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Blood Transfusion and Jehovah’s Witnesses

Introduction

The position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion regarding the use of potentially life-saving blood transfusion and blood products is a significant contemporary issue in emergency medicine, critical care, and emergency surgery. This paper seeks to understand the position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and to compare it to the conventional Biblical Christian perspective. An analysis will then be made regarding the Biblical validity of the Jehovah’s Witness position regarding blood transfusion and the use of blood products.

Time-line of the Jehovah’s Witness Blood Doctrine

  • 1945, the JW blood doctrine became an official non-negotiable tenet that could prevent a JW from living eternally in God’s Kingdom.[1]
  • 1958, allowed reception of some antibodies (such as tetanus) as individual choice[2]
  • 1961, a new disciplinary measure, called “disfellowshipping,” was introduced for those who accept blood transfusion.[3]
  • 1961, added another exception for people: they allowed vaccinations and inoculations[4], thereby enabling their children to attend public schools and JWs to travel as missionaries to other countries.
  • 1964, extended the doctrine to pets, meaning that domesticated animals are no longer allowed to be transfused[5]
  • 1975, banned JWs with hemophilia from receiving any clotting factors such as Factor VIII.[6]
  • 1978 retracted the change and allowed the procedures again[7]
  • Witnesses believe that any blood that leaves the body must be destroyed, they do not approve of an individual storing his own blood for a later auto-transfusion[8]

Who is the “Governing Body”

  • 8 men
  • Anyone who convinces JW’s to receive blood “does the work of Satan”[9]
  • 1994, five children who died after refusing to take blood transfusions. They were hailed as martyrs [10]
  • 3 key publications regarding blood transfusions [11]

Jehovah’s Witness Theology regarding “blood”

4 primary texts command people not to eat blood

  1. Genesis 9:4, “But flesh (meat) with…blood…ye shall not eat
  2. Leviticus 3:17This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live: You must not eat any fator any blood.
  3. Leviticus 17:12-14…No soul of you shall eat blood…whosoever eateth it shall be cut off
  4. Acts 15: 1-29 (25)…Gentiles…keep themselves from things offered to idols and from blood…

3 other passages demonstrate God’s disapproval of eating blood

  1. Leviticus 7: 26-27
  2. Deuteronomy 12:16
  3. 1 Samuel 14:32-33

Jehovahs Witness Interpretation of Bible Passages regarding blood

  1. transfusing blood is equivalent to eating it—especially since food can be taken intravenously,
  2. the Bible anticipated this modern topic and addresses it in principle—even though the Bible was not written with modern medical terminology, a
  3. passages applicable to human blood are just as applicable to animal blood, since it is all sacred.

There are JW dissenters

home

Their names are not listed

Comparison to Biblical Christian Interpretation

  • All or essentially all other Christian and Jewish faith groups interpret these same passages as referring to dietary laws; i.e. to the actual eating of meat containing blood.

 

  • The importance of understanding Acts 15:1-30
    • Peter, Paul and Barnabas argue that gentiles are saved without the law, the proof being their reception of the Holy Spirit by faith, which is consistent with the Old Testament prophecies, Acts 15:14-18.
    • V10Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
      • Peter (Simon) argues that the Jews (and the rest of Israel) were a failure in fulfilling the law, so why would God expect it of gentiles
    • V11we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.
      1. Those saved amongst the Jews and Israel of old were saved in the same way as gentiles – not by keeping the requirement of the religious rules and regulations of the law, but by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (they knew a future Messiah by faith)
    • v19 we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God”
      1. James too argues that the gentiles should not be burdened (with the law) because self-evidently God does not require it
    • v20but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, fromsexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood
      1. At that time, these were things linked to pagan cultic rituals, identification with pagan deities, ritual supplication to pagan gods, (or even possibly things to do with Israel’s cultic worship of the LORD). Clearly, Christians could not both worship other Gods and the God of the Bible
    • v21For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.
      1. At this time, the mission to convert the Jews to recognise their Messiah and follow him was still very prominent in the church. Most of the Christians were probably Jewish converts, many of whom still felt mistakenly obliged to follow the law, and opposed by Paul and Barnabas, Acts 15:1-2. Jewish sensibilities regarding breaking the law would have been a daily problem around Christian fellowships meeting to have meals together. The instruction here is a contextual piece of wisdom to avoid unnecessary friction and offense (until they could better understand the nature of the freedom from the law by following Jesus).
    • V28For it seemed (good or wise or sensible in their context) to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:”KJV “these necessary things” = “requirements” NIV = “τουτων των επαναγκες
      1. Why are they necessary? There are numerous exegetical possibilities according to commentators:
        1. blood was tied to idolatry
        2. blood to murder.
        3. Related to table fellowship.
        4. certain priests tasting the blood of the sacrifices.
        5. combine blood with the prior word “strangled” and view them synonymously.
        6. missionary concerns.
        7. not merely pick one above another, but working in tandem
      1. this “council” (if that is what many commentators wish to call it) does not make new law – it provides wisdom for Gentile Christians to fellowship with Jewish and pagan converts and to reach out to them
  • Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 10:25Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience because Christians are free from law-keeping (and dietary requirements) , and meat in the meat market has not been used in any cultic practises from which Christians should abstain (1 Corinthians 10:27-33, Acts15:19-21 & Acts 15:28-29)

JW Position not merely another interpretation: It is an invalid interpretation of the Bible

Invalid Hermaneutics

  • It follows then that there is no legitimate hermeneutical basis based on the Bible for the prohibition of blood transfusion prohibitions by the Jehovah’s Witnesses “Governing Body”
    • the arguments go beyond mere literalism –  the scriptural prohibitions literally, they refer to animal blood—not human blood : Emphasis on extreme interpretation of the law is Pharisaic in Biblical theological terms and this is a red flag for error
    • wisdom is a valid biblical category and God has given
      • us a mind to use and make ethical choices as technological circumstances change.
      • both the intelligence and ability to invent and cultivate newer technologies
    • The summary proposed by the apostle James and delivered to the various churches after the discussion in Jerusalem Acts15:19-21 & Acts 15:28-29 are wisdom, not law/commandments
    • valid principles of interpretation include answering questions like
      • who is being addressed?”,
      • “what is the context ? (includes what is going on around them and why would they be told this”, and
      • does Christ change any of this?” In particular, Christians are not Jews, and therefore not required to keep the law of Moses
    • It is clear that there are profound difference between the way Christians approach their Bible and how JWs approach their Bible
      • At the very least, JW’s misappropriate the prohibition of eating animal blood by wrongly applying it to human blood transfusions

Invalid ethics

  • Ethically the theaching regarding blood transfusions is non-Christian
    • blood doctrine as it currently stands places more importance on the symbol than it does on what it symbolizes—life – emphasis on the sacredness of blood and the life it symbolizes, while at the same time denying for some the very life it symbolizes[12]
      • Romans 14:7 The Kingdom of God is not a matter of food or drink, but of justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”
      • In principle, Jehovah’s Witnesses deduce from the prohibition against eating the blood of animals under the Law of Moses in the Old Testament the prohibition against blood transfusions that are precisely aimed to save human life,”[13] 
    • The ethics of the JWs around modern blood technologies are not Christiangiving blood can be life-saving for others but JW’s are forbidden to even donate blood
      • John 15:13 No one has greater love than he who lays down his life for his friends
    • Mark 3:4 For Jesus life is something precious and saving a life prevails over the law of the Sabbath :” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”But they remained silent.”

Mark 3:1-6

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Invalid  Biblical Theology

Theologically the Jehovah’s Witness position regarding the use of blood products is non-Christian

  • Romans 6:14 “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not underthe law, but under grace”
    • Christians are free from law-keeping
    • Christians eat the flesh and blood of Jesus! John 6:53-58 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Here Jesus is essentially arguing that the prohibitions of the law are done away using the most dramatic example possible – eating his flesh and blood (even spiritually) are contrary to the law, so clearly the law does not apply to the followers of Jesus ; those who have life forever

Jesus is not saying that physical eating is prohibited but spiritual eating is not prohibited[14]

  • 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

This is the principle behind the decision of the apostles and elders after their discussions with Paul and Barnabas in Jerusalem (Acts 15:28-29). They are not seeking to burden Gentiles with these prohibitions as some sort of law continuous Jewish requirements (if so, Paul who was present would have objected (Romans 6:14)). In their context it was not constructive for Christians to engage in behaviours which could be confused with pagan practises, or Jewish cultic practices or or offensive to Jewish sensibilities.

In other words, Christians were free “to do anything but Christians ‘chose’ when to limit their freedom to avoid offending others when there is a “constructive” purpose behind avoiding offense. And Christians are not prohibited from exercising their freedom because they are slaves to any religious rules or regulations. Paul has already described this principle in operation in trying to win Jewish converts in 1 Corinthians 9:20.

  • Non-Christian PNEUMATOLOGY.
    • The Spirit of God is actually God, 1 John 2:14.
    • Therefore, the apostles acknowledged that the ultimate proof of salvation is if God puts His Spirit into a person – this is the testimony of Peter, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15. It is for this reason that the consistent teaching in that passage is that Israelite law should not be burdened upon Gentiles. Therefore, if the nature of the Holy Spirit is distorted so does the Biblical evidence of salvation by God’s gracious choice into law-keeping by human beings
  • Ultimately there is a problem of a non-Christian CHRISTOLOGY
    • Jesus CHRIST IS GOD, John 10:30, John 17:11, John 17:21
    • Jesus authoritatively reveals the will of God because he is God – Jesus fulfils (and thereby does away with) the law. Therefore, if the nature of Jesus is distorted so does the import of his teaching regarding the abolition of the law regarding His followers!

JW Tradition is the foundation of the Biblical invalidity

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Christianity died with the last of the Apostles;
  • Christianity was not resurrected again until their founder, Charles Taze Russell, organised the Watchtower Society in the 1870s.
  • consider themselves to be the only authentic expression of Christianity.
  • believe there are many God’s but only one God above all Gods
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that the Trinity is a three-headed god that was invented by Satan, and that Jesus is merely a god.
  • In Watchtower theology, Jesus was created by God as the Archangel Michael. He became merely human while on earth, and after his crucifixion he was recreated an immaterial spirit creature.
  • Eschatologically, JW’s teach that only one-hundred-forty-four-thousand will make it to heaven, while the rest of the faithful will live apart from Christ on earth.
  • Essentially are a modern expression of the ancient Christian heresy of Arianism[15] denounced at the Councils of Nicaea (325AD) and Constantinople (381AD). They similarly believe God the Father is separate from His Son Jesus whom he created. They also differ from early Arianism because the JW’s pray to God through Jesus (rather than to Jesus) and the JW’s believe the Son can fully know the Father, and the JW’s do not believe the Holy Spirit is God.

Conclusion

The teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is only pseudo-Christian. In reality, their teaching regarding blood is part of a wider content of teaching which does what all non-authentic Christian cults do – they compromise the freedom won for Jesus’ followers at the expense of His death, they confuse the nature of God, and they confuse the requirements God has of His followers. Effectively, the teaching regarding blood is anti-life, and ultimately anti eternal life.

by James Fratzia,   July 2017

About the Author
James Fratzia

James Fratzia

He's not the Messiah - he's just a very naughty boy!

—————————————————————-

Bibliography

1. Brian J. Wright Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions: Their Use of Scripture in Their Blood Doctrine  

http://www.equip.org/article/jehovahs-witnesses-blood-transfusions-use-scripture-blood-doctrine/

Footnotes

[1] The Watchtower, July 1, 1945, 198–201. Cf. The Watchtower, October 22, 1948, 12.

[2] The Watchtower, September 15, 1958, 575.

[3] The Watchtower, January 15, 1961, 63.

[4] The Watchtower, November 1, 1961, 670 and November 15, 1964, 682, respectively.

[5] The Watchtower, February 15, 1964, 127–28.

[6] Awake! February 22, 1975, 30

[7] The Watchtower, June 15, 1978, 29–31

[8] “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Witness Position on Therapy,” at: http://www.watchtower.org/

[9] The Watchtower, December 1, 1989, 12.

[10] Awake! May 22, 1994.

[11] Blood, Medicine and the Law of God (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1961);

Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1977), and

How Can Blood Save Your Life? (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1990).

[12] Brian J. Wright is a PhD candidate in New Testament and Christian Origins at Ridley Melbourne Missions and Ministry College, Melbourne, Australia

[13] Roman Catholic Archbishop Alejandro Goic of Rancagua on the JW “erroneous conscience”

[14] as some door-knocking JW’s argue from their books of apologetics

[15]  Arius (c. AD 256–336), a Christian presbyter in AlexandriaEgypt.

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