WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Russellites—the cult/denomination more commonly known as “The Jehovah’s Witnesses”—are the world-famous champions of the idea that blood transfusions should be rejected under all circumstances. They contend that the Bible is against such a medical treatment. In fact, they do cite some key Bible verses (we will examine those shortly). Firstly, from a medical standpoint, what exactly is a “blood transfusion?” Secondly, what specific arguments do the Jehovah’s Witnesses raise against it? Thirdly, what does the Bible say about it? Finally, what should we as Bible believers conclude about the whole matter? To the Scriptures, friends, to the Scriptures!
MEDICAL BACKGROUND ON THE SUBJECT
According to the Mayo Clinic (MayoClinic.org), blood consists of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, and carry carbon dioxide away from tissues to the lungs to be exhaled. White blood cells, part of our immune system, fight off infection. Platelets form clots in the holes of blood vessels.
The Mayo Clinic’s website tells us what blood transfusions entail:
“A blood transfusion is a routine medical procedure that can be lifesaving. During a blood transfusion, donated blood is added to your own blood. A blood transfusion may also be done to supplement various components of your blood with donated blood products. In some cases, a blood transfusion is done with blood that you’ve donated ahead of time before you undergo elective surgery. During a typical blood transfusion, certain parts of blood are delivered through an intravenous (IV) line that’s placed in one of the veins in your arm. A blood transfusion usually takes one to four hours, though in an emergency it can be done much faster. A blood transfusion boosts blood levels that are low, either because your body isn’t making enough or you’ve lost blood owing to surgery, injury or disease.”
WebMD medical doctor, Matthew Hoffman, M.D., writes the following on WebMD.com about blood (just some interesting information I thought I would share here while we are on the topic):
“Blood is a constantly circulating fluid providing the body with nutrition, oxygen, and waste removal. Blood is mostly liquid, with numerous cells and proteins suspended in it, making blood ‘thicker’ than pure water. The average person has about 5 liters (more than a gallon) of blood.
“A liquid called plasma makes up about half of the content of blood. Plasma contains proteins that help blood to clot, transport substances through the blood, and perform other functions. Blood plasma also contains glucose and other dissolved nutrients.
“About half of blood volume is composed of blood cells:
- Red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues
- White blood cells, which fight infections
- Platelets, smaller cells that help blood to clot
“Blood is conducted through blood vessels (arteries and veins). Blood is prevented from clotting in the blood vessels by their smoothness, and the finely tuned balance of clotting factors.”
With the medical aspect covered, we move on to the religious side of the issue.
“JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES” BACKGROUND ON THE SUBJECT
Just so we know the official “Jehovah’s Witness” position on blood transfusions, we refer to approved Watchtower literature. In their 2005/2014 book titled, “What Does the Bible Really Teach?,” they claim on pages 128-131:
“Showing respect for blood. 10 After Cain killed his brother Abel, Jehovah told Cain: ‘Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.’ (Genesis 4:10) When God spoke of Abel’s blood, he was speaking of Abel’s life. Cain had taken Abel’s life, and now Cain would have to be punished. It was as if Abel’s blood, or life, were crying out to Jehovah for justice. The connection between life and blood was again shown after the Flood of Noah’s day. Before the Flood, humans ate only fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. After the Flood, Jehovah told Noah and his sons: ‘Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you.’ However, God set this restriction: ‘Only flesh with its life—its blood—you must not eat.’ (Genesis 1:29; 9:3, 4) Clearly, Jehovah links very closely the life and the blood of a creature.
“11 We show respect for blood by not eating it. In the Law that Jehovah gave the Israelites, he commanded: ‘If one of the Israelites… is hunting and catches a wild animal or a bird that may be eaten, he must pour its blood out and cover it with dust…. I said to the Israelites: ‘You must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh.’’ (Leviticus 17:13, 14) God’s command not to eat animal blood, first given to Noah some 800 years earlier, was still in force. Jehovah’s view was clear: His servants could eat animal meat but not the blood. They were to pour the blood on the ground—in effect, returning the creature’s life to God.
“12 A similar command rests upon Christians. The apostles and other men taking the lead among Jesus’ followers in the first century met to decide what commands had to be obeyed by all in the Christian congregation. They came to this conclusion: ‘The holy spirit [sic—J.W. don’t believe the Holy Spirit is a Person, or that He is God, which explains their usage of lowercase letters “holy spirit”—S.B.] and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you except these necessary things: to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled [‘what is killed without draining its blood,’ footnote], and from sexual immorality.’ (Acts 15:28, 29; 21:25) So we must ‘keep abstaining from blood.’ In God’s eyes, our doing that is as important as our avoiding idolatry and sexually immorality.
“13 Does the command to abstain from blood include blood transfusions? Yes. To illustrate: Suppose a doctor were to tell you to abstain from alcoholic beverages. Would that simply mean that you should not drink alcohol but that you could have it injected into your veins? Of course not! Likewise, abstaining from blood means not taking it into our bodies at all. So the command to abstain from blood means that we should not allow anyone to transfuse blood into our veins. [That illustration of the doctor and the injected alcohol is such a flimsy, comical, and downright absurd appeal!! What do J.W. do when they accidently bite their lip or tongue and swallow their own blood?!—S.B.]
“14 What if a Christian is badly injured or is in need of major surgery? Suppose doctors say that he must have a blood transfusion or he will die. Of course, the Christian would not want to die. In an effort to preserve God’s precious gift of life, he would accept other kinds of treatment that do not involve the misuse of blood. Hence, he would seek such medical attention if that is available and would accept a variety of alternatives to blood.
“15 Would a Christian break God’s law just to stay alive a little longer in this system of things? Jesus said, ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ (Matthew 16:25) We do not want to die. But if we tried to save our present life by breaking God’s law, we would be in danger of losing everlasting life. We are wise, then, to put our trust in the rightness of God’s law, with full confidence that if we die for any cause, our Life-Giver will remember us in the resurrection and restore to us the precious gift of life.—John 5:28, 29; Hebrews 11:6.
“16 Today, faithful servants of God firmly resolve to follow his direction regarding blood. They will not eat it in any form. Nor will they accept blood for medical reasons. They are sure that the Creator of blood knows what is best for them. Do you believe that he does?”
With the religious aspect covered, now we move on the Holy Scriptures.
BIBLE BACKGROUND ON THE SUBJECT
Doubtless, the Bible is very clear that life is in the blood. Blood is important in God’s eyes because it represents life. The Russellites are in perfect agreement with the Bible on these points, and we do not fault them here. We read in Leviticus chapter 17, the Mosaic Law: “ 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.  For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.  Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.  And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.  For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.”
The consumption of blood was clearly forbidden in the Law of Moses. Jews were in no way to eat the blood of animals. They were to drain the meat of all blood before partaking of that flesh. Please notice the supplemental passages included below for your consideration.
Leviticus 3:17: “It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.” Leviticus 7:26-27: “Moreover ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings. Whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people.” Leviticus 19:26: “Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times.” Deuteronomy 12:16,23-24: “Only ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water…. Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh. Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water.” Deuteronomy 15:23: “Only thou shalt not eat the blood thereof; thou shalt pour it upon the ground as water.” First Samuel 14:34: “…and sin not against the LORD in eating with the blood….”
What God was really telling Israel was that their life was not in animals’ blood. He was their life, and they were to rely on Him for life. In the Israeli Mosaic economy, as the Book of Leviticus delineates, various animal sacrifices were to be offered for sins. God’s focus was to ultimately point to Messiah’s shed blood, which would not be offered on Calvary until many centuries later. That animals’ blood was important in that it represented—or was typical of—the blood of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. In effect, the only blood Israel was to “partake of” was the shed blood of Jesus Christ (the only source of true life)!
Let us take some time to address the Acts chapter 15 verses that the “Jehovah’s Witness” appeals to concerning this topic. Like all religious groups, they do not understand how to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), approaching the Bible dispensationally, without getting hung up on Israeli practices and promises. During the Acts period, Paul’s Gentile converts (the Church the Body of Christ) were to conduct their lives in such a way so as to not offend three groups of Jewish people: (1) the Law-keeping members of the Little Flock (Israel’s believing remnant), (2) the unsaved Jews meeting in the various synagogues around the then-known world, and (3) the Jewish members of the Body of Christ who were having trouble leaving behind the old system of worship they had grown up with. You can see these people mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Acts chapter 15, Romans 14:1-23, and 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. (For more information, please see our “yoga” and “1 Corinthians chapter 8” studies linked at the end of this article.)
That Acts transitional period—from prophecy to mystery—gave rise to the various disagreements that ultimately led to the Acts chapter 15 apostolic council at Jerusalem. (Which, you will remember, contains some of the pet verses of the Russellites). Were Paul’s Gentile converts obligated to follow the Law of Moses as a means for salvation? That was the basic question to be settled in Acts chapter 15.
Notice verses 1-5 of Acts chapter 15: “ And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren [Paul’s Gentile converts], and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.  When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.  And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.  And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.  But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
Now, read verses 19-21: “ Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:  But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.  For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”
And verses 22-31: “ Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas and Silas, chief men among the brethren:  And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.  Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:  It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,  Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.  For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;  That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.  So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:  Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.”
The context of abstaining from blood is with reference to the religious system the pagans are involved with. Notice again: “that they should abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (verse 20; cf. verse 29). The context is not a medical procedure—that is, a blood transfusion—but rather a religious practice. For a Russellite to grab these verses and read something into them is so dishonest. In fact, he or she (as with many issues) is forcing his or her own religious dogma into the Bible text rather than letting the Bible text speak for itself. Think about this.
If following these verses really were so important to the Watchtower Society, why did they not comment (in their “official” explanation quoted above) on the fact that the passage has to do with abstaining from false religion? See, a Russellite is not interested in teaching a Bible passage for what it says; the goal is simply to select and emphasize what the denomination stresses in the verse. It is that “pet” interpretation of the verse that makes the religious sect unique: to ignore the slant is to diminish the system’s distinctiveness, and this they refuse to do. That is the plain and simple truth. But, we will be bolder in exposing their dishonesty.
We ignore the part about foods offered to idols, we ignore the part about fornication (illicit and sexual perversion in pagan religious services), we ignore the part about things strangled (dietary laws), and we single out the part about the blood! That is typical religious tradition—the stressing of parts of verses instead of whole verses taught IN CONTEXT. Many a times I have caught Russellites in-person, visiting me at my home, being dishonest with Bible passages. They will freely admit they do not know everything about the verses they are quoting, but they are sure of certain “pet” phrases in the verses! Above all, they prove themselves to be servants of someone OTHER than Jesus Christ (JEHOVAH God the Son). They are unable to articulate a clear Gospel message. They do not make the message of cross of Calvary clear but rather rattle on and on about “God’s kingdom.” If they cannot get straight the most important part of the Bible (the Gospel), we need not wonder why they stumble over something so trivial as blood transfusions!
Before we leave this subject, it would do us well to read again paragraph 15 of the blood section of the Watchtower Society’s book, “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” “15 Would a Christian break God’s law just to stay alive a little longer in this system of things? Jesus said, ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ (Matthew 16:25) We do not want to die. But if we tried to save our present life by breaking God’s law, we would be in danger of losing everlasting life.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
Did we not notice that the Jehovah’s Witness has no real security in his religion? (I just confirmed this with an ex-J.W. friend of mine.) Having wrested (twisted) Matthew 16:25, they wonder if they may “lose” everlasting life by trying to save their physical life with a blood transfusion! No wonder they fear blood transfusions—such a medical treatment means Hell for them! In other words, the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall is just another typical works-religion group. You have to strive to make God accept you—and, if you break His laws, “[you] would be in danger of losing everlasting life!” (Their words, not mine, please note!)
So, in closing, “What does the Bible say about blood transfusions?” NOTHING!