The Old Testament clearly states that the Jews were not to eat meat that had not been properly bled: And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people" (Lev. 17:10).
The Bible always prohibits eating, rather than drinking blood. The Hebrew word for "drink" is a common word, and the Bible speaks of drinking blood in other contexts (Numbers 23:24 and Psalm 50:13 are examples) so the commandment could have been against "drinking blood" had God wished. What He commanded, however, was not to eat meat that had not been bled. One of the many verses where we see this is I Samuel 14:34: "...Bring me hither every man his ox, and every man his sheep, and slay them here, and eat; and sin not against the LORD in eating with the blood..."
When an animal was slaughtered, the blood was to be drained out onto the ground. "Only thou shalt not eat the blood thereof; thou shalt pour it upon the ground as water" (Deut. 15:23).
Blood Was Prohibited Primarily to the Jews
These commandments in the Old testament were primarily given to Jews living before Christ: "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying...Moreover ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings. Whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people" (Lev. 7:23-27).
Gentiles Who Lived with the Jews Were also Prohibited from Eating Blood
The commandment not to eat blood, however, applied not only to the Jews, but also to those Gentiles who lived among them in their land. "Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood" (Lev. 17:12).
As the passage continues, it also excludes eating animals which had died of temselves. These animals had not been bled (17:15).
Other Gentiles Could Eat Blood
Gentiles who were not residents among the Jews were permitted to eat blood. In fact, it was stipulated in the law that the Jews could give or sell meat to them even if it had not been properly bled: "Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God..." (Deut. 14:21).
Which Are You?
Most Jehovah's witnesses today are neither Jews, nor residents in Jewish countries, but fit the category of those gentiles who were permitted to eat blood.
The Reason for the Law about Blood
There may well be health related reasons for not eating meat that has not been bled, but if there are, they are not stated. God gives us another reason: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul: (Lev. 17:11).
The word translated "life" in the first part of this verse is the normal word for "soul" and is translated in different ways depending on the context. In "life of the flesh" it seems to be used in the sense of that which gives life to the flesh. God says that it is the blood which does this.
The phrase: "I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls," is probably significant. God had certainly commanded the priests to offer blood of the sacrificed animals upon the altar in the Old Testament sacrificial system. Here, however, He says, "I have given it," rather than that He has commanded someone else to give it. This probably infers that He is looking beyond the Old Testament to another sacrifice that He Himself was going to give. The Old Testament sacrifices were themselves a prophecy of the sacrifice of Christ. In saying "I have given it" Jehovah was probably looking forward to this final sacrifice which He Himself would make on the cross.
In Hebrews 10:1, in the middle of an explanation that Christ's one perfect sacrifice had replaced the Old Testament sacrifces, these sacrifices are called "a shadow of good things to come." The passage goes onto explain that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to pay for all of our sins, and thus had no need to be repeated. It is the means God chose for our salvation and as such, was foreshadowed by the Old Testament sacrifices.
Please read all of Hebrews chapters nine and ten with great attention. You will find the reason for the commandment about blood. To save space, I will only give a small taste of this vital and fascinating passage that helps us understand and believe:
- "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect" (Heb. 9:28 - 10:1).
The old Testament sacrifices had to be repeated, but: "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). His sacrifice did not need to be repeated.
- "And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God" (Heb. 10:11-12).
The blood that God gave for sin on the Old Testament altar was a type, or foretelling of what He was going to pour out for us once and for all on the cross and as such was not to be taken lightly or dishonored. Be careful not to miss out on Jehovah's atonement for your sins, the reason he cared about blood.
May We Eat Blood Now?
In the New Testament, God put more emphasis on the Spirit of the law than on the letter, and permitted His people to eat many things that he had not let the Jews eat:
- "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (I Tim. 4:4-5).
- "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Rom. 14:14).
The Decision of the Apostles
Nevertheless, at the conference in Jerusalem when it was decided that the Gentile Christians should not be required to observe the Old Testament laws, a few exceptions to this liberty were made. One of these exceptions was that the Gentile Christians should abstain from blood> "But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day" (Acts 15:20-21).
This passage seems to infer that Christians should not eat blood because it would offend the Jews who lived among them. Is this the only reason?
Before the Law
Probably not, because even before the birth of Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew race, when Jews did not yet exist, the commandment to bleed meat that is being slaughtered was given to Noah: "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat" (Gen. 9:4).
Probably even this passage looked forward to the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ which would pay for all men's sins, and it was given long before the law.
Eating meat that had not been bled is much different than giving or receiving blood transfusions. When our blood might help someone, should we give it or not give it? The Bible does not specifically address the problem of transfusions, but it does give glipses into God's heart that show us what He wants us to do in these cases. Some of Christ's experiences will help us decide whether we should give blood or not: "And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed form thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered wih indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from the bond on the sabbath day" (Luke 13:10-16)?
This case is similar to that of giving blood because Jesus was doing something to help people which was interpreted by the religious leaders as being against the law of Moses. Did Jesus give in and say, "Oh, I hadn't thought of it that way. I won't do it again?" No! On the contrary, he called them hypocrites. He showed them that leading their ox from the stall on the Sabbath to give it a drink, which they had never thought God intended the law to prohibit, would have been just as much against the law as healing. Jesus was teaching that it is always important to do good things for people. God does not oppose doing good, and His law should not be interpreted as if He did.
Another important passage in understanding whether we should give or receive blood is Matthew 12:10-12: "And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him saying, Is it lawful to heal on the abbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.
While neither of these illustrations deals directly with the problem of transfusions, they both point out that it is lawful to do good things; that God is interested in people and does not want us to use our interpretation of the law as a reason to avoid helping them.
On another occasion when Jesus was accused of doing something against the law He said: "...I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?" (Luke 6:9)
Jesus then healed a man, and the religious leaders, infuriated, started planning how to get rid of him. If you do the right thing, some might turn against you like they did against Jesus. Do it anyway!
Christ helped us understand a very important principle: the law was given to help people, to get people to do good and not evil. The law encourages us to save lives, but sometimes withholding blood actually amounts to killing. What would you do if your shild were in an accident and lost so much blood that without a transfusion he would die an you had the right type of blood to save him? Would you save the life, or kill? Those who twist the law and tell you, "You should not give blood, even when it will save a life!" do not understand that important underlying priciples of the Bible, but have taken its words in the same superficial way the Pharisees did. Like them, they end up contradicting what God teaches us to do.
Another time, Christ's disciples picked grain and ate it on the sabbath. When the religions leaders complained to him, Jesus replied: "And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath" (Mark 2:27, 28).
Love Fulfills the Whole Law
Though I have used the sabbath to illustrate, the Bible gives this type of explanation to the entire law: "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet: and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:8-10).
The Jews who accused Christ had not understood the basic purpose of the law.
Do you wonder what God wants you to do? Ask yourself, "Which course of action will show love?" That is the one which will fulfill the law. If I, by giving a bit of my blood, may help someone, I should do it. "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it" (Prov. 3:27).
Religious leaders today who tell us the opposite have fallen into the same trap as the ones in Jesus' times. Not understanding the spirit of the law, they act contrary to the overall intent of the law, trying to fulfill what they think is the letter of the law. We should get this principle straight: "For all the law is fulfilled in one wordm even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as theyself" (Gal. 5:14).
Be a Good Neighbor
Now that you have read the explanation, let's see what you will do. Here is a situation: Your neighbor's wife comes running over to your house and cries out, "My husband has been hit by a car! They found him lying beside the road bleeding to death. It's an emergency! He needs your type blood immediately!" This could happen to you tomorrow. If it does, what will you do?
Here is a story that Jesus told which will help you make up your mind" "And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise" (Luke 10:30-37).
While your neighbor may not have come running over yet, you are still faced with the decision. Will you follow the religious leaders and pass by on the other side, or will you be a good neighbor who shows love to those who need help?
Partly because Jesus explained the law this way, the religious leaders of his day decided to get rid of Him by having Him killed (Mark 3:4-6)
Killing Christ did not work well at all, so some in our day try to get rid of Him by saying, "He was not God!" "He was not really resurrected!" "He does not really save!"
If you do this too, repent right now, trust the Savior to save you and to give you the ability to live for Him!