Blood and the Bible Does the Blood Prohibition Apply to Christians?
J EHOVAH'S WITNESSES SAY that the basis for their stand on blood is a Biblical prohibition against its use. We have seen that Charles Taze Russell, founder of the WTS, did not consider the verses in Acts 15 as prohibiting Christians from eating blood. We have further seen that the motive behind the blood prohibition's predecessor, the vaccine ban, was C. J. Woodworths irrational hate of the medical profession. His "Biblical grounds" were secondary to his own quack science, which included selling semi-occult "electronic" devices to the Bible Student community and instilling in them fears of aluminium, tonsillectomies and vaccine serums.
When the same Bible verses are used against blood transfusions we should be cautious. The arguments were used twice earlier (against vaccinations and organ transplants) but these ideas were later rejected. Nevertheless, no one can deny that there is a blood prohibition in the Bible. First we will see if these different Bible verses apply to Christians at all. Later we will see if the blood prohibition applies to medical use.
Eating Flesh with Life Still in It
IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS in the Bible, we find that after the flood, Noah and his family are the sole survivors. Until now, the story implies, man has eaten only vegetable food, and predators did not exist. The Genesis account gives this explanation of why after the flood man was permitted to kill other creatures for food. God makes a covenant with Noah:
Genesis 9:3-7 "Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul its blood you must not eat. And, besides that, your blood of your souls shall I ask back. From the hand of every living creature shall I ask it back; and from the hand of man, from the hand of each one who is his brother, shall I ask back the soul of man. Anyone shedding mans blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God's image he made man. And as for you men, be fruitful and become many, make the earth swarm with you and become many in it." [ NWT ]
JWs argue that since Noah is the ancestor of all human beings, this covenant is binding on all men. A JW will agree with most other Christians that the Mosaic Law was made obsolete (or, as some may put it, was "fulfilled") when Christ died, but this, they say, is not part of that law. The covenant with Noah is still binding, according to the WTS, which says:
"Gods Firm Stand on Blood
Blood is mentioned more than 400 times in Gods Word, the Bible. Among the earliest is Jehovah's decree: "Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. . . . But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it." He added: "For your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting." (Genesis 9:3-5, New International Version) Jehovah said that to Noah, progenitor of the human family. Hence, all humanity was put on notice that the Creator views blood as standing for life. Everyone who claims to recognize God as Life-Giver ought thus to recognize that He takes a firm position about using lifeblood." (The Watchtower, June 15, 1991, p. 9)
Is this a correct interpretation?
Let us look at the elements of this covenant. We will find three requirements or laws that are binding to men:
1. They are allowed to eat flesh from animals, but not flesh with its soul or blood still in it.
2. They are prohibited from shedding blood (i.e. murder), and God will require that murderers themselves be put to death.
3. They should have many children, "be fruitful and become many."
If we treat these points in reverse order, it becomes immediately apparent that the WTS is not very honest about this alleged universal law. It is well-known that the WTS does not oppose birth control, and neither do they advocate having many children (quite the opposite, in fact). One article stated:
"Those who argue against contraception often cite the Biblical command given to Adam and Eve: "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth." (Genesis 1:28, Douay) However, as Spanish writer Ricardo Lezcano rightly observed: "It seems somewhat contradictory to apply to 4,000 million human beings the same formula that was applied to the only two inhabitants of the planet." This command was clearly related to the special circumstances existing at that time." (Awake! Sept. 22, 1989, pp. 23-4)
It is not difficult to agree with this argument, but as we can see, God repeated the same words to Noah as part of the "eternal covenant" he made with him. On this, the WTS is silent. While Genesis 9:4 is quoted in WTS literature practically every year as a direct command to abstain from blood, we have to work hard to find references to the equally direct command to be fruitful. When we find it, we see that what is considered the strictest of commands where blood is concerned is simply ignored where having children is concerned:
"As we saw at the outset of this discussion, childbearing is a gift of God. (Psalm 127:3) It is a unique privilege that is not shared by Jehovah's spirit creatures. (Matthew 22:30) There have been times when the bearing of children formed part of the work that Jehovah assigned to his servants on earth. This was the case with Adam and Eve. (Genesis 1:28) It was true of the Flood survivors. (Genesis 9:1) Jehovah willed that the sons of Israel should become numerous through childbearing. - Genesis 46:1-3; Exodus 1:7, 20; Deuteronomy 1:10.
Today, childbearing is not specifically a part of the work Jehovah has committed to his people. Nevertheless, it is still a privilege that he grants to married people if they desire it. Christian couples who decide to start a family should not, therefore, be criticized; neither should couples who refrain from having children." (The Watchtower, March 1, 1988, pp. 25-6; bold added)
Even though it is here stated that it is a personal decision, we know that the WTS has a long history of arguing strongly against having children "in this time of the end:"
"Would it be Scripturally proper for them to now marry and begin to rear children? No, is the answer, which is supported by the Scriptures." (Face the Facts, 1938, p. 46)
If the covenant with Noah were indeed eternal, then it would be mockery to say that "childbearing is not specifically a part of the work Jehovah has committed to his people," because being fruitful has always been part of that covenant.
However, it is easy to agree with the WTS that this covenant does not, indeed, apply to Christians, at least not in this strict sense. We know that Paul argued it might be best for some not to marry (1. Co 7:38). We know that the New Testament does not refer to the covenant with Noah as if it were important to abide by it today. This, of course, leaves us with the conclusion that the part about blood does not apply either.
The second point in this covenant is the express command not to shed blood, and that if someone sheds blood, their fellowmen are required to make them pay for it with their own blood. This is not as straightforward as it sounds. It is evident that the expression "shedding mans blood" refers to killing. However, we see quickly that in Gods dealings with Israel both these requirements were qualified, to put it mildly. Israel waged war, and a soldier did not break any covenant when he killed an enemy. Also, many crimes besides murder were capital crimes. Even more importantly, we see that God did not require a person to be executed if he had killed inadvertently. When we come to the Christian era, we know that the apostle Paul was forgiven even though he was responsible for the murder of Stephen. We know that Jesus emphasized love over the letter of the law.
Finally, let us note the words used to express the command against killing: "shedding mans blood." It is self-evident that this is not a rule against allowing your own blood to be shed if you, i.e. cut your hand by accident. The blood is merely a symbol of life. The literal blood is not important, life is, or it would be permitted to kill with poison or strangling. Nobody will argue with this, but to interpret the first part of the covenant, we must have in mind that "blood" is a metaphor in all these verses.
The first point, which is the important one here, is that "Only flesh with its soul its blood you must not eat."This is the central command here.
It is often argued that the verse prohibits eating meat with blood in it. But the verse does not say that at all. As we have seen, both from the verse itself and from our treatment of the prohibition against killing, "blood" is a metaphor. The metaphor is explicitly explained to be about life (or "soul" in NWT). Verse 4 says: "Flesh with life still in it you must not eat," or:
"But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it." (New International Version)
"But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat." (King James Version)
"Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood." (Revised Standard Version)
We can see that in these verses, blood is life. The "shedding of blood" prohibited in the covenant was about killing. In the same way, blood is life in animals slaughtered for food. They were not allowed to eat flesh from an animal that was not yet dead. Today, this sounds like an unnecessary rule. However, this is still sometimes practiced in Africa, and was not unheard of in the old Semitic world. Rabbinic sources, like the famous commentary on the Talmud by Rabbi Raschi (1040-1105), give this interpretation. (Rev. M. Rosenbaum and Dr. A. M. Silberman, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Prayers for Sabbath and Rashis Commentary: Genesis, London: Shapiro, Vallentine & Co, 1946, p. 37.)
Other commentators agree that this is the correct and direct interpretation of these verses:
"The original meaning of the prohibition. B. Jacob paraphrases: You may eat all flesh, but not flesh with its life. The commonly accepted explanation, that the sentence forbids the partaking of blood, is not correct, though one can certainly say that it follows; however it is not stated expressly." 1
"Rabbinic tradition understands this formula as a prohibition (to all mankind) not to cut steaks from a living animal. Absurd or far-fetched as this interpretation may appear to some moderns, such a practice would preserve the living flesh in a fresh state for later consumption; and has, furthermore, been reported as practiced in parts of Africa the related (rabbinic) interpretation, (forbidding) drinking the blood tapped from the veins of living animals is the regular practice of Masai tribesmen . . . Some sects interpret the prohibition here as interdicting blood transfusions." 2
See also Martin Luther, who argues along the same lines in his commentary. 3
Those who will argue that this is wrong, will also logically have to claim that the rule about "shedding blood" in the same passage applies to a modern blood test. Further, they will have to argue that what makes it wrong to eat it, is the blood itself. That would be problematic, for even the most thorough bleeding of animals leaves around fifty per cent of the blood still in the flesh! Naturally, then, if blood is not interpreted symbolically, it will be impossible to take advantage of Gods permission to eat flesh. Since this rule allowed men to eat flesh, it is a necessary condition that they could indeed eat flesh with some blood in it.
While the most direct interpretation of these verses shows that they are about properly killing animals before eating them, it is also true that this rule is related to the Mosaic Law, which explicitly demanded an animal be properly bled and prohibited the eating of blood. This law is still obeyed by Jews, Moslems and some Christian groups today including the JWs.
There is no doubt that this rule demanding animals to be properly killed is one reason for the prohibition against eating blood, since this procedure guarantees that the animal is dead. This is one principle behind the Mosaic Law.
1. Claus Westermann: Genesis 1-11. A Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984, p. 464. His detailed discussion of this topic on pp. 464-5 is well worth an examination.
2. "On Slaughter and Sacrifice, Blood and Atonement," Hebrew Union College Annual, vol. XLVII, Cincinnati, p. 21; ellipse in original.
3. Jaroslav Pelikan (ed.): Luthers Works, Vol. 2, Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960, p. 138.
NWT: The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, translated and published by the Watch Tower Society 1961, 1981 and 1984. If not otherwise indicated, this translation, which is the official Bible translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses, is used throughout this treatise.
The Law of Moses Dietary Regulations
The Christians and Blood
The Church Fathers
How the WTS Tries to Overcome the Biblical Evidence
Edited by - JanH on 8 August 2002 18:50:10