Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Christians cannot accept a blood transfusion based on scriptures that explain that we are supposed to abstain from blood.
The Bible is clearly referring to the practice of eating blood, a dietary restriction that is widely accepted by all modern-day Christians as well as Jews. Jesus also taught a “principle of the greater good” explaining that it would be acceptable to break the Sabbath (which was punishable by death and just as serious as consuming blood) to save a life, even of an animal.
There is no evidence that eating blood is the same as accepting a blood transfusion. Blood when transfused functions as blood normally would and it is not digested and used as nutrition. Much like accepting an organ transplant should not be considered the same as eating an organ.
Blood is the symbol for life, and it so to be respected. There were many pagan practices that were disrespectful to blood as the symbol of life which involved eating and drinking it. The point is that we’re not supposed to eat blood for the sake of eating blood as food .
I encourage you to read on as I dig deeper into the scriptures, how the “principle of the greater good” applies in this case, blood as the symbol of life, and consider how even the Jews who practice the Law much strictly than Jehovah’s Witnesses do, do not forbid blood transfusions.
What does the Bible Actually Say About Blood?
Let’s look at the scriptures relating to the blood issue.
Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. Just as I gave you the green vegetation, I give them all to you. 4 Only flesh with its life—its blood—you must not eat.Genesis 9:3-4 [New World Translation]
If any man of the house of Israel or any foreigner who is residing in your midst eats any sort of blood, I will certainly set my face against the one who is eating the blood, and I will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have given it on the altar for you to make atonement for yourselves, because it is the blood that makes atonement by means of the life in it. 12 That is why I have said to the Israelites: “None of you should eat blood, and no foreigner who is residing in your midst should eat blood.”Leviticus 17:10-12 [New World Translation]
You may eat it as you would eat the gazelle and the deer; both the unclean person and the clean person may eat it. 23 Just be firmly resolved not to eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the flesh. 24 You must not eat it. You should pour it out on the ground like water.Deuteronomy 12:22-24 [New World Translation]
In the New Testament, it is mentioned to keep abstaining from blood. This was not a new law, but the observance of the same law in the Old Testament, which clearly states that it had to do with eating blood.
For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you except these necessary things: 29 to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!”Acts 15:28;29 [New World Translation]
The purpose of this instruction was to promote peace in the congregation. We must be careful not to assume that because the book of Acts speaks about these things in the same sentence, it means that they are all equally sinful.
It is clear that things sacrificed to idols, blood, and strangled are referring to the practice of eating, which was to be abstained from for the purpose of the conscious of the Jewish Christians based on their previous teachings.
Fornication was also to be abstained from for the purpose of the Jewish Christian consciences, BUT ALSO that it was an outright sin. This is made clear in many accounts in the New Testament. Read: 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, and 1 Corinthians 5:9-11. 1 Corinthians 5:1–5 etc.
Selective Application of the Law
“‘It is a lasting statute for your generations, in all your dwelling places: You must not eat any fat or any blood at all.’”Leviticus: 3:17
Why Do Jehovah’s Witnesses not apply this principle and abstain from fat, but use the same Levitical law to promote the blood doctrine?
Principle of the Greater Good
On another occasion he went to eat a meal in the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath, and they were closely watching him. 2 And look! a man who had drops was in front of him. 3 So in response Jesus asked those versed in the Law and the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they kept silent. With that he took hold of the man, healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them: “Who of you, if his son or bull falls into a well, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” 6 And they were not able to reply to this.Luke 14:1-6
Jesus acknowledged the Sabbath as Law, but goes on to say that there is a greater good in saving a boy’s life, or even an animal’s life that overrides the law. This is a Biblical truth that is even recognized by Jewish Rabbi’s
6 Now on a sabbath he was passing through grainfields, and his disciples were plucking and eating the heads of grain, rubbing them with their hands. 2 At this some of the Pharisees said: “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 3 But in reply Jesus said to them: “Have you never read what David did when he and the men with him were hungry? 4 How he entered into the house of God and received the loaves of presentation and ate and gave some to the men with him, which it is not lawful for anyone to eat but for the priests only?” 5 Then he said to them: “The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
6 On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and began teaching. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 The scribes and the Pharisees were now watching Jesus closely to see whether he would cure on the Sabbath, in order to find some way to accuse him. 8 He, however, knew their reasoning,j so he said to the man with the withered hand: “Get up and stand in the center.” And he rose and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them: “I ask you men, Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to destroy it?” 10 After looking around at them all, he said to the man: “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they flew into a senseless rage, and they began to talk over with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Was Jesus endorsing the fact that there are times when the laws are less important than the life you are preserving? I think so. Sure, there are ways one might try to abuse this principle to justify certain behaviors, but that falls on the person’s conscience and he will be held accountable to God.
Even IF blood transfusions are wrong, surely this principle would override the supposed law and allow for a blood transfusion as a medical procedure to save a precious life?
Breaking the Sabbath was just as serious as eating blood!
The punishment for breaking the Sabbath was death [Exodus 31:15] which was the same as intentionally eating blood [Leviticus 17:14,15]. Eating flesh from a dead animal with the blood still in it made you unclean until the evening and until you have bathed and washed your garments.
With the above in mind, and for argument’s sake assuming that IF it was wrong to accept a blood transfusion, it would still be scripturally reasonable to break the law on blood to save a human life.
We would do well to ask the question: If Jesus said we should break the Sabbath which is punishable by death, to save a life, then would it not be reasonable to apply this same principle to save a human life, much less the life of an animal?
Blood is the Symbol of Life, but is the symbol of life more important than life itself?
If someone holds a gun to your head and says to you to hand over your wedding ring, would you say no because the ring symbolizes your marriage? Well if he kills you for it, then there is no marriage left for it to symbolize.
Blood is the symbol of life, but is the symbol of life more important than life itself?
Jews who still strictly abide by the Law, have no problem with Blood Transfusions.
An orthodox Jew, who takes the Law way more seriously than any Jehovah’s Witness does. In fact, there’s a law not to boil a baby calf in its mother’s milk. Jews take that so seriously that they won’t even eat a burger with meat and cheese together .
Knowing how seriously the Jews take this Law, we could gain some valuable insight by asking how they view blood transfusions. You might be surprised to know that under life-threatening circumstances, Jews absolutely accept blood transfusions .
Not only do they take and give blood, but they also organize blood drives  because they see it as a good work that honors God, sanctifies life, and helps their community.
“Nothing is unclean, in itself”
I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; only where a man considers something to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if your brother is being offended because of food, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not by your food ruin that one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore, do not let the good you do be spoken of as bad. 17 For the Kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit.Romans 14:14-17
Nothing is unclean in itself, but Paul conveys that we should not stumble others for the sake of eating. He is talking about eating things that were considered unclean under the old law, and to be considerate of poeple consciences that were still bound by their previous Jewish laws.
Paul said we should abstain from eating certain things for the sake of other conscience. But are we supposed to sacrifice our lives based on the concsience of another person?
Jesus made it clear that we should be allowed to save the life of a boy or even an animal, even against the conscience of others with regards to the sabbath.
I will leave you with some scriptures to think about with this blood issue in mind.
However, not all have this knowledge. But some, because of their former association with the idol, eat food as something sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food will not bring us nearer to God; we are no worse off if we do not eat, nor better off if we eat.1 Corinthians 8:8
It is in vain that they keep worshipping me, for they teach commands of men as doctrines.’” 10 With that he called the crowd near and said to them: “Listen and get the sense of it:k 11 It is not what enters into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but it is what comes out of his mouth that defiles him.”lMatthew 15:9-11
Therefore, do not let anyone judge you about what you eat and drink or about the observance of a festival or of the new moon or of a sabbath.1 Colossians 2:16