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Blood Transfusion

It is well known that the Jehovah's Witnesses will neither donate blood for the medical purpose of transfusion, nor receive it. They

base their practice on the teaching of Scripture that blood should not be drunk. This teaching is found in Genesis 9:4, in the Law

(Leviticus 3:17 and other passages) and in the New Testament (Acts 15:20). The matter of drinking blood is gone into in my article

'Necessary Things'. There is no intention to disclaim what is said there.

The Witnesses say that because the passage in the New Testament (Acts 15:20) uses the words "abstain from" rather than "drink"

 the prohibition would cover transfusing blood directly into a person's veins. The question is: "Is this latter prohibition justified"?

It must be said that:

(1) Blood Transfusion is not, so far as one can see, specifically mentioned in Scripture. In any case the Witnesses do not refer to any

passage. As far as one knows Blood Transfusion was not practiced in Biblical times. This should warn us that making a rule

prohibiting Blood Transfusion when there is no specific passage about it is not wise.

(2) The prohibition is clearly against drinking the blood of animals. The blood of humans would in any case not be drunk unless by

cannibals. We have such a thing as cannibalism recorded in 2 Kings 6:24-31. Christ somewhat shocked his audience by speaking

of the need of persons to drink his blood (John 6:53 et seq). We know that this is a spiritual thing as Christ said: "The words which

I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life" (John 6:63). However, the fact that Christ uses the terminology that He does would

indicate that it is dangerous to assume that it would be always wrong to imbibe human blood. We know of course that Christ also

at the last supper gave to his disciples that which spoke of his blood saying: "Drink ye all of it. For this is my blood, that of the [new]

covenant, that shed for many for remission of sins." (Matthew 26:27/28). We know of course that what was drunk symbolised

Christ's blood and was literally "the blood of the grape" (Deuteronomy 32:14). It may also be noted that in Ezekiel 39:17 et seq.

the blood of humans was given to birds and beasts of the field to drink.

 

Apart from the above we need to see that the non-imbibing rule is not to be taken as something so rigid that it cannot be broken

for the purpose of saving life. When Christ was on earth he healed people on the Sabbath, though there were those that kept the Sabbath

so stringently that they condemned Christ for what he did. (Matthew 12:10-13). He also justified his disciples in meeting their need for food

 on the Sabbath (Matthew 12: 1-8 and Mark 2:23-28). The point is: "I will have mercy and not sacrifice" - the need for mercy when it

arises takes precedence over sacrifice - see Hosea 6:6.

There are plenty of Scriptures that warn us of the dangers of strong drink (e.g. Proverbs 20:1; 31:4/5; Isaiah 5:11), but the general

rule does not apply when a person is dying (Proverbs 31:6/7). Thus today a doctor will give strong addictive pain killing drugs to a person

who is dying. In such circumstances it does not matter if the person becomes addicted.

There may be good medical reasons for not giving transfusions in some cases, but in others the weight of the advantages may

outweigh the risks. After all, many medications may have unexpected adverse side effects.

From the above it will be seen that a rigid prohibition against imbibing the blood of another human in any circumstances is not

right. A rigid prohibition does not require the exercise of spiritual discernment. We need this (Hebrews 5:13/14). While the general

practice of Christians is not a final court of appeal, anyone who is conscious of his limited understanding would not take a contrary

view to accepted Christian practice without a solid scriptural basis. The Witnesses have not got such a basis for their view and are like

a man who is building a large structure with only a tiny foundation!

There is another point. There are those who say that they would be prepared to give blood, but only to fellow Christians, that is,

not promiscuously. This is of course rather impractical as it would mean donating blood to a particular person. That person might have a

different blood group to that of the prospective donor or the prospective donor might not be available when needed, or acceptable for other

reasons. However, Christ did not give his flesh just for Christians, but for the whole world (John 6:51). Flesh really includes the blood for

"the life of the flesh is in the blood"(Leviticus 17:11) and Christ in explaining Himself in the following verses includes his blood. How do

we know that someone who receives our donation may not become a Christian, even if not so yet ? We are told to do good towards all

(Galatians 6:10). The household of faith would have the first claim but we can widen out to all men. After all, God makes his sun rise on

evil as well as good (Matthew 5:45).

            There is the point that if we are not prepared to donate blood how can we righteously receive it?

August 2006