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Jehovah's Witnesses & Blood Transfusions
By Gary F. Zeolla
To 15-year-old Kumiko, a blood transfusion to treat her deadly leukemia was the worst possible option. Trying to lengthen her life by this means for a few weeks, months, or even years was not worth what it would cost her in the long run. Having dedicated her life to Jehovah God as one of his Witnesses, she respected the sanctity of life and blood.
Although her father and other relatives strongly objected, Kumiko stood firm.... Kumiko refused to compromised her Bible-based belief.
The above is from the January 15, 1995 issue of The Watchtower. This magazine is published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WT). This is the organization Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) belong to. The story was presented as an example of someone who had a "strong faith in Jehovah God" (p.7).
Kumiko died because she did not receive a blood transfusion. And hers is not an isolated case. Jerry Bergman, Ph.D. records several similar stories. He also estimates that between 2,250 and 6,750 JWs die every year as a result of the WT forbidding them to receive blood transfusions (pp.9,10).
Blood transfusions were completely unknown at the time the Bible was written. As such, the Bible does not and cannot specifically forbid the practice. So why does the WT consider a prohibition on blood transfusions to be a "Bible-based belief?" The prohibition is based on the command against eating blood (Lev 17:10).
The WT reasons: "In a hospital, when a patient cannot eat through his mouth, he is fed intravenously. Now, would a person who never put blood in his mouth but who accepted blood by transfusion really be obeying the command to 'keep abstaining from blood?' (Acts 15:29)?" (Reasoning, p.73).
But how sound is this reasoning? First, why was the Old Testament command against eating blood repeated in the New Testament in Acts 15? Did the Apostles believe Jewish dietary restrictions are applicable to Christians?
The wider context of this verse is the Jerusalem counsel. Here, the Apostolic Church was debating whether Gentiles had to submit to Jewish ceremonial laws in order to become Christians. Their conclusion was that both Jews and Gentiles have their hearts purified by faith, not works (see verse 9). But what of the prohibition?
The passage in which the restriction occurs reads: "For it seemed [good] to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from meats offered to idols, and [from] blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication ..." (Acts 15:28,29; MKJV).
"Fornication" (or "sexual immorality") means, "Sexual intercourse between a man and woman not married to each other" (American, p.526). And fornication is clearly declared sinful elsewhere in the New Testament (1Cor 6:18-20; 1Thes 4:3; Heb 13:4).
But what of the other items? Paul places eating "meats offered to idols" in the area of "freedom" for a Christian (1Cor 8:1-8). A Christian's own conscious should determine whether he or she will engage in this behavior. But if someone nearby is offended by the action, the person should refrain (Rom 14:21-23; 1Cor 8:9-13).
So which category does eating "blood" fall into? Evidence it is considered to be in the area of freedom and not a sin is "eating blood" is NEVER included in any of the lists of sins in the New Testament. Yet, fornication is ALWAYS listed (see Matt 15:19,20; 1Cor 6:9,10; Gal 5:19-25; Eph 5:3-7; Col 3:5-9; 1Tim 1:8-11; Rev 21:8).
The New Geneva Study Bible comments:
[James] proposes that both Jews and Gentiles practice moderation. The Jewish Christians are to recognize that Gentiles are not bound by Jewish ceremonial law. The Gentile believers must consider the scruples of Jewish Christians and not offend them by eating food sacrificed to idols, or the eating of the meat of strangled animals, or blood (p.1738).
Transfusion = Eating?
But even if the New Testament did forbid the eating of blood, would this then mean that receiving a blood transfusion is wrong? Several points need to be studied.
First, why was eating of blood forbidden in the first place? Randall Watters writes, "In the Old Testament, the blood of man or beast is equated with its life, and the LOSS of blood is equated with death.... Blood was therefore considered sacred, and not to be used in a profane way" (Defending, p.13; Gen 9:4; Lev 17:11).
Watters writes elsewhere, "The WT 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 is PROFANING it." He also points out, "It is important to note that orthodox Jews today, while STILL OBEYING the OT [Old Testament] laws against the eating of blood, believe there is nothing wrong with taking a blood transfusion" (Refuting, p.15).
Furthermore, David Reed correctly emphasizes, "... the Scripture is still talking about DIET, not blood transfusions. To take a dietary regulation and stretch it to the point of denying a lifesaving medical procedure to a dying man is reminiscent of the Jewish Pharisees who were furious when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11)" (p.89; All emphases in above quotes were in the originals).
And lastly, whether eating and receiving a transfusion are equivalent or not, Jesus' words would apply in either case, "There is nothing that enters a man from the outside which can defile; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man" (Mark 7:15, and see verses 18-23; also 1Cor 8:8).
Was Kumiko's death really the result of her "strong faith in Jehovah God?" Given all the above, she (and others like her) are actually dying due to a misplaced faith in a human organization and its legalistic rules (Col 2:8-23; 1Tim 4:1-5).
All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
American Heritage Dictionary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985.
Bergman, Jerry. "Thousands Go to Their Deaths Each Year." Free Minds Journal, Sep/ Oct 1994, pp.9,10.
New Geneva Study Bible: NKJV. Editor, R.C. Sproul. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.
Reasoning from the Scriptures. Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989.
Reed, David A. Jehovah's Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse.. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986.
Watters, Randall. Defending the Faith. Manhattan Beach, CA: Bethel Ministries, 1987.
Refuting Jehovah's Witnesses. Manhattan Beach, CA: Bethel Ministries, 1987.
Jehovah's Witnesses and Blood Transfusions. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1995.
It was posted on this website in July 1996.
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