Respect for the Sanctity of Blood
“Flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.”—Gen. 9:4.
1. (a) What attitude on the part of the world calls for Christians to demonstrate faith in God and his law? (b) What has been the world’s record as regards blood?
LIVING as they do in a world that turns a deaf ear to the Word of God, Christians are daily confronted with situations that test their faith in God and the rightness of his law. God requires respect for the sanctity of blood. But the world has strayed so far from his paths that many are not aware that there is a divine law governing such matters as the use of blood, and those that do know the law often violate it without any feeling that they have done wrong. With the blessing of the religious clergy they have spilled the lifeblood of countless persons on the battlefield, and as they do it they pray for God to be with them. When they hear that in many parts of the world blood of animals is regularly consumed as food, or when they see blood products sold in stores where they do business, they see nothing out of the way in it. And when they hear reports of the tremendous increase in the number of blood transfusions—now well over five million in a year—they view it as a mark of medical progress.
2. (a) What have the public press and the clergy said about those who show respect for the sanctity of blood? (b) What attitude toward God’s law on the part of uninformed persons has resulted from this misrepresentation, but how should we view the matter?
2 In sharp contrast to the world’s indifference is the record of nearly a million persons in all parts of the world who do obey God’s law on the sanctity of blood. They have met the test of their faith and stood firm. But the public press has taken advantage of the ignorance of the people to misrepresent them as religious fanatics, particularly as regards their rejection of blood transfusions. And the religious clergy of Christendom and Jewry have added their voices, declaring that the law of God is not applicable in these cases where an individual’s life is involved. The result is that many uninformed persons have been turned against God and his Word as unreasonable and unloving. But how can the Source of all wisdom himself be unreasonable? How can God, who is love and who endowed man with the capacity to love, himself be unloving? He cannot and he is not! His is the right way, and a careful consideration of his Word helps us to get matters in proper focus. As the Life-giver he tells us what we must do in order to continue to live. By his laws he lovingly protects us from doing things in ignorance that might result in injury to ourselves, even the loss of life. The facts show that this is true in regard to his law on the matter of blood.—Prov. 2:6; 1 John 4:16; Ps. 25:4.
DIVINE LEGISLATION ON BLOOD
3. When was God’s law on blood first stated, and what does it require of mankind?
3 The issue is not new; it is not something peculiar to this twentieth century with its research into the medical use of blood. It was over 4,300 years ago, when Noah and his household, the only human survivors of the global flood, came out of the ark, that God stated to them his law on blood. Before this, man had eaten only the soulless vegetation and fruits, but now, for the first time, God granted permission for man to add meat to his diet, saying: “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.” (Gen. 9:3, 4) The law is clear. Meat can be eaten, but not with the blood still in it, because the blood represents the soul or life of the creature. Man must show respect for the sanctity of blood and, so doing, show his respect for the Life-giver, Jehovah God.
4. How was the ruling on blood emphasized to the Israelites, and what reason for the prohibition was given to them?
4 Some eight centuries later, when the Israelites, who had recently been spared from annihilation in Egypt, were gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, Jehovah again emphasized the restriction on blood. “It is a statute to time indefinite for your generations, in all your dwelling places: You must not eat any fat or any blood at all.” (Lev. 3:17) No distinction was made as to the source of the blood; whether animal or human, it was not to be taken into the body as food. It was not even to be stored, as shown when God went on to say: “As for any man of the sons of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in your midst who in hunting catches a wild beast or a fowl that may be eaten, he must in that case pour its blood out and cover it with dust. For the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood by the soul in it.” (Lev. 17:13, 14) The reason was clearly stated. The soul or the life of the flesh is in the blood, and obedience to God’s law on blood would show proper regard for the sanctity of life and for the Source of life.
5. Does an emergency that involves human life warrant setting aside the divine law on the use of blood, and why?
5 Even in times of emergency it was recognized that there was no justification for setting aside the divine law concerning the sanctity of blood. This is shown by an occurrence when the army of Israel under King Saul was fighting the Philistines. It had been a hard fight and the men were at the point of exhaustion. “And the people began darting greedily at the spoil and taking sheep and cattle and calves and slaughtering them on the earth, and the people fell to eating along with the blood.” This was no insignificant thing, excusable because of the physical condition of the men. It was reported to Saul: “Look! The people are sinning against Jehovah by eating along with the blood.” (1 Sam. 14:32, 33) They did not view the matter as do certain rabbis today who theorize that any of the requirements of the Law can be set aside when the saving of a specific life is involved. What the men were doing was a sin against God, and immediate steps were taken to put an end to it.
6. Why does the law on blood apply to Christians who are not under the law covenant?
6 Of course, Christians are not under the law covenant made with Moses as mediator. That law covenant passed out of existence, having fulfilled its purpose, when the new covenant was made over the blood of Jesus Christ. Does this mean that the restrictions on the use of blood have passed away too? Not at all! Because what the law covenant had to say about refraining from the eating of blood merely emphasized the requirement that is set forth in the law God gave to Noah, and that is binding upon all mankind. To set this matter straight in the minds of all Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, none of whom were any longer under the Law, the Christian governing body at Jerusalem directed their attention to the obligations that devolved upon them in this matter, saying: “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.”—Acts 15:28, 29.
7, 8. What arguments are set forth by theological commentators in an effort to limit the effect of the apostolic ruling on blood, and what shows that these arguments are not sound?
7 However, various theological commentators on this text say that this is nothing that concerns us. ‘It was only a temporary thing,’ they say, ‘designed to prevent giving offense to Jewish converts. And the need for such a prohibition having passed away, the repeal is understood even though not stated.’ But we ask, What need has passed? There are still natural Jews associated with the Christian congregation, so it cannot be said that their absence has removed the need. The Scriptures make clear that man was to abstain from blood because the life is in the blood. Is it any less true now than it was then that the life is in the blood? And if it is argued that respect for the sacrificial use of blood is no longer binding because Christians are not called on to offer up animal sacrifices, then let it be noted that such use of animal sacrifices among the followers of Christ had come to an end sixteen years before the apostolic decree was issued. Furthermore, those who contend that Jesus’ teaching, that ‘not what enters into the mouth but what proceeds out of the mouth is what defiles a man,’ has made obsolete the ruling on blood are, in effect, arguing that the ruling on Christian abstinence from blood, which decree was delivered under direction of God’s holy spirit, was repealed before it was issued; because Jesus made his statement here referred to seventeen years before the decision on blood was sent out by the council at Jerusalem.—Matt. 15:11.
8 The governing body that sent out the decision on blood did not have in mind that it was merely expedient in view of the situation then and could later be dispensed with. If the prohibition of blood was temporary, then the rest of the decision must fall into the same category, which would mean that abstinence from idolatry and fornication were also temporary and designed to avoid hurting the feelings of new converts. But has the necessity for these prohibitions passed, so that fornication and idolatry are now permissible to Christians? Definitely not! The terminology of the decree indicates no time limitation; the restrictions are “necessary things” now even as they were then. As Clarke’s Commentary, in discussing Genesis 9:4, well observes: “That the prohibition has been renewed under the Christian dispensation, can admit of little doubt by any man who dispassionately reads Acts xv. 20, 29; xxi. 25, where even the Gentile converts are charged to abstain from it on the authority, not only of the apostles, but of the Holy Ghost, . . . not for fear of stumbling the converted Jews, the gloss of theologians, but because it was one . . . of those necessary points, from the burden . . . of obedience to which they could not be excused.”
9, 10. (a) What facts of history show that early Christians recognized abstinence from blood to be a serious matter? (b) In the third century what did Christian writers have to say about it? (c) As late as the year 692 what is shown to be the attitude of the Eastern church on the matter of blood?
9 The facts of history confirm this understanding of the matter. Early Christians did not view the prohibition on blood as of importance only in avoiding offense to Jewish converts. They did not feel that it could be set aside if it would endanger their lives to insist on it. It was well known, even among their persecutors, that Christians would not eat blood, and they would test a person to see if he was truly Christian, not only by urging him to offer incense to the pagan gods of Rome, but on occasion by urging him to eat blood sausage. So crucial was the matter that eating blood was viewed as a denial of the Christian faith. Tertullian, who lived at the beginning of the third century, referred to this when addressing his writing to the Roman world. He said: “Let your error blush before the Christians, for 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.”* Origen, too, another Christian writer, in his defense of Christian teachings, declared: “As to things strangled, we are forbidden by Scripture to partake of them, because the blood is still in them.”*
10 Even as late as the year 692, a religious council in Constantinople (the Synod of Troullos), in its 67th canon, declared: “We suitably rebuke those, who in some way prepare a meal with the use of the blood of any animal and they thus eat it in order to satisfy the gluttonous belly. If, therefore, anyone will henceforth attempt to eat the blood of any animal in whatsoever way, he will, if a priest, be unfrocked and excommunicated if a layman.”* Belief in the importance of the apostolic decree on blood still continues in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
11. What events showed mounting disregard for the restrictions on blood in the church of Rome?
11 In the West, however, disregard for the divine law on blood grew most notably from the fourth century onward. Augustine, through whom Plato’s teaching of inherent immortality of the soul was also popularized, argued that the decree had lost its importance since its purpose had been accomplished.* Finally, in the fifteenth century the church of Rome had swung so far away from the viewpoint of the early Christians that the blood, not of animals, but of three young boys was appropriated in an unsuccessful attempt to revive the ailing pope of Rome, Innocent VIII, and that at the cost of the lives of all three blood donors. So it is evident that the indifference of modern-day Christendom toward the sanctity of blood is not a reflection of Christian faith, but is the result of a falling away from the faith.—1 Tim. 4:1.
MISUSE OF BLOOD AS FOOD
12. What are some of the modern-day practices that violate the sanctity of life and that Christians avoid?
12 This makes it vital for true Christians in this time of the end to be on the alert if they are to show proper respect for the sanctity of blood. They must avoid the world’s misuse of blood. For example, in Africa there are some native peoples who supplement their diet by drinking blood from the jugular vein of their cattle. In many places men line up at slaughterhouses to drink the blood of freshly slaughtered cattle, in the belief that it is a cure for certain ailments. In the Far East there are many lands where blood is used as a basic ingredient in certain soups and gravies. In South America a dish that is quite common consists of pig’s blood mixed with rice or potatoes and condiments, and blood is even sold and eaten as candy. Blood sausage, under various names, is available almost everywhere. All of these practices show rank disregard for the sanctity of life because they violate the law of the Life-giver on the matter of blood.
13. Why must care be exercised in proper killing of animals to be used for food, so what might this call on a Christian to do?
13 The law on blood also rules out the eating of anything that has died of strangulation, because the blood would not have been drained. So any animal found smothered or dead in a trap and animals that have been shot but not immediately bled are not fit for food. The practice in many lands of killing chickens by strangulation, breaking the neck but not cutting it, also makes these unfit for consumption by Christians. Some butchers, with no regard for the divine law on these matters, do not properly bleed the animals they prepare for food; in fact, they may deliberately impair drainage to add weight to the meat. If a Christian learns that his butcher does not give attention to the draining of the blood, then he will look for another place to do business or even refrain from eating meat if nothing else is available. Likewise, a conscientious person will not eat meat in a restaurant if he knows that it is customary locally not to give attention to proper bleeding. Under such circumstances, a Christian who wants to eat meat may have to buy a live animal or bird and arrange to have the killing done himself.
14. How else is blood misused in food products, so what should Christians be careful to do?
14 Disrespect for God’s law is so rampant that whole blood, blood plasma and blood fractions are used freely in numerous products that are sold for food. For example, it is reported that some meat packers include blood as a part of their regular recipe for wieners, bologna and other cold-meat loaves. They may not all call it blood; but, regardless of what they call it, if it is blood or part of the blood it is wrong. Not all meat packers do this by any means, but some do. In certain localities it is also known that hamburger is made up largely of fat with blood added. In Russia blood bakeries were put in operation years ago where seven parts of rye flour are mixed with three parts of defibrinated ox blood in the bread. In other lands some bakers use dried plasma powder in pastry as a substitute for egg white. And various tonics and tablets sold by druggists show on their labels that they contain blood fractions such as hemoglobin. So it is necessary for one to be alert, to be acquainted with the practices in his community, to make reasonable inquiry at places where he buys meat and to read and understand the labels on packaged goods. As the old world becomes more careless in its attitude toward God’s law on blood it is important for Christians to exercise increased care if they are to keep themselves “without spot from the world.”—Jas. 1:27.
15. What have been the developments in the use of blood in medical treatment?
15 Over the centuries man’s misuses of blood have taken on many forms. Ancient Egyptian princes used human blood for rejuvenation; others drank the blood of their enemies. But not until after William Harvey’s research into the circulation of the blood, in the seventeenth century, was there any extensive effort made to transfuse blood into the circulatory system of another creature. After having suffered severe setbacks due to fatalities, blood transfusion finally came to be viewed with more favor at the beginning of this twentieth century, when research made it possible to identify certain blood types. The two world wars and the Korean war gave doctors ample opportunity to experiment with the therapeutic use of blood, and now the process has been developed to the point that doctors use not only whole blood and blood plasma, which is the nearly colorless liquid in which the blood cells are carried, but also red cells apart from the plasma, and the various plasma proteins as they feel the need.
16. Is use of blood in medical treatment to sustain life a violation of God’s law?
16 Is God’s law violated by such medical use of blood? Is it wrong to sustain life by infusions of blood or plasma or red cells or the various blood fractions? Yes! The law that God gave to Noah and which applies to all his descendants makes it wrong for anyone to eat blood, that is, to use the blood of another creature to nourish or sustain one’s life. Even as Tertullian in his Apology showed how the early Christians reasoned on the matter, so today it is recognized that if this prohibition applies to animal blood, it applies with even more force to human blood. It includes “any blood at all.”—Lev. 3:17.
17. How do the facts of history prove that human blood was misused in ancient times and so was included in the prohibition set forth by the early Christian governing body?
17 Arguments to the effect that the prohibition on the use of blood issued by the early Christian governing body did not deal with human blood, but only with animal blood, show ignorance of the facts of history. In ancient Rome, which dominated the Mediterranean world in the first century, spectators at the gladiatorial contests would rush into the arena after the fight and suck the blood streaming from the neck of the vanquished gladiator. Some from among the Scythians reportedly ate their dead relatives. Treaties were made among some peoples by mutually drinking a portion of each other’s blood; and human blood caught in the hand and eaten was used to seal initiation into the rites of the pagan goddess Bellona. So when the apostles, under direction of the holy spirit, said that Christians were to keep themselves from blood, they did have in mind human blood too.
18. What shows that the transfusing of blood is a “feeding” on blood?
18 It is of no consequence that the blood is taken into the body through the veins instead of the mouth. Nor does the claim by some that it is not the same as intravenous feeding carry weight. The fact is that it nourishes or sustains the life of the body. In harmony with this is a statement in the book Hemorrhage and Transfusion, by George W. Crile, A.M., M.D., who quotes a letter from Denys, French physician and early researcher in the field of transfusions. It says: “In performing transfusion it is nothing else than nourishing by a shorter road than ordinary—that is to say, placing in the veins blood all made in place of taking food which only turns to blood after several changes.”
19, 20. (a) In view of the constant developments in medical therapy, how can one determine whether treatment involving the use of blood is to be accepted or rejected? (b) What fine example in this regard did David set, showing respect for the sanctity of blood?
19 In view of the emphasis put on the use of blood in the medical world, new treatments involving its use are constantly being recommended. But regardless of whether it is whole blood or a blood fraction, whether it is blood taken from one’s own body or that taken from someone else, whether it is administered as a transfusion or as an injection, the divine law applies. God has not given man blood to use as he might use other substances; he requires respect for the sanctity of blood.
20 What a fine example in respect for this law was set by God-fearing King David! Before the enemies of God’s people had been driven from the land, the Philistines had a garrison in Bethlehem near Jerusalem, and on one occasion “David showed his craving and said: ‘O that I might have a drink of the water from the cistern of Bethlehem, which is at the gate!’” Yes, he wished that the Philistines were gone and that he could be free to go to that cistern and be refreshed by its water. But on hearing his expression, “three [valiant men] forced their way into the camp of the Philistines and drew water from the cistern of Bethlehem, which is at the gate, and came carrying and bringing it to David.” What they brought was nothing more than water, but they did it at the risk of their lives, and David knew it. “And David did not consent to drink it, but poured it out to Jehovah. And he went on to say: ‘It is unthinkable on my part, as regards my God, to do this! Is it the blood of these men that I should drink at the risk of their souls? For it was at the risk of their souls that they brought it.’ And he did not consent to drink it.” (1 Chron. 11:16-19; 2 Sam. 23:15-17) David respected the law of God. Not only did he abstain from animal blood; he avoided the far more gross wrong of consuming human blood. Yes, he avoided doing anything that even resembled violation of that law. He was a man after God’s own heart. It is a like course of obedience from the heart that moves mature Christians today to abstain from any practice at all that involves misuse of blood. Out of love for God they show respect for the sanctity of blood.
Apology, translated by T. R. Glover (1931).
Origen—Contra Celsum, Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. 23 (1872).
Great Greek Encyclopedia, of Paul Drandakis, pp. 708, 709.
A History of the Councils of the Church, From the Original Documents (1896).