Eating Blood & Blood Transfusions — one Christian’s Opinion

I was once asked by an atheist, “Why do Christians talk about blood so much?” I guess some people think we have a strange and unhealthy relationship or interest in blood. But to Christians, blood is more than just delivering nutrients and oxygen to the cells in our body and removing their waste products. Having blood is crucial to our physical life now, of course, but to the Christian, blood represents our link to Jesus Christ and a possibility of immortality. For us, blood is a symbol of atonement for our sins.1

Since the time of Moses, blood symbolically served as a means of atonement for the sins of the Israelites. And from the tabernacle’s construction in the wilderness, through the entire temple period and right up into the first century AD, the sacrifice of animals and their shed blood symbolized a coming Messiah who would take away their sins. And now, since God’s lamb (his son) has been sacrificed, his shed blood pays the price for our sins.

The ‘blood of Christ’ has both a literal, as well as a symbolic meaning. In ancient times, the symbolic annual offering of animals on the temple altar by a priest, was to cover the sins of the Jewish people, but Jesus died on a crux2 and shed his blood to cover the literal sins of everyone. The priest’s blood offering ritual (Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur3) was not permanent and had to be repeated every year, but when Jesus died, it was a single sacrifice for all people and for all times (Hebrews 7:27). Without the shedding of blood, there could be no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).

Although that is now all history, Christians still remember and celebrate the importance of blood sacrifices in God’s scheme of things. We realize that without Jesus’ sacrifice, we would have no hope of everlasting life. Not only that, but because of the Bible, we know the importance of blood and that God expects our respect toward this essential component in our bodies — this lifeblood.

Many ancient pagans had little respect in this manner and actually shed animals (and sometimes human) blood to other gods and partook of it as food. For this reason God gave specific laws for his chosen people to refrain from doing such sinful things. Are we upholding these laws today? Let’s examine this question.

Eating blood products or taking a blood transfusion is often brought up in conversation, especially from friends and relatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I never argue this point, because it is really a manner of conscience for the believer and they have the right to believe the way they do. But I do offer my own opinion, based upon research that I have done, along with, of course, scriptural references. I always hope that by examining the pros and cons, along with prayer, it will help them in reaching a comfortable and biblical decision on their own.

I also advise the person to listen to their gut, concerning a final decision, for I believe that sometimes a ‘gut feeling’ is a message from God — his way of nudging you in a certain direction. For an article on this subject, see “Is that Gut Feeling a Message from God?” listed in References & Notes at the end of this study.4

A Little History

It was not until 1615 AD that the function of blood within the human body began to be understood. That was when an English physician, William Harvey, discovered the body’s circulation system. But long before this medical discovery, blood ceremonies, rites, and feuds were common among primitive tribes and cultures. Even these early people recognized blood as necessary for life, so there was a fear, awe, and reverence attached to the loss or shedding of blood. Many pagan cultures ate and drank blood from sacrificed animals and humans, believing that by doing so, they would receive the strength and power of the victims.5 To some extent, this still goes on today.

The Israelites were forbidden to eat or drink the blood of animals. “Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water,” (Deuteronomy 12:23-24, ESV).6 This command “may have been to remove them completely from the pagan customs that resulted from many idolatrous and cruel customs.”7 Maybe so, but we now know there are other reasons, too.

We now know that many diseases are contained in the blood which circulates throughout the body. Although they did not understand at the time, not eating blood helped keep the Israelites healthy by not transmitting diseases. Not only that, but God wanted a respect of the substance that carried life, as well as letting it be known that this blood belonged to him.

God was instructing us to the idea that the shedding of blood was an act of atonement, which would eventually point toward the shedding of Jesus’ blood for the remission of sins. The blood was for redemption, not for nourishment. The wages of sin is death, symbolized by the shedding of blood, so without the shedding of blood, there is no remission. “Forgiveness does not come because the penalty of sin is excused, but because it is transferred to a sacrifice whose lifeblood is poured out.”8

So eating meat with its blood is listed among moral prohibitions in Ezekiel 33:25–26 (e.g., idolatry, murder, adultery), and Acts 15 states that it is forbidden for Christians. “That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well,” (Acts 15:20). This supports the idea that the ban on blood is based on a moral issue, a respect for life.9

The purpose of this regulation doubtless was due to the fact that Jehovah had appointed blood as a fitting symbol for the atonement process. As Israel was being trained in the concepts of sin and salvation, the sanctity of blood was employed as a visual aid in their spiritual education.”10

Today, many cultures consider blood to be a taboo form of food, such as the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). But even so, there are many peoples and societies that consume blood on a daily basis by using it in the form of sausage, soups, and sauces. Blood is not physically unsafe, if free from pathogens and in small amounts, but when taken in liquid form in larger amounts, it can be toxic. “This condition, called haemochromatosis, can cause a wide variety of diseases and problems, including liver damage, buildup of fluid in the lungs, dehydration, low blood pressure, and nervous disorders.”11

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood,” (Leviticus 17:10-12). Also see: Genesis 9:4-6; Acts 15:20, Hebrews 9:22.

Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) take Leviticus 17:10-12 (and other scripture) very seriously and it is for this reason they will not accept blood transfusions. A Dutch anthropologist and researcher, Richard Singelenberg (Utrecht University), stated, “According to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society this therapy [blood transfusion] is a transgression of divine precepts. Additionally, in the judgement of the believers, secular proof is abundant these days; to them AIDS is a powerful justification to abstain from blood. Founded on the work of the anthropologist Mary Douglas, it is argued that the rejection of this medical therapy is based on perceptions of pollution and purity inherent in the Watch Tower Society’s ideological concept of anti-worldliness.”12

Singelenberg added, “Rooted in the movement’s pre-war opposition to vaccination the implementation of the taboo was triggered by the prevailing social-political climate surrounding the Society during the Second World War, resulting in this intriguing and controversial religious proscription. For the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses the blood transfusion taboo still functions as a significant mechanism of sectarian boundary maintenance.” That is a very specific, although somewhat wordy, opinion.

I don’t know if it is because Singelenberg did not understand the whole picture, or if JWs now teach something different from what they did back in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, but each side has its own agenda. If his statement is true, however, that may be how this whole JW anti-blood transfusion idea got started. Today, if you question a congregational member, you will get a straight-forward answer. They will sincerely site Leviticus 17, and other similar biblical references, showing that Jehovah’s law requires they not eat blood. It is merely obedience to scripture, as they understand it.

As the Associate General Counsel of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society wrote, “Since the days of Jesus’ apostles in the first century, Christians have been directed to ‘abstain’ and ‘keep’ from blood. Jehovah’s Witnesses, as students of the Bible and imitators of those first century Christians, believe this scriptural directive applies to transfused blood and its major components.”13

Simply, JWs interpret blood transfusions as eating blood. They believe that any hope for an eternal life will be denied if transfusion was allowed. Many even will not accept red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and blood plasma, either.14

So important is this idea, the JW organization has established a Hospital Information Services department providing education and facilitation of bloodless surgery. They maintain Hospital Liaison Committees, “which support adherents facing surgery and provide information to the medical community on bloodless surgery techniques and alternatives to blood.”15

Other Arguments

Dissident JWs and most other Christians support blood transfusions for a few reasons. First, Christians are no longer under the Mosaic law, upon which most anti-blood opinions are based. Second, the blood the Old Testament speaks about is generally animal blood, not that from humans. And then there is the suggestion that, in the New Testament, Acts 15 only suggests abstaining from blood because that “was intended not as an everlasting covenant but a means of maintaining a peaceful relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians.”16

Some commentators suggest the abstaining of blood mentioned in Acts 15 is an indirect reference to pagan ritualistic ceremonies in which liquid blood would be consumed. They believe there is “no relationship between those ancient practices and modern life-saving medical techniques.”17 Theologian Anthony Hoekema stated it was “absurd literalism” that JWs use scripture to prohibit the medical transfusion of human blood.18

One author said that if he could save another man’s life by freely giving some of his own blood, without harming either himself of the other man, that would be the proper thing to do. He wrote, “. . . the process of some living men freely giving of their own life blood so that other men can stay alive does not equate to violence, slaughter, or the desecration of life. If anything, it upholds the sacredness of life and honors the great value of the dying person who is made in the image of God.”19 Blood is precious and must be treated with the utmost respect20 and to use it to save one of God’s human creations is a commendable act of love.

What would Jesus do?

Even Jesus broke some of God’s Old Testament commandments (John 5:15-16), something the religious leaders at that time frowned upon. I suggest it was because of pikuach nefesh (or pikkuah nefesh). “When life is involved, all Sabbath laws may be suspended to safeguard the health of the individual, the principle being pikkuah nefesh doheh Shabbat–[rescuing a] life in danger takes precedence over the Sabbath. One is not merely permitted — one is required to disregard a law that conflicts with life or health.”21

Jews believe that human life has a sacred status. Therefore they believe God provides them with the moral guidance by which to live. For the Jews, pikuach nefesh is the concept that saving a human life is more important than any of the Torah’s 613 commandments (Law of Moses or mitzvot).22 Some academics suggest Jesus temporarily just “loosened” the law, rather than destroying or invalidating it.23

This idea may have begun back in Maccabean times24 when “observance of the Sabbath was so strict that the Jews allowed themselves to be slaughtered on that day rather than take up arms to defend themselves. Realizing that such an attitude could mean their extinction, the Jews determined to fight if attacked again on the Sabbath.” The Talmud25 sanctioned this decision and suspended many categories of work when life or health was endangered for “the Sabbath was given to man, not man to the Sabbath.”26

Conclusion

I pray that this article helps all who must make decisions about eating blood products or using transfusion processes. And I hope it helps others who may be indirectly affected by such decisions, as well as just understanding why certain people think a certain way. I hold to the premise that if a Christian is sincere in their approach to learning and understanding biblical truth, God is not out to get them on a technicality.

As a Christian, I believe it is not my job to force people to think one way or another. My job is to witness, a term JWs use quite often, which actually only means giving evidence of personal knowledge.27 I present the research, give my own opinion, and the reader chooses, of their own free well, what to believe.

Personally, I have little concern with blood transfusion, if absolutely necessary in a life or death situation, although I am a bit leery about infectious diseases from the process. Although screening helps, there is still some risk involved. Fortunately, I have never needed one, but at my advanced age, the odds of eventually getting one do increase.

Because of respect for God’s creations and his demands concerning life being in the blood, I will not eat blood food products, nor meat not properly drained of its blood. And I believe in praying before eating anything — something that scientific evidence has shown affects cells in the food before being consumed. That is a bit far-fetched, but if anyone has an interest, see an article called “Biocommunication & Prayer: Science Reveals God’s Majesty” listed in References & Notes at the end of this article.28

I am also very cautious about taking some vaccines, too, as many contain blood products (as well as other animal, and sometimes human derived contents). And, I will not, voluntarily take the upcoming Covid-19 vaccine because of that and other reasons. In a recent research publication, released by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Bharat Biotech, it is said that for “the Covid-19 vaccine they are developing, scientists have mentioned that one of the ingredients used is blood serum from newborn cattle.”29

The virus is produced using live cells and the article also explains how the infected cells are harvested. Cells are taken from the kidneys of adult African green monkeys which are exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, then grown in the laboratory, before the virus is harvested.30 “Many vaccines require nutrients that are provided most easily from animal products like serum, blood, amino acids, and sugars. Viral vaccines require living cells for production, and their growth is often aided by fetal calf serum,” according to another science article.31

Since JWs do not take blood transfusions, I wonder how they will react to accepting vaccines for the CoVid-19 virus, since they include blood products. The JW world headquarters has issued coronavirus information, but it is of a general precautionary nature.32 As of this writing, I don’t know of anything specific concerning reaction to the vaccine ingredients. I have seen second-hand information that this vaccine should not be accepted, but there is nothing I can verify, yet. We will see soon, I guess.

The song selection for this article is “There is Power in the Blood of Jesus” recorded on Panimbaya sa Kabuntagon World, a Seventh-Day Adventist television show in the Philippines. I could not find the group’s name or from what city or country they come from, so if anyone knows, let me know and I will add that information. Selected lyrics are below and the music video is listed in References & Notes.33

Would you be free from your passion and pride
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide
There’s wonderful power in the blood

There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb

Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
OutlawBibleStudent.org

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Reference & Notes

  1. Hermann, Ray, “What do you mean, Christ died for our sins?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 31 December 2017), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/what-do-you-mean-christ-died-for-our-sins/
  2. crux (cross): the word ‘cross’ is derived, not from its physical shape, but comes from the Latin ‘crux’, which referred to a tree or any construction of wood used to hang criminals as a form of execution. For a detailed study on this subject, see:
    Hermann, Ray, “Crucifixion of Christ: Was a Cross or Pole Used?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 20 June 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/crucifixion-of-christ-was-a-cross-or-pole-used/
  3. Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement; the holiest day of the year in Judaism, to atone for the sins of the people (see Leviticus 23:27-28).
  4. Hermann, Ray, “Is that Gut Feeling a Message from God?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 21 October 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/is-that-gut-feeling-a-message-from-god/
  5. Clippinger, Walter G., in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), vol. 1, p. 488.
  6. All scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. The text has been used by permission. All rights reserved.
  7. Freeman, James M. and Chadwick, Harold J., Manners & Customs of the Bible, (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), pp. 171–173.
  8. MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, (Ed.) Arthur Farstad, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), p. 154.
  9. Gane, Roy E., Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017), p. 352.
  10. Jackson, Wayne, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions”, (Christian Courier, retrieved 11 October 2020), https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1095-jehovahs-witnesses-and-blood-transfusions
  11. Radford, Benjamin, “Is It Safe to Drink Blood?” (Live Science, 6 June 2016), https://www.livescience.com/15899-drinking-blood-safe.html
  12. Singelenberg, Richard, “The blood transfusion taboo of Jehovah’s Witnesses: origin, development and function of a controversial doctrine”, Social Science & Medicine, (Oxford; NY: Pergamon Press, 1990), vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 521–522.
    (Abstract available online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2218633/)
  13. Ridley, Donald T., “Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal of blood: obedience to scripture and religious conscience”, Journal of Medical Ethics, 1999, vol. 25, p. 469.
  14. Britt, L.D., “Jehovah’s Witness and the Bleeding Surgical Patient” in Complications in Acute Care Surgery, (Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2017), pp. 353.
  15. “Jehovah’s Witnesses practices”, (Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 1 October 2020) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses_practices#Discipline
  16. “Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions”, (Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation Inc, 30 August 2020), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses_and_blood_transfusions
  17. Jackson, Wayne, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions”, (Christian Courier, retrieved 11 October 2020), https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1095-jehovahs-witnesses-and-blood-transfusions
  18. “Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions”, Wikipedia, (see above).
  19. Wayne, Luke, “Are blood transfusions sinful?” (CARM, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, 1 March 2016), https://carm.org/are-blood-transfusions-sinful
  20. Barry, John D., et al., Faithlife Study Bible, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Leviticus 17:10–11.
  21. Clustrom, Simon, “Saving a Life (Pikuach Nefesh)”, (My Jewish Learning, retrieved 11 October 2020), https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/saving-a-life-pikuach-nefesh/
  22. “Jewish Concepts: Mitzvot”, (Jewish Virtual Library, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, retrieved 11 October 2020), https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mitzvot
  23. Lawrence, Natan, “Did Yeshua Break the Torah-Law?” (Hoshana Rabbah Blog, 5 December 2017), https://hoshanarabbah.org/blog/2017/12/05/yeshua-break-torah-law/
  24. Maccabees: a group of Jewish rebel warriors who took control of Judea (BC 167 – BC 37); recorded in two apocryphal books of the Old Testament (1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees).
    “Maccabees”, (Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., 19 September 2020), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maccabees#Mention_in_the_Bible
  25. Talmud: a vast collection of Jewish laws and traditions.
    “The Babylonian Talmud”, (Internet Sacred Text Archive, retrieved 11 October 2020), https://sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm
  26. “Sabbath”, (Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 26 February 2020), https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sabbath-Judaism
  27. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
  28. Hermann, Ray, “Biocommunication & Prayer: Science Reveals God’s Majesty”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 14 August 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/biocommunication-prayer-science-reveals-gods-majesty/
  29. Basu, Mohana, “This is why blood from newborn cattle is being used to develop Indian Covid vaccine”, (The Print News, 16 September 2020), https://theprint.in/science/this-is-why-blood-from-newborn-cattle-is-being-used-to-develop-indian-covid-vaccine/503388/
  30. Ibid.
  31. Conrad, Krista, “8 Animals Used In Vaccine Production”, (World Atlas Science, 9 June 2020), https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/8-animals-used-in-vaccine-production.html
  32. “Coronavirus Update and Response”, (Jehovah’s Witnesses Global News, 3 March 2020), https://www.jw.org/en/news/jw/region/global/jw-coronavirus-update-and-response/
  33. “There Is Power in the Blood of Jesus”, recorded on Panimbaya sa Kabuntagon World, a Seventh-Day Adventist television program on the Hope Channel networks, in the Philippines; uploaded to YouTube by T-Series Christian Song on 31 July 2020, (no album, author, licensing, or copyright listed; used under ‘fair use’ copyright for teaching under Section 107 of Copyright Act of 1976) – MUSIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/5LQ5r1NNePE
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