Blood and the Mosaic Law

The next major set of texts used by the WTS Society in support of its teaching on blood are those found in the Mosaic Law and recorded in the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy and First Samuel. Let’s start by reviewing them along with the society’s comments from the blood brochure.

(Leviticus 17:10-14) “‘As for any man of the house of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in YOUR midst who eats any sort of blood, I shall certainly set my face against the soul that is eating the blood, and I shall indeed cut him off from among his people. 11 For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for YOU to make atonement for YOUR souls, because it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul [in it]. 12 That is why I have said to the sons of Israel: “No soul of YOU must eat blood and no alien resident who is residing as an alien in YOUR midst should eat blood.” 13 “‘As for any man of the sons of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in YOUR midst who in hunting catches a wild beast or a fowl that may be eaten, he must in that case pour its blood out and cover it with dust. 14 For the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood by the soul in it. Consequently I said to the sons of Israel: “YOU must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh, because the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood. Anyone eating it will be cut off.”

It would be useful at this point to analyze how the Society’s current blood booklet treats these verses. Here is a direct quote:

“He again referred to blood when he gave the Law code to ancient Israel. While many people respect the wisdom and ethics in that code, few are aware of its serious laws on blood. For instance: If anyone of the house of Israel or of the strangers who reside among them partakes of any blood, I will set My face against the person who partakes of the blood, and I will cut him off from among his kin. For the life of the flesh is in the blood. (Leviticus 17:10, 11, Tanakh) God then explained what a hunter was to do with a dead animal: He shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth…You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:13, 14, Tanakh)………..While the law about blood had health aspects, much more was involved. Blood had a symbolic meaning. It stood for life provided by the Creator. By treating blood as special, the people showed dependence on him for life. Yes, the chief reason why they were not to take in blood was, not that it was unhealthy, but that it had special meaning to God.” (How Can Blood Save Your Life? p. 3,4)

So in these portions of the Mosaic Law we find added details concerning blood. It must be poured upon the ground, and anyone deliberately eating it is to be cut off.

Are these texts simply restating and enlarging on the so-called “eternal covenant” found in Genesis chapter nine? As we have already learned, that covenant was not eternal, at least not in all respects. Additionally, these commands are clearly a part of the law of Moses. As Christians, we are not under the Mosaic law which Christ fulfilled.

  • (Romans 10:4) For Christ is the end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness.
  • (Galatians 3:23-25) However, before the faith arrived, we were being guarded under law, being delivered up together into custody, looking to the faith that was destined to be revealed. 24 Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. 25 But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.

Consequently, these texts do not in and of themselves have any bearing on whether or not it would be appropriate for a Christian to use blood. The Mosaic law was nailed to the stake along with Christ. It is null and void, and of no force or effect whatsoever. To argue otherwise is to deny the simple truth of scripture.

(Ephesians 2:15) By means of his flesh he abolished the enmity, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees…

The Society has frequently acknowledged this in writing:

“If Jesus Jewish followers were no longer under the curse of the Law, were any Christians obligated to observe all the commandments given to Israel? To the Colossians, Paul wrote: [God] kindly forgave us all our trespasses and blotted out the handwritten document against us, which consisted of decrees and which was in opposition to us; and He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to [Christ’s] torture stake. (Colossians 2:13, 14) Doubtless, many early Christians needed to adjust their thinking and recognize that they had been discharged from the Law. (Romans 7:6)” W89 11/15, 5 (italics ours)

Despite this, the WTS sees fit to quote these defunct laws as they suit their purpose. As we read on in the brochure we come across a particularly blatant example of reading something into scripture that simply isn’t there.

“The Law repeatedly stated the Creator’s ban on taking in blood to sustain life. “You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right.” Deuteronomy 12:23-25, NIV; Deut. 15:23; Leviticus 7:26, 27; Ezekiel 33:25.” (italics ours)

Does the Mosaic law actually state the Creator’s ban in this way? Nowhere do we read of the Creator’s ban on taking in blood to sustain life. We do read that the Creator bans the “eating” of blood. This is a subtle, yet important difference. There are many things that we do to sustain life. We have to breathe oxygen into our lungs. We must have water and food. Sleep is essential and so forth.

As we will see later in The Scientific Perspective, having a blood transfusion is not the same as eating blood. Therefore, it is necessary for the society to link the two. They accomplish this by implying that when God said do not “eat blood”, what he really meant was do not sustain your life with blood. Clearly, this is not what the texts says.

Let us consider the next paragraph in the current brochure:

“Contrary to how some today reason, God’s law on blood was not to be ignored just because an emergency arose. During a wartime crisis, some Israelite soldiers killed animals and fell to eating along with the blood. In view of the emergency, was it permissible for them to sustain their lives with blood? No. Their commander pointed out that their course was still a grave wrong. (1 Samuel 14:31-35) Hence, precious as life is, our Life-Giver never said that his standards could be ignored in an emergency.” (Italics ours)(How Can Blood Save Your Life? p. 3,4)

Is it reasonable to refer to a group of hungry soldiers as an emergency? This seems like simply an attempt to associate the account with modern medical emergencies requiring blood transfusions. Who of us would equate a life or death medical crisis to a band of hungry soldiers?

It is also worth pointing out once again the use of the expression “sustain” as a substitute for the word “eat.” This is a purposeful manipulation of the Bible account. An attempt to make it say something that it simply doesn’t.

On the other hand, what this Bible story does teach us is quite interesting. Note what happens to these hungry soldiers who in an “emergency” chose to “sustain their lives” by “eating along with the blood?”

 “After that Saul said: “Scatter among the people, and YOU must say to them, ‘Bring near to me, each one of YOU, his bull and, each one, his sheep, and YOU must do the slaughtering in this place and the eating, and YOU must not sin against Jehovah by eating along with the blood.'” Accordingly all the people brought near each one his bull that was in his hand that night and did the slaughtering there. 35 And Saul proceeded to build an altar to Jehovah. With it he started altar building to Jehovah.” (1 Sam. 14:34,35)

That is the entire consequence of their actions. They received a verbal reprimand. Today, however, if you find yourself in a true emergency and accept a blood transfusion of one of the remaining banned blood products you will likely be shunned  – completely cut off from your Jehovah’s Witnesses family and friends.

Before going on, let’s spend a few moments discussing the significance of blood in the Hebrew Scriptures [OT], especially it’s use in Leviticus, as this will become important in our next section.

If you spend time studying the Mosaic Law with its system of animal sacrifices, you will quickly realize that blood was at the very heart of the law. Blood had great significance in the life of an Israelite, as the pouring out of it in sacrifice could temporarily atone for sin.

Clearly blood was sacred. By pouring it out upon the ground and covering it, an Israelite hunter showed his respect for the life he had taken by divine permission. Additionally, an animal properly bled would in fact be dead and the hunter would be in compliance with the command found at Gen. 9:4. Finally, by not eating blood, the Israelite would show his appreciation for the significance of the blood used in the temple arrangement of animal sacrifice.

It would be worthwhile to read the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of Leviticus so as to appreciate the context in which these prohibitions occur.

A careful analysis reveals much. For instance you may be surprised to learn just how precious all life is to God. If an Israelite when slaughtering a domestic animal failed to bring it to the priest so that it’s blood could be sprinkled upon the alter, he was blood guilty and worthy of death, just as if he had killed another human. (Lev. 17:3-6)

The requirements were much simpler when involving wild animals and hunting although the blood still had to be poured out. (Lev. 17:13) The more stringent requirements involving a domestic animal likely relate to its use as a communion sacrifice involving the worshiper, the priest and Jehovah.

A logical question at this point would be: “What is the significance of the blood?” Is there something special in it, some mystical property? This question can be answered by considering what the law has to say about animals that died of natural causes or perhaps were killed by a predator.

 “As for any soul that eats a body [already] dead or something torn by a wild beast, whether a native or an alien resident, he must in that case wash his garments and bathe in water and be unclean until the evening; and he must be clean. 16 But if he will not wash them and will not bathe his flesh, he must then answer for his error.” Leviticus 17:15-16

Yes one can easily imagine a situation where an Israelite might find himself lost or stranded and without food. If he came across a dead animal he would realize, of course, that it had not been properly bled. The law allowed for him to eat this animal as provided above as long as he followed what is clearly a ritual of the law code.

Furthermore, we find an additional provision regarding alien residents that is worth considering.

 “YOU must not eat any body [already] dead. To the alien resident who is inside your gates you may give it, and he must eat it; or there may be a selling of it to a foreigner, because you are a holy people to Jehovah your God.” (Deuteronomy 14:21)

Note here that the reason given for not eating the dead body is that they are a “holy people.” It is not the blood or it’s sacredness that is at issue. This is clear because God does not care if non-Jews eat meat with blood in it.

If we reason on all of this it becomes evident that the blood itself was not holy. It did not possess magical properties. Blood running through the veins of a living creature represents life, and if someone took a life, he had to pour out the blood and give it back to God. In the case of an animal that died of itself, no human had taken a life, and this requirement could be waived.

Two somewhat interesting side points:

1. Lev. 17:15,16 makes provisions for emergency situations to sustain life, and these provisions involve the consumption of meat with blood. This is very significant.

2. The WTS has long taken the position that ancient Israel is a type of modern-day spiritual Israel – the 144,000, and that the alien resident or foreigners were a type of the modern-day great crowd of other sheep. Assuming this to be true, Deut. 14:21 would seem to indicate that a different standard should be applied to these groups. (Note – This is the scripture that the WTS uses to rationalize that it would be OK. for a Witness doctor to transfuse blood into a non-Witness)

You may find it of some interest to read about how the society tries to explain away Leviticus 17:15 in the April 15, 1983 Questions From Readers. We dissect their explanation sentence by sentence. It makes for interesting reading.

The final point we will mention in a Biblical context goes to analysis of the consequences of obedience to theses laws. A divine prohibition against eating the blood of an animal will not result in the death of a devout man or woman. Indeed, it is often argued that these observances were intended in part for the health of believers. But that prohibition translated to a medical procedure would routinely result in the suffering and death of believers. Such a consequence, or fruitage, is enough to suggest this further prohibition isn’t intended in the Bible. It is worth noting that no Jewish group applies these sanctions to the medical use of blood, not even the strictest Orthodox Jews who are so concerned about not displeasing God that they follow the following procedure with meat:

“Code of Jewish Law, a compilation of Jewish laws and customs by a rabbi and published by a Hebrew publishing company in New York City, details the great pains to be taken with meat. The meat is submerged in water for half an hour, is the salted and put in position for draining for an hour as the salt draws out the blood, and is thereafter thoroughly washed three times.” The Watchtower 07/01/1951 p. 414 – 416

As we conclude our review of this section of the Bible we have established the following:

  • The Mosaic Law is not binding upon Christians. This is acknowledged by the scriptures and the society.
  • The Mosaic Law forbids the deliberate eating of blood. It says nothing about using blood to “sustain life.”
  • The Mosaic Law describes situations where a person could indirectly eat blood under certain circumstances.
  • Blood does not posses mystical properties. If an Israelite killed an animal he had to pour the blood upon the ground acknowledging that he had taken a life by divine permission and in effect returning it to God.

Before moving on to our last major section on the Bible, it would be helpful for us to take note of the order in which the prohibitions occur in the book of Leviticus, as this will become essential to our understanding of the next section on Acts chapter fifteen.

1. Communion Sacrifices (food offerings) were to be made only to Jehovah God (Lev. 17:1-9)

2. The deliberate and intentional eating of blood was forbidden (Lev. 17:10-14)

3. Only in an emergency could an animal that had died of itself or been torn apart be consumed (Lev. 17: 15,16; see also Deut. 14: 21,28,29)

4. They could not engage in immoral sex acts or incestuous relationships (Lev. 18:1-27)


  1. Rabbi P Gee

    Whilst I find your articles on the whole issue of Blood transfusions interesting, you have failed to mention the single most important argument as to why the JW policy is not only wrong, it is expressly forbidden in the Bible. Lev 18:5 says “these are my commandments … and you shall live by them” The meaning is quite clear, the sanctity of life is so important that the commandments can be broken in order to preserve life. The Rabbis go much further and instruct that one MUST break a commandment if failing to do so might jeopardize life. Thus even if it was considered that transfusions were eating or consuming or whatever descriptions JWs want to use, it would still be absolutely necessary to transfuse blood if a doctor recommended it. Of course, the Old testament references to eating blood mean precisely that, whereas transfusion can in no way be thought of as eating.

    It is interesting to note that the JW “translation” of this sentence is deliberately wrong and thus leading its readers to entirely false conclusions.

    In order to avoid eating blood Jews and Moslems slaughter their animals in such a way as to drain the blood out from them. JWs that I have spoken to readily admit to eating meat that has blood in it. They simply don’t understand how their policy on not “consuming” blood via transfusions means that eating meat with blood in it is allowed.

    • Lee Elder

      Thank you for your comments. Your view on Lev. 18:5 is also expressed in Jesus’ remarks concerning the Sabbath and the rescue of an animal that has fallen into a pit, and adds further support to the “the sanctity of life” over law.

  2. Peri

    In response to your post in February, may I begin by saying that I rarely visit this site, hence my delay in replying.

    There are a number of fundamental problems with your approach to this matter.

    1. It is obvious that you are basing your arguments on the New World Translation, the Bible followed by JWs. However to call this a “translation” is misleading, as in a significant number of places it does not accurately translate – word for word – what is written in the original language of the Bible i.e Hebrew. Indeed the authors of the NWT not only had no knowledge of Hebrew, they also knew nothing of Aramaic, Syriac or even Greek. The truth is that it was adapted to suit JW beliefs, irrespective of what was actually written. These errors have been widely disseminated and you will find countless articles on the net.
    2. JWs regularly eat the blood of animals in their meat. A close friend visited JW headquarters in London and had a meal there. The meat clearly was not free of blood and when he politely questioned this, he was told that it is not possible to completely remove all blood from animals and what remains is allowed to be eaten by JWs.

    This is simply not true. The Jewish method of slaughter, together with the subsequent treatment removes all the blood, whereas “modern” methods of animal processing simply do not. However if one really wants to avoid blood in one’s food, then a vegetarian diet is the only alternative.

    3. There are lots of obligations in the Bible that JWs do not accept – for example circumcision and birth control. If you follow the Bible and it’s commandments, you simply cannot pick and chose what to keep and what to discard.

    4. The most obvious reason for allowing blood transfusions is that it saves lives – of that there is no argument. The preservation of life is more important than any other commandment in the Bible – save the three cardinal sins – and one must do everything in one’s power to preserve life. That is why in Leviticus it is written “these are my commandments …. and you shall live by them” If you refer to the NWT you will see that this sentence has been mistranslated – for obvious reasons. It is interesting that no other branch of Christianity – in all its forms – interprets the blood issue as do JWs. Indeed they are uniform in their condemnation of the JW practice of refusing transfusions- even at the cost of human life.

    5. There is a fundamental misunderstanding that what is written in the Old Testament is “the law” and has to be taken at face value. This of course is based on ignorance. The Law is based on both what is written in the Old Testament and the Talmud, often referred to as “the Oral Law”. One simply cannot understand one without the other, a bit like modern legal systems that a refined by case law. In other words, just looking at the Old Testament and basing a belief system on it is wrong. Indeed, as you well know from JW history, misinterpreting the Bible can lead to unfortunate consequences, such as predicting major events.

  3. Trisha

    I found all that I read interesting and relevant to the blood issue. I get the animal point of view and when it was applicable, before Jesus gave his life for our sins. I know that all life now and forever is precious to God and personally to me. I love Jehovah, but the Old Testament can not relate to our day about blood transfusion issues. However, just the thought of putting someone else’s blood into my body feels wrong, especially as it’s impossible to have clean blood, or for it to been screened as completely clean. This is far too complex of a job to do at the present time, being a Jehovah’s Witness it’s all about our own conscience, and what we decide. I feel you all know this, and this is my thought on the matter, thank you for your time.

    • Lee Elder

      AJWRB is not suggesting that you should accept a blood transfusion, or even one of the numerous blood products the Watchtower now permits (100% of blood in fractionated form). The belief or feeling that blood is tainted, dirty, or unclean is something that Watchtower writers have worked rather diligently to inculcate into your thinking, and that of other JW’s. This same kind of reasoning was used extensively as the basis for the ban on vaccination during the 1930’s – 1952, before it was finally discarded. The remnants of this previous ban can still be seen occasionally among very elderly JW’s. While there is risk associated with using blood products, these risks have been wildly exaggerated by Watchtower writers. You can independently verify what the real risks are by doing a few Google searches. Physicians better understand these risks than Jehovah’s Witnesses, and also understand the potential benefit and risk of refusing a medically necessary transfusion of a blood product or fraction. Once a JW understands the facts, our job and the physicians job are done. One thing I would ask you to consider is this. If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you that you have a choice, what choice are they really giving you? In light of all of this information, why should a parent be forced to choose between their child’s life, and following whatever the current Watchtower blood policy is?


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