The disclaimer at the start of Apollos’ excellent treatise on our “No Blood” doctrine states that I do not share his views on the subject. In fact, I do, with one exception.
When we first began discussing this doctrine between us around the beginning of this year, our conclusions were diametrically apart. Frankly, I had never given the matter much thought, while it had been a major concern of Apollos’ for many years. This is not to say that I didn’t consider the matter important, only that my position tends to be more sanguine than his—and yes, I did fully intend that ironic pun. For me, death has always been a temporary state, and I’ve never feared it or really given much thought to it. Even now, I have found it a challenge to motivate myself to write about this subject as there are other issues which I find personally more interesting. However, I feel that I should clarify our differences—or difference—on the matter now that it has been published.
It all rests with the starting premise. The fact is, Apollos and I are now almost completely in agreement on the issue. We both feel that the medical use of blood and blood products is a matter of conscience and shouldn’t be legislated by any man or group of men. I’ve come to this slowly because of the discussions I’ve enjoyed with him and thanks to his exhaustive research on the subject.
You might well ask that if we are truly in agreement as to the conclusion, what difference does it make where we each started from? A good question. My feeling is that if you build an argument, even a successful one, on the wrong premise, there will eventually be unintended consequences. I fear I am being somewhat cryptic, so let’s get down to the heart of the matter.
Simply put, Apollos argues that: “Blood symbolizes the sanctity of life in view of God’s ownership of it.”
I, on the other hand, do not believe that it symbolizes the sanctity of life at all. I believe that God’s commandment regarding blood is used to represent that life belongs to him; nothing more. The sanctity or sacredness of life simply does not factor into the injunction on blood.
Now, before going further, let me assure you that I’m not challenging the fact that life is sacred. Life comes from God and all things from God are sacred. However, when making any decision involving blood and more important, involving life, we need to keep in mind that Jehovah owns it and therefore all rights pertaining to that life and any action we should take in life-threatening situations should be governed not by our understanding of any innate sanctity or sacredness of life, but by our understanding that as its owner, Jehovah has the ultimate right to decide.
That blood represents the right of ownership of life can be seen from the first mention of it at Genesis 4:10: “At this he said: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.”
If you are robbed and the police catch the thief and recover your stolen goods, you know that eventually they will be returned to you. Why? It is not because of some intrinsic quality they possess. They may carry great importance to you, great sentimental value perhaps. However, none of that factors into the decision-making process of whether or not to return them to you. The simple fact is, they are legally yours and belong to no one else. No one else has any claim on them.
So it is with life.
Life belongs to Jehovah. He may give it to someone in which case they own it, but in a sense, it is on lease. Ultimately, all life belongs to God.
(Ecclesiastes 12:7) Then the dust returns to the earth just as it happened to be and the spirit itself returns to the [true] God who gave it.
(Ezekiel 18:4) Look! All the souls—to me they belong. As the soul of the father so likewise the soul of the son—to me they belong. The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.
Take for instance a hypothetical situation involving Adam: If Adam had not sinned, but instead been struck down by Satan in a fit of frustrated anger at his failure to successfully turn him, Jehovah would have simply resurrected Adam. Why? Because Jehovah gave him a life that had been unlawfully taken from him and God’s supreme justice would require that the law be applied; that the life be restored.
Cain stole Abel’s life. The blood representing that life wasn’t crying out metaphorically because it was sacred, but because it was taken unlawfully.
Now on to Noah’s day.
(Genesis 9:4-6) “Only flesh with its soul—its blood—YOU must not eat. 5 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. 6 Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man.”
As Apollos rightly points out, man is being granted the right to take an animal’s life for food; and doing so by pouring the blood out on the ground instead of consuming it indicates that man recognizes he only does this by divine dispensation. It is as if he had been granted a lease on land owned by another. If he continues to pay the landlord and abide by his rules, he may remain on the land; yet it always remains the property of the landlord.
Jehovah is telling Noah and his descendants that they have the right to kill animals, but not men. This is not because of the sanctity of life. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that we are not to kill our brother because his life is sacred. Sacred or not, we don’t kill men, unless Jehovah gives us the right to do so. (Deut. 19:12) Likewise, we would have no legal right to take an animal’s life unless it had been granted to us by God.
Now we come to the most precious blood ever poured out.
When Jesus died as a human, his life had been unlawfully taken from him. He had been robbed of it. However, Jesus had also lived as a spirit creature. So God have given him two lives, one as a spirit and one as a human. He had a right to both of them; a right guaranteed by the highest law.
(John 10:18) “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”
He laid down his sinless human life and took up his former life as a spirit. His blood represented that human life, but more precisely, it represented the right to everlasting human life established in law. It is noteworthy that it wasn’t lawfully his to give up either. It appears that the right to relinquish this gift of God’s was also God’s to grant. (“I have the authority to lay it down…For this is what my Father has commanded.”) What did belong to Jesus was the right to make the choice; to hold on to that life or give it up. Evidence of this comes from two incidents in his life.
When a crowd tried to throw Jesus off a cliff, he used his power to walk right through them and no one could lay a hand on him. When his disciples wanted to fight to keep him from being taken by the Romans, he explained that he could have called twelve legions of angels to his defense if he had so chosen. The choice was his. Therefore, the life was his to give up. (Luke 4:28-30; Mat. 26:53)
The value attached to Jesus’ blood—that is, the value attached to his life represented by his blood—was not based on its sanctity—though it is arguably the holiest of all blood. Its value lies in that it represents the right to sinless and everlasting human life, which he freely surrendered so his Father could use it to redeem all humankind.
Following the Logic of Both Premises
Since the medical use of human blood in no way infringes on Jehovah’s ownership of life, the Christian is free to allow his conscience to govern him as to its use.
I fear that including the element of “the sanctity of life” in the equation confuses the issue and may lead to unintended consequences.
For example, if a stranger is drowning and I’m in a position to throw the individual an aptly named life preserver, should I do so? Of course. It is a simple thing. Do I do so because I respect the sanctity of life? That wouldn’t enter into the equation for most people including myself. It would be a reflexive action born out of innate human kindness, or at the very least, just good manners. It would definitely be the ethical thing to do. “Manners” and “morals” come from a common root word, so we could say that it would be a moral obligation to throw the “man overboard” a life preserver and then go for help. But what if you’re in the midst of a hurricane and even going on deck puts you at severe risk of being swept overboard yourself? Do you risk your own life to save another’s? What is the moral thing to do? Would the sanctity of life enter into it now? If I let the person drown, am I showing respect for the sanctity of life? What about the sanctity of my own life? We have a dilemma that only love can resolve. Love always looks for the best interests of the loved one, even if he be an enemy. (Mat. 5:44)
The fact is that whatever sacredness there is to life does not factor in. God, in granting me life had given me some authority over it, but only over my own. Should I choose to risk it to help another, that is my decision to make. I do not sin if I do so out of love. (Rom. 5:7) But because love is principled, I must weigh all factors, for what is best for all concerned is what love looks for.
Now say a stranger is dying and due to unusual circumstances, the only solution is to give him a blood transfusion using my own blood because I’m the only match for 50 miles. What is my motivation, love or the sanctity of life? If love, then before deciding, I would have to consider what is in everyone’s best interest; the victim, others involved, and my own. If the sanctity of life is the criteria, then the decision is simple. I must do everything in my power to save the life, because otherwise I would be disrespecting what is sacred.
Now say a stranger (or even a friend) is dying because he needs a kidney transplant. There are no compatible donors and it’s down to the wire. This isn’t a blood situation, but blood is after all only the symbol. What matters is the thing which blood represents. If that is the sanctity of life, then I have no choice but to donate the kidney. To do otherwise would be a sin, because I am not just disrespecting some symbol, but actually disregarding the reality represented by the symbol. Love on the other hand, allows me to weigh all the factors and look for what is best for all concerned.
Now what if I am in need of dialysis? Would God’s law on blood tell me that I must accept any life-saving treatment? If it is based on the sanctity of life, then would I be respecting the sanctity of my own life by refusing dialysis?
Now what if I am dying from cancer and in considerable pain and discomfort. The doctor proposes a new treatment which might extend my life, possibly for only a few months. Would refusing the treatment and choosing to die sooner and end the pain and suffering show a disregard for the sanctity of life? Would it be a sin?
The Big Picture
To a person without faith, this whole discussion is moot. However, we are not without faith, so we have to look at it with eyes of faith.
What are we really taking about when we discuss living or dying or saving a life?
For us there is only one important life and one avoid-at-all-costs death. The life is that which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have. (Mat. 22:32) It is the life we have as anointed Christians.
(John 5:24) . . .Most truly I say to YOU, He that hears my word and believes him that sent me has everlasting life, and he does not come into judgment but has passed over from death to life.
(John 11:26) and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all. Do you believe this?”
As Christians, we believe Jesus’ words. We believe that we will never die at all. So what the man without faith views as death, we view as sleeping. This, we have from our Lord who taught his disciples something radically new at the occasion of Lazarus’ death. They misunderstood him when he said, “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” For God’s people back then death was death. They had some idea of the hope of a resurrection, but it wasn’t clear enough to give them the right understanding of life and death. That changed. They got the message. Look at 1 Cor. 15:6 for instance.
(1 Corinthians 15:6) . . .After that he appeared to upward of five hundred brothers at one time, the most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep [in death].
Unfortunately, the NWT adds “[in death]” to ‘clarify the meaning of the verse’. The original Greek stops at “have fallen asleep”. First century Christians needed no such clarification, and it’s sad in my opinion that the translator of that passage felt the need to add it, because it robs the verse of much of its power. The Christian does not die. He sleeps and will awaken, whether that sleep lasts eight hours or eight hundred years makes no real difference.
It follows therefore that you cannot save the life of the Christian by giving him a blood transfusion, a donor kidney, or throwing him a life preserver. You can only preserve his life. You can only keep him awake for a little longer.
There is an emotionally charged element to the phrase “saving a life” that we do well to avoid when discussing all medical procedures. There was a young witness girl up in Canada who received dozens of—according to the media—“lifesaving blood transfusions.” Then she died. Sorry, then she fell asleep.
I’m not suggesting that it’s not possible to save a life. James 5:20 tells us, “…he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Gives new meaning to that old ad slogan, “The life you save may be your own”, doesn’t it?)
I myself have used “save a life” in this post when I really meant “preserve a life”. I’ve left it that way to make the point. However, from here on out, let’s avoid the ambiguity that can lead to misunderstandings and wrong conclusions and use ‘save a life’ only when referring to the “real life”, and ‘preserve a life’ when referring to anything that will merely lengthen the time we are awake in this old system of things. (1 Tim. 6:19)
The Crux of the Matter
Once we have this full picture, we can see that the sanctity of life does not enter into the matter at all. Abraham’s life is still as sacred as it was when he walked the earth. It hasn’t ended any more than mine does when I fall asleep at night. I would not give or take a blood transfusion or do any other thing that might preserve a life simply because I value the sanctity of life. For me to do so would be to demonstrate a lack of faith. That life continues as sacred whether my efforts to preserve it succeed or fail, because the person is still alive in God’s eyes and since all sanctity of life is conferred by God, it continues unabated. Whether or not I act to preserve a life should be wholly governed by love. Any decision I make must also be tempered by the acknowledgement that life belongs to God. Uzzah did what he thought was a good thing by trying to protect the sanctity of the Ark, but he acted presumptuously by infringing on what was Jehovah’s and paid the price. (2 Sam. 6:6, 7) I use this analogy not to suggest that it is wrong to attempt to preserve a life, even at the risk of losing one’s own. I merely put it out there to cover those situations where we may be acting, not out of love, but out of presumptuousness.
So in deciding on any medical procedure or on any other action intended to preserve a life, mine or another’s, agape love based on the principles of the Bible including the principle of God’s ultimate ownership of life must be my guide.
Our Organization’s pharisaical approach to Christianity has burdened us with this legalistic and increasingly untenable doctrine. Let us be free from the tyranny of men but subject ourselves to God. His law is based on love, which also means submitting to one another. (Eph. 5:21) This should not be taken to imply that we should submit to anyone who presumes to lord it over us. How such submission should be exercised has been demonstrated to us by Christ.
(Matthew 17:27) . . .But that we do not cause them to stumble, you go to the sea, cast a fishhook, and take the first fish coming up and, when you open its mouth, you will find a stater coin. Take that and give it to them for me and you.”
(Matthew 12:2) . . .At seeing this the Pharisees said to him: “Look! Your disciples are doing what it is not lawful to do on the sabbath.”
In the first instance, Jesus submitted by doing what he was not required to do, so as to avoid stumbling others. In the second, his concern wasn’t stumbling others, but rather setting them free from enslavement to men. In both these instances, his actions were governed by love. He looked out for what was in the best interests of those he loved.
I have strong personal feelings about the medical use of blood, but I will not share them here, because its use is a matter of conscience and I will not risk influencing the conscience of another. Know only that it is in fact a matter of conscience. There is no Bible injunction that I can find against its use, as Apollos has so eloquently proven.
I will say that I’m terrified of dying but have no fear of falling asleep. If I could wake up the next instant in whatever reward God has in store for me, I would welcome that to one more second in this system of things. However, one never has only oneself to think about. If I were to take a blood transfusion because the doctor said it would save my life (there’s that wretched misuse again) I would have to consider the impact it would have on family and friends. Would I be stumbling others as Jesus was concerned about doing at Mat. 17:27, or would I be imitating his actions of freeing others from a manmade teaching as demonstrated at Mat. 12:2?
Whichever the answer, it would be mine alone to make and if I am to imitate my Lord, it would be based on love.
(1 Corinthians 2:14-16) . . .But a physical man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know [them], because they are examined spiritually. 15 However, the spiritual man examines indeed all things, but he himself is not examined by any man. 16 For “who has come to know the mind of Jehovah, that he may instruct him?” But we do have the mind of Christ.
In situations that are life-threatening, emotions run high. Pressure comes from every source. The physical man sees only the life that is—the fake one—not that which is to come—the real life. The reasoning of the spiritual man seems like foolishness to him. Whatever decision we make in such situations, we do have the mind of Christ. We do well to always ask ourselves: What would Jesus do?
“For me, death has always been a temporary state, and I’ve never feared it or really given much thought to it….Abraham’s life is still as sacred as it was when he walked the earth. It hasn’t ended any more than mine does when I fall asleep at night.” Good grief. Say that to the parents of a toddler or baby that has died. You’ve got a lot to learn about Jesus and Christianity. Death was at the forefront of Jesus’ mind and he hated it as an enemy. He did not want to die. He grieved over death and felt… Read more »
Regrettably, you have misunderstood me. However, you have given me food for thought and I feel this is best addressed by a post.
Now this spirit of dialogue even with our disagreements is so upbuilding ! May it stay that way ! And the shear pleasure of being able to release bottled up issues with reasonable non-dogmatic people ……just great ! Thanks
Meleti, Just as my use of the scriptures has in some way shaped your position, yours is having a further refining effect on mine. You raise some good points. I find myself prevented from letting the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction. It makes me truly happy that we can open up a dialogue on this from an original position of being diametrically apart as you said, and yet be so close now. This is in keeping with the true Christian spirit to me. When you first heard from me what some people would find shocking and shut… Read more »
I feel very much as you do. We can have unity in the Christ without the uniformity which the Society demands. I look forward to your further comments on the subject.
– God’s ownership is not a very good basis to assign sanctity because God owns everything in creation yet everything in creation is not sacred. When it comes to life, life does not uniquely belong to God. The biblical account has God handing animal life to humankind. (Gen 1:26-28) By comparison, at no time has God ever handed human life over to humankind. Hence humans can kill animals at-will for their own use but humans cannot kill humans at-will for their own use. Prior to the near universal genocide of Noah’s day there was already much killing of animals by… Read more »
Does anyone know what happened to Marvin Shilmer? He was a critic of the Watchtower’s blood doctrine and posted hundreds of articles refuting it. He has not been heard from for 9 months and has not posted anything to his blog.
Thank you for your well-thought out article on the use of blood. My husband and I have long felt the same way concerning blood. I personally have many questions about the way the Society does things, and the way they seem to focus on matters which are a matter of personal taste and choice. I am dealing with a question concerning a matter of grooming which I feel doesn’t detract from the ministry or the dignity of the Kingdom Hall. Twice I’ve been counseled about a tiny nose stud I’ve worn for the last 6 years. My husband wears his… Read more »