Blood as used in the Bible is a symbol; it symbolizes life and redemption, specifically the life and redeeming blood of Christ. Does the refusal of a transfusion by a Jehovah's Witness, perhaps resulting in death, uphold the sacredness God required for blood as a symbol? Or, because blood is symbolic of life and redemption would not the acceptance of a blood transfusion honour the sacred reality, life and redemption? Would not the giving of blood in a transfusion to save a physical life be parallel to Christ giving his blood on Calvary for man's eternal life?

Jehovah's Witnesses are perhaps better known for their refusal to accept a blood transfusion than by any other thing. Their reason for such a conviction is that to them, accepting a transfusion is the same thing as eating blood and the Bible speaks against the eating of blood or unbled meat. But, is that what the Bible says, and can it be extended to the transfusion of blood?

When it is pointed out to a Witness that the Bible says nothing against blood transfusions they will frequently respond by saying, "Of course, such a procedure was unknown in Biblical times. But, the Bible does say to 'abstain from blood' and how can you 'abstain' while taking a transfusion?" Could the answer be that we are also to "abstain from meat offered to idols" (Acts 15:29) which Paul said was a matter of conscience and regard for a weaker brother (1 Cor.8)?

The reason why God placed a restriction on blood in the first place was because as Leviticus 17:11 says, "...for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul." God was sanctifying, setting apart for a holy purpose, the symbol of life and man's redemption, so that man would have the highest respect for it. Many pagan religions profaned blood by the way they used it. For instance it has been the view of many in occultism-related religions in both ancient and modern times that if you would eat animal or even human flesh while it was still living, you would receive the strength or life of the thing being eaten. This was the reason why God placed such a restriction on Noah and Israel.

In the Old Testament sacrifices, we see animal blood being shed for the sins of the people. These sacrifices typified the shedding of the blood of Jesus on Calvary. So the sanctification of blood as a sacred symbol was ultimately because of the sacredness of the blood of Jesus. However, the purpose of the shedding of blood, whether in type in the Old Testament, or in the reality of Christ in the New Testament, was because the purpose of God was to give life. Hence, the value of life itself is preeminent over its symbol which is blood.

Isn't it interesting that the Church, which God purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28) is told to eat Christ's flesh and drink His blood symbolically in the Lord's Supper (John 6:53-58)? There is a hierarchy of values in the Levitical law. For instance it was forbidden to the Israelites to gather wood on the Sabbath. When the first offender was brought before Moses for judgment, Moses was told by God to put the man to death. Because this was the first offense, and it was a direct challenge to what God had commanded, the severest penalty (death) was required.

However, in the New Testament Jesus asked the Pharisees, "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day?" (Luke 14:5) The difference in Jesus' example is that a life is being saved, even if it is only the life of an animal. To administer a blood transfusion to save a life is to endorse, or sustain, the preeminent value, which is life itself.

Does self-sacrifice by refusal of a blood transfusion strengthen the value God places on life, or weaken it? Is it a sin to sustain life? It would be a sin to throw oneself in front of a Dangote truck. But, it would not be a sin if in doing such a thing one was pushing another person out of danger. The difference, life, the life of another, is being valued highly, even though it cost a life to do so. With a blood transfusion life is being sustained but without the death of anyone else.

Though there are many Old Testament passages that discuss the eating of blood the scriptures cited below are the key texts. So, for the sake of space, comment will be reserved to these.


This is the first prohibition against the eating of blood. God gave Noah and his family permission to use animal flesh as food but He restricted that permission by saying, "But the flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat." Because this was given to Noah and his family, which then constituted the entire human race, and was prior to the Law, the Watchtower says this restriction was a universal one.

Two other things should be pointed out here. First, there are two kinds of 'flesh' discussed. The first is living animals, or 'flesh with the life thereof,' and the second is unbled dead meat. This restriction is given to show respect for the blood of sacrifices.

Second, the claim by Jehovah's Witnesses that this prohibition is universal on all mankind is not warranted because Noah and his family were the only believers who were saved through the flood so the prohibition could still be limited to believers only. And, Moses was inspired by God to say,

"Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God."


Furthermore, the Watchtower is inconsistent by saying Genesis 9:4 is universal but in the Watchtower of November 15, 1964, pages 682 and 683, they say it would be permissible for a Jehovah's Witness doctor to administer blood to a non- Witness patient because Deuteronomy 14:21 allows the Israelites to sell unbled meat to the Gentiles.


"And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people."

(Leviticus 17:10)

Since this text is part of the Law, it cannot be said to be applicable to all of mankind. It is speaking directly to the offense of drinking blood. Because blood is at the heart of the Old Testament sacrificial system, and typified the blood of Christ, it carried a heavier penalty than eating unbled meat.

If you will read verse 15, you will see the very mild penalty for eating unbled meat. The reason for the difference is that when an animal is killed by an Israelite, he is to show his reverence for life and the atonement by pouring out the blood. However, the Law, and the type, are fulfilled in Christ. As Matthew Henry says in COMMENTARY "This reason is now superseded, which intimates that the law itself was ceremonial, and is now no longer in force (p.131)"

The strictest orthodox Jews who still practice the Old Testament dietary laws have never equated a blood transfusion with eating blood. In fact among all the sects who claim to follow Christ, the Jehovah's Witnesses stand alone on this issue. No one else sees any connection between eating blood and transfusing it. So today, it is

"Not that which goeth into the mouth [that] defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man."


ACTS 15:20, 29

In the New Testament the text cited to show that this Old Testament prohibition against ingesting blood was carried over to the New Covenant is found in Acts 15:20,29. The decision of the Church leaders in Jerusalem over a question of Christian unity among Jews and Gentiles was that,

"they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood."

Verse 29 goes on to say, "That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication..."

In Leviticus 17 and 18, God commanded these same four restrictions because as Adam Clarke says in his Commentary,

"The Israelites, from their long residence in Egypt, an idolatrous country, had doubtless adopted many of their usages; and many portions of the Pentateuch seem to have been written merely to correct and bring them back to the purity of the Divine worship."

(Vol. 1, p.566)

Thus, in the New Testament church, this same separation from the pagan practices is required of the Gentile, ex-pagan, believers. These four practices, of feasting at the pagan temples on the meats offered to idols, of temple prostitution (fornication), eating the bloody meat of things strangled which was considered a delicacy, and from eating or drinking of blood which was considered by some pagan religions the food of demons, were the same four restrictions placed on Israel when they departed from Egypt.

In a conversation with a Jehovah's Witness, the writer asked if this abstention from blood was to be an absolute. The answer was, yes. He was then asked if the command to abstain from fornication was an absolute command with no exceptions which he correctly affirmed. He was then asked if the command to abstain from meat offered to idols was an absolute command for all Christians at all times. He said, no, because he knew of Paul's teaching in I Corinthians 8 that says

"an idol is nothing," and a mature Christian can eat such meat if it does not offend his conscience or a weaker brother."

So the point was made that in the context, we have some things that are absolutes (abstaining from fornication), and some that are not (abstaining form meat offered to idols). So to say that the command to abstain from blood, or things strangled, is absolute and incumbent on all Christians at all times is arbitrary. In context, the problem being solved by this ruling of the first general council in Jerusalem was a problem of Christian unity among legalistic Jews and undiscerning Gentiles at a specific time and in a specific place.


One of the simplest facts of human biology proves that a transfusion does not constitute the eating of blood. When anything is eaten, it is taken into the stomach where it is digested and then is passed through the intestines into the blood vessels where the blood then carries it to the body for nourishment. This is the digestive system. In a transfusion, the blood that is transfused through the blood stream until it arrives at the intestines where it picks up the digested food passed through the intestines and carries the food throughout the body. This is the circulatory system. The transfused blood is not food itself but the carrier of food.

The food is broken down into its component parts whereas the blood remains whole. It must therefore be clarified that transfusing blood is not the same as eating blood. The Watchtower confuses the issue by pointing out that blood acts as a kind of "food" in transfusions, whereas the real issue they should be concerned with is whether or not the use of blood to save a life is profaning it. Such is certainly not the case when a person is dying, and a blood transfusion may save their life.

It is important to note that orthodox Jews today, while still obeying the Old Testament laws against the eating of blood, believe there is nothing wrong with taking a blood transfusion. Even the legalistic Jewish mind does not make such a connection, yet the Governing Body of the Watchtower forces this interpretation on their people. A review of the history of Jehovah's Witnesses gives an idea of the origin of this misinterpretation of the Bible.



Charles Taze Russell

In a co-written 1877 book Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World, Charles Taze Russell (leader of the movement that became Jehovah's Witnesses) articulated ideas that remained the teachings of his associates for the next 40 years, many of which are still embraced by Jehovah's Witnesses. The publication identified a 2520-year-long era called "the Gentile Times", which would end in 1914. The book revealed the authors' belief that Christ had left heaven in 1874 to return to earth and their expectation that God's "harvest" of the "saints" would end in early 1878, when they would all be taken to heaven. All of his predictions failed to come to pass. When Russell died on October 31, 1916, in Pampa, Texas, the stage was set for Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the society's legal counsel to succeed Russell.


Joseph Franklin Rutherford

From his election on January 6, 1917, his tenure fought internal and external battles from angles that described him as "dogmatic, authoritarian and secretive". He ousted several directors and appointed new ones. At a convention at Columbus, Ohio on July 26, 1931, he proposed the adoption of the name Jehovah's Witnesses based on the scripture at Isaiah 43:10. In 1932, he eliminated the system of congregations electing bodies of elders, replacing it with a "theocratic" or "God-ruled" organizational system in which the Brooklyn headquarters would make all appointments in congregations worldwide. Consolation magazine described it thus: "The Theocracy is at present administered by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, of which Judge Rutherford is the president and general manager."


Nathan Homer Knorr

Rutherford was succeeded by Nathan Homer Knorr whose tenure as president was notable for the transfer from individual to corporate leadership. He instituted major training programmes including the Watch Tower Bible School of Gilead, published the New World Translation of the Holy Scripturesin 1961; he restored the offices of elder and ministerial servant (deacon) in 1972. His presidency prohibited blood transfusions from 1945, birthday celebrations were described as "objectionable" in 1951 because of their pagan worships, and other explicit rules regarding acceptable conduct among members were introduced, with a greater emphasis placed on disfellowshipping as a disciplinary measure.

The September 15, 1971 issue of The Watchtower warned that "all worldly careers are soon to come to an end", and advised youths not to "get interested in ÔÇśhigher education' for a future that will never eventuate." A chart in a 1971 Awake! Indicated the "thrilling hope" if a "grand Sabbath of rest and relief" in the mid-1970s at the close of 6000 years of human history. Some Witnesses sold businesses and homes, gave up jobs, deferred medical procedures and set aside plans to start a family in anticipation of Armageddon's arrival in 1975. The May 1974 issue of Our Kingdom Ministry commended Witnesses who had sold homes and property in anticipation of the end of the world in 1975.

Four years later, after several proposals by Governing Body members to apologize to Witnesses were voted down, the Watch Tower Society admitted its responsibility in building up false hope regarding 1975. The chronicle of confusion in the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses didn't end with several failed attempts at predicting the end; it extends to defining terms as simple as "generation".

Subsequent presidents of Watch Tower Society after Knorr's death in 1977 have been Frederick William Franz, Milton George Henschel and Don A. Adams, each of which contended with growing internal dissatisfaction with official doctrines, leading to a series of secret investigations and judicial hearings. Many of those expelled were labelled by Governing Body members as "spiritual fornicators", "mentally diseased" and "insane". The purge resulted in a number of schisms in the religion in Canada, Britain, and northern Europe, and prompted the formation of loose groups of disaffected former Witnesses, some of who are challenging the society in medical journals over its stance on blood transfusion and other issues.

These confrontations are yielding good results considering the various reviews, almost annually, to the society's position on blood transfusion. Unlike before when there is total rejection, Witnesses are now permitted to accept some fractions. Who knows, the next president of the society might decide to lift the ban completely and Jehovah Witnesses all over the world ÔÇô especially the Nigerian congregation ÔÇô would be free to accept blood transfusion without the fear of being disfellowshipped.

Culled from Crimson Dynamics: Sustainable Blood Supply For Nigeria - The Inside Out Written by Paul Adepoju