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As discussed in Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood transfusions for reasons in scripture. I have trouble with the idea. What about the sanctity of life with scriptures such as:

Deuteronomy 30:19 (ESV)

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live

How do Protestants (Church of England for example) counteract the Witnesses stance on Blood Transfusions?

  • The common protestant usually just dismisses it out of hand. – 3961 Aug 18 '18 at 19:31
  • Hi @fredsbend. Can you elaborate on this and provide a solid answer? How do protestants just dismiss it out of hand? Do they cling to the concept of the sanctity of life or is there something else? – Chris Rogers Aug 18 '18 at 22:01
  • Related but unanswered christianity.stackexchange.com/q/46207/23657 – Kris Aug 18 '18 at 22:25
  • I saw that @Kris, but a majority of protestant faiths are not strictly 21st century faiths are they? – Chris Rogers Aug 18 '18 at 22:31
  • @ChrisRogers hmm good point I asked it that way to rule out answers that focus on the early mixing of Jews and gentiles into Christianity. I may need to edit the title based on your reaction. I am basically asking the same question as you but for an overview of denominations that exist in our time. – Kris Aug 18 '18 at 22:38
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The Jehovah’s Witness publication ‘What Does the Bible Really Teach?’ discusses the issue of blood transfusions in Chapter 13. Paragraph 11 reads:

We show respect for blood by not eating it... Jehovah’s view was clear: His servants could eat animal meat but not the blood. They were to pour the blood on the ground—in effect, returning the creature’s life to God.

They quote Leviticus 17:13-14 to support this. It’s a pity they don’t quote verse 15 as well then they would see the context:

“Anyone, whether native-born or alien, who eats anything dead or torn by wild animals must wash his clothes and bathe with water and he will be ceremonially unclean till evening then he will be clean. But if he does not wash his clothes and bathe himself he will held responsible.”

Why is this verse even there? Because in times of distress, for example in war, it might become necessary to eat an animal that had not been slaughtered the kosher-way. Why? To save lives! Although it was against the law to eat un-clean animals at times it was necessary. Paragraphs 12 to 15 in Chapter 13 of the ‘Bible Teach’ book continues:

So we must ‘keep abstaining from blood.’ In God’s eyes, our doing that is as important as our avoiding idolatry and sexual immorality. Does the command to abstain from blood include blood transfusions? Yes. To illustrate: Suppose a doctor were to tell you to abstain from alcoholic beverages. Would that simply mean that you should not drink alcohol but that you could have it injected into your veins? Of course not! Likewise, abstaining from blood means not taking it into our bodies at all. So the command to abstain from blood means that we would not allow anyone to transfuse blood into our veins.

14 What if a Christian is badly injured or is in need of major surgery? Suppose doctors say that he must have a blood transfusion or he will die. Of course, the Christian would not want to die. In an effort to preserve God’s precious gift of life, he would accept other kinds of treatment that do not involve the misuse of blood. Hence, he would seek such medical attention if that is available and would accept a variety of alternatives to blood.

15 Would a Christian break God’s law just to stay alive a little longer in this system of things? Jesus said: “Whoever wants to save his soul [or, life] will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) We do not want to die. But if we tried to save our present life by breaking God’s law, we would be in danger of losing everlasting life. We are wise, then, to put our trust in the rightness of God’s law, with full confidence that if we die from any cause, our Life-Giver will remember us in the resurrection and restore to us the precious gift of life.

They use Acts 15 to support their claim that true Christians should not have a blood transfusion – is that right? No. The issue in Acts 15 is that the Jews and Gentiles had been saved through the grace of Jesus. The Jews however where trying to get the Gentiles to uphold the Mosaic Law. When the Gentiles refused to, this caused a problem. James is trying sort it out by asking the Gentiles to abstain from these things so as to not upset their Jewish brothers. We see in other chapters in Acts and Romans that our salvation has nothing to with circumcision or food, or blood, but for the sake of the Jewish brothers of the time they were to abstain from these things in order not to stumble them. Of course this has nothing to do with blood transfusions in spite what the Watchtower teaches in the 'Bible Teach' book.

Paragraph 18 declares that true Christians are not under the Mosaic Law and it is only by means of faith in the merit of Jesus’ shed blood that we can gain salvation. Amen to that. So why do the preceding paragraphs in chapter 13 claim that true Christians gain everlasting life through upholding the laws of the Watchtower, which include refusing to have a blood transfusion?

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). No need to obey man-made laws. No need to twist Scripture in an attempt to uphold man-made laws. Jesus said nothing about refusing to accept a blood transfusion. That is how this Protestant Christian counteracts the Jehovah’s Witness stance on blood transfusions.

  • Good point about the cleansing after eating that which is dead or torn. – Nigel J Aug 21 '18 at 12:17
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Mainstream Christianity counteracts the Jehovah’s Witness stance of refusing whole blood transfusions by biblical exegesis and also by examining the continuing changes in JW policy. Biblical Exegesis: In Acts 15: vss 20 & 21, that little word, 'for', shows the importance of context if we are to understand what went before it. I am not aware of any JW literature explaining why the reason to abstain from the list of activities (including abstaining from blood, in food and blood-guilt) has to do with the law of Moses being preached in the localities where Christianity was spreading.

Acts chapter 15 was about the problem Christians in the first century encountered in trying to prevent the Christian Jews from being offended and stumbled at the influx of Gentile converts. The dispute first arose in Antioch where some Christian Jews said, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and charge them to observe the law of Moses' (Acts 15:5). This error was what the apostles were dealing with.

The law of Moses, including laws against eating blood and fat, had been fulfilled in Christ. Peter put the Christian view: "No then, why are you making a test of God by imposing upon the neck of the disciples a yolk that neither our forefathers nor we were capable of bearing? On the contrary, we trust to get saved through the undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus in the same way as those people also" (vss 10-11). No amount of keeping the Mosaic law could save either Jew or Gentile (Rom. 7:6-7). Paul stated, "Christ by purchase released us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse instead of us" (Gal. 3:13). Paul continued, "Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor. You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus" (vss 24-26).

In the first century this was a huge change of understanding which many Jewish Christians had difficulty coming to terms with. Some, like those men in Antioch, had the idea that Christians still had to be circumcised and keep the Law covenant. That's why James gave the decision detailed in vss 20-21. The reason those requirements were laid upon the Gentile Christians was that from early generations Moses had in every city those who preached him, for he was read every sabbath in the synagogues.

This decree was designed to pour oil on troubled waters, to enable Jew and Gentile to come together in Christian fellowship. It showed that circumcision was not the important thing any longer. Almost immediately after this decree, Paul found himself in company with Timothy, whose mother was Jewish but whose father was Greek. Paul circumcised him "because of the Jews that were in those places, for one and all knew that his father was a Greek" (Acts 16:1-3) The very next verse says, "Now as they travelled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem". The very decision which stated that Gentile Christians were under no obligation to be circumcised! But if anyone was liable to stumble due to a Christian not being circumcised, then it was better that he be circumcised. The important point was that the newly circumcised Christian was not now bound to observe every detail of the Mosaic law. His circumcision was purely a gesture for the benefit of Jews with a weak conscience.

Similarly, the decree to abstain from blood was necessary to prevent Christian Jews from stumbling and to win over Jews to Christ. If any Jew saw a Christian eating blood he would be so repulsed that he would never even begin to consider the Christian faith. That's the connection of 'for'!

Knowing a brief history of the development of this blood doctrine is essential to see why Protestants cannot go along with it, as this is where theory turns into practice. The first President, C.T. Russell, wrote on the matter of what the Bible says regarding blood:

"These prohibitions had never come to the Gentiles, because they had never been under the Law Covenant; but so deeply rooted were the Jewish ideas on this subject that it was necessary to the peace of the church that the Gentiles should observe this matter also." (The Watch Tower 1909 April 15 pp. 116-117)

The Jehovah's Witnesses forbade blood transfusions from the late 1950s. It was from the early 1960s, after they brought in sanctions against members, that thousands of them started dying every year. It had become a doctrine by then, the claim being made that they must prove their loyalty to Jehovah and risk death rather than go against the interpretation their leaders had placed upon a handful of Bible verses. Here is evidence of the pressure brought on the JWs as shown in this 1961 edict:

"...the receiver of a blood transfusion must be cut off from God's people by excommunication or disfellowshipping... if in the future he persists in accepting blood transfusions or in donating blood toward the carrying out of this medical practice upon others, he shows that he has really not repented, but is deliberately opposed to God's requirements. As a rebellious opposer and unfaithful example to fellow members of the Christian congregation he must be cut off therefrom by disfellowshipping."

But after the European Court of Human Rights intervened in March 1998, the Watchtower Society had to stop such sanctions, first against Bulgarian JWs, then for the rest. To appear to be seen not to be sanctioning members, they have stated in writing that no repentant JW is to be disfellowshipped for taking blood in the midst of a medical crisis. If they repent afterwards, they remain JWs. BUT if they do NOT repent, they are to be viewed as if they had disassociated themselves which, in practice, is the same as how they view those disfellowshipped - they are to be shunned. That is a sanction.

Clearly, the JW policy of refusing blood transfusions even at cost of one's life still holds good. The only change is that they cannot be seen to punish individual JWs who accept 'forbidden' blood treatments. They will give them the chance to repent, but if they remain glad that they are still alive thanks to blood treatment, they will be treated as if they had been disfellowshipped, and shunned. Protestants who know how JWs are affected by the blood doctrine realise that it's not enough to 'just' explain their biblical difference of interpretation on blood scriptures, because reasons for JWs going along with it include JW family and friends' reactions too. To counteract the JW stance on blood transfusions, it is just as necessary for Protestants to be sensitive to the emotional repercussions for JWs going against this doctrine.

Communique issued by the Secretary to the European Commission for Human Rights, Information Note No. 148 on the 276th Session, Strasbourg 2-13 March 1998, Application No. 28626/95 The Watchtower 15 January 1961 page 64

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    Did you know that JWs do not believe they are following the mosaic law when refusing to consume blood? The are obeying the command given to Noah about blood and the Jerusalem council prohibition which reaffirmed that command. – Kris Aug 18 '18 at 20:08
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    The second half is a comment on JW evidently changing doctrine. Does changing doctrine come from God or man? – SLM Aug 18 '18 at 21:24
  • @SLM that would make for another question but it is unrelated to this one. – Kris Aug 18 '18 at 22:28
  • Hi Anne. You have given a lot here to digest and I would have upvoted if the political arguments surrounding JW policy changes were not in your answer. I am not seeking an answer to who is right and who is wrong along with reasons why. That would be a truth question which is off-topic. That part of your answer, if taken out would make your answer on-topic in my view. As I am new to this site I may be wrong, but it also doesn't add anything to answer my question anyway as pointed out by @Kris. – Chris Rogers Aug 19 '18 at 5:48
  • Chris Rogers Appreciate the points about the second line of approach Protestants take when weighing up the rightness or wrongness of the JW blood stance. It's not really a change in doctrine but changes in outworking of the effects of applying that doctrine which many view as equally significant in coming to a conclusion, but I will remove it. – Anne Aug 19 '18 at 19:12
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An article from Truth Magazine (I am just quoting the article, not advocating a website unknown to me) states in its conclusion two main points which I believe are the main arguments against refraining from saving life by transfusion.

(1) They cannot show that eating blood (even if sinful now) and blood transfusions are the same. Blood transfusions save lives; they do not destroy life. (2) The scriptures they use show (even under Moses' law) that the prohibition concerned animal blood, not human blood.

I think that these are the two main arguments commonly held by Protestants.

The prohibition made in the days of Noah related to the taking of animal life, then ingesting its blood. This was forbidden for good reason, relating to sacrifice and covenant. Meat was given to be eaten, not blood.

But for a living human to donate blood by means of intravenous application (not ingestion) to another living human, is generally viewed as a different matter.

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