In September of 2016, our doctor sent my wife to the hospital because she was anemic. It turned out that her blood count was dangerously low because she had been bleeding internally.  They suspected a bleeding ulcer at the time, but before they could do anything, they had to stop the blood loss, otherwise, she would slip into a coma and die.  Had she been still a believing Jehovah’s Witness, she would have refused—I know that for certain—and based on the rate of blood loss, she would likely not have survived the week. However, her belief in the No Blood doctrine had changed and so she accepted the transfusion.  This gave the doctors the time they needed to run their tests and determine a prognosis.  As things turned out, she had an incurable form of cancer, but due to her change in belief, she gave me an additional and very precious five extra months with her that otherwise, I would not have had.

I am sure that any of our former Jehovah’s Witnesses’ friends, upon hearing this, will say that she died out of God’s favor because she compromised her faith.  They are so wrong.  I know that when she fell asleep in death, it was as a child of God with the hope of the resurrection of the righteous firm in her mind.  She did the right thing in God’s eyes by taking the blood transfusion and I’m going to show you why I can say that with such confidence.

Let us start with the fact that the process of waking up from lifelong indoctrination under the JW system of things can take years. Often, one of the last doctrines to fall is the stand against blood transfusions. That was so in our case, perhaps because the Bible stipulation against blood seems so clear and unambiguous.  It simply says, “Abstain from blood.” Three words, very concise, very straightforward: “Abstain from blood.”

Back in the 1970s when I conducted dozens of Bible studies in Colombia, South America, I used to teach my Bible students that “abstaining” applied not only to eating blood, but also to taking it intravenously. I used the logic from the book, “The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life”, which reads:

“Examine the scriptures carefully and notice that they tell us to ‘keep free from blood’ and to ‘abstain from blood.’ (Acts 15:20, 29) What does this mean? If a doctor were to tell you to abstain from alcohol, would that mean simply that you should not take it through your mouth but that you could transfuse it directly into your veins? Of course not! So, too, ‘abstaining from blood’ means not taking it into our bodies at all.” (tr chap. 19 pp. 167-168 par. 10 Godly Respect for Life and Blood)

That seems so logical, so self-evident, does it not?  The problem is that that logic is based on a fallacy of false equivalency.  Alcohol is food.  Blood is not.  The body can and will assimilate alcohol that is injected directly into the veins.  It will not assimilate blood.  Transfusing blood is equivalent to an organ transplant, because blood is a bodily organ in liquid form.  The belief that blood is food is based on outdated medical beliefs that are centuries old. To this day, the organization continues to push this discredited medical teaching. In the current brochure, Blood—Vital for Life, they actually quote from a 17th century anatomist for support.

Thomas Bartholin (1616-80), professor of anatomy at the University of Copenhagen, objected: ‘Those who drag in the use of human blood for internal remedies of diseases appear to misuse it and to sin gravely. Cannibals are condemned. Why do we not abhor those who stain their gullet with human blood? Similar is the receiving of alien blood from a cut vein, either through the mouth or by instruments of transfusion. The authors of this operation are held in terror by the divine law, by which the eating of blood is prohibited.’

At that time, primitive medical science held that transfusing blood amounted to eating it.  That has long since been proven false.  However, even if it were the same—let me repeat, even if a transfusion were the same as eating blood—it would still be permissible under Bible law.  If you give me 15 minutes of your time, I will prove that to you.  If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, then you are dealing with a potential life-and-death scenario here.  It could be sprung on you at any moment, coming right out of left field as it did for me and my late wife, so I don’t think 15 minutes is too much to ask.

We will start with the reasoning from the so-called Truth book.  The chapter title is “Godly Respect for Life and Blood”.  Why are “life” and “blood” linked?  The reason is that the first occurrence of a mandate regarding blood was given to Noah.  I’m going to read from Genesis 9:1-7, and by the way, I’m going to be using the New World Translation throughout this discussion.  Since that is the Bible version Jehovah’s Witnesses respect most, and since the No Blood Transfusions doctrine is, to the best of my knowledge, unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses, it only seems appropriate to use their translation to show the error of the teaching. So here we go. Genesis 9:1-7 reads:

“God went on to bless Noah and his sons and to say to them: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth. 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 moves on the ground and upon all the fish of the sea. They are now given into your hand. Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. Just as I gave you the green vegetation, I give them all to you. Only flesh with its life—its blood—you must not eat. Besides that, I will demand an accounting for your lifeblood. I will demand an accounting from every living creature; and from each man I will demand an accounting for the life of his brother. Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image He made man. As for you, be fruitful and become many, and increase abundantly on the earth and multiply.” (Genesis 9:1-7)

Jehovah God had given a similar command to Adam and Eve—to be fruitful and become many—but he hadn’t included anything about blood, shedding blood, or taking human life.  Why? Well, without sin, there would be no need, right?  Even after they sinned, there is no record of God giving them any kind of law code.  It appears that he just stood back and gave them free reign, much like a father would whose rebellious son demands to have his own way.  The father, while still loving his son, lets him go.  Essentially, he is saying, “Go!  Do what you want.  Learn the hard way how good you had it under my roof.” Of course, any good and loving father would entertain the hope that one day his son would come home, having learned his lesson.  Isn’t that the core message in the parable of the Prodigal Son?

So, it appears that humans did things their own way for many hundreds of years, and eventually they went too far.  We read:

“…the earth had become ruined in the sight of the true God, and the earth was filled with violence. Yes, God looked upon the earth, and it was ruined; all flesh had ruined its way on the earth. After that God said to Noah: “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, because the earth is full of violence on account of them, so I am bringing them to ruin together with the earth.” (Genesis 6:11-13)

So now, after the flood, with Mankind making a brand new start of things, God is laying down some ground rules.  But only a few.  Men can still do pretty much what they want, but within some boundaries.  The inhabitants of Babel exceeded God’s boundaries and so suffered.  Then there were the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah who also exceeded God’s boundaries and we all know what happened to them.  Likewise, the residents of Canaan went too far and suffered divine retribution.

Jehovah God wasn’t issuing an injunction for the fun of it. He was giving Noah a way to educate his descendants so that throughout the generations they would remember this vital truth. Life belongs to God, and if you take it, God will make you pay. So, when you kill an animal for food, it is only because God has allowed you to do that, because the life of that animal is his, not yours.  You acknowledge that truth every time you slaughter an animal for food by pouring the blood out on the ground.  Since life belongs to God, life is sacred, because all things that are of God are sacred.

Let’s recap:

Leviticus 17:11 says: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have given it on the altar for you to make atonement for yourselves, because it is the blood that makes atonement by means of the life in it.”

From this it is clear that:

    • Blood represents life.
    • Life belongs to God.
    • Life is sacred.

It isn’t your blood that is sacred in and of itself. It is your life that is sacred, and so any sacredness or holiness that might be attributed to blood comes from that sacred thing it represents, life.  By eating blood, you are failing to acknowledge that recognition about the nature of life.  The symbolism is that we are taking the life of the animal as if we owned it and had a right to it.  We do not. God owns that life.  By not eating the blood, we acknowledge that fact.

We now have the facts that should allow us to see the fundamental flaw in the logic of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  If you don’t see it, don’t be too hard on yourself. It took me a lifetime to see it myself.

Let me illustrate it this way.  Blood represents life, like a flag represents a country.  Here we have a picture of the flag of the United States, one of the most widely recognized flags in the world. Did you know that the flag is not supposed to touch the ground at any time? Did you know that there are special ways to dispose of a flag that has worn out? You are not supposed to simply throw it in the garbage or burn it.  The flag is considered to be a sacred object. People will die for the flag because of what it represents. It is far more than a simple piece of cloth because of what it represents.

But is the flag more important than the country it represents?  If you had to choose between destroying your flag or destroying your country, which would you choose? Would you choose to save the flag and sacrifice the country?

It’s not hard to see the parallel between blood and life. Jehovah God says that blood is the symbol of life, it represents the life of an animal and the life of a human.  If it comes down to choosing between the reality and the symbol, would you think the symbol is more important than that which it represents?  What kind of logic is that?  Acting like the symbol outweighs the reality is the type of ultra-literal thinking that typified the wicked religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

Jesus told them: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is under obligation.’ Fools and blind ones! Which, in fact, is greater, the gold or the temple that has sanctified the gold? Moreover, ‘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?” (Matthew 23:16-19)

In light of Jesus’ words, how do you think Jesus sees Jehovah’s Witnesses when he looks down on parents willing to sacrifice the life of their child rather than accept a blood transfusion?  Their reasoning amounts to this: “My child cannot take blood because blood represents the sacredness of life. That is, the blood is now more sacred than the life it represents.  Better to sacrifice the child’s life rather than sacrifice the blood.”

To paraphrase Jesus’ words: “Fools and blind ones! Which, in fact, is greater, the blood, or the life that it represents?”

Remember that that first law on blood included the statement that God would ask back the blood from any man who spilled it. Have Jehovah’s Witnesses become blood guilty? Is the Governing Body blood guilty for teaching this doctrine? Are individual Jehovah’s Witnesses blood guilty for perpetuating that teaching to their Bible students? Are elders blood guilty for intimidating Jehovah’s Witnesses into obeying this law under threat of being disfellowshipped?

If you really believe that God is so inflexible, then ask yourself why he permitted an Israelite to eat meat that had not been properly bled if he came upon it when he was away from home?

Let’s start with the initial injunction from Leviticus:

“‘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.’” (Leviticus 7:26, 27)

Notice, “in your dwelling places”.   At home, there would be no reason not to properly de-sanguinate a slaughtered animal.  It would be easy to pour out the blood as part of the slaughtering process, and it would require a conscious rejection of the law not to do so. In Israel, such disobedience would be brazen to say the least, given that failure to do so was punishable by death.  However, when an Israelite was away from home hunting, things were not so clear.  In another part of Leviticus, we read:

“If anyone, whether a native or a foreigner, eats an animal found dead or one torn by a wild animal, he must then wash his garments and bathe in water and be unclean until the evening; then he will be clean.  But if he does not wash them and does not bathe himself, he will answer for his error.’”  (Leviticus 17:15,16 New World Translation)

Why would eating flesh with its blood in this instance, not also be a capital offense?  In this case, the Israelite only had to engage in a ritual cleansing ceremony.  Failure to do so, would again be brazen disobedience and thus punishable by death, but complying with this law allowed the individual to consume blood without punishment.

This passage is problematic for Witnesses, because it provides an exception to the rule.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is no situation where a blood transfusion is acceptable.  Yet here, the law of Moses provides just such an exception.  A person who is far from home, out hunting, must still eat to survive.  If he has had no success in hunting prey, but comes across a food source, such as a recently dead animal, perhaps one killed by a predator, he is allowed to eat even though it is no longer possible to properly de-sanguinate the carcass.  Under the law, his life is more important than a ceremonial ritual involving pouring out the blood.  You see, he hasn’t taken the life himself, so the ritual of pouring out the blood is meaningless in this instance.  The animal is already dead, and not by his hand.

There is a principle in Jewish law called “Pikuach Nefesh” (Pee-ku-ach ne-fesh) which says that “the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious consideration. When the life of a specific person is in danger, almost any other command in the Torah can be ignored. (Wikipedia “Pikuach nefesh”)

That principle was understood in Jesus’ day. For instance, Jews were prohibited from doing any work on the Sabbath, and disobedience to that law was a capital offense. You could be put to death for violating the Sabbath.  Yet, Jesus appeals to their knowledge of exceptions to that rule.

Consider this account:

“. . .After departing from that place, he went into their synagogue, and look! there was a man with a withered hand! So they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them: “If you have one sheep and that sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, is there a man among you who will not grab hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do a fine thing on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man: “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored sound like the other hand. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him to kill him.” (Matthew 12:9-14)

Given that right within their own law an exception to the Sabbath could be made, why did they continue upset and wrathful with him when he applied the same exception to healing someone of infirmity? Why would they conspire to kill him? Because, they were wicked at heart. What mattered to them was their own personal interpretation of the law and their power to enforce it. Jesus took that away from them.

Regarding the Sabbath Jesus said: “The Sabbath came into existence for the sake of man, and not man for the sake of the Sabbath. So the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, 28)

I believe it can be argued that the law on blood also came into existence for the sake of man, and not man for the sake of the law on blood. In other words, a man’s life should not be sacrificed for the sake of the law on blood. Since that law comes from God, then Jesus also is the Lord of that law. That means the law of the Christ, the law of love, must govern how we apply the injunction against eating blood.

But there is still that nagging thing from Acts: “Abstain from blood.” To abstain from something is different from not eating it. It goes beyond that. It is interesting when issuing their ruling on blood, that the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses likes to quote those three words but rarely focuses on the full context. Let’s read the account just to be safe so that we are not misled by easy logic.

“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 from ancient times Moses has had those who preach him in city after city, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath.”” (Acts 15:19-21)

That reference to Moses seems like a non sequitur, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s intrinsic to the meaning. He is speaking to the nations, the gentiles, non-Jews, people who have been raised to worship idols and false gods. They are not taught that sexual immorality is wrong. They are not taught that idolatry is wrong. They are not taught it is wrong to eat blood. In fact, every week when they go to the pagan temple, they are taught to practice those very things. It is all part of their worship. They will go to the temple and sacrifice to their false gods, and then sit down at meals to eat meat that has been sacrificed, meat which was not bled according to the law given to Moses and Noah. They can also avail themselves of the temple prostitutes, both male and female. They will bow down before idols. All of these things were common and approved practices among the pagan nations. The Israelites do none of that because the law of Moses is preached to them every sabbath in the synagogues, and all such things were prohibited under that law.

An Israelite would never think of going to a pagan temple where banquets are held, where people sit and eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols and not bled properly, or people get up from the table and go into another chamber to have sex with a prostitute, or bow down to an idol. But all this was common practice for the Gentiles before they became Christians. So, the four things that the Gentiles are told to abstain from are all connected with pagan worship. The Christian law that was given to us to abstain from these four things was never intended to extend itself to a practice that had nothing to do with pagan worship and everything to do with the preservation of life. That is why the account goes on to add a few verses further on,

“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!”” (Acts 15:28, 29)

How could the assurance, “You will prosper. Good health to you!” possibly apply if these words required us to deny ourselves or our children a medical procedure designed to help us prosper and restore us to good health?

A blood transfusion has nothing whatsoever to do with false worship of any kind. It is a life-saving medical procedure.

I continue to believe that eating blood is wrong. It is physically harmful to one’s health. But worse than that, it would be a violation of the law given to our forefather Noah which continues to apply to all mankind. But as we’ve already shown, the purpose of that was to show respect for life, life which belongs to God and which is sacred. However, transfusing blood into one’s veins is not eating it. The body does not consume the blood as it would food, but rather it utilizes the blood to perpetuate life. As we’ve already stated, transfusing blood is equivalent to an organ transplant, albeit a liquid one.

Witnesses are willing to sacrifice themselves and their children to obey the letter of the law that they believe applies in this instance. Perhaps the most powerful scripture of all is when Jesus rebukes the legalistic religious leaders of his day who would obey the letter of the law and violate the law of love. “However, if YOU had understood what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice,’ YOU would not have condemned the guiltless ones.” (Matthew 12:7)

Thank you for your attention and your support.

Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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