Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Watchtower

The successors to the apostles

Blood transfusion: Permissible?

The purpose of this study is to inform certain people about making the right decision, when they find themselves in a dilemma on which their life or their children’s life depends.

 

An important issue, which for some people may prove a matter of life and death, has made it necessary for us to deal with this (otherwise negligible) dogmatic theme.  The reason is, that the leadership of the self-proclaimed “Jehovah’s Witnesses” teaches that the transfusion of blood is forbidden by Christians, even if it means risking death!

We shall prove further down that the position of the Holy Bible is entirely different, and that the leadership of the organization in question bears a guilt of blood towards its followers, who have perhaps lost their lives in their desire to preserve the integrity of their faith towards God.

 

The Watchtower organization’s arguments

In a nutshell, the Watchtower organization’s position is the following:

“Though the (so-called)‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ may teach that transfusion is dangerous, for reasons of health, that it may cause infections, they have not forbidden blood for that reason. Their reasons are purely dogmatic.  From the beginning, God had shown His aversion to the use of blood as a form of sustenance, when He gave Noah the order to not consume “flesh with its blood” (Genesis 9: 4).

Since Noah is our forefather, this prohibition is valid for us as well. Centuries later, God showed that His prohibition was still valid, when He forbade the Israelites and all those who lived amongst them, to consume blood. (Leviticus 17: 10 - 14).

But he also showed the Christians that this was prohibited, when, during the Council (Synod) of the Apostles (in Acts 15: 20,28,29), He instructed that they “should abstain from blood, and from anything strangled, and from sacrificial offerings to idols and from fornication”. The passage doesn’t simply say that they “should not eat”, but that they “should abstain from”, which means they should not permit it to contact their body, just like one shouldn’t permit any contact with alcohol when the doctor so prescribes. So, if someone places something prohibited in his veins, he will not be “abstaining”! It is not permitted to preserve your life with blood, whether by consuming it through the mouth, or through the veins”.

 

Infection or death?

Let’s take a closer look at these arguments, in order to locate the logical and the dogmatic faults of this organization, on the matter of blood:

Of course blood can be dangerous in certain transfusions, but when a person’s life is at stake and there is no other alternative cure, then it would be totally insane, to worry about the dangers of hepatitis, AIDS, or other infections. In these cases, the saving of the patient’s life is primarily imperative.

 

The reason Noah was not supposed to eat blood

Is this something Christian however?

Let’s go back to Noah’s time, to begin with.  A careful reading of this verse will reveal the reason that God forbade Noah the consumption of blood.

The passage in Genesis 9: 4 says the following:  “but of flesh that is alive, with its blood, you shall not partake”.

We notice here that blood is implied as the symbol of life; to which we must show the appropriate respect. But, we wonder, is it prudent and acceptable to God (in a perilous situation), to sacrifice life itself, for the sake of its symbol? What is more sacred at that moment? Life, or the symbol of life?  What would we rather sacrifice?  Our flag, or our country?

So, why did God forbid the partaking of blood along with the flesh?

Given that God is the giver of life, (Job 33: 4), and “the earth is the footstool of His feet” (Acts 7: 49), Noah’s spilling of blood (the animal’s life symbol) onto the ground was his way of saying to the Lord “My God, I use the flesh of this animal to preserve my life (as You have permitted me), although the life of this animal really belongs to You. So, I am pouring its blood (its life symbol) onto the earth, at Your feet, as a sign of my acknowledgement that You have the exclusive power over its life”.

 The prohibition therefore of blood, had no other underlying reason, other than this, symbolic gesture of acknowledgement of God’s power over the life of His creature, which was no longer alive.

But, when a transfusion takes place, the blood donor is not dead The donor is still alive, and while he is alive, he donates a little of his blood, in order to preserve the life of his brother. Since he is therefore still alive, there is also no issue of offering back his life, onto God’s footstool. He still has his life!  There shouldn’t be any reason for prohibiting blood transfusion!  

The same applies, in the relative points of the Mosaic Law, where the consumption of blood was forbidden and had to be poured onto the ground, before the animal was eaten, or before it was sacrificed.   

 

The word “abstain” of the apostolic council (synod)

What can we say about the New Testament however? What was implied by the apostolic ruling, when they imposed “abstinence” from blood?  Were they referring only to consumption of blood, or was this word used in a categorical way?

The Watchtower organization believes that the word is used in a categorical way, and that it means: “keeping a distance” from blood. If this was the case, then transfusion should indeed be prohibited.  But, similarly, if the word was indeed used in a categorical way, then a “Jehovah’s Witness” should never become a butcher!  A butcher definitely doesn’t “abstain” from blood!  After all, don’t they assert that “abstain” means “keeping a distance”? That would definitely mean NOT EVEN TOUCHING blood !!

But if the word was not used in a categorical way, it would most likely be referring only to consumption, and not to transfusion, given that, at the time that the words of the apostles were recorded, transfusion was non-existent, therefore they could only have been referring to consumption.

The Watchtower organization has therefore arbitrarily interpreted the word “abstain”, as categorically pertaining to transfusion, and not-so-categorically pertaining to the touching of blood, which it permits.

So, why was the word “abstain” used, and not the words “do not eat”, if only consumption was implied?

The reason is, that the prohibition pertains to four things: sacrifices to idols, strangled animals, blood and fornication.  If the words “do not eat” were used, they would not be applicable to “fornication”. Likewise, if the words “do not commit” or “do not participate in” were used, they wouldn’t be appropriate for the three first things that were prohibited. It becomes obvious, that the most suitable word that could cover all four prohibitions in one sentence, was the word “abstain”!

This word was therefore preferred, purely for reasons of syntax, and it referred to consumption.

“But isn’t it the same thing, to put blood inside you, whether through the mouth or a vein?” one might ask.

No! The difference is huge! Blood isn’t like alcohol, which - whether imbibed orally or injected intravenously –comprises sustenance for one’s organism.

If blood is ingested orally, it becomes food.  When placed into a vein however, it becomes a “platter”! The function of blood inside a vein is to transport oxygen and nutritious elements to the body’s cells. The blood does not become food there. Transfusion is therefore an entirely different thing to the eating of blood. 

 

The strictness of prohibition

But, how binding is the prohibition of consuming blood? Let’s see:

In this same prohibition, reference is made to abstinence from sacrificial offerings to idols.  We wonder if this is another prohibition, which is worth even dying for

Paul the Apostle – one of the apostles who participated in the apostolic council (synod) that imposed this ruling – says the following, in another place in the Holy Bible:

Corinthians I, 10: 25 - 29:  “Whatever is sold by a butcher, you may consume, without examining anything with regard to your conscience. However, if someone tells you: “This is sacrificial meat for idols”, then do not eat it – for the sake of the one who revealed this, and for conscience’s sake….not yours, but the other’s.”

We see here an astounding detail: Even though sacrificial meat is strictly prohibited by the Synod of the Apostles, the Apostle Paul permits its consumption, provided it doesn’t scandalize someone. In other words, that which is prohibited with its blood, the Holy Bible elsewhere allows it!  How therefore can it not make allowance for transfusion, which is not a simple dietary matter, but a matter of a life being saved?

In fact, the apostle advises us not to examine whether what we eat is sacrificial meat!  This is entirely the opposite of Watchtower’s practice, which asks its followers to find out in advance if what they eat has been strangled, or if blood will be used in a certain operation…

 

The reason for the council’s (synod’s) prohibition

Let’s examine more closely the reason that these four things were forbidden by the Apostolic Synod, and why Paul doesn’t impose them so strictly.

If we look closely, we shall see that he refers to them as “compulsory burdens” (Acts 15: 28). Why is this, if “God’s commandments are not heavy”? (John I, 5: 3). He also says that:  “except for these four imperative ones”, the others are not prohibited. (Acts 15: 28). In other words, apart from strangled animals, fornication, blood and sacrificial offerings, everything else is permitted?  Killing is permitted? Stealing? Blasphemy? Of course not! Then why does he say this?

So, we must ask, by whom are these things prohibited? By the Mosaic Law of course! Let’s not forget that this Apostolic Synod was convened, for the problem of Circumcision; that is, whether or not the “Gentiles” (non-Judeans, of other nations) should be circumcised according to Mosaic Law. Thus, those four things were the only burdens that the Gentiles were obliged to uphold, in obedience to the Law!  Those were the only things that the Law demanded the non-Jews to observe, while living amongst them, according to Leviticus 17: 7 - 18.

It is interesting how, if we note the order in which the apostles mentioned those four prohibited things, we can see that the apostles had in mind chapters 17 and 18 of Leviticus when imposing those four prohibitions.

When Jacob (=James), the first Bishop of Jerusalem spoke in the verse of Acts 15: 20, he recited from memory these four prohibitions: “they must abstain from the miasmas of the idols, and from fornication, and from strangled animals, and blood.”

At the end of the Council however, they obviously opened up the Law in the Book of Leviticus and read the correct order, thus in their final ruling, they wrote them in the same order that Moses had commanded: “You must abstain from idol-sacrificed offerings, and blood, and from strangled animals and fornication.” (Acts 15: 29). This is also evident in verse 21, where it says that these should be observed, “because in every city, Jews have synagogues in which the Law is read…” Consequently, the prohibition was imposed, not so much because it was an abomination to eat sacrificial meat or blood as Christians, but, only so that the Jews would not be scandalized, and thus be deterred on their path to Christ!

And that was the reason the Apostle Paul was so lax in the implementation of the prohibition of sacrificial meats: Because the basic problem was the scandalizing of others.

Let every Watchtower victim therefore pay attention to all of the above and decide accordingly on his actions, because every life is sacred and unique and should be protected, if we truly want to be agreeable in the sight of God.

 

N. M.

Translation by A.N.

Greek text

Article published in English on: 5-9-2005.

Last update: 20-10-2005.

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