This is the third in a series of articles. In order to make sense of what is written here you should first read my original article on the “no blood” doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Meleti’s response.
The reader should note that the subject of whether a “no blood” doctrine should be imposed on Christians is no longer under discussion here. Meleti and I are both agreed that it should not. However, following Meleti’s response there remained the issue of what blood truly symbolizes in the Bible. The answer to this question might affect the way a Christian would exercise his or her God given conscience in any given situation. Certainly it is still something that I would like to get to the bottom of, since to me, the subject matters, the premise matters, and the conclusions matter.
Whilst I have laid out my arguments in this further response in a very positional way the reader needs to understand that I am doing this much in the manner of a debate style in order to encourage further discussion by any who are interested. I do believe that Meleti made many fine and thought-provoking points in his response, and as always argues them well. But since he has allowed me the latitude in this forum to present my scriptural research in as direct a way as I can, I intend to use that.
If you are not specifically interested in the finer principles of this subject under discussion, I don’t even encourage you to spend time reading this article. If you managed to get through my first one then you’ve paid your dues in my view. It was a bit of a monster, and really all of the major points have been covered there. However if you are interested in exploring a little deeper then I appreciate your readership and hope you will weigh in on the discussion in a balanced and polite way in the comments area.
[Since writing this article Meleti has posted a follow-up article to qualify some of his points. Yesterday, we agreed that he would post his follow-up before I posted this one. It should be noted that I didn’t make any subsequent amendments to this article, and so it doesn’t take into consideration any of Meleti’s further comments. However, I do not think it substantially impacts any of the points herein.]
Sanctity or Ownership?
When writing my original article I was aware that there was no strict definition in scripture as to what blood symbolizes. It is necessary to infer such a definition if we are to appreciate the deeper principles that an examination of this topic brings to the surface.
Meleti and I are agreed that the definition must include “life”. We might even stop there and simply say that “blood symbolizes life”. All of the scriptural points in my article would stand up to such a definition and the conclusions would be the same. However, as Meleti rightly points out, the starting premise can have a bearing on matters beyond the question as to whether it is scripturally acceptable to enforce a “no blood” policy on fellow Christians. It is to that end that I wish to further explore the primary difference that remains between our reasoning on this matter – that is to say whether it is appropriate to extend the definition of “blood symbolizes life” to add “in view of God’s ownership of it”, or “in view of its sanctity in God’s sight”, or a combination of the two as I initially allowed for in my article.
Meleti believes that “sanctity” should be disallowed from the definition. His claim is that “ownership” of life by God is the key to understanding the principle.
In the same way that Meleti acknowledged that life is sacred in the sense that all things from God are sacred, I already have acknowledged that life is owned by God in the sense that all things are owned by God. Therefore, it must be reiterated that this is not the difference between us. It comes entirely down to which of these, if either, is associated with the symbolic nature of blood.
Now I must confess that in my first article I did somewhat consider it a given that the way we are to treat life is in accord with the concept that “life is sacred”. JW theology states this (a few recent examples include w06 11/15 p. 23 par. 12, w10 4/15 p. 3, w11 11/1 p. 6) and general Judeo-Christian theology generally reflects this idea.
Nevertheless when it comes to the specific symbolic meaning of blood, I will take Meleti’s point that we cannot take it for granted that this factors into the equation. If our conclusions hinge on it, then we must ensure that our premise is truly established in scripture.
Firstly what do I mean by sanctity? It’s easy to focus on a word and yet be speaking at cross purposes if we do not share the same definition.
Here is a Merriam Webster dictionary definition: the quality or state of being holy, very important, or valuable.
If we focus on the first of the these – “the quality or state of being holy” – then I have to agree that this may not be at the heart of how blood represents life, although it is certainly involved as we will see. It is really the third option that better encapsulates what I mean when extending the definition of the symbolism of blood beyond just life in and of itself, and attaching an underlying reason as to why blood in representation of life is so special.
From God’s standpoint, life has a high value. Therefore we, as beings made in his image, must also share his valuation of life. That’s it. It doesn’t get more complicated than that. I do not see evidence that Jehovah uses blood to primarily impress upon a believer that he is the owner of life.
Therefore the key questions I wish to explore in response to Meleti’s article are:
1) Is there anything scriptural to link blood as a symbol with “ownership of life”?
2) Is there anything scriptural to link blood as a symbol with “value of life”?
Meleti’s first appeal to scripture is as follows:
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.”
To say that it “can be seen” from this passage that “blood represents the right of ownership of life” is unsubstantiated in my view. I can just as easily assert that Gen 4:10 supports the premise that blood is precious or sacred (in the “valuable” sense) in God’s sight.
Meleti continues by providing an illustration or analogy of stolen goods, and uses it as support for the premise. However, as Meleti well knows, we cannot use illustrations to prove anything. The illustration would be a reasonable one if the premise had already been established, but it had not.
The follow-on scriptures that Meleti uses to show that life and soul belongs to God (Eccl 12:7; Eze 18:4) do not mention blood at all. So any definition of the symbolism of blood linked with these scriptures can only be an assertion.
On the other hand Psalm 72:14 uses the phrase “their blood will be precious in his eyes.” The Hebrew word here translated “precious” is entirely to do with value, not ownership.
The same word is used in Ps 139:17 “So, to me how precious your thoughts are! O God, how much does the grand sum of them amount to.” Clearly the thoughts in this case are God’s (owned by him if you like), but they are of value to the Psalmist. So this word is not intrinsically linked with the value of something because you own it. It is simply describing how one person holds something else as of high value, whether owned by him or not.
In other words it is possible to establish a firm scriptural basis for blood being linked with the value of life, but not with the ownership of it.
Next Meleti reasons on the following 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.
This premise is then used to further support the idea that “the blood representing [Abel’s] life wasn’t crying out metaphorically because it was sacred, but because it was taken unlawfully.”
If this is strictly true then it begs the question as to why Jehovah did not immediately resurrect Abel. The answer is that Abel did not have a “right to life” due to the fact that he had inherited sin from his father. Romans 6:23 applies to Abel just as much as any man. Regardless of how he died – whether of old age or at the hand of his brother – he was destined for death. What was required was not was simply a “return of stolen goods”, but rather redemption based upon the undeserved kindness of God. The blood of Abel was “precious in his eyes”. Precious enough to send his Son to give the value of his own blood to redeem his life.
Moving on, Meleti says that the Noachian covenant gave the “right to kill animals, but not men”.
Do we truly have a right to kill animals? Or do we have permission to kill animals? I do not believe that the passage paints the distinction between animals and men in quite the way Meleti presented. In both cases life is precious, in neither case do we have the right to take it, however in the case of animals “permission” is granted, just as later Jehovah would command humans to take other human lives – an extended form of permission. But at no point is this presented as a “right”. Now when a command is given there is clearly no need for a ritual of recognition that a life has been taken. The permission to take the life or lives is restricted to that situation (e.g. a battle or punishment under the law), but when blanket permission was given in the taking of animal lives for food, an act of recognition was stipulated. Why is that? I propose that it is not simply a ritual that reflects God’s ownership, but is a practical measure in order to maintain the value of life in the mind of the one who will eat the flesh, in order that life not be devalued over time.
The only way for the reader to decide the true sense of the Noachian covenant is to carefully read the entire passage once through with “ownership” in mind, and a second time with the “value of life” in mind. You can do this exercise the other way around if you like.
To me the ownership model just doesn’t fit, and here’s why.
“Just as I gave you the green vegetation, I give them all to you.” (Gen 9:3b)
Now, it would be intellectually dishonest of me not to point out that the Hebrew word nathan translated “give” here can also mean to “entrust” according to Strong’s concordance. However, the overwhelming majority of times the word is used in Genesis it has the sense of truly “giving”, and almost every Bible translation renders it this way. If Jehovah was truly trying to impress a point about his retention of ownership would he not have put it differently? Or at least made an explicit distinction about what exactly belongs to humans now and what still belongs to God. But in stating the prohibition on blood there is nothing to say that it is because God still “owns” the life.
Again let’s be clear that nobody is saying that God does not still own the life in the truest sense. We are only trying to ascertain what was signified by the blood prohibition in this passage. In other words what central point was God really trying to impress upon Noah and the rest of mankind?
Jehovah goes on to say that he will demand an “accounting” for the way we treat life (Gen 9:5 RNWT). It is very interesting to see how this has been updated in the Revised NWT. Previously it was worded as God asking it back. But “accounting” is again closely related to the value of something. If we read the text as placing a safeguard on how man would treat this new gift in order that the precious value of life not be devalued, then it makes sense.
Note this extract from Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary:
The main reason of forbidding the eating of blood, doubtless was because the shedding of blood in sacrifices was to keep the worshippers in mind of the great atonement; yet it seems intended also to check cruelty, lest men, being used to shed and feed upon the blood of animals, should grow unfeeling to them, and be less shocked at the idea of shedding human blood.
Many Bible commentators make similar points about how this passage is about setting boundaries for man in his imperfect state. I was unable to find a single one that has inferred that the core issue at stake was one of ownership. Of course this in itself does not prove Meleti wrong, but it does make clear that such a concept appears to be unique. I suggest that whenever someone proposes a unique doctrinal theory, then that person ought to bear the burden of proof, and that it is right to demand very direct scriptural support if we are to accept it. I am simply not finding that direct scriptural support for Meleti’s premise.
When it came to a consideration of the ransom sacrifice I was a little uncertain on how Meleti’s explanation was supposed to support the premise. I don’t want to get sidetracked onto a detailed examination of how the ransom works, but it seemed to me that everything that was put forward led us to consider the blood of Jesus in terms of its “value” rather than anything pertaining to “ownership”.
Meleti wrote “The value attached to Jesus’ blood, that is, the value attached to his life represented by his blood, was not based on its sanctity”.
I outright disagree with this statement. Even if we go with the stricter definition of sanctity as “being holy” as opposed to simply “being valuable”, there still appears to be ample scriptural evidence to be able to link the ransom sacrifice with precisely this. The idea of holiness was closely associated with animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Law. Holiness means religious cleanness or purity, and the original Hebrew qo′dhesh conveys the thought of separateness, exclusiveness, or sanctification to God (it-1 p. 1127).
“He must also spatter some of the blood upon it with his finger seven times and cleanse it and sanctify it from the uncleannesses of the sons of Israel.” (Lev 16:19)
This is one example of numerous scriptures under the law that relate blood to “sanctity”. My question would be – why would blood be used to sanctify something, if the focus was not on blood itself being sacred? In turn how can it be sacred and yet “sanctity” not factor into the definition of what it symbolizes from God’s point of view?
Let’s not be diverted by the fact that Meleti acknowledged that life and blood is sacred. We are specifically trying to establish whether that is the focus of why blood is the symbol for life, or whether that focus primarily pertains to “ownership”. I contest that the scriptures focus upon the element of “sanctity”.
It is of note that when Jehovah described how the blood was to be used as atonement he said: “I myself have given it on the altar for you to make atonement for yourselves” (Lev 17:11, RNWT). The same Hebrew word nathan is being used here and translated “given”. This would seem to be very significant. When blood was used for atonement we again see that this is not a matter of God marking his ownership of something, but rather a giving of it to humans for this purpose. This would of course ultimately reflect the most valuable gift through the ransom.
Since the life and blood of Jesus was pure and sanctified in the perfect sense, it had the value to atone for an indefinite number of imperfect lives, not simply balancing the scales for the one that Adam lost. Certainly Jesus had the right to life and gave it up voluntarily, but the means by which this enables us to have life is not one of simple substitution.
“It is not the same with the free gift as with the way things worked through the one man who had sinned” (Rom 5:16)
It is precisely because Jesus’ shed blood is sufficiently valuable in its sinless, pure and, yes, “holy” state, that we can be declared righteous by means of our faith in it.
Jesus’ blood “cleanses us from all sin (John 1:7). If the value of the blood is only based upon Jesus’ right to life and not due to its holiness or sanctity, then what it is that cleanses us from sin and makes us holy or righteous?
“Hence Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate.” (Heb 13:12)
We can certainly have a fuller discussion of the ransom sacrifice as a topic on its own. Suffice to say that I believe that the value attached to Jesus’ blood was very much based on its sanctity, and in this Meleti and I seem to differ.
With all this talk of blood being holy and set apart in the context of atonement, you might begin to wonder if I am not helping to validate the JW “no blood” policy. In that case I would simply have to direct you back to carefully read my original article, especially the sections on the Mosaic Law and the ransom sacrifice in order to put this in proper perspective.
Addressing the Implications of Both Premises
Meleti fears “that including the element of ‘the sanctity of life’ in the equation confuses the issue and may lead to unintended consequences”.
I can understand why he feels this, and yet feel that such fear is unwarranted.
The “unintended consequences” that Meleti fears are all to do with whether we are obliged to preserve life when in fact there might be good reason not to do so. In the present system “quality of life” factors into certain medical decisions. That is why I believe that God’s regulations are still based on principles and not absolutes. By saying “life is sacred” in principal, I feel no obligation to preserve a life which clearly has no hope of ever recovering from a state of severe suffering in this system of things.
The showbread in the tabernacle was considered sacred or holy. And yet clearly the laws pertaining to this were not absolute. I already used this principle to support a different point in the opening article. Jesus showed that the principle of love overrides the letter of the law (Matt 12:3-7). Just as the scriptures clearly show that God’s laws on blood cannot be absolute to the point of withholding something potentially beneficial, the principle that “life is sacred” from God’s standpoint is not absolute to the point that life must be preserved at all costs.
Here I will quote an extract from a 1961 Watchtower article. It is noteworthy that the article in ts entirety repeatedly makes reference to the principle that “life is sacred”.
w61 2/15 p. 118 Euthanasia and God’s Law
All this, however, does not mean that where a person is suffering greatly from a disease and death is only a matter of time the physician must continue to take extraordinary, complicated, distressing and costly measures to keep the patient alive. There is a great difference between extending the life of a patient and stretching out the dying process. In such cases it would not be violating God’s law regarding the sanctity of life to mercifully let the dying process take its due course. The medical profession generally acts in harmony with this principle.
Similarly, when it comes to acts of saving people at the risk of our own lives there may be no clear cut answers. Either way life is at risk, and we would have to weigh up any situation based upon our own understanding of God’s moral principles. In turn we know we will be held accountable for all our decisions, and so we would not treat them lightly when they involve life and death.
The other side of the coin is to consider where Meleti’s version of the premise might lead us. If we switch to the “life belongs to God” definition combined with an attitude of “it doesn’t matter too much because Jehovah will resurrect us and/or other people”, then I believe the danger is that we may unwittingly devalue life by treating medical decisions relating to the preservation of life with less seriousness than they merit. In fact the whole “no-blood” doctrine highlights this danger to the fullest degree, because it is here that we encounter situations that may not just involve extending a suffering life, but situations where a person might have the chance to be brought back to a reasonable level of health and continue to fulfill his or her God-given role in this present system of things. If a life can reasonably be preserved, and there is no conflict with God’s law, and no other extenuating circumstances, then I must insist that there is a clear-cut duty to try to do so.
The whole section that Meleti wrote on death being sleep is very comforting to be sure, but I do not see how this can be used to essentially downgrade the value of life. The fact is the scriptures liken death to sleep in order to help us to see the big picture, not to make us lose sight of what life and death really is. Death is fundamentally not the same as sleep. Did Jesus become grieved and weep whenever one of his friends took a nap? Is sleep described as an enemy? No, loss of life is a serious matter precisely because it has high value in God’s sight and should have the same in ours. If we cut the “sanctity” or “value” of life out of the equation then I fear that we may leave ourselves open to some poor decision making.
Once we accept that the full set of principles and laws in God’s Word would not preclude a particular course of medical treatment then we can make a conscientious decision with “love” as the guiding force, just as Meleti’s wrote. If we do that while still keeping God’s view of the value of life firmly in view, then we will make the right decision.
That might lead me to a different decision from Meleti’s in some cases, due to the additional weight that I would likely apply to what I see as the sanctity and value of life defined in scripture. However, I do wish to be clear that any decision I make would not be based upon “fear of death”. I agree with Meleti that our Christian hope removes that fear. But a life or death decision I make would certainly factor in a fear of falling short of God’s view of the value of life, and indeed the aversion to dying unnecessarily.
I opened my first article by outlining the deep power of indoctrination that has had its effect on all of us who have been JW’s for many years. Even when we see error in doctrine it can be a very difficult thing to view things clearly without any residual effect from those synaptic pathways that have formed. Perhaps especially if a topic is not a key concern to us are those neural networks less likely to change their patterns. I see in many of the comments that were posted on my first article that, although there was no disagreement with a single point of scriptural reasoning, there was still an undercurrent of personal inherent aversion to the medical use of blood. No doubt if the ban on organ transplants had remained in force until today, many would feel the same way about those also. Some who may have otherwise felt that way have thankfully had their lives preserved by receiving such treatment.
Yes, death in one sense is like sleep. The resurrection hope is a glorious one that frees us from morbid fear. And yet, when a person dies, people suffer. Children suffer by losing parents, parents suffer by losing children, spouses suffer by losing mates, sometimes to the degree that they die themselves of a broken heart.
Never are we asked by God to face an unnecessary death. Either he has banned us from a certain medical practice or he has not. There is no middle ground.
I maintain that the scriptures show no reason why we should be placing potentially life-preserving treatment involving blood in a category any different whatsoever from any other potentially life-preserving treatment. I also maintain that provision is made in scripture explicitly to prevent conflict between God’s laws on blood and his view of the value of life. There is no reason for our heavenly Father to make such provisions if these decisions are simply non-issues due to the resurrection hope.
As a final thought, I do not advocate that you should base your decisions simply on the fact that we should view life as sacred. The bottom line is to understand how Jehovah God views life, and then act in accord with that. Meleti concluded his article by asking the question that I included at the core of my first article – what would Jesus do? It is the definitive question for a Christian, and in this I am, as always, in full unity with Meleti.