Does The Bible Prohibit Blood Transfusions?
The purpose of addressing this particular subject is to allow the Bible to answer the question: “Does The Bible Prohibit Blood Transfusions?” The Watchtower declares that Jehovah forbids blood transfusions. While the Watchtower policy changes from time to time, one fact remains — their membership fears the Organization’s wrath if they accept a blood transfusion. Therefore, I wish to bring biblical clarity to this topic.
First and foremost, we never want to oppose God’s Inspired Word. His Word is absolute and non-negotiable. With that in mind, we look at whether the Bible forbids life-saving blood transfusions, as the Watchtower suggests.
The Organization insists that God’s Word condemns human to human blood transfusions. They base this upon the supposed authority of Acts 15:29. But does this Scripture actually affirm their position, or is the Organization improperly isolating one Scripture from its surrounding context and creating a man-made doctrine?
Acts 15:29 states as follows:
“that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”
When interpreting an isolated Scripture (those pulled out of their original context), its primary source must be examined. Understanding the surrounding context is the key to unlocking the meaning of the text. Therefore, a variety of questions must be asked:
(1) What is the historical event?
(2) Who is the passage speaking to?
(3) Why was the content necessary?
(4) How does it apply to me?
By asking these types of questions, we discover the true purpose of the message being delivered. This, in turn, reveals the actual meaning of the isolated scripture being quoted. So let us apply these questions to Acts 15:29:
1. What is the historical event?
The Gentiles were accepting Christ, and certain Jews were demanding that the Gentiles become circumcised and be directed to observe the Law of Moses, as seen below at Acts 15:1, 3, 5:
verse 1: “And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”
verse 3: “Therefore, being sent on their way by the Church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren.”
verse 5: “But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who have believed, stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.’”
As we see from these beginning verses of Acts 15, a wonderful thing was happening — Gentiles were being saved by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. We also see how certain Christian Jews (a sect of the Pharisees) became annoyed. The Christian Jews were telling these new Gentile believers that their salvation was contingent upon being circumcised. They also said that these Gentiles needed to observe the Law of Moses.
2. Who is the passage speaking to?
The apostle Peter answers this by refuting the words of this certain sect of the Pharisees:
“And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the words of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.’” (Acts 15:7-11)
Peter’s words help us to appreciate that “through the grace of the Lord Jesus” we are saved. He also points out that these Christian Jews were “placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” There was no need to circumcise these new Gentile believers in order for them to receive salvation — simply accepting Christ was enough. [As a side note, this reminds me of the yoke of the Watchtower. Their yoke of rules improperly make salvation contingent upon behavior, as if accepting Christ alone is not sufficient.]
3. Why was the content necessary?
The content was necessary because of the spiritual weakness of some Jewish believers. So James recommended this at Acts 15:19:
“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.”
Acts 15:22-29 is what the Holy Spirit decided upon, with the final resolution set forth in verses 28 and 29:
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: “that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”
The context of Acts 15 and the final resolution of the council are very specific and abundantly clear. This sect of Christian Jews wanted the new Gentile believers to follow certain aspects of the Law of Moses; however, since we are no longer under the Law (which was replaced with Grace), the Jerusalem Council only imposed certain restraints. One of those was the blood issue.
Now in order to fully understand the application of Acts 15:29, we must look to the original blood restriction under the Law of Moses. In other words, what kind of blood was the Mosaic Law referring to:
“So when any man from the sons of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, in hunting catches a beast or a bird which may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’ And when any person eats an animal which dies, or is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or an alien, he shall wash his cloths and bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening; then he will become clean.” [Emphasis added.]
Even prior to the Law of Moses, Jehovah similarly instructed Noah:
“And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.’”
Now that we have examined the entire context of Act 15, thereby shining God’s light of truth over our subject, the interpretation of Acts 15:29 becomes evident. The Law of Moses prohibited the eating of animal blood. The Bible is totally silent on accepting human blood. Even Orthodox Jews have no problem with human-to-human blood transfusions.
To add to this, Greek scholar Dr. Spiros Zodhiates comments on Genesis 9:8-17 (Hebrew Greek Study Bible, pg. 14):
“Throughout history God has dealt with man through covenants or agreements. Later the Jews regarded this covenant between God and Noah as the basis of the relationship between God and all mankind, but the covenants with Abraham and with Moses at Mount Sinai were seen as forming the basis of God’s special relationship with Israel. Some believe that the stipulations laid on the Gentiles in Acts 15:20,29 find some of their source here in the covenant between God and Noah. In spite of the fact that the distinction between clean and unclean animals existed (Gen. 7:2), God allowed the eating of any plant or animal. The only restriction was the eating of animal blood, for that is where the life of the animal resided (Gen. 9:4). Later Israel was forbidden to eat not only blood but also the flesh of certain animals. The Lord removed the clean-unclean distinction from food altogether (Mk. 7:15; Acts 10:15). [Emphasis added.]
As you can see, Dr. Zodhiates affirms the animal blood restriction. Human blood was not the topic under the Law … His conclusion is in complete harmony with Scripture, unlike the Watchtower’s position.
Jehovah’s Word fails to lend any support to the Watchtower’s human blood doctrine, so we are left to wonder. Since God’s word is absolute and non-negotiable, who gave the Watchtower permission to add human blood to the text? The Author of Scripture certainly did not. If Jehovah meant to include human blood in the restriction, He would have said so. Since His restriction was limited only to animal blood, why does the Watchtower continue to masquerade this doctrine in the name of Christianity? Whatever the answer, it is abundantly clear that the Watchtower’s man-made blood doctrine is nothing more than that … man-made. The Inspired writings of Scripture reveal that the Watchtower dogma on this topic goes beyond God’s Inspired Word.