“The fluid which circulates in the principal vascular system of animals, carrying nourishment and oxygen to all parts of the body, and bringing away waste products to be excreted.” (Webster’s New International Dictionary, 2d ed., Unabridged) Thus the blood both feeds and cleanses the body. The chemical makeup of blood is so exceedingly complex that there is a great deal that to scientists is still in the realm of the unknown.
In the Bible, the soul is said to be in the blood because blood is so intimately involved in the life processes. God’s Word says: “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.” (Lev. 17:11) For like reason, but making the connection even more direct, the Bible says: “The soul of every sort of flesh is its blood.”—Lev. 17:14.
Life is sacred. Therefore, blood, in which the creature’s life resides, is sacred and is not to be tampered with. Noah, the progenitor of all persons today living on the earth, was allowed by Jehovah to add flesh to his diet after the Flood, but he was strictly commanded not to eat blood. At the same time he was commanded to show respect for the life, the blood, of his fellowman.—Gen. 9:3-6.
With Jehovah is the source of life. (Ps. 36:9) Man cannot give back a life that he takes. “All the souls—to me they belong,” says Jehovah. (Ezek. 18:4) Therefore, to take life is to take Jehovah’s property. Every living thing has a purpose and a place in God’s creation. No man has the right to take life except where God permits and in the way that he instructs. When, after the Flood, God kindly allowed man to add flesh to his diet, God required that man acknowledge the life of the creature as belonging to God by pouring out on the ground the blood of any wild animal caught in hunting and covering the blood with dust. This was like giving it back to God, not using it for one’s own purpose. (Lev. 17:13) In the case of animals brought to the sanctuary as communion offerings, in which the priest and the one bringing the sacrifice (and his family) had a share as a meal, the blood was drained out on the ground. When Israel got settled in Palestine and the sanctuary was too far away, a man could slaughter an animal for food at home but had to pour the blood on the ground.—Deut. 12:15, 16.
Man was entitled to enjoy the life that God granted him and anyone who deprived him of that life would be answerable to God. This was shown when God said to the murderer Cain: “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” (Gen. 4:10) Even one hating his brother, and so wishing him dead, or slandering him or bearing false witness against him, so as to endanger his life, would bring guilt upon himself in connection with the blood of his fellowman.—Lev. 19:16; Deut. 19:18-21; 1 John 3:15.
The value of life is considered so sacred by God that the blood of a murdered person is viewed by Him as defiling the earth, and such defilement can be cleansed only by shedding the blood of the murderer. On this basis the Bible authorizes capital punishment for murder, through duly constituted authority. (Num. 35:33; Gen. 9:5, 6) In ancient Israel no ransom could be taken to deliver the deliberate murderer from the death penalty.—Num. 35:19-21, 31.
Even in cases where the manslayer could not be found on investigation, the city nearest the site where the body was found was counted bloodguilty. To remove the guilt, the responsible city elders had to perform the procedure required by God and to disclaim any guilt or knowledge of the murder and pray to God for his mercy. (Deut. 21:1-9) If an accidental manslayer was not seriously concerned over the taking of a life and did not follow God’s arrangement for his protection by fleeing to the city of refuge and remaining there, the dead man’s nearest of kin was the avenger authorized and obligated to kill him so as to remove bloodguilt from the land.—Num. 35:26, 27; see AVENGER OF BLOOD.
Some ancient pagan nations drank animal blood and, among certain peoples, warriors drank the blood of vanquished enemies in the belief that they would thereby appropriate the qualities of courage and strength possessed by the enemy. There was a religious significance attached to the act, much as cannibalism is a religious rite.
In the Law covenant made by Jehovah with the nation of Israel, he incorporated the law given to Noah. He made it clear that “bloodguilt” attached to anyone who ignored the procedure stipulated by God’s law even in the killing of an animal. (Lev. 17:3, 4) The blood of an animal to be used for food was to be poured out on the ground and covered with dust. (Lev. 17:13, 14) Anyone who ate blood of any sort of flesh was to be ‘cut off from among his people.’ Deliberate violation of this law regarding the sacredness of blood meant “cutting off” in death.—Lev. 17:10; 7:26, 27; Num. 15:30, 31.
Commenting on Leviticus 17:11, 12, M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopœdia, Volume I, page 834, column 1, reads: “This strict injunction not only applied to the Israelites, but even to the strangers residing among them. The penalty assigned to its transgression was the being ‘cut off from the people,’ by which the punishment of death appears to be intended (comp. Heb. x, 28), although it is difficult to ascertain whether it was inflicted by the sword or by stoning.”
Jehovah caused Israel to be extremely careful about things having to do with blood. A woman during menstruation was considered “unclean” to the touch, and anything she had sat on or lain on was unclean. The uncleanness continued throughout the duration of her flow of blood. (Lev. 15:19-27) If intercourse was indulged in deliberately during a period of blood flow, both the man and the woman were subject to the death penalty.—Lev. 18:19, 29.
ONE PROPER USE UNDER MOSAIC LAW
There was only one proper use of blood, one legally proper under the Law. That was its use for sacrifice. Since life belongs to God, the blood was his and it was offered as a sin atonement. (Lev. 17:11) Pouring out of blood of animals used for food prevented misuse of blood, such as eating it or offering it to other gods. The man pouring the blood on the ground thereby acknowledged God as the Giver of life and the need of sin atonement through the offering of a life.—Lev. 16:6, 11.
USE UNDER CHRISTIAN LAW
The lifesaving application of Christ’s blood was constantly prefigured in the Hebrew Scriptures, since the entire Law given through Moses foreshadowed and pointed to the Messiah. (Heb. 10:1; Gal. 3:24) At the time of the first Passover, in Egypt, the blood on the upper part of the doorway and on the doorposts of the Israelite homes protected the firstborn inside from death at the hand of God’s angel. (Ex. 12:7, 22, 23) The Law covenant, which had a typical sinremoving feature, was validated by the blood of animals. (Ex. 24:5-8) The numerous blood sacrifices, particularly those offered on the day of atonement, were for typical sin atonement, pointing to the real sin removal by the sacrifice of Christ.—Lev. 16:11, 15-18.
The legal power that blood has in God’s sight as accepted by him for atonement purposes was illustrated by the pouring of blood at the base or “foundation” of the altar and the putting of it on the horns of the altar. The atonement arrangement had its basis or foundation in blood and the power (represented by horns) of the sacrificial arrangement rested in blood.—Lev. 9:9; Heb. 9:22; 1 Cor. 1:18.
In the Christian arrangement, the sanctity of blood was even more strongly emphasized. No longer was animal blood to be offered, for those animal offerings were only a shadow of the reality, Jesus Christ. (Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:2-4, 8-10) The high priest in Israel took a token portion of the blood into the Most Holy of the earthly sanctuary. (Lev. 16:14) Jesus Christ as the real High Priest entered into heaven itself, not with his blood, which was poured out on the ground (John 19:34), but with the value of his perfect human life as represented by blood. This life right he never forfeited by sin, but retained it as usable for sin atonement. (Heb. 7:26; 8:3; 9:11, 12) For these reasons the blood of Christ cries out for better things than the blood of righteous Abel. Only the blood of the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God can call for mercy, while the blood of Abel as well as the blood of martyred followers of Christ cries out for vengeance.—Heb. 12:24; Rev. 6:9-11.
The visible governing body of the first-century Christian congregation, including the apostles, the secondary foundations of the temple of God, ruled on the matter of blood. (Rev. 21:14) Their decree states: “For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep yourselves free 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!” (Acts 15:6, 20, 28, 29; 21:25) The prohibition included flesh with the blood in it (“things strangled”). Such decree rests, in turn, on God’s command to Noah and, therefore, to all mankind, not to eat blood.—Gen. 9:4.
Some argue that this prohibition does not include human blood. However, if animal blood is sacred, how much more is that of a human, and how much more reprehensible is cannibalism! The Law given to Israel forbade the eating of “blood of any sort of flesh,” which includes the blood of human flesh. (Lev. 17:14) The value of human life is far superior to that of animal lives. (Matt. 10:31; Luke 12:7) When David’s men risked their lives to bring him a drink of water, he poured it out on the ground, for, in his eyes, to drink that water would be like drinking the human blood of his soldiers, which drinking of human blood he knew would violate God’s law.—2 Sam. 23:16, 17.
Others claim that the prohibition on blood was only temporary because of the Jews in the Christian congregation who, having been under the Law, would be offended or would have their susceptibilities hurt if Gentile Christians, unused previously to such a law, should eat blood or a blood preparation. This would prompt one to ask, Why, then, did the governing body not recommend circumcision for Gentile Christians, which was a much more burning and divisive issue of that day? The circumcision issue was the cause for the conference of the governing body in Jerusalem and the moving cause for writing the letter. There was strong opposition to the governing body’s decree about circumcision, by the Jews and even by Judaizers, Jews who falsely claimed to be Christians and who insisted on staying under the Law. Why would the apostles conciliate them on one point and raise greater opposition on another?—Acts 15:1, 2, 4-6; compare Galatians 5:3-6, 11, 12; 6:12-15; Rom. 2:25-29; 4:9-12; Phil. 3:2-4.
Moreover, if the blood issue was only a matter of conciliation with regard to the Jews’ feelings, why did the apostles classify eating blood along with idolatry and fornication, things extremely offensive to God? Furthermore, the governing body did not make the decision alone, but it was “the holy spirit and we ourselves.” The holy spirit here acted in harmony with what had been stated by Almighty God centuries before the Law covenant came into existence, namely, the law to Noah (Gen. 9:4), which is universal, applying to mankind at all times and places since it was given. The Mosaic law was canceled (Col. 2:14), but that did not cancel the law that preceded it, for the Mosaic law had merely incorporated and outlined in detail the universal law that came centuries beforehand.
On these points M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopœdia, Volume I, page 834, column 2, observes: “In the New Testament, instead of there being the least hint intimating that we are freed from the obligation, it is deserving of particular notice that at the very time when the Holy Spirit declares by the apostles (Acts xv) that the Gentiles are free from the yoke of circumcision, abstinence from blood is explicitly enjoined, and the action thus prohibited is classed with idolatry and fornication.” And Benson’s Commentary, Volume I, notes: “It ought to be observed, that this prohibition of eating blood, given to Noah and all his posterity, and repeated to the Israelites, in a most solemn manner, under the Mosaic dispensation, has never been revoked, but, on the contrary, has been confirmed under the New Testament, Acts xv.; and thereby made of perpetual obligation.” And Dr. Franz Delitzsch, noted Bible commentator, in agreement with this, says that this is not a requirement of the Jewish law to be abolished with it; it is binding on all races of men and was never revoked; there must be a sacred reverence for that principle of life flowing in the blood.
VIEW OF EARLY CHRISTIANS
Early Christians respected this Scriptural injunction even when efforts were made by judges in Rome to force them to break it. Tertullian, a Christian writer of the second century, speaking out against these efforts to get Christians to compromise, said: “We do not include even animals’ blood in our natural diet. We abstain on that account from things strangled or that die of themselves, that we may not in any way be polluted by blood, even if it is buried in the meat. Finally, when you are testing Christians, you offer them sausages full of blood; you are thoroughly well aware, of course, that among them it is forbidden; but you want to make them transgress.” Even as late as the year 692 C.E., a religious council in Constantinople (The Synod of Troullos) prohibited the eating of any food made of blood on pain of excommunication for the layman, and of unfrocking for a priest.
The practice of drinking human blood, which was prevalent in ancient times, was especially repugnant to Christians. M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopœdia, Volume I, page 834, column 2, observes: “So far were they from drinking human blood, it was unlawful for them to drink the blood even of irrational animals. Numerous testimonies to the same effect are found in after ages.”
The Christian Greek Scriptures outline three distinct ways in which a Christian could become bloodguilty before God: (1) by bloodshed, murder; this would include those actively or tacitly supporting the activities of a bloodguilty organization (such as Babylon the Great [Rev. 17:6; 18:2, 4], or other organizations that have shed much innocent blood [Rev. 16:5, 6; Isa. 26:20, 21]); (2) by eating or drinking blood in any way (Acts 15:20) and (3) by failing to preach the good news of the Kingdom, imparting the lifesaving information it contains to others.—Acts 18:6; 20:26, 27; compare Ezekiel 33:6-8.
While Jehovah God’s prohibition on the use of blood for other than sacrificial purposes (in our time, for Christians, this sacrifice has already been made by Jesus Christ) was primarily because of the sacredness of life to God, yet there are health and hygienic benefits by obeying that law. Medical men speak of the deadly hazards faced, including the transmission of malaria, hepatitis, syphilis, and the greatest danger of all, circulatory overload, which “drowns” a patient by forcing the transfused blood into his lungs. These are only a few of the hazards that continue to increase as more widespread use of blood transfusions spreads diseases and produces, as the Journal of the Florida Medical Association of September 19, 1952, stated, “a weird assortment of antibodies, which may prove to be the cause of crossmatching difficulties and may even endanger the life of the patient if he is given more blood.”
It is interesting to note that the concluding words of the letter sent by the governing body to Christians in Jerusalem were: “Good health to you!” While these men were mainly concerned with the spiritual health of Christians, yet it is evident that there are physical health factors involved. On the eating of blood, Dr. Jacob B. Glenn, in his book The Bible and Modern Medicine, page 18, says: “Outstanding hematologists have found that the circulating blood in humans and animals alike harbors more, if not all, pathogenic agents, the bacteria, viruses and certain types of protozoans. Of course, the white blood cells in the circulating blood and in the lymphatic system serve as guards for the protection of the human body in warding off these harmful agents; but the massive concentration of the toxic material in blood is always potentially dangerous for human consumption.”
Regarding the hygienic aspect of the Mosaic law’s injunction concerning a menstruous woman, Doctor Glenn says, on pages 56 and 57: “It was known for some time that the incidence of cancer of the cervix (neck) of the womb, was seven times larger in the Gentile woman than in the Jewish—the average Jewish woman, practicing and observing the regulations governing the menstrual period (Niddah) and observing the Mikveh rites in connection with menstruation. This condition existed up to and about 1925.” Further, he states: “The female genital tract, especially during periods of lowered resistance (menstruation), is particularly vulnerable to irritation and stimulation; hence, the strict law among Jewish people forbidding cohabitation during this period. The rite of tʼvilah also serves sanitary purposes of preventing any possible injury and spread of infection to the internal organs of the female. Thus, with the slackening of adherence to these laws, a corresponding (and alarmingly high) rise in the incidence of cancer of the genital tract of Jewish women, has taken place, becoming almost equal to that of the non-Jewish female.”
Christians recognize the fact that they are under the new covenant, which was inaugurated over the blood of Jesus Christ. They recognize the life-giving value of this blood through Jehovah’s arrangement and through Jesus as the great High Priest who “entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us.” Through faith in the blood of Christ, Christians have had their consciences cleansed from dead works so that they may render sacred service to the living God. They are concerned about their physical health, but primarily and far more seriously concerned with their spiritual health and their standing before the Creator. They want to maintain their integrity to the living God, not denying or counting as of no value the sacrifice of Jesus or trampling it underfoot. For they are seeking, not the life that is transitory, but everlasting life.—Heb. 9:12, 14, 15; 10:28, 29.