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Jehovah's Witnesses and the Apostolic Decree to "Abstain From Blood"

Table of Contents


1. Introduction
2. Discussion

a) Should Witnesses make suggestions for doctrinal changes?
b) The Apostolic Decree "Abstain from Blood"
c) The Noachian Law
d) The Mosaic Law

3. Conclusion - The Apostolic Decree does not prohibit blood transfusions

End Notes


Jehovah's Witnesses' understanding of doctrinal matters is guided by the publications of The Watchtower Society. While individual Jehovah's Witnesses may feel comfortable requesting clarification on doctrinal matters, relatively few realize that the Society also considers well-thought-out suggestions for doctrinal change, provided they are made in the manner prescribed in the Society's literature. The "blood doctrine" is probably the clearest example of this process in action. In 1951, in response to a number of questions from Jehovah's Witnesses, the Society clarified the blood doctrine considerably. Its basic conclusion was that the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:29 "to abstain from blood" prohibits blood transfusions. Since then changing medical practices and technologies have prompted further suggestions and questions from individual Jehovah's Witnesses and various adjustments to the "blood policy" have resulted. Subsequent adjustments have tended toward recognizing that many decisions related to the medical use of blood are a matter of individual conscience. It is important to realize that this process of change has been driven largely by developments in medical science rather than by any new insight into the scriptures. Given the current state of flux of the blood doctrine it seems appropriate to re-examine the basic scriptural, rather than medical, issues involved in the medical use of blood. Consistent with the procedures for making suggestions to the Society as outlined in The Watchtower, the goal of this article is to suggest that the Society re-examine the scriptural basis of the blood doctrine. We believe that the main conclusions of this study, summarized below, provide a clear scriptural basis for such a reconsideration. It is important to realize that each of the following conclusions, apart from the final one (5), is fully supported by the Society's published literature.

1. The Apostolic Decree at Acts 15:20, 28, 29 "to abstain from blood" is based on standards supplied to mankind through Noah after the flood. It is not an imposing upon Christians of the Mosaic Law or of some portion of it. (United in Worship of the Only True God, page 149.)

2. Specifically, the Apostolic Decree was a confirmation of the Noachian Law regarding blood. (United in Worship of the Only True God, page 149.) In Jehovah's view all mankind is obligated to adhere to the Noachian Law, whose basic intent was to emphasize respect for life. (Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, page 345, par. 6.)

3. The Mosaic Law obligated Israel (and those taking up worship with Israel) to conform to special standards that were consistent with the Noachian Law, but which went well beyond it. The Mosaic Law did not, and does not, apply to mankind in general. It has been fulfilled (Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, page 345, par. 6.)

4. At Deuteronomy 14:21 God allowed Israelites to sell unbled animals found already dead to be used as food by "alien residents" and "foreigners." The Noachian Law, but not the Mosaic Law, applied to these people since they were part of mankind as a whole but not of Israel. The distinction here is between animals that humans had killed for food, which were covered by the Noachian Law, and those which had been found already dead, which we will see were not covered by the Noachian Law. Had they been covered, using them for food would have been prohibited. (Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, page 345, par. 6.)

5. The conclusion is that the Noachian Law, which was the basis for the Apostolic Decree, applies only to blood obtained by a person's killing a creature. While the Mosaic Law might provide grounds for prohibiting blood transfusions, the Noachian Law does not provide any grounds for coming to that conclusion, because donated blood is not obtained by killing humans or animals.

Clearly this last conclusion differs from the Society's current stance. However, the following material will make the case that this conclusion is not only consistent with scripture, but also with many of the Society's expressed views. Further, its adoption would resolve remaining inconsistencies and sources of confusion associated with the current status of the blood doctrine. Jehovah is a God, not of disorder, but of peace (1 Cor. 3:33).

1. Introduction

The sacredness of life is a fundamental doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses. Witnesses are also familiar with the scriptural teaching to "abstain from blood." Both ideas stem from God's command to Noah after the flood. (Acts 15:28, 29; Gen. 9:1-17) Therefore, Witnesses are concerned about the appropriateness of accepting a blood transfusion. The Watchtower Society's stand on blood seems simple: Jehovah's Witnesses must abstain from blood. Despite this seeming simplicity, the Society's views on the medical use of blood have undergone substantial change and, in actuality, Jehovah's Witnesses do not abstain from all medical use of blood.

The early position that using whole blood or its components is wrong has evolved into the current understanding stated in a recent "Questions From Readers" article (The Watchtower, June 15, 2000. Compare with The Watchtower of February 15, 1963 page 124) that the use of most blood components is a matter of individual conscience. Though the Society does not endorse any use of blood, over the years it has dispensed with many of its previous prohibitions on the medical use of certain blood parts in response to questions submitted by individual Witnesses. Indeed, the June 15, 2000 Watchtower article is an example of a further clarification of the Society's stance on blood that stemmed from a submitted question. In this regard it is noteworthy that the early prohibition on blood transfusions was apparently established at the behest of individual Witnesses. For example, in the May 1, 1950 Watchtower the Society stated, "Our published statements concerning this matter are something owing to those who look to us for spiritual guidance, and are not issued to cause division among Jehovah's people. Repeatedly we are confronted with requests for information on blood transfusion, particularly for us to pronounce a sanction of this medical practice." At that time the Society was not enforcing a prohibition on blood either by excommunicating (disfellowshipping) or requiring the shunning of members who conscientiously accepted blood transfusions. Later, in the January 15, 1961 Watchtower, the Society for the first time made accepting a blood transfusion a disfellowshipping offense, meaning that as of then shunning could be enforced against members accepting a transfusion. That change confirms that the Society apparently continued listening to those who look to it for spiritual guidance because they changed their stance by pronouncing enforcement of the prohibition against accepting blood transfusion by Witnesses.

Despite the Society's history of listening and responding to suggestions, some Witnesses may be concerned that making suggestions to the Society for doctrinal change, instead of simply asking questions, is inappropriate. It is therefore useful to examine whether it is appropriate for individual Witnesses to make suggestions (which may be in the form of questions) to the Society for doctrinal change. This is done in the first section of our discussion, Sec. 2(a).

The rest of this article is organized as follows: Section 2(b) demonstrates that the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15: 20, 29 and 21: 25 was based entirely on the Noachian Law and that it specifically excluded the idea that Christians were subject to any provisions of the Mosaic Law. This is in agreement with the Society's stated understanding of scripture. Section 2(c) discusses the Noachian Law, which is shown to be binding on all humanity.

The relationship of the Noachian Law to the Mosaic Law is examined in Sec. 2(d), where the scriptural argument is considered that with respect to blood the Mosaic Law represented a higher and more special standard than did the Noachian Law. This conclusion is based on the following observations: 1) the Mosaic Law prohibited uses of blood beyond what was imposed on Noah; 2) God allowed the Israelites to provide "alien residents" and "foreigners" with unbled meat for food as long as the animal was not killed by humans but had been found dead. Because "alien residents" and "foreigners" were bound by the Noachian Law, God's provision of giving or selling them unbled animals to eat could not have violated the Noachian Law. We therefore conclude that this part of the Noachian Law applied only to blood obtained from animals killed for food. This is a key point because according to the Society's understanding of the Bible, and in particular Paul's writings, Christians are not bound by the Mosaic Law. Therefore, Christians are not obliged to adhere to requirements of the Mosaic Law-a law that contained standards higher than the Noachian Law-for that would be a returning to the Mosaic Law. Note Paul's words in reference to the separation that had previously existed between Jews and Gentiles at Ephesians 2:15 1

By means of his flesh he abolished the enmity, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees, that he might create the two peoples in union with himself into one new man and make peace; and that he might fully reconcile both peoples in one body to God through the torture stake, because he had killed off the enmity by means of himself

and also at Romans 7:6:

But now we have been discharged from the Law, because we have died to that by which we were being held fast, that we might be slaves in a new sense by the spirit, and not in the old sense by the written code.

The Mosaic Law imposed a set of standards on the nation of Israel alone, and these included higher standards regarding blood than did the Noachian Law. Therefore attempts to extract principles from the Mosaic Law can result in requirements that are more restrictive than the Noachian Law itself. 2 This might lay an unnecessary and "further burden" (Acts 15:28) on Christians regarding blood. Comparing the Mosaic and Noachian Laws reveals that, while the Mosaic Law might be sufficiently restrictive to prohibit blood transfusions, the Noachian Law contains no hint of such a restriction. Thus the Apostolic Decree, itself based exclusively on the Noachian Law, is insufficient to prohibit the medical use of blood. The reason is that donated blood does not involve the intentional killing of the donor to obtain the blood. As will be shown, the sole purpose of the Noachian Law on blood was to instill a deep and profound respect for life, with blood being used illustratively of life. It applied to blood only in the context of life being deliberately taken, whether animal or human. Section 3 summarizes the discussion.

2. Discussion

This section examines in detail the points raised in the Overview and Introduction. For clarity, subsidiary points are presented as endnotes. The first sub-section examines the question of whether or not it is acceptable for individual Jehovah's Witnesses to present suggestions for change to the Society.

(a) Should individual Witnesses make suggestions for doctrinal change?

The intent here is not to review the history of the blood doctrine itself, but to use it as an example to show that the Society is and has been open to suggestions as well as questions from sincere Witnesses. The Society has explicitly stated that this is the case. While this seems to have been particularly true in regard to the blood doctrine, the Society imposes no restrictions on the topics on which suggestions may be presented. Consider the following discussion in The Watchtower that explicitly approves of sincere individual Witnesses submitting their suggestions as well as their questions:

From The Watchtower, June 1, 1982, page 20:

At times, some bring to the attention of the "slave" class various doctrinal or organizational matters that they feel ought to be revised. Certainly, suggestions for improvement are proper, as are inquiries for clarification. An example of this was when Paul, Barnabas and others were sent "to go up to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem" regarding circumcision. When those elders at Jerusalem decided the matter, under the direction of holy spirit, they then sent brothers to various cities to "deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem." Loyal submission to those decrees brought Jehovah's blessing. Thus, "the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day."-Acts 15:1-16:5. [Emphasis added]

As noted, the blood doctrine has been the subject of numerous questions from readers, many in response to rapid changes in medical science. Of necessity these changes have caused individual Witnesses to seek clarification, so the Society has re-examined the blood doctrine many times, mainly in an effort to decide if new medical procedures are acceptable or not. It should be emphasized that the article just cited permits Jehovah's Witnesses to make suggestions, not just ask questions, on doctrinal matters, provided that this is done in an appropriate and respectful manner, as the article goes on to explain:

The proper spirit after offering suggestions is to be content to leave the matter to the prayerful consideration of the mature brothers directing the work in Jehovah's organization. [Emphasis added.]

The point is that making suggestions is acceptable provided that the individual making them does not attempt to create divisions by pushing his or her viewpoint ahead of the Society's. Plainly this article shows that Jehovah's Witnesses may submit divergent views to the Society for its consideration. Further evidence that the Society is receptive to well-thought-out suggestions offered in a respectful manner can be found indirectly in many of the "Questions From Readers" articles, which, together, effectively serve to define the blood doctrine. 3 Part of the most recent "Questions From Readers" article, which further clarified the policy as to which blood parts may be acceptable to Jehovah's Witnesses, is reproduced below:

From The Watchtower, June 15, 2000, pages 29-31:

Do Jehovah's Witnesses accept any medical products derived from blood?

[some discussion omitted]

Just as blood plasma can be a source of various fractions, the other primary components (red cells, white cells, platelets) can be processed to isolate smaller parts. For example, white blood cells may be a source of interferons and interleukins, used to treat some viral infections and cancers. Platelets can be processed to extract a wound healing factor. And other medicines are coming along that involved (at least initially) extracts from blood components. Such therapies are not transfusions of those primary components; they usually involve parts or fractions thereof. Should Christians accept these fractions in medical treatment? We cannot say. The Bible does not give details, so a Christian must make his own conscientious decision before God.

Some would refuse anything derived from blood (even fractions intended to provide temporary passive immunity). That is how they understand God's command to 'abstain from blood.' They reason that his law to Israel required that blood removed from a creature be 'poured out on the ground.' (Deut. 12: 22-24) Why is that relevant? Well, to prepare gamma globulin, blood-based clotting factors, and so on, requires that blood be collected and processed. Hence, some Christians reject such products, just as they reject transfusions of whole blood or of its four primary components. Their sincere, conscientious stand should be respected.

Other Christians decide differently. They too refuse transfusions of whole blood, red cells, white cells, platelets, or plasma. Yet, they might allow a physician to treat them with a fraction extracted from the primary components. Even here there may be differences. One Christian may accept a gamma globulin injection, but he may or may not agree to an injection containing something extracted from red or white cells. Overall, though, what might lead some Christians to conclude that they could accept blood fractions? [Emphasis added]

It is clear that the Society had considered the already expressed opinions of Jehovah's Witnesses in formulating this policy, because the Society demonstrates its knowledge of such opinions. Similar wording is found in earlier "Questions From Readers," again indicating the Society's willingness to consider respectfully offered and sincere suggestions for change or requests for clarification. 4

This sub-section has demonstrated that it is appropriate for individual Jehovah's Witnesses to write to the Society with serious suggestions that have been formulated after careful and prayerful consideration. This was shown in the context of the blood doctrine. This doctrine is a particularly complex issue, as evidenced by the changes and clarifications that have periodically been made in Jehovah's Witnesses' understanding of what the term "abstain from blood" means in practice. Unfortunately, the current status of the blood doctrine seems somewhat arbitrary in that it allows the medical use of any blood component with the exception of intact forms of four "primary" fractions-red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and whole plasma. However, the use of preparations made from any and all of these constituents is now allowed as a matter of conscience. Thus, in effect, any and all parts of blood may be used depending only on how they are prepared. The article raised the question: "If any medicine to be prescribed may be made from blood plasma, red or white cells, or platelets, ask: ... How much of this blood-derived medicine might be administered, and in what way?" The question and answer together indicate that individuals must decide for themselves whether they can conscientiously accept a therapy that involves use of any particular blood component. This is a decision that seems to include considering the amount of a primary fraction included in the therapy.

A result of the revised blood policy is that because all parts of blood, in one form or another (e.g., hemoglobin preparations), can be used by Jehovah's Witnesses there can be no argument made that they are protected from blood-borne diseases. Given that God's word does not change and that "all scripture ... is beneficial..." (2 Tim. 3:16) it is somewhat unusual that the current status of our understanding of the Apostolic Decree to "abstain from blood" is determined more by medical science than by the scriptures. The solution to this dilemma can only be found by re-examining the scriptures themselves, as we do in the following sub-sections.

(b) The Apostolic Decree "Abstain from Blood"

The actual text of the Apostolic Decree, as it is called, is found at Acts 15:29, with a preview given at Acts 15:20 and a subsequent reference at Acts 21:25. Acts 15:28, 29 reads:

For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to YOU, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If YOU carefully keep yourselves from these things, YOU will prosper. Good health to YOU!

The occasion for issuing the Apostolic Decree was to decide whether or not Gentile Christians should be required to submit to circumcision as required by the Mosaic Law. The resulting Decree requires that all Christians abstain from four things: food offered to idols, blood, strangled meat and fornication. Some confusion has surrounded this Decree because the Mosaic Law also forbade these things. In particular, it might be thought that certain dietary laws of the Jews were simply being transferred to Christians. However, the Society clearly makes the point that the Apostolic Decree was based on standards that existed prior to the Mosaic Law and which were applicable to all mankind:

From United in Worship of the Only True God, page 149:

When the issue involving application of the Mosaic Law to Gentile Christians was presented to the governing body in Jerusalem in the first century, their decision was in harmony with these facts. They recognized that Jehovah was not requiring Gentile believers to perform works in obedience to the Mosaic Law before holy spirit was poured out on them. The decision of that governing body did list as "necessary things" certain prohibitions that were in harmony with that Law, but these were based on the Bible record concerning events that predated the Law. So there was not an imposing on Gentile Christians of a responsibility to conform to the Mosaic Law or some portion of it but, rather, there was a confirming of standards recognized prior to Moses. -Acts 15:28, 29; compare Genesis 9:3, 4; 34:2-7; 35:2-5.

The Apostolic Council more generally had to decide if practices peculiar to the Jews applied to Christians. Thus the Apostolic Decree commented on issues that might have been confusing to Gentile but not Jewish Christians. The main discussion centered on whether Gentile Christians must be circumcised. The outcome was that they need not be circumcised, but that certain "necessary things" were required of Gentile Christians. Presumably Gentile Christians recognized that such things as lying and theft were wrong, based on what might be called "natural law" and on Jesus' teachings. However, many may have been unfamiliar with elements of the Noachian Law. Accordingly the Apostolic Decree emphasized, among other things, essential elements of the Noachian Law regarding blood.


That the Apostolic Decree was not based on the Mosaic Law is apparent from texts such as the following:

Acts 15:7-11: Now when much disputing had taken place, Peter rose and said to them: "Men, brothers, YOU well know that from early days God made the choice among YOU that through my mouth people of the nations should hear the word of the good news and believe; and God, who knows the heart, bore witness by giving them the holy spirit, just as he did to us also. And he made no distinction at all between us and them, but purified their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are YOU making a test of God by imposing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our forefathers nor we were capable of bearing? On the contrary, we trust to get saved through the undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus in the same way as those people also."

Acts 15:13,14: After they quit speaking, James answered, saying: "Men, brothers, hear me. Sym'e·on has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.

These passages show conclusively that the Apostolic Decree was not based on provisions of the Mosaic Law. Among other things, they reveal that Jehovah had already accepted as worshippers those who were not complying with the Mosaic Law. As Peter recognized, "[God] made no distinction at all between us and them." Jehovah had made no distinction between Jewish Christians, who to a large degree abided by the basics of the Mosaic Law, and Gentile converts who did not. Since God Himself continued to pour out holy spirit on such Gentile converts, it became evident that abiding by provisions of the Mosaic Law was unnecessary for Christians.

The Christian Greek Scriptures, especially the writings of Paul, e.g., those cited earlier, also indicate that Christians are not bound by any part of the Mosaic Law. The Society has made this point abundantly clear. How, though, do we conclude that the Apostolic Decree is based on the Noachian Law?

In response to the recognition that Christians were not held to provisions of the Mosaic Law, James first voiced what we call today the Apostolic Decree, which included the provision to "abstain from blood." Accompanying that statement are the following remarks by James as recorded at Acts 15:19-21:

Hence my decision is not to trouble those from the nations who are turning to God, but to write them to abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For from ancient times Moses has had in city after city those who preach him, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath."

It is noteworthy that James associated the Apostolic Decree with Moses' writings. Certainly the Mosaic Law is part of those writings, but we have already seen that that portion of Moses' writings is not applicable to Christians. Genesis through Deuteronomy are attributed to Moses (of course, Moses was working under inspiration) and a good portion of these are separate from the Mosaic Law. In particular, Genesis is not concerned at all with the Mosaic Law. Significantly, the only portion of Moses' writings aside from the Law that included prohibitions on the use of blood is found in Genesis chapter 9, in the Noachian Law. Because that portion of Moses' writings contains the only occurrence of prohibitions involving blood apart from the Mosaic Law, and because James indicated that Moses' writings were the source of the Apostolic Decree, we must conclude that the Noachian Law is the basis for the Apostolic Decree to "abstain from blood and things strangled."

The Society has long maintained that the Apostolic Decree to "abstain from blood and things strangled." was based on the Noachian Law recorded at Genesis 9:3, 4. Also the Society has maintained that the Apostolic Decree was not based on provisions of the Mosaic Law.

The following section examines the Noachian Law in some detail with a view to developing a clearer understanding of what the expression "abstain from blood" means.

(c) The Noachian Law

Noah and his family were the sole survivors of an era in which life had been held as common, or of little value, rather than sacred. (Compare Genesis 6:4, 5, 11, 13.) During the flood Noah and his family experienced firsthand the killing of human and animal kind on an unprecedented scale, and that at God's hand. Considering mankind's historical sentiments regarding life and the fact that Noah's family had just witnessed such massive killing, it becomes easy to see why God would specifically address the sacredness of life, which he communicated to Noah as the patriarch of all who were alive and all who were to come. Not wanting life again to become less than sacred, God instituted measures that by their very design would remind mankind of life's sacredness. God has always held life as sacred. Though the Bible record indicates that Jehovah had on prior occasion alluded to that sacredness, with the Noachian Law He for the first time enacted a law, including prohibitions, that effectively put man on notice of His will and His view of life, i.e., it is sacred. With His law to Noah, Jehovah decreed that mankind must hold life in that same high regard. His provision to respect even the life of animals taken or killed for food by not eating their blood emphasized Jehovah's views on the matter.

Though the Noachian Law was provided for mankind through Noah, there is no indication in scripture that God has revoked its prohibitions regarding blood. Therefore, we must conclude that Jehovah still expects those tenets to be observed. In harmony with that the Society teaches that the Noachian Law was a command to all humankind that has never been revoked:

From Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, page 345:

To whom does the prohibition on the eating of blood apply?

Noah and his sons were allowed by Jehovah to add animal flesh to their diet after the Flood, but they were strictly commanded not to eat blood. (Ge 9:1, 3, 4) God here set out a regulation that applied, not merely to Noah and his immediate family, but to all mankind from that time on, because all those living since the Flood are descendants of Noah's family.

This statement has far-reaching consequences. For example, any Divine Law Code subsequently given to mankind or to parts of mankind (e.g., the Mosaic Law to Israel) must be consistent with the Noachian Law. Of course, such laws might contain restrictions going beyond those found in the Noachian Law, but unless God repealed the Noachian Law they could not supercede or countermand Jehovah's Law to Noah. Nowhere does the Bible indicate such a repeal of the Noachian Law.

Next we focus on the statement at Genesis 9:4:

Only flesh with its soul - its blood - YOU must not eat.

Clearly Genesis 9:4 is not meant to be an absolute prohibition on the eating of blood itself, since all subsequent applications of it in the Bible do not suggest that an animal had to be thoroughly drained of blood to be considered properly bled. On the contrary, the animal simply had to be bled until the blood stopped flowing, which meant that a substantial amount of blood was still left in the carcass and subsequently eaten. Considering the context of the Noachian Law (the sacredness of life), we can see why eating the remaining blood was not an issue at all, because the act of reasonably bleeding the killed animal forced Noah and mankind always to remember the sacredness of life.

Because the Noachian Law was not an absolute prohibition on eating blood, it is important to understand what it did specifically prohibit. The text of Genesis 9:1-7 reads as follows:

And God went on to bless Noah and his sons and to say to them: "Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth. And a fear of YOU and a terror of YOU will continue upon every living creature of the earth and upon every flying creature of the heavens, upon everything that goes moving on the ground, and upon all the fishes of the sea. Into YOUR hand they are now given. Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for YOU. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to YOU. Only flesh with its soul-its blood-YOU must not eat. And, besides that, YOUR blood of YOUR souls shall I ask back. From the hand of every living creature shall I ask it back; and from the hand of man, from the hand of each one who is his brother, shall I ask back the soul of man. Anyone shedding man's blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God's image he made man. And as for YOU men, be fruitful and become many, make the earth swarm with YOU and become many in it."

With those words God for the first time gave mankind permission to kill animals and eat their flesh. The only stipulation was that the blood of such creatures must not be eaten along with the flesh. That required that an animal's blood should be reasonably drained prior to eating the flesh. However, the text is only talking about animals killed at the hand of man for food. Regarding animals, the text says, "into YOUR hand they are now given" and, "every animal that is alive may serve as food for YOU" and, "only flesh with its soul-its blood-YOU must not eat." Clearly those texts are speaking of animals being killed for food. Therefore, prohibitions given to Noah had only to do with eating the blood of animals killed for food. The prohibition applied to no more than that, and it was applicable to all mankind. Is there any explicit textual support for that conclusion?

This question is answered in the affirmative in the next sub-section through comparison of relevant aspects of the Mosaic and Noachian Laws.

(d) The Mosaic Law

The provisions of the Mosaic Law with regard to blood can be summed up simply: Jews were not to eat blood in any form, whether directly or that left in animals that died of themselves. However, the Law contained a special provision about what to do with animals found dead, that is, animals that died by accident or old age, were killed by another animal, or otherwise died of themselves as far as the finder could tell. As we saw earlier in this article, that text is found at Deuteronomy 14:21. It says:

YOU must not eat any body [already] dead. To the alien resident who is inside your gates YOU may give it, and he must eat it; or there may be a selling of it to a foreigner, because YOU are a holy people to Jehovah your God.

That provision of the Mosaic Law was spoken to those under that Law, but the provision itself involved giving or selling an unbled carcass to "alien residents" and "foreigners" to eat. Because this was a provision of Jehovah, and because those alien residents and foreigners were under the Noachian Law in God's eyes, this scripture provides textual support that the Noachian Law did not prohibit the eating of unbled flesh that had not been killed for food. In other words, the Noachian Law only prohibited eating the blood of animals killed for food. Unless we conclude that Jehovah would abet the breaking of his own law by those under it, we can arrive at no other conclusion than the one above. Because the Bible says that God will not try anyone with evil things, such a notion becomes impossible. (See James 1:13.)

Can a distinction be made between the blood of a creature killed for food and one that died of itself? The Society teaches that such a distinction indeed exists:

From Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, page 345:

At Deuteronomy 14:21 allowance was made for selling to an alien resident or a foreigner an animal that had died of itself or that had been torn by a beast. Thus a distinction was made between the blood of such animals and that of animals that a person slaughtered for food. (Compare Le 17:14-16.)

Some may minimize the provision in Deuteronomy 14:21, saying that what God allowed among the ungodly is irrelevant. It is true that people of the nations had all sorts of ideas about worship, including a wide range of practices that violated God's will. Nevertheless, those practices are irrelevant to the provision in Deuteronomy 14:21. We are considering what God requires of man, not the erroneous views or actions of man. The text of Deuteronomy 14:21 addressed a provision of God, not misconduct on the part of the ungodly. It is Jehovah's view that is important, not that of men. God's view was that those termed "alien resident" and "foreigner" at Deuteronomy 14:21 were accountable under the Noachian Law. Given that Jehovah would not encourage anyone to break His laws we must conclude that the Noachian Law does not prevent man from eating unbled flesh from animals who died of themselves

As recorded at Genesis 9:3, 4 God prohibited man from eating blood from animals he killed for food. Because animals found dead had not been killed by man for food, the Noachian prohibition did not apply, even though such flesh contained its full measure of blood. That indicates that Genesis 9:1-17 was not a case of God instituting some special sacredness regarding blood, but rather God, by decree, was instilling His view of the sacredness of life. Life was the sacred issue addressed to Noah, not blood. Prohibitions regarding blood only served to instill high regard for life, even animal life. If life were not taken, no prohibition of the Noachian Law was applicable. Again, that conclusion is illustrated in God's provision found at Deuteronomy 14:21.

Having established that the Apostolic Decree was based on the Noachian Law and having clarified aspects of the Noachian Law germane to our subject, we are left with another question: In principle, is it legitimate to use tenets of the Mosaic Law to try to shed additional light on the meaning of the expression "abstain from blood" as used in the Apostolic Decree? To answer that question we first need to understand the basis for the blood laws contained in the Mosaic Law.

As noted, because the Noachian Law was given to all humankind, subsequent legitimate laws could not countermand it unless God repealed the Noachian Law, which has not happened. On the contrary, if laws relating to the use of blood were instituted, it would be expected that the Noachian Law would be fully incorporated into that newer law. The Mosaic Law presents just such a case.

The Mosaic Law dealt with matters going well beyond the Noachian Law. Nevertheless, the Noachian Law was incorporated into the Mosaic Law, which contained prohibitions on murder and the use of blood. In addition to just incorporating provisions of the Noachian law, the Mosaic Law contained additional requirements regarding blood. For example, the Mosaic Law required Israelites to pour drained blood onto the ground, without using it for anything whatsoever. The Noachian Law had no such provision. Noah was only told what he could not eat. He was free to use blood in other ways. Also, the Mosaic Law prohibited those under it from eating any sort of blood, but as we have seen those under only the Noachian Law could eat some unbled flesh as a provision from Jehovah. Again we see where the requirements regarding blood were higher for those under the Mosaic Law than for others. (See Leviticus 17:10)

The Society, too, teaches that those under the Mosaic Law were held to a higher standard regarding blood than were others:

From Insight on the Scriptures, page 345:

At Deuteronomy 14:21 allowance was made for selling to an alien resident or a foreigner an animal that had died of itself or that had been torn by a beast. Thus a distinction was made between the blood of such animals and that of animals that a person slaughtered for food. (Compare Le 17:14-16.) The Israelites, as well as alien residents who took up true worship and came under the Law covenant, were obligated to live up to the lofty requirements of that Law. People of all nations were bound by the requirement at Genesis 9:3, 4, but those under the Law were held by God to a higher standard in adhering to that requirement than were foreigners and alien residents who had not become worshipers of Jehovah. [Emphasis added]

The Mosaic Law could and did introduce higher standards with respect to how blood was used than the requirements contained in the Noachian Law. Naturally the question is, why a higher standard? Are not all of God's laws perfect? What is different about the Mosaic Law that it required a higher standard than the simpler prohibitions originally given through Noah? The answer is found within the Mosaic Law itself. Notice in the following text that the reason for prohibitions regarding blood is stated:

Leviticus 17:10-12:

As for any man of the house of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in YOUR midst who eats any sort of blood, I shall certainly set my face against the soul that is eating the blood, and I shall indeed cut him off from among his people. For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for YOU to make atonement for YOUR souls, because it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul [in it]. That is why I have said to the sons of Israel: "No soul of YOU must eat blood and no alien resident who is residing as an alien in YOUR midst should eat blood." [Emphasis added.]

Note that God indicated the reason for blood prohibitions unique to the Mosaic Law. That reason was twofold, meaning that two things combined stood as the reason for the prohibitions. The text above reminds Israel of the Noachian Law's figurative use of blood, that it represents life. Also Israel was informed of a sacred use of blood, the only use of blood provided for Israel under the Mosaic Law: blood was to be used for sacred atonement sacrifices. Israel's standard was higher because, in addition to the existing Noachian mandate, the Mosaic Law stipulated that Israel must only use blood for the sacred purpose of atonement sacrifices. When for the first time Jehovah combined a special, sacred use of blood with the Noachian Law, the result was a higher standard for those who came to be under the Mosaic Law. This did not imply that the Noachian Law had been superceded, but simply that different and higher standards were required of Israel. Mankind in general is required to conform to the Noachian Law, but not to the higher standards of the Mosaic Law, as we saw in our examination of the text of Deuteronomy 14:21.

We have seen that with respect to blood, the Mosaic Law held those under it to a higher standard than the Noachian Law held the rest of mankind to. Thus, we are now in a position to answer the question raised earlier as to the legitimacy of using the Mosaic Law to amplify the meaning of the Apostolic Decree. We conclude that it is not legitimate to use the provisions of the Mosaic Law regarding blood as a principle for the rest of mankind. Admittedly God's standard was higher for those under the Mosaic Law. If we then apply that higher standard to the Apostolic Decree's call to "abstain from blood," we are saying that that decree is based on the Mosaic Law rather than the Noachian Law. We would be saying that the Apostolic Decree is based on standards God first gave to Moses rather than standards existing prior to Moses. Such a conclusion is contrary to what the scriptures indicate and to certain reasoning and basic conclusions published by the Society.

The final section maintains that only one conclusion can be reached.

3. Conclusion: The Apostolic Decree does not prohibit blood transfusions

The Society has often used tenets extracted from the Mosaic Law to make the case that the Apostolic Decree provides sufficient grounds to prohibit blood transfusions. However, the above discussion clearly shows that the Apostolic Decree contains no provisions from the Mosaic Law. It was demonstrated that the Society holds that the Apostolic Decree "to abstain from blood" is based exclusively on the Noachian Law and not on provisions or extensions of the Mosaic Law. Because the Mosaic Law cannot countermand any aspects of the Noachian Law, which was given to all mankind, it is clear that the uses of blood provided by God at Deuteronomy14:21 must rigorously conform to the Noachian Law. Does the decree to "abstain from blood" then prohibit Christians from donating blood for the purpose of saving life via blood transfusion or from accepting blood so donated? The answer has to be, "No."

The reason for this conclusion is simple. Killing people or animals is not the way blood is obtained for medical use. Rather, such blood is donated voluntarily. There is a fundamental difference between taking blood by killing, and accepting blood from donation. That fundamental difference is magnified here because in the case of donated blood life can be saved with no loss of life whatsoever. The Noachian Law only prohibited humans from eating blood from flesh that they had purposely killed to eat. The question of whether transfused blood provides nourishment, i.e., is it "food?" becomes a non-issue because blood transfused to save human life is not obtained by taking life, that is, by killing.

Similarly, health considerations are irrelevant in deciding whether blood transfusions are acceptable for Christians. According to the Society's current policy, accepting derivatives prepared from blood or from its four "primary" components 6 is a matter of conscience. Those who conscientiously do accept such derivatives will, therefore, not be protected from any health risks associated with the medical use of blood. As with all medical procedures, the risks from accepting blood derivatives can include significant health problems and even death. On the other hand, comparable risks may also be associated with rejecting such medical treatments. The irrelevance of health issues from a scriptural rather than a medical point of view is further emphasized by the fact that the Noachian Law permitted mankind to eat flesh. Eating meat has always presented notorious health hazards depending on the preparation or selection of the meat. As the Society has often noted, decisions about diet and health care in areas where the Bible does not specifically comment are best left to individual conscience after a careful consideration of the information available.


Some have speculated about how early Christians might have responded to the idea of accepting a transfusion of donated blood to save life. Since early Christians had no way of literally transfusing blood as it is done today, we have no way of answering that question with Bible texts. Nevertheless, worthy questions are; "What is the nearest thing mentioned in scripture to accepting a modern day medical transfusion of blood, and was it abhorred?" Back then Christians did have a way of donating blood to save life, but not by transfusion: they could voluntarily sacrifice their life so that someone else might live. That meant literally pouring out their soul-their blood-in another person's behalf. Not only were such donations made, they were accepted and even expected, even though the extension of life was temporary. (John 15:13.) Indeed, the most outstanding example of this principle was Jesus' own sacrifice, with the exception that Jesus' sacrifice provided a means of gaining eternal life rather than a temporary extension.

While the Society's conclusions to date do not match the ones we have reached, as noted at the beginning of this article, the Society's published comments do support the conclusions reached in this work. In fact our final conclusion is reached precisely by following the Society's own basic teachings. Given the current state of complexity of the Society's recommendations on blood, considerable simplification could be achieved by aligning our view on the sacredness of blood with the scriptures rather than having changes in medical science continually force re-evaluations of this issue. As Christians our guide in spiritual matters should be the scriptures rather than medical science.

The intent of this article is to provide a basis for the Society to perform a thorough scriptural re-examination of the blood doctrine. As has been emphasized, the Society is willing to consider suggestions from individual Jehovah's Witnesses for change. This might best be achieved by writing to the Society expressing one's opinions on the blood policy and the material contained here, if the reader feels that it has validity. Should you write the Society with a suggestion for change? That question can and should only be answered by each person individually.


Authors: Anonymous 8

End Notes

1 All Scriptures cited are from the New World Translation

2 For example, should Christians draw the principle from the Law that some kinds of meat are better than others based on its dietary regulations? Peter's vision recorded at Acts 10:9-16, in which he was told "YOU stop calling defiled the things God has cleansed," shows that attempts to bind Christians by parts of the Mosaic Law have no scriptural support.

3 "Define" in the sense that the Society's stances on blood, and changes made, have most often been expressed through "Questions From Readers" articles rather than regular articles in The Watchtower.

4 See, for example, The Watchtower, June 1, 1990: Do Jehovah's Witnesses accept injections of a blood fraction, such as immune globulin or albumin? Some do, believing that the Scriptures do not clearly rule out accepting an injection of a small fraction, or component taken from blood. [Emphasis added.]

5 The Society teaches explicitly that the prohibition on "things strangled" in the Apostolic Decree goes back to the Noachian Law. Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, pp. 345-6 states: This decree rests, ultimately, on God's command not to eat blood, as given to Noah and his sons and, therefore, to all mankind. In this regard, the following is found in The Chronology of Antient Kingdoms Amended, by Sir Isaac Newton (Dublin, 1728, p. 184): "This law [of abstaining from blood] was ancienter than the days of Moses, being given to Noah and his sons, long before the days of Abraham: and therefore when the Apostles and Elders in the Council at Jerusalem declared that the Gentiles were not obliged to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, they excepted this law of abstaining from blood, and things strangled, as being an earlier law of God, imposed not on the sons of Abraham only, but on all nations, while they lived together in Shinar under the dominion of Noah: and of the same kind is the law of abstaining from meats offered to Idols or false Gods, and from fornication."-Italics his.

6 See The Watchtower, June 15, 2000, "Questions from Readers" pp. 29-31.

7 See, for example, The Watchtower, June 15, 1982, ' "Good Health" and Christian Reasonableness,' pp. 25-29.

8 In keeping with the Society's standard of letting information and reasoning stand on their own merit, the authors of this document choose to remain anonymous. Attention is thus focused on the information, which is designed to honor Jehovah, rather than any man. This is in line with what brother Russell said a century ago: "It is the truth rather than its servant that should be honored and proclaimed. There is too much disposition to credit truth to the preacher, forgetful that all truth is of God, who uses one or another servant in its proclamation as it may please him." (See The Watchtower, February 1, 1991, page 12, par. 14; Awake!, October 22, 1989, page 20.)

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