Are Blood Transfusions Wrong?

By Jady W Copeland

Sometime after Judge Rutherford’s death, the Jehovah’s Witnesses decided it was sinful to have blood transfusions, even if one could save a life. They are so confident that this is sin that they will die or allow their children to die rather than to submit to a blood transfusion. Some of them carry identification cards in their pocket or purse saying that they want blood transfusions under no circumstances. So we do not question their sincerity, only whether their belief in the matter is substantiated by the Scriptures.

But where do they get the idea that it is sinful to have blood transfusions, since the Bible nowhere mentions such a thing (pro or con) and since it was not discovered that blood circulated in the human veins until Dr. William Harvey, an English physician, discovered it about 1615 and the first transfusions on record do not appear until several years later? The way they reach this conclusion is to say that transfusions and eating blood are the same. “Jehovah’s Witnesses see no difference between being fed blood through the mouth or nose or intravenously” (Religions In America, Leo Rosten, Simon and Schuster, Inc., New York, 1963, p. 101). It is defined as “intravenous feeding, it is a feeding upon blood, An unscriptural practice” (“Make Sure of All Things,” Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, p. 47). After erroneously concluding that transfusions and eating blood are the same, they twist the scriptures to “prove” it is always sinful to eat the blood of animals under any or all circumstances.

In arguing their case it is interesting to note the “reasons” given. They tell us the practice is dangerous but they do not refuse other medical treatment that is equally dangerous. The dangers involved in transfusions are relatively minor. But the argument that is most humorous (if it were not so serious) is the one which says that the recipient of blood may take on the character of the donor. Bro. Maurice Barnett quotes from Awake; a Jehovah’s Witness publication (July 8, 1969), which tells of Mr. Robert Khoury who became a thief because the donor of a pint of blood was a thief (the statement is quoted in Jehovah’s Witnesses, Vol. 1). I suppose a transfusion from a genius would improve a man’s thinking if that is the case.

One of the favorite passages used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to prove their case is Gen. 9:4. Here the eating of blood is forbidden. This, of course, is before the law of Moses. However it was in connection with the sacrifice for sin. Then, and later under the law of Moses, the blood of animals sacrificed for sin was made sacred to the ones offering the sacrifice. Hence they were to refrain from eating it. Blood represented the life and thus, because of God’s command, became very sacred to them. Animal blood was shed because the life of the animal was given in place of the sinner. While the “type” lasted, they were forbidden to eat the blood of animals. But now that Jesus has shed His blood for sin, animal blood is no longer a symbol of the life of the one making the sacrifice. Thus, the sacredness of animal blood was removed and there is no reason to refrain from eating it.

Keep the above thought in mind as we now consider another favorite passage of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lev. 17:11-12. Again the eating of blood is prohibited, but notice in verse 11 that it is stated, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the alter to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” The New American Standard translation says, “for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” In this verse, God told the Israelites why they were not to eat blood. But the law of sacrificing animal blood for sins is no longer binding, as we are saved by the blood of Christ. Thus the reason for considering the blood such a sacred thing has been removed. The blood of animals will not take away sins (Heb. 9:12-14).

Coming to the New Testament, we again come to a favorite passage of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Acts 15:2029. This is of course after the new covenant was effective; a brief look at the background of the statement is helpful here. The problem prompting this statement was one which involved the relationship between Jew and Gentile, a problem that had arisen after Cornelius was baptized (Acts 10:48). False teachers had come from Judea teaching that it was necessary to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15: i ). Paul and Barnabas were dispatched to discuss the matter with the elders and apostles in Jerusalem. There Peter told them how God had shown him that the Gentiles should also have the gospel. The multitude then kept silent as Barnabas and Paul told of the great wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles. Then James spoke. He reminded them that what Peter had said was in harmony with the prophets of old. Now the time had come for the decision regarding what to tell the brethren at Antioch. These were Gentile Christians (vs. 23). As already noted, there had been misunderstandings from the beginning in the Jew-Gentile relationship. Notice that the four things here prohibited (pollutions of idols, fornication, things strangled and blood) were items of heathen worship with which the Gentiles were familiar. It did not bother them to eat in the temples of the idol worshiper. Paul told the Corinthians that whatever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no questions (1 Cor. 10:25). Thus it was obviously not wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols under some conditions. But sometimes it was wrong (1 Cor. 10:28). It was wrong if it caused a weak brother to eat meats in violation of his conscience (see also 1 Cor. 8:13).

Then why did James now tell them to abstain from pollutions of idols, . blood, etc.? The answer comes in verse 21. “For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” Here is another reference to the Jew-Gentile relationship. Love and restraint must be practiced (1 Cor. 8:9; 10:32; Rom. 14:13-15). These four things were linked together on the basis of the Jew Gentile relationship, not because they were equal morally. These were especially objectionable to the Jews. Thus in the letter they were forbidden. So out of deference to the Jewish brethren and in an attempt to maintain the unity of brethren, they were to abstain from these things. See Acts 15:21.

But is it not wrong, to practice these things now under all conditions? What about fornication? Is it not wrong under all circumstances? Yes, many other passages tell us it is (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19, etc.). But in the passage before us it is connected with the heathen worship with which the Gentiles were familiar and no doubt refers to the practice of the heathen religious worship. Even fornication was an act of worship among the pagans. Lenski says, “It was a part of their idol worship” (Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, Lenski, p. 615). He then continued, “The wisdom of some of the Corinthian Christians argued that fornication was merely an external matter. The old pagan ideas about sexual impurities not being impurities kept clinging to the converts from paganism in some form or other. Hence this warning appears as the second on the list of Peter” (Ibid., p. 615).

Thus, it is the belief of this writer that the things prohibited here were not meant as restrictions under all circumstances and to all generations, but were stated in view of the strained Jew-Gentile relationship at that time. As already stated, we know eating meat sacrificed to idols was not sinful. So this would explain why sometimes it was wrong and sometimes it was not. Since these things were pagan religious practices, the Gentile Christians were to refrain out of love for their Jewish brethren who objected to them.

In conclusion we believe that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong in their position on several counts. (1) They cannot show that eating blood (even if sinful now) and blood transfusions are the same. Blood transfusions save lives; they do not destroy life. (2) The scriptures they use show (even under Moses’ law) that the prohibition concerned animal blood, not human blood. (3) In misusing the Old Testament they fail to see that the blood was sacred; for this reason, they were to refrain from eating it. (4) And, finally, they misapply Acts 15, which does not make a blanket prohibition.

Truth Magazine XIX: 26, pp. 407-408
May 8, 1975