the origin of any meat? Yet Paul appears to be so cavalier about this serious matter. Does it not seem that Paul was in effect, enabling Christians to break God’s law?
Herein is the line of reasoning. The first “thing” mentioned in the Decree for the Christian to abstain from was “meat sacrificed to idols.” Was there any wiggle room in obeying the command to abstain? Is a little fornication allowable? Of course not. Would it not be incumbent upon the Christian to inquire regarding the origin of any meat before eating it? To illustrate, say your doctor advised you to abstain from foods containing gluten. Would you not read the package and/or inquire about any food item contemplated? You would never “not inquire” about what you were about to eat. Yet we see that first century Christians (including Paul) were clearly not inquiring and thus eating idol meat. This seems to be negligence and a blatant disregard for the command to abstain, unless…… we interpret the Decree as Gundry suggests.
I find it most telling that strict orthodox Jews (who adhere closely to the dietary directives in the Mosaic Law) have no issue with donating their blood or receiving a transfusion. They certainly reject the premise that a transfusion is eating blood. The architects of the No Blood doctrine had evidence the premise was myth in their day, but they chose to endorse the myth rather than known science, because doing so supported their agenda (see Part 1). They acted irresponsibly because in their mind, Armageddon was imminent. This negated rational thinking allowing them to think nothing of the long range consequences.
Once members began complying with the doctrine (including infants, children, mothers giving birth) and death occurred, the doctrine was etched in stone. The premise was the biblical connection, so it had to be defended to protect the doctrine and the organization from liability. It can never be publicly acknowledged by leadership that they believe the premise is erroneous. The impact this has had on members over decades has been viewed as collateral damage, a form of friendly fire. The assets of the organization have been placed above the interests of members.
Proponents of the doctrine argue that there is no way of knowing whether an intervention would have improved a particular outcome or not. However, there do exist decades of case study history which indicate that in a similar circumstance (involving a similar medical complication) transfusion intervention has resulted in improved outcomes. The following describes one such outcome related to WW2:
“The massive deployment of blood and blood plasma for British and American forces was hailed as one of the great success stories of WW2. The mortality rate in combat, according to Brigadier General Douglas Kendrick, who supervised the American Army’s blood program, was reduced by 50% in WW2 because of the availability of ‘prompt and adequate resuscitation’, in the routine of which whole blood and plasma play major roles.” (Flesh and Blood, Organ Transplantation and Blood Transfusion in Twentieth Century America 2008 pp. 59-60)
When we step back away from the trees, the forest comes into focus. We see that over the last two decades the No Blood doctrine has experienced major reform, though the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses are completely oblivious to the ramifications of these changes. This is almost certainly the design of leadership. Members must be kept unaware, for if they knew, they would most certainly talk about it. This could expose the organization to grave liability.
The reform has had positive benefits, reducing collateral damage and friendly fire. All the while, leadership maintains. to members and the public in general, that the official position has not changed.
The reform is unmistakable considering the following:
- Allowance of 100% of blood constituents – including hemoglobin (which combined with water constitutes 95% of whole blood)
- A laxity regarding membership maintaining (and carrying) updated medical directives
- Reducing the consequence of accepting blood to a minor infraction (provided the member says he is repentant)
Leadership has thus demonstrated (unofficially) that they acknowledge the premise is a myth. How could they legitimately claim that JW’s continue to abstain from blood, while permitting membership to accept 100% of the constituents of whole blood? What exactly are JW’s abstaining from? Moreover, leadership is aware that many congregation’s have incomplete medical directive files. The reality is, an unknown number do not carry the No Blood directive because they believe the doctrine is unscriptural. In an emergency situation the member will receive a transfusion. Recognizing this potential exists, how do we explain leadership’s seeming unconcern? This is an out. When a member receives a transfusion, should elders become aware, all that is required is for the member to ask for forgiveness. Given the option is to ask for forgiveness or be shunned by friends and family, what will most do? Leadership has reduced the penalty for accepting blood to that of smoking a cigarette. Prior to reform, the penalty for willfully accepting blood was the most severe handed down in judicial discipline, namely; involuntary disassociation and shunning. We ask: Did the penalty for eating blood change? Or, is a transfusion no longer “eating” blood?
The Governing Body encourages each one of us to do our personal research with respect to blood and blood products. Diligent and thorough research necessarily involves secular material. The series of articles I have authored represent the results of my personal research and my conclusions. I encourage all to do the same. Pray for Jehovah to help you to approach your research with an open mind so you can gain a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90:12) This is a very serious matter. At any moment, you or your loved one may face a life threatening situation. What will you do?