"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
The first mention of blood in the bible
is 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 center 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 worshiper symbolically returns the life to
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
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."
are often quoted by the Watchtower to support their position on
blood. However the very next verse is never mentioned.
'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. 40 Anyone 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
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”.
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
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
It is interesting to look at this from a different
perspective for a moment. The Law clearly stated that blood had
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.
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
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.
the Law given through Moses there was a long list of things that
resulted in the worshiper 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, 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”.
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.
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
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
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)
this brief summary of Old Testament law two simple facts are
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
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.
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 Barnabas.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
"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
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.