In the first three articles of this series we consider the historical, secular and scientific aspects behind the No Blood doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the fourth article, we analyzed the first bible text which Jehovah’s Witnesses are using to support their No Blood doctrine: Genesis 9:4.
By analyzing the historical and cultural frameworks within the biblical context, we concluded that the text cannot be used to support a doctrine that prohibits the safeguarding of life through medical treatment by using human blood or its derivatives.
This final article of the series analyzes the last two bible texts which Jehovah’s Witnesses use in an attempt to justify their refusal to receive blood transfusions: Leviticus 17:14 and Acts 15:29.
Leviticus 17:14 is based on the Law of Moses, while Acts 15:29 is the Apostolic Law.
The Mosaic Law
Approximately 600 years after the law on blood given to Noah, Moses, as the leader of the Jewish nation at the time of the exodus, was given a law code directly from Jehovah God that included rules on the use of blood:
“And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. 12 Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. 13 And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. 14 For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off. 15 And every soul that eateth that which died of itself, or that which was torn with beasts, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even: then shall he be clean. 16 But if he wash them not, nor bathe his flesh; then he shall bear his iniquity.” (Leviticus 17:10-16)
Was there something new in the Mosaic Law that added or altered the law given to Noah?
Besides reiterating the prohibition against consuming meat that was not bled, and applying it to both Jews and alien residents, the law required that the blood be poured out and covered with soil (vs. 13).
In addition, anyone disobeying these instructions was to be put to death( vs. 14).
An exception was made when an animal had died of natural causes or had been killed by wild beasts since proper dispensation of blood would not be possible in such cases. Where someone ate of that meat, he would be considered unclean for a period of time and undergo a purification process. Failure to do so would carry a heavy penalty (vss. 15 and 16).
Why does Jehovah change the law on blood with the Israelites from that given to Noah? We can find the answer in verse 11:
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul”.
Jehovah did not change his mind. Now he had a people serving him and he was establishing the rules to preserve his relationship with them and lay the foundation for what was to come under the Messiah.
Under the law of Moses, animal blood had a ceremonial use: the redemption of sin, such as we can see in verse 11. This ceremonial use of animal blood prefigured the redemptive sacrifice of the Christ.
Consider the context of chapters 16 and 17 where we learn about the use of animal blood for ceremonial and ritual purposes. It involves:
- Ritual date
- An altar
- A high priest
- A living animal to be sacrifice
- A holy place
- Slaughter of animal
- Get animal blood
- Use of animal blood as per ritual rules
It is important to emphasize that if the ritual was not performed as prescribed in the Law, the High Priest could be cut off just as any other person would be for eating blood.
Bearing this in mind, we might ask, what does the command of Leviticus 17:14 have to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses’ No Blood doctrine? It would appear that it has little to nothing to do with it. Why can we say that? Let us compare the elements stipulated in Leviticus 17 for the ritual use of blood for the redemption of sins as they might apply to administering a life-saving transfusion to see if there is any correlation.
A transfusion is not part of a ritual for the redemption of sin.
- There is no altar
- There is no animal to be sacrificed.
- No animal blood is being used.
- There is no priest.
During a medical procedure what we do have is the following:
- A medical professional.
- Donated human blood or derivatives.
- A recipient.
Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no scriptural basis for applying Leviticus 17:14 as support for their policy of forbidding blood transfusions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are comparing the use of animal blood in a religious ritual to redeem sin with the use of human blood in a medical procedure to save a life. There is a great logical chasm separating these two practices, such that there is no correspondence between them.
Gentiles and blood
Romans used animal blood in their sacrifices to idols as well as for food. It was common that an offering was strangled, cooked, and then eaten. In case that offering was bled, both the flesh and blood were offered to the idol and then the meat was eaten by attendees to the rite and the blood was drunk by the priests. A ritual celebration was a common feature of their worship and involved the eating of sacrificed meat, excessive drinking and sex orgies. Temple prostitutes, both male and female, were a feature of pagan worship. Romans would also drink the blood of gladiators killed in the arena which was thought to heal epilepsy and act as an aphrodisiac. Such practices were not restricted to the Romans, but were common among most non-Israelite peoples, like the Phoenicians, Hittites, Babylonians, and Greeks.
We can deduce from this that the Mosaic Law with its prohibition against the eating of blood served to establish a distinction between Jews and pagan creating a cultural wall that prevailed from the time of Moses onward.
The Apostolic Law
Around the year 40 C.E., the apostles and older men of the congregation in Jerusalem (including the visiting apostle Paul and Barnabas) wrote a letter to be sent to the congregations of the gentiles with the following content:
“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.” (Acts 15:28,29)
Notice that it is the holy spirit which is directing these Christians to instruct the gentile Christians to abstain from:
- Meats offered to idols;
- Eating strangled animals;
Is there anything new here, not in the Mosaic Law? Apparently. The word “abstain” is used by the apostles and “abstain” seems to be quite privative and absolutist as well. This is why Jehovah’s Witnesses use “abstain” to justify their refusal to use human blood for medical purposes. But before we give in to preconceptions, personal interpretations and points of view that could be wrong, let us allow the scriptures tell us by themselves what the apostles meant from their perspective by “abstain”.
Cultural context in the primitive Christian Congregation
As was mentioned, pagan religious practices involved eating sacrificed meat at temple celebrations that involved drunkenness and immorality.
The Gentile Christian congregation grew after 36 C.E. when Peter baptized the first non-Jew, Cornelius. From then, the opportunity for people of nations to enter the Christian Congregation was open and this group was growing very rapidly (Acts 10:1-48).
This coexistence among Gentile and Jewish Christians was a great challenge. How could people from such different religious backgrounds live together as brothers in the faith?
On the one hand, we have the Jews with their law code from Moses controlling what they could eat and wear, how they could act, their hygiene, and even when they could work.
On the other hand, the life styles of gentiles violated virtually every aspect of the Mosaic Law Code.
Biblical context of Apostolic Law
From reading the 15th chapter 15 of the book of Acts, we get the following information from the biblical and historical contexts:
- A fraction of Christian Jewish brothers pressured Christian Gentile brothers to circumcise and keep the Mosaic Law (vss. 1-5).
- The apostles and elders of Jerusalem meet to study the controversy. Peter, Paul and Barnabas describe the wonders and signs that Gentile Christians practiced (vss. 6-18).
- Peter questions the validity of the Law given that both Jews and Gentiles were now saved by the grace of Jesus (vss. 10,11).
- James make a brief summary of the discussion and emphasizes not to burden the Gentile converts beyond the four items mentioned in the letter that all relate to pagan religious practices (vss. 19-21).
- The letter is written and sent with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch (vss. 22-29).
- The letter is read in Antioch and everyone rejoices (vss. 30,31).
Note what scriptures are telling us about this problem:
Due to differences in cultural backgrounds, the coexistence between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians was going through many difficulties.
Jewish Christians were trying to impose the Mosaic Law onto the Gentiles.
The Jewish Christians recognized the non-validity of the Mosaic Law because of the grace of the Lord Jesus.
The Jewish Christians were concerned the Gentile Christians might slip back into false worship, so they forbid those things related to pagan religious practices.
Idol worship was already prohibited to Christians. That was a given. What the congregation of Jerusalem was doing was explicitly prohibiting practices connected to false worship, pagan worship, that might lead the gentiles away from the Christ.
Now, we understand why James put things like eating strangled animals or flesh used in sacrifice or blood on the same level as fornication. These were all practices connected to pagan temples and they could lead the gentile Christian back into false worship.
What does “abstain” mean?
The Greek word used by James is “apejomai” and as per Strong`s Concordance means “To keep away” or “To be distant”.
The word apejomai comes from two greek roots:
- “Apó”, means far, separation, reverse.
- “Echo”, means eat, enjoy or use.
Again, we have found that the word used by James is related to the action of eating or consume by the mouth.
With this in mind, let’s again consider Acts 15:29 using the original Greek meaning of “abstain”:
“Not to eat food dedicated to idols, not to eat blood dedicated to idols, not to eat strangled (meat with blood) dedicated to idols and not to practice sexual immorality and sacred prostitution. If you brothers do this, will be blessed. Regards”.
After this analysis we may ask: What does Acts 15:29 have to do with blood transfusions? There is not a single connection point.
The organization is attempting to make the eating of animal blood as part of a pagan ritual equivalent to a modern life-saving medical procedure.
Is the Apostolic Law still valid?
There is no reason to assume it is not. Idolatry is still condemned. Fornication is still condemned. Since the eating of blood was condemned in the time of Noah, the prohibition reinforced in the nation of Israel, and reapplied to gentiles who became Christians, there seems to be no basis for suggesting it no longer applies. But again, we are talking about ingesting blood as food, not a medical procedure that has nothing to do with alimentation.
The Law of the Christ
The Scriptures are clear as to idolatry, fornication, and consuming blood as food. As to medical procedures, they are wisely silent.
Having established all of the above, be it noted that we are now under the law of the Christ and as such any decision made by the individual Christian pertaining to any medical procedure he or she authorizes or declines is a matter of personal conscience and not something requiring the involvement of others, particularly in any judicial character.
Our Christian Freedom includes the obligation of not imposing our personal viewpoint onto the lives of others.
Remember that the Lord Jesus taught:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. (John 15:13)
Since the life is in the blood, would a loving God condemn you were you to donate part of our life (human blood) to save the life of a relative or our neighbor?
Blood symbolizes life. But, is the symbol more important than that which it symbolizes? Should we sacrifice the reality for the symbol? A flag symbolizes the country it represents. However, would any army sacrifice their country to preserve their flag? Or would they even burn the flag if, by doing so, they save their country?
It is our hope that this series of articles has helped our Jehovah’s Witnesses brothers and sisters to reason from Scripture on this life-and-death issue and to make their own conscientious determination in lieu of blindly following the dictates of a group of self-appointed men.