Jehovah’s Witnesses are unique in their refusal of blood transfusions, specifically where refusal means they will die. Does the Bible really teach that blood transfusions are wrong?
Death from refusing Blood
It is a tragedy that each year Jehovah’s Witnesses die as a result of refusing blood transfusions.
Even more tragic is when youths die due to the beliefs of their parents. Watchtower articles admit this belief results in death and go so far as to celebrate this sacrifice of children.
“In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first. They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue.” Awake! 1994 May 22 p.2
These youths had been coerced into believing if they allowed doctors to perform a blood transfusion they could be forfeiting everlasting life.
“Suppose doctors say that he must have a blood transfusion or he will die. … if we tried to save our present life by breaking God’s law, we would be in danger of losing everlasting life.” What Does The Bible Really Teach (2005) pp.130-131
Is it really a Bible teaching?
In Bible times it was important to show respect for life, which required the bleeding of an animal, to show respect for the life taken.
Whilst blood is used as a symbol of life, the Bible shows life itself is even more important. Jesus taught that saving a life was more important than strict adherence to the Law.
Matthew 12:11 “Who will be the man among YOU that has one sheep and, if this falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not get hold of it and lift it out? All considered, of how much more worth is a man than a sheep!”
Even the strictest Orthodox Jews who soak meat in water and salt to draw out all the blood will accept a blood transfusion. In the Mosaic Law, sustaining life overruled any rule, a principle referred to as pikuach nefesh.
Furthermore, Biblical commands on blood, such as given to Noah at Genesis 9:4, was that the blood was to be poured out of a slaughtered animal. Blood transfusions do not result in the death of the donor.
Something is disturbingly wrong when a religion teaches that sanctity for a symbol of life (blood) is more important than life itself.
Watchtower’s changing Belief
Once you become aware that Watchtower has frequently changed its teachings on blood, you will appreciate that this teaching has not been directed by God.
Prior to 1951, it was allowable for Jehovah’s Witnesses to eat blood and have blood transfusions. Commencing in July 1951, Watchtower specifically condemned blood transfusions. (Watchtower 1951 July 1 pp.414-416) Whole blood and any type of blood fraction was forbidden.
“Whether whole or fractional, one’s own or someone else’s, transfused or injected, it is wrong.” (Watchtower 1961 Sep 15 p.559)
Watchtower continued to change its teachings, once again allowing certain blood products and procedures.
- 1974 – Blood serum became a conscience matter (Watchtower 1974 Jun 1 p.352)
- 1983 – Hemodilution became acceptable (Awake! 1983 Mar 22 p.16)
- 1995 – Acute Normovolemic Hemodilution and autologous blood salvage procedure became acceptable despite being briefly stored outside the blood (Watchtower 1995 August 1 p.30)
A significant additional change occurred in 2000, with all blood fractions becoming acceptable.
“…when it comes to fractions of any of the primary components, each Christian, after careful and prayerful meditation, must conscientiously decide for himself.” Watchtower 2000 Jun 15 pp.29-31
Image: “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love” (2008) p.216
Between 1951 and 2000, how many Jehovah’s Witnesses needlessly died refusing critical blood components because Watchtower promoted rules it later admitted were wrong? The Governing Body has never admitted responsibility or apologized to the parents who needlessly and tragically lost children, or the children whose parents died for no good reason.
There are obvious and significant flaws in the current stance on blood. If blood must be “poured on the ground,” where do blood fractions come from? Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses forbidden to donate blood when they are allowed to use blood fractions? Who do the blood fractions Jehovah’s Witnesses use come from?
Scriptural Stance on Blood
Watchtower uses several Scriptures to justify their stance on refusing blood transfusions. These passages are poorly interpreted and do not refer to transfusions, but rather the eating of blood, which Watchtower claims should be considered the same.
The first passage that addresses eating blood was to Noah at Genesis 9:4. Watchtower incorrectly claims:
“God imposed this one restriction. They were not to consume blood. (Genesis 9:3,4)” – Watchtower 2008 Oct 1 p.31.
This is incorrect. Genesis 9:4 says “Only flesh with its soul – its blood – YOU must not eat.” This does not state blood could not be eaten, and is understood to mean that out of respect for the life of an animal, it was to be bled when killed for food.
The first time it was stated blood was not to be eaten is in the Mosaic Law at Leviticus 17:10. This is not relevant to Christians, since the Mosaic Law ceased when Jesus died. (Romans 10:4) Jesus stated that Christians are not defiled by what they eat.
Mark 7:15 “There is nothing from outside a man that passes into him that can defile him; but the things that issue forth out of a man are the things that defile a man.”
Watchtower most compelling reason to avoid blood transfusions is Acts 15:21.
“As for the believers from among the nations, we have sent out, rendering our decision that they should keep themselves from what is sacrificed to idols as well as from blood and what is strangled and from fornication.”
In isolation, Acts 15:21 may appear to indicate Christians were not to consume blood. So why didn’t Jehovah’s Witnesses originally interpret it that way, and why do other Christian religions think the use of blood is acceptable?
The situation at Acts specifically addressed congregations where Jewish Christians were having difficulty accepting Gentile Christians, claiming to be superior by still following the Mosaic Law. The older men concluded that observation of the Mosaic Law was unnecessary. However, they recommended to observe the four requirements read out at the Synagogue on the Sabbath from Leviticus 17:1 to 18:27, in order to prevent stumbling Jewish Christians.
Paul later shows that Acts 15:21 was not binding on Christians when saying eating food sacrificed to idols is fine provided it does not stumble anyone.
1 Corinthians 8:4-13 “Now concerning the eating of foods offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one. Nevertheless, there is not this knowledge in all persons; but some, being accustomed until now to the idol, eat food as something sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. … Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat flesh at all, that I may not make my brother stumble.”
None of these Scriptures discuss blood transfusions, but rather eating blood. Watchtower erroneously says it logically applies to transfusions as well, but that is not the case. A person that donates blood does not die, which was the underlying concept in these passages that refer to taking the life of a slaughtered animal.
Abstaining from blood is never mentioned in any other context in the New Testament. Paul does not mention eating blood at 1 Corinthians 5 as a reason to ‘quit mixing’ with a brother. Revelation 21:8 does not list blood as a reason for not inheriting God’s Kingdom. If avoiding blood was a key requirement of God, it would be mentioned alongside fornication, murder and idolatry that are repeatedly condemned in the New Testament.
Rights of Children
Parents have a duty of care towards their children and governmental authorities are expected to remove a child from a parent that is endangering them. When a Jehovah’s Witness parent refuses blood for a child in a life or death situation, it is common for courts to rule against the parents and administer a transfusion, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, children raised and indoctrinated to view blood as wrong can refuse a transfusion upon reaching 18.
It is not possible to ask the children that were sacrificed for their religion how they feel about dying as martyrs. It is however possible to find out how children that survived a court ordered blood transfusion feel. Such is the case of Carolyn Ivey, born prematurely to Jehovah’s Witness parents on Aug 31st 1975, weighing just 2 pounds. Doctors determined that a blood transfusion was required to save her, and a young attorney named Joel Cohen worked tirelessly to ensure she received the required treatment. Three decades later Cohen received an email with the line, “You saved my life when I was a baby.”… “It raised the hair on my neck,” he said. Carolyn relates, “I contacted Mr. Cohen (to thank him) for saving my life. If it was not for Mr. Cohen fighting for me, I would not be here today! It brought me to tears that he would try so hard.” (http://content.usatoday.com 27 Mar 2012).
It is tragic to think of all the Jehovah’s Witness children that did not receive that chance, and were sacrificed by their parents misguided faith.
Due to the frequent changes Watchtower has made over the years in regards to its blood teaching, it is warranted to question whether Jehovah is directing the Governing Body regarding their stance on blood transfusions? Don’t be a martyr, if a blood transfusion is ever required to save your life, the “right” thing to do is allow a transfusion.
Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for Reform on Blood