When I was still an active JW and beginnning to have doubts I did some thorough research on blood using only the NWT bible and Watchtower publications. My first clue to a possible problem came from the old blood booklet. I used the Concordance to consider the context of every reference to blood in the bible and finally wrote up my conclusions.
I then discussed it with a fellow elder who resigned and then faded and has not attended a meeting since.
I have referred to it a few times in other threads but I want to give it its own thread for my own reference. Long after I left the borg I discovered that others had came to the same conclusions for the same reasons but at the time I wrote this in 1995 I was unaware of this. I hope it is useful.
Jehovah’s Witnesses view blood as being “precious” at all times and in every circumstance.
An object may be precious for one or both of two reasons. It may have intrinsic value, or it may have value conferred on it by its owner. A gold wedding ring has both kinds of value. It has intrinsic value because of what it is made of but it also has an even greater value to its owner because of what it represents.
JW’s treat blood as if it is intrinsically valuable; it is this assumption that is their fundamental mistake.
In Genesis 6 when god gives permission for humans to kill animals for food. God tells Noah that he is to pour out the blood of the animal on the ground.
A common sense approach to this story would put “life” at the centre of the narrative. God is not primarily telling Noah something about blood but about the value of life. All life belongs to him and he is to be acknowledged as the source of life when an animal is killed for food. In pouring out an animal’s life on the ground, the worshipper symbolically returns the life to god.
The conclusive evidence that god is speaking here about the symbolic value of blood and not any intrinsic value is found in the law given through Moses. In Leviticus 17 god repeats his earlier instruction to Noah to pour out the blood of a creature hunted for food.
10 " Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood—I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, "None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood. 13 'Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, 14 because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, "You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off."
These verses are often quoted by the Watchtower to support their position on blood. However the very next verse is never mentioned.
15 'Anyone, whether native-born or alien, who eats anything found dead or torn by wild animals must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be ceremonially unclean till evening; then he will be clean. 16 But if he does not wash his clothes and bathe himself, he will be held responsible.'
Notice that if somebody kills an animal for food and fails to return its life to god by pouring out its blood they are condemned under the law to be “ cut off from his people ” which most commentators take to refer to capital punishment. But, if an animal is killed by another animal the person who eats it has no guilt. He is “ceremonially unclean” until he bathes and changes his clothes. Remember that an animal that is already dead cannot be bled.
The Watchtower commented on this verse back in 1983 (15/4 p31) and tried to explain it away as “accidental or inadvertent” eating of unbled meat. This just cannot be sustained from any sensible reading of the context.
Exactly the same point about eating an animal “already dead” appears a few chapters earlier in Leviticus 11 in the context of clean and unclean animals.
39 If an animal that you are allowed to eat dies, anyone who touches the carcass will be unclean till evening. 40Anyone who eats some of the carcass must wash his clothes, and he will be unclean till evening. Anyone who picks up the carcass must wash his clothes, and he will be unclean till evening.
So here is the dilemma facing an Israelite on finding one of his sheep dead in the field. Firstly it is physically impossible to bleed it. If he digs a pit and buries it he is unclean until the morning for touching a dead body. If he decides not to waste it and cooks it for the family they are all unclean until the morning. Either way nobody gets “cut off”.
So what’s the difference? If he had killed the sheep himself and ate it unbled he would be guilty of taking a life and not respecting the giver of life by returning it to god through the pouring out of its blood. But, if another animal takes the life of the sheep or if it falls over and breaks its neck or dies of illness there is no guilt. No life was taken, and so no life can be returned to god. The blood of the animal “already dead” has no value and can be eaten with impunity.
It is clear by a comparison of these verses that the value of blood is not intrinsic but symbolic. Value is conferred on it by god who accepts it as representing a life that has been taken.
It is interesting to look at this from a different perspective for a moment. The Law clearly stated that blood had sacrificial value.
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. – Lev.17:11
So what if an Israelite bled his bull without killing it? He could remove a pint or two at a time and bring gallons of it to the altar. It is obvious that such a sacrifice would have no value at all for one simple reason – NOTHING WAS KILLED! The blood only represents the value of life when that life is taken and at no other time.
In the case of blood transfusions the blood that has been donated was not collected at the cost of the donor’s life and therefore has no more religious significance than the blood of an animal already dead which could be consumed without penalty.
Under the Law given through Moses there was a long list of things that resulted in the worshipper being viewed as ceremonially unclean. Various types of animals were declared unclean and therefore unsuitable for food. Everyday activities could also leave a person in an “unclean” condition. Sex, childbirth (especially if the child was female), touching a dead body and many more things resulted in uncleanness. This was not the same thing as committing a sin. The solution for an unclean condition was usually the requirement to bathe, change clothes and wait a specified period of time, most often “until the evening”.
Eating unbled meat of an animal “already dead” is consistently presented as a matter of uncleanness in the Old Testament never as a cause of sin. On the other hand the Israelites were frequently admonished to avoid things that god viewed as unclean whenever practical.
In the book of Deuteronomy Moses addresses the nation prior to their entry to the “promised land” and encourages them to keep the law. In chapter 14 he says,
21 "Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to an alien living in any of your towns, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. But you are a people holy to the LORD your God. Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk.”
If consuming the unbled meat of an animal “already dead” was a matter of sin it would be equally binding on all nations not just the Israelites. Remember the law concerning blood was first given to Noah. But here Moses tells the Israelite to keep themselves clean by not eating such meat but instead selling it to a foreigner, not because it would be sinful to eat it but because the nation of Israel “are a people holy to the LORD your God.” It is put in the same category as the odd-sounding rule, “Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk” which has led to the complicated domestic arrangements in the homes of many Jewish families.
Those who served as priests in Israel were especially concerned with maintaining ceremonial cleanness; they were unable to carry out their job while considered unclean. The law contained additional rules directly only at the priesthood for this purpose. Leviticus 21 and 22 lists some of these extra restrictions including this verse in 22: 8,
8 He must not eat anything found dead or torn by wild animals, and so become unclean through it. I am the LORD.
So while the average Israelite could eat unbled meat of animal found dead, this provision was not open to priests, the sons of Aaron who were not even permitted to enter a building where there was a dead body. Centuries later in the bible narrative the same restriction is repeated at Ezekiel 44:31
31 The priests must not eat anything, bird or animal, found dead or torn by wild animals.
Ezekiel was himself the son of a priest and he declared,
14 Then I said, "Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth." (Ezek 4:14)
From this brief summary of Old Testament law two simple facts are inescapable.
1] When an animal was killed for food its blood was sacred and must be poured out on the ground. The rationale for this is the symbolic value of the blood in representing the life that has been taken
2] If an animal was found “already dead” its unbled flesh could be eaten with impunity; this resulted only in temporary uncleanness.
Only by properly understanding this Old Testament background of the laws concerning blood can the key text at Acts 15 in the New Testament and its significance for Christians be properly understood.
A fact often overlooked by modern Christians is that they’re religion began as a Jewish sect. The burning issue in the early church, that almost divided it in its infancy, was whether gentile believers could be acceptable without complying with the full requirements of the law.
In Galatians 2 Paul recounts how tension between Jewish and gentile believers led him to go up to the apostles in Jerusalem to settle the matter. In Acts 15 we appear to have a historical account of what Paul is referring to in this letter. A summit meeting is held involving a large number of believers including some of the elders and apostles as well as Paul and Barnabus.
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses." Acts 15:2
So here is the problem; it is offensive to Jewish Christians that some of their brothers are ignoring the basic requirements of the law including circumcision. This did not just have theological implications; it was an obstacle to the unity and fellowship of the early church. A Jewish Christian could not, in good conscience, have fellowship with an uncircumcised person.
The solution that was finally adopted was a stroke of genius.
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. Acts 15:28,29
So where did the meeting come up with this particular set of requirements for gentile believers? Why no injunction against murder? What about theft, drunkenness and lying? This verse is not a new set of commandments for Christians; it is a restatement of those things that had always been required to maintain fellowship between Jews and gentiles.
The question of how Jews and gentiles could live together peacefully and what was required of non-Jewish residents in Israel was already established in the Law. In Leviticus 17 and 18 these very same prohibitions which could neatly be summarized as idolatry, blood and fornication, are set out as being those things that a foreigner must adhere to while living amongst the Israelites. They were not required to be circumcised, and to stipulate they were to abstain from murder or theft would have been to state the obvious. The crimes that a foreigner were likely to commit, perhaps without even understanding their offensiveness to their Jewish hosts, were these three things, idolatry, fornication and eating blood.
The words of James who proposed the content of the letter sent out to the congregations leaves us in no doubt about the reason for its contents.
"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." Acts 15:19-21
How can there be any room for doubt that these things are not about fundamental laws but about how to maintain unity under the specific circumstances of the early congregation?
Finally, the letter requires Christians “abstain from food sacrificed to idols” but in 1Cor 8 Paul explains clearly that a brother who eats food sacrificed to idols commits no sin but does risk stumbling his brother. The language Paul uses there is identical to the wording of the Acts 15 letter.
There are lots of other great articles about blood and the hypocrisy of recent laws on fractions. My only concern in researching the above was the biblical context. For that reason it may be useful to questioning JWs. See JWFacts.com for more information.