Blood Transfusions: Sustaining the Purpose of God

David Henke

Blood as used in the Bible is a symbol, it is not sacred in,and of, itself. The thing symbolized, life and redemption, specifically the life and redeeming blood of Christ, are what are sacred. Does the refusal of a transfusion by a Jehovah's Witness, perhaps resulting in death, uphold the sacredness God required for blood as a symbol? Or, does it do violence to the sacred reality of the symbol, life and redemption?

Or, because blood is symbolic of life and redemption would not the acceptance of a blood transfusion honor the sacred reality, life and redemption?

Would not the giving of blood in a transfusion to save a physical life be parallel to Christ giving his blood on Calvary for our eternal life?

Jehovah's Witnesses are perhaps better known by the general public for their refusal to accept a blood transfusion than by any other thing. Their reason for such a conviction is that to them accepting a transfusion is the same thing as eating blood and the Bible speaks against the eating of blood or unbled meat. But, is that what the Bible says, and can it be extended to the transfusing of blood?

When it is pointed out to a Witness that the Bible says nothing against blood transfusions they will frequently respond by saying, "Of course, such a procedure was unknown in Biblical times. But, the Bible does say to `abstain from blood' and how can you `abstain' while taking a transfusion?" Could the answer be that we are also to "abstain from meat offered to idols" (Acts 15:29) which Paul said was a matter of conscience and regard for a weaker brother (I Cor. 8).

The reason why God placed a restriction on blood in the first place was because as Leviticus 17:11 says, "for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." God was sanctifying, setting apart for a holy purpose, the symbol of life and man's redemption, so that man would have the highest respect for it.

Many pagan religions profaned blood by the way they used it. For instance it has been the view of many in occultic religions in both ancient and modern times that if you would eat animal, or even human, flesh while it was still living you would receive in yourself the strength, or life force, of the thing being eaten. This was the reason why God placed such a restriction on Noah and Israel.

In the Old Testament sacrifices we see animal blood being shed for the sins of the people. These sacrifices typified the shedding of the blood of Jesus on Calvary. So the sanctification of blood as a sacred symbol was ultimately because of the sacredness of the blood of Jesus. However, the purpose of the shedding of blood, whether in type in the Old Testament, or in the reality of Christ in the New Testament, was because the purpose of God was to give life. Hence, the value of life itself is preeminent over its symbol, blood.

Isn't it interesting that the Church, which God purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28), is told to eat Christ's flesh and drink His blood symbolically in the Lord's Supper (John 6:53-58).

There is a heirarchy of values in the Levitical law. For instance it was forbidden to the Israelites to gather wood on the Sabbath. When the first offender was brought before Moses for judgment Moses was told by God to put the man to death. Because this was the first offense, and it was a direct challenge to what God had commanded, the severest penalty was required.

However, in the New Testament Jesus asked the Pharisees, "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?" (Luke 14:5) The difference in Jesus example is that a life is being saved, even if it is only the life of an animal. To administer a blood transfusion to save a life is to endorse, or sustain, the preeminent value, which is life itself.

Does self-sacrifice by refusal of a blood transfusion strengthen the value God places on life, or weaken it? Is it a sin to sustain life? It would be a sin to throw oneself in front of a Mack truck. But, it would not be a sin if in doing such a thing one was pushing another person out of danger. The difference, life, the life of another, is being valued highly, even though it cost a life to do so. With a blood transfusion life is being sustained but without the death of anyone else.

Answering the Prooftexts

Though there are many Old Testament passages that discuss the eating of blood the scriptures cited below are the key texts. So, for the sake of space, comment will be reserved to these.

Genesis 9:4

This is the first prohibition against the eating of blood. God gave Noah and his family permission to use animal flesh as food but He restricted that permission by saying, "But the flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."

Because this was given to Noah and his family, which then constituted the entire human race, and was prior to the Law, the Watchtower says this restriction was a universal one (Jehovah's Witnesses and the Question of Blood, p. 7).

Two other things should be pointed out here. First, there are two kinds of `flesh' discussed. The first is living animals, or `flesh with the life thereof,' (Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament), and the second is unbled dead meat. This restriction is given to show respect for the blood of sacrifices.

Second, the claim by Jehovah's Witnesses that this prohibition is universal on all mankind is not warranted because Noah and his family were the only believers who were saved through the Flood so the prohibition could still be limited to believers only. And, Moses was inspired by God to say, "Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God." (Deut. 14:21)

Further, the Watchtower is inconsistent by saying Genesis 9:4 is universal but in the Watchtower of November 15, 1964, pages 682, 683 they say it would be permissable for a Jehovah's Witness doctor to administer blood to a non-Witness patient because Deuteronomy 14:21 allows the Israelites to sell unbled meat to the Gentiles.

Leviticus 17:10

"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."

Since this text is part of the Law it cannot be said to be applicable to all of mankind. It is speaking directly to the offense of drinking blood. Because blood is at the heart of the Old Testament sacrificial system, and typified the blood of Christ, it carried a heavier penalty than eating unbled meat. If you will read verse 15 you will see the very mild penalty for eating unbled meat. The reason for the difference is that when an animal is killed by an Israelite he is to show his reverence for life and the atonement by pouring out the blood.

However, the Law, and the type, are fulfilled in Christ. As Matthew Henry says in his Commentary, "This reason is now superseded, which intimates that the law itself was ceremonial, and is now no longer in force" (p. 131).

The strictest orthodox Jews who still practice the Old Testament dietary laws have never equated a blood transfusion with eating blood. In fact among all the sects who claim to follow Christ the Jehovah's Witnesses stand alone on this issue. No one else sees any connection between eating blood and transfusing it.

So today, it is "Not that which goeth into the mouth [that] defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." (Matt. 15:11)

Acts 15:20,29

In the New Testament the text cited to show that this Old Testament prohibition against ingesting blood was carried over to the New Covenant is found in Acts 15:20, 29. The decision of the Church leaders in Jerusalem over a question of Christian unity among Jews and Gentiles was that, "they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood." Verse 29 goes on to say, "That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication."

In Leviticus 17 and 18 God commanded these same four restrictions because as Adam Clarke says in his Commentary, "The Israelites, from their long residence in Egypt, an idolatrous country, had doubtless adopted many of their usages; and many portions of the Pentateuch seem to have been written merely to correct and bring them back to the purity of the Divine worship." (Vol. 1, p. 566)

Thus, in the New Testament church this same separation from the pagan practices is required of the Gentile, ex-pagan, believers. These four practices, of feasting at the pagan temples on the meats offered to idols, of temple prostitution (fornication), eating the bloody meat of things strangled which was considered a delicacy, and from the eating or drinking of blood which was considered by some pagan religions the food of demons, were the same four restrictions placed on Israel when they departed from Egypt.

In a conversation with a Jehovah's Witness elder the writer asked if this abstention from blood was to be an absolute. The answer was, yes. He was then asked if the command to abstain from fornication was an absolute command with no exceptions which he correctly affirmed. He was then asked if the command to abstain from meat offered to idols was an absolute command for all Christians at all times. He said, no, because he knew of Paul's teaching in I Corinthians 8 that says "an idol is nothing," and a mature Christian can eat such meat if it does not offend his conscience or a weaker brother.

So the point was made that in the context we have some things that are absolutes (abstaining from fornication), and some that are not (abstaining from meat offered to idols). So to say that the command to abstain from blood, or things strangled, is absolute and incumbent on all Christians at all times is arbitrary.

In context the problem being solved by this ruling of the first general council in Jerusalem was a problem of Christian unity among legalistic Jews and undiscerning Gentiles at a specific time and in a specific place.

Is a Transfusion Food?

One of the simplest facts of human biology proves that a transfusion does not constitute the eating of blood. When you eat anything it is taken into the stomach where it is digested and then is passed through the intestines into the blood vessels where the blood then carries it to the body for nourishment. This is the digestive system.

In a transfusion the blood that is transfused travels through the blood stream until it arrives at the intestines where it picks up the digested food passed through the intestines and carries that food throughout the body. This is the circulatory system. The transfused blood is not food itself but the carrier of food. The food is broken down into its component parts whereas the blood remains whole.

At a later time further examination will be made of such things as the medical professions view of transfusing blood, the Watchtower's inconsistent record on such medical procedures, and the pharisaical legalism to which it leads.
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