The Blood Issue and The
Jerry Bergman PhD
(Investigator 144, 2012
was a Witness the
blood transfusion prohibition increasingly became a concern for me,
partly because many Witnesses have died as a result of this teaching.1
I studied this
topic, the stronger my opposition to this doctrine became, causing
increasing alienation between myself and other Witnesses.
Accepting a blood transfusion for any reason was a disfellowshipping
offense since only 1961. I wrote a full-length book on the subject.
Watters learned that Gene Smalley was the main apologist for the blood
doctrine, and he managed to squash dissent on this issue, even at
Bethel the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witness. This conflict
led to a crisis of conscience that reached its climax in the early
scripture the Watchtower can use to enforce their blood prohibition is
Genesis 9:4. All the other Hebrew Scriptures that deal with blood are
part of Jewish law that the Watchtower teaches we are no longer under
A careful reading of this important verse shows that the Hebrew words
do not prohibit eating blood as the Watchtower teaches, but only meat
that has blood in it. Almost all translations of Genesis 9:4 (including
the Watchtower's New World Translation) are similar to the Anchor Bible
that reads, "you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it."
translation, The Good News Bible, is even clearer: "The one
thing you must not eat is meat with blood still in it." Another
version, considered by some the most accurate translation to date, The
New International Version, states, "But you must not eat meat that
has its lifeblood still in it."
the Hebrew word
translated "blood" modifies the word "meat," we cannot construe the
passage to mean that the eating of blood itself is forbidden. In other
words, the eating of blood was not any more expressly prohibited than
was the eating of meat. Rather, it was only meat with blood still in it
that was prohibited. If one concludes from Genesis 9:4 that it is wrong
to eat blood, then one must also conclude that it is wrong to eat meat
— a reading that contradicts Genesis 9:3 which gives humans explicit
permission to consume meat.
Hebrew word basar in
Genesis 9:4 means "flesh" or "body", and by extension a person or
human. Thus the original Hebrew in Genesis 9:4 does not say that meat
with blood in it is forbidden, but that flesh or "bodies" with blood
still in it are prohibited. If the Hebrew writer had wanted to refer
only to the meat itself, he would have used the Hebrew word mazown,
meaning food or meat in general. In this passage, the words "blood" and
"soul" are synonymous. It is also clear that animal bodies can be
eaten, but only animal bodies that no longer have their soul or life
still in them. As Hebrew scholar, Professor Bruce Waltke, noted, the
grammatical construction of Genesis 9:4
straightforward. The Hebrew text says literally: 'Only flesh with
its life, its blood, you must not eat.' ...flesh is restricted to that
kind of flesh with its life (nephesh) in it. Grammatically
speaking, the kind of flesh in view is modified by the adjectival
phrase "with its life." The life now is qualified by "its blood"; that
is, the blood and life are equated. In this case the qualification or
modification is indicated by an apposition — that is, blood (dam) in
apposition to life (nephesh).3
the Hebrew meaning
of Genesis 9:4 clearly says God has given humans permission to eat
animal flesh, but the animal's blood must first be drained in order to
insure that the animal is dead before it is consumed.
purpose of Genesis
9:5 is to insure humans do not eat live animals and the reason is a
respect for life. If the animal was dead it no longer has life in it,
thus the sanctity of life would not be profaned if the meat were
consumed. For thousands of years people consumed live animals — a
cruelty that this passage was designed to prevent.
summarized the reason for this law by noting in his commentary on
Genesis 9:4 that "This provision was added to prevent man's
degeneration to coarse and brutal barbarism or even savagery."4
Pagan cultures taught that the "fight" of the animal could be
transferred only if it was consumed while still alive. The animal's
"life" obviously rapidly left while it was being consumed, and they
reasoned that it must have gone into the person eating it. It was also
believed that other qualities of the animal, such as strength, power,
and wisdom, could likewise be transferred to the person eating a live
animal in this way.
idea can be traced
back to ancient Egypt where the princes bathed in blood as a form of
resuscitation and recuperation. In Rome men would rush into the arena
to drink the blood of dying gladiators in the hope of acquiring some of
the victim's valor. For many centuries the idea of blood as a
restorative source was not restricted to its uses as a draught or for
bathing, but as a means of transferring the animal’s spirit.
conclusion that the
purpose of Genesis 9:4 was to prevent such abuses is probably the
prominent interpretation of this verse shared throughout history by
most Jews and Christians. Martin Luther wrote that this passage
eating of a body that still has in it a functioning, active and living
soul, the way a hawk devours chicks and a wolf, sheep that have not
been killed first but are alive. This cruel procedure the Lord forbids
in this passage, and He restricts the permission to kill. It may not be
carried out in inhuman fashion whereby living bodies or parts of living
bodies are consumed; but a lawful manner of killing is to be followed,
such as took place at the altar and at the sacrifices, where the animal
was killed without any cruelty and ultimately was offered to God after
its blood had been carefully washed off. This I believe to be the
simple and true meaning, which also some Jewish teachers espouse,
namely, that we must not eat pieces of raw flesh and limbs that are
still quivering, as was the practice of the Laestrygones or the Cyclops.5
explanation, that Genesis 9:9 was to protect against future dangerous
transfusions is uninformed rationalization. The purpose was clearly to
insure that the animal was mercifully dead before it was eaten, and not
to protect health, because there was nothing inherently unhealthy about
eating an animal's flesh while it was still alive. Although abuses that
have resulted in undesirable side-effects do occur, on the whole
medical science has greatly improved human health through the judicious
use of blood transfusions.
construction of the Hebrew forces the translation of Genesis 9:4, as
the Witnesses own NWT clearly states as follows "Only flesh with its
soul — its blood — you must not eat."
Soul and Blood; How the "Life" is in the Blood
function of blood
is to transport nourishment to the cells and remove their waste
products. In view of this information, Genesis 9:5, which says, "The
life is in the blood" refers to the fact that the life sustaining
elements (food and oxygen) are literally carried by, and thus are
physically in, the blood. Genesis does not state that blood is the life
as the Watchtower implies, but that "life" is in the blood. In fact,
the means of life, food and oxygen (note the expression in Genesis 2:7
"the breath of life"), are in, and carried, by the blood. This fact
corresponds to the Jewish belief that the prohibition in Gen. 9:4 was
given to mankind to insure that humans did not eat a living animal
because of the stipulation that draining the blood would guarantee that
the animal was dead.
expression "for the
life of all flesh is in its blood" was always understood by Jews to
refer to the fact that the blood, which circulated throughout all parts
of the body, provides life-giving oxygen and nutrients to the effectors
of the blood's activity, the nerves, muscles, and other cells. The
Watchtower Society's understanding of how the soul "is in" the blood
(Genesis 9:5) is neither clear nor consistent. Draining blood was often
the only effective, and least cruel, way the Israelites had of killing
an animal. After most of the blood was drained, no animal can survive.
human methods of
killing caused either internal bleeding, or a sufficient slowing of the
blood circulation to cause brain damage. Asphyxiation by carbon
monoxide, a common cause of purposeful death, renders many red blood
cells useless, causing impairment of the blood's oxygen carrying
function. The blood can circulate, but its primary purpose cannot be
fulfilled, i.e., providing oxygen for the cells, because much of the CO2
binds irreversibly to the hemoglobin in the body.
ancient times, blood
was the object of sacred awe. Considered the seat of the soul, when
lost, life also was lost partially because it was observed that death
was often associated with blood loss. As the term "spilling of blood"
was often synonymous with murder, viewing extensive blood loss was
understood as literally watching life "flowing away." Thus, "to shed
blood" was synonymous with killing or murder in most ancient languages.
Likewise, blood-guilt meant that one was guilty of murder.
of these reasons,
Genesis 9:4 could only mean that humans should not eat blood when it is
still in the animal for the purpose of insuring that the animal was
dead before it was consumed. The Watchtower's reasoning that God
prohibited transfusions to protect our health is clearly invalid
because in most cases blood pathogens can be screened out. No
responsible informed people, including Witness doctors, argue that
blood therapy is not extremely important today, although clearly abuses
have occurred.6 This supports the conclusion that the reason
for the law in Genesis 9:4 is primarily to help humans develop a
respect for life, something that would help human interpersonal
relations as well.
discussion of the problem of deaths as a result of refusing blood see
David Reed Blood on the Altar; Confessions of a Jehovah's Witness
Minister. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus, 1996 and Kerry Louderback-Wood
"Jehovah's Witnesses, Blood Transfusions, and the Tort of
Misrepresentation." The Journal of Church and State, 2005
47(4):783-822 an article I had the privilege serving as a reviewer.
and the Watchtower's Blood Doctrine, Free Minds Journal 26(2):
5- 6. May-Oct 2007.
Letter to Jerry Bergman 1976.
Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible. St. Louis,
Concordia Publishing House1923, p. 21. See also Joseph Herman Hertz The
Pentateuch and Haftorahs. London: Soncino Press, 1950, p. 32.
Complete Works of Martin Luther. Concordia, 1967, p. 32.
Dr. Henri Enfroy, MD, 1971.