Questions From Readers
■ Might the Bible’s prohibition about blood apply only to blood from a victim killed by man, not to unbled meat of an animal that died of itself or blood from a live animal or human?
Some persons have reasoned that way, pointing to a few Bible verses for seeming support. They have thus held that it would not be wrong to accept a transfusion of blood from a living donor. Such reasoning might sound valid, but close examination of the verses used and of other relevant texts indicates that God expects his people to avoid taking in blood and sustaining their life with blood, whether from a living or a dead creature.
The Israelites were told: “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.” (Deuteronomy 14:21) Though it was unbled, they could sell the carcass to an alien resident. In seeming conflict, Leviticus 17:10 says: “As for any man of the house of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in their 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.” Why the difference between these verses?
In presenting their view, some have asserted that Deuteronomy 14:21 permitted the alien to eat unbled meat if it was from an animal that was not killed by man, for then man did not have to give its blood (representing life) back to God. Leviticus 17:15 might seem to support this view; it says that the native or alien who ate a “body already dead or something torn by a wild beast” was simply to “wash . . . and be unclean until the evening.” So it could appear that no substantial guilt came from eating blood if the victim was not killed by man. Thus some claim that it would not be wrong to take blood from a living creature, using it for food or for transfusions.
The Israelites knew that they absolutely could not eat unbled meat from an animal that died of itself or was killed by a wild beast. While still at Mount Sinai they had been told to dispose of such carcasses. (Exodus 22:31) Deuteronomy 14:21 is in harmony, directing Israelites in the Promised Land to get rid of such unbled carcasses but allowing them to sell such to aliens.
Now let us carefully examine Leviticus 17:10. It says that no “man of the house of Israel or some alien resident” should eat blood. Was that because the animal had been killed by a human and so the blood had to be returned to God? To claim such is to read into the verse more than it says. Further, if guilt resulted only if blood was from a creature killed by man, then Deuteronomy 14:21 and Exodus 22:31 would not have forbidden Israelites to eat unbled flesh from animals that were not killed by men. Yet the Israelites clearly knew they could not eat such meat. Ezekiel stated: “My soul is not a defiled one; neither a body already dead nor a torn animal have I eaten from my youth up.”—Ezekiel 4:14; compare 44:31.
Why, then, does Deuteronomy 14:21 say that the “alien resident” could be sold unbled meat, but Leviticus 17:10 forbids the “alien resident” to eat blood? Both God’s people and Bible commentators have recognized that the distinction must have been the religious standing of the alien involved. Aid to Bible Understanding (page 51) points out that sometimes the term “alien resident” meant a person among the Israelites who was not a full proselyte. It appears that this sort of person is meant at Deuteronomy 14:21, a man who was not trying to keep all of God’s laws and who might have his own uses for a carcass considered unclean by Israelites and proselytes. Jewish scholars, too, have offered this explanation.a
So, no worshiper of God could eat blood, whether from (or in the flesh of) an animal that had died of itself or from one that was killed by man. Why, then, does Leviticus 17:15 say that eating unbled flesh from such an animal that died of itself or was killed by a beast merely produced uncleanness?
We can find a clue at Leviticus 5:2, which says: “When a soul touches some unclean thing, whether the dead body of an unclean wild beast . . ., although it has been hidden from him, still he is unclean and has become guilty.” Yes, God acknowledged that an Israelite might err inadvertently. Hence, Leviticus 17:15 can be understood as providing for such an error. For example, if an Israelite ate meat served him and then learned that it was unbled, he was guilty of sin. But because it was inadvertent he could take steps to become clean. This, however, is noteworthy: If he would not take those steps, “he must then answer for his error.”—Leviticus 17:16.b
Thus eating unbled flesh was not a trivial matter; it could even result in death. No true worshiper (Israelite or full proselyte alien) could voluntarily eat unbled flesh, no matter if it was from an animal that died of itself, was killed by another animal or was killed by a human. (Numbers 15:30) The apostolic council confirmed this. Writing to Christians making up the spiritual “Israel of God” it forbade eating that which was strangled, whether the unbled meat was from an animal that died from accidental strangulation or it was from one strangled by a man.—Galatians 6:16; Acts 21:25.
That council also directed God’s servants to ‘abstain from blood.’ If those anointed Christians could not consume blood in meat from a strangled creature, they certainly could not take in blood from a living creature. It is not hard to see that neither the ancient Israelites nor obedient Christians would imitate the African tribesmen who shoot arrows into the jugular vein of live cattle to obtain blood that they mix with milk and drink. Similarly, God’s servants could not accept the medical practice whereby units of human blood are withdrawn and given as transfusions intended to extend life. Such practices violate God’s condemnation of anyone “who eats any sort of blood” and the command that Christians ‘abstain from blood.’—Acts 15:28, 29; Leviticus 17:10.
Despite pressures to water down God’s requirements, true Christians know that life is a gift from Jehovah God and must be used as he directs. They obey God whether it seems physically practical now or not. For example, Acts 15:28, 29 commands Christians to abstain from idolatry. Thus a true worshiper threatened with death if he refused to share in idolatry would not argue that since “an idol is nothing,” he should not lose his present life over just a symbol. (1 Corinthians 8:4) The three faithful Hebrews set the proper example of obedience, as did the early Christians who accepted death in the arena rather than put incense on an altar.—Daniel 3:1-18.
Similarly, if a problem arose concerning blood, as when an accident or an operation causes extreme blood loss, the Christian cannot compromise his integrity. He obeys his Life-Giver with full assurance that if, despite the best alternative medical treatment, his present life should be lost, his eternal life is not endangered. Jesus told his followers: “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”—Matthew 10:28.
Of course, recent medical evidence shows that blood transfusions usually are not essential to save a person, for experienced doctors testify that common alternatives can do as well in most cases. It might even be reasoned that the number of persons who could have been kept alive only by blood transfusion is probably smaller than that of those who have died from the damage of transfusions. Whatever is the case, Christians are determined to obey God and respect his view of blood.
Consequently, true worshipers today will not eat unbled meat, whether from an animal that some man killed or from a creature that died in another way. Nor will they sustain their lives by taking in blood from living creatures, animal or human. They recognize Jehovah as their Life-Giver and are determined to obey him in all respects.
a As one example, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by Dr. J. Hertz, observes: “According to Lev. XVII, 15, touching or eating the flesh of a nevelah is defiling both to the Israelite and the ‘stranger [or alien resident].’ In Lev[iticus] the ‘stranger’ meant the non-Israelite who had become a proselyte in the full sense of the word, a ger tzedek. Here [in Deuteronomy 14:21] the ‘stranger that is within thy gates’ refers to the time when Israel would be settled in their Land and would have in their midst not only proselytes, but also men who while they had abandoned idolatry did not completely take upon themselves the life and religious practices of the Israelite. The Rabbis called this class of resident aliens ger toshav: and [Deuteronomy 14:21] refers to that class, who were neither Israelites by birth or conversion, nor ‘foreigners’.” In contrast, this work explains that the ‘stranger’ (alien) of Leviticus 17:15 was “a full proselyte, . . . otherwise, he was not debarred from eating it.”
b We find an instructive parallel in another part of the Law involving blood: A man who unwittingly had sexual relations with his wife as she began to menstruate was unclean, but he could take steps to be forgiven. However, the Israelite who deliberately disregarded his wife’s menstrual blood was cut off.—Leviticus 15:19-24; 20:18.