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History

In this section, we will attempt to document some of the relevant historical information that is available regarding blood. Then we will look at the modern historical developments regarding the Watchtower Society's blood policies. Finally, we will look at the evolution of the blood doctrine into its present form.

Blood in Early Christianity

The Modern Historical Perspective

The Evolution of the Watchtower Blood Policy
 


Blood in Early Christianity

The Watchtower Society (hereafter WTS) claims that Christians must abstain from blood and that the early Christian church understood this as a universal rule. Considering that the Greek Scriptures/New Testament does not say this anywhere, and that in the only place eating blood is mentioned at all the context shows the purpose was not to offend the Jews, the claim is without serious merit.

The WTS finds it useful here to appeal to certain early Christian writings. This is surprising since it teaches that the great apostasy occurred right after the death of the apostle John, and it always refuses to accept the word of  "Church Fathers" as authoritative on any other question. Moreover, those who investigate these writings find that there was hardly ever agreement on any question, not even on the essentials. This is particularly noteworthy for Witnesses, who at times engage in ‘trinity’debates, and appeal to these texts as historical evidence for their position, only to experience that their opponents find other proof texts showing the opposite.

What is evident is that the Church Fathers disagreed strongly even on the question of the nature of Christ. We know that the views ranged from that of Arius, who held a position something like the WTS', to Athanasius who developed what became the Trinity doctrine we know today. Using these men as an authority on blood is hardly honest when the WTS argues that they were part of an apostate Christendom. However, we can agree that their writings at least help document how the early Christians interpreted certain Bible texts.

Let's consider the WTS' appeal to some early Christian texts for support:

"And more than a hundred years later, in 177 C.E., in Lyons (now in France), when religious enemies falsely accused Christians of eating children, a woman named Biblis said: "How would such men eat children, when they are not allowed to eat the blood even of irrational animals?"-The EcclesiasticalHistory, by Eusebius, V, I, 26.

Early Christians abstained from eating any sort of blood. In this regard Tertullian (c. 155-a. 220 C.E.) pointed out in his work Apology (IX, 13, 14): "Let your error blush before the Christians, for we do not include even animals’ blood in our natural diet. We abstain on that account from things strangled or that die of themselves, that we may not in any way be polluted by blood, even if it is buried in the meat. Finally, when you are testing Christians, you offer them sausages full of blood; you are thoroughly well aware, of course, that among them it is forbidden; but you want to make them transgress." Minucius Felix, a Roman lawyer who lived until about 250 C.E., made the same point, writing: "For us it is not permissible either to see or to hear of human slaughter; we have such a shrinking from human blood that at our meals we avoid the blood of animals used for food."-Octavius, XXX, 6." (Insight on the Scriptures, 1988, vol. 1, p. 346)

The question of blood was hardly central to the Christian faith in the early years. We do not find it expressed at all as an article of faith, and the few references the WTS has found merely document the practice of not eating blood as an argument against widespread accusations that Christians drank the blood of children (probably this popular myth originated in the ceremony of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Evening Meal). It must be observed that in none of these cases would it have been helpful for the Christian writers to give the background for this practice because it would have invalidated their argument.

In the brochure Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood (1977) we find the same references as in Insight. We will also find a footnote on page 14 with what sounds like a wealth of further evidence:

"Other references (from the second and third centuries) supporting this application of Acts 15:28, 29 are found in: Origen's Against Celsus VIII, 29, 30 and Commentary on Matthew XI, 12; Clement's TheInstructor II, 7 and The Stromata IV, 15; TheClementineHomilies VII, 4, 8; Recognitionsof Clement IV, 36; Justin Martyr's Dialogue XXXIV; Cyprian's Treatises XII, 119; TheTeaching oftheTwelve Apostles VI; Constitutionsofthe HolyApostles VI, 12; Lucian's On the Death of Peregrinus 16."
What the Society fails to tell us is that the text of the Book of Acts existed in several versions in these early centuries. To some scribes the conclusion the apostolic council reached appeared strange, and they changed it to make it appear more correct. In the so-called Western texts, then, the apostles reached a different conclusion:
"(b) The Western text omits ‘what is strangled’ and adds a negative form of the Golden Rule in 15.20 and 29. . . . Concerning (b), it is obvious that the threefold prohibition . . . refers to moral injunctions to refrain from idolatry, unchastity and blood-shedding (or murder), to which is added the negative Golden Rule." 1
The "western texts" were those used by a significant number of those early Christian writers, and these texts had already replaced the purely ritual rules in the original description of the Apostolic Council with moral rules. Obviously, then, these later copyists were not aware of the background of the blood prohibition, and struggled to understand the text. To make it more acceptable, they "corrected" the text to be a list of three moral laws: idolatry, unchastity and murder. And hardly anyone will deny that these rules apply to all Christians! No wonder, then, that the early Christian writers argued that the apostolic council still applied.

Concerning these texts, we read:

"Of the remaining types of texts which Westcott and Hort isolated, the so-called Western Type is both ancient and widespread. . . . Its date of origin must have been extremely early, perhaps before the middle of the second century. Marcion, Tatian, Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian and Cyprian all made use to a greater or less extent of a Western form of text." 2
So a significant number of early writers the Society appeals to used a text indicating that when the apostles spoke of abstaining from blood they were talking about murder – shedding blood – not eating blood. It is no surprise, then, that these writers argued that the ruling of the council was still binding on Christians! The Society distorts the evidence when it appeals to Cyprian and Tertullian to support its interpretation of the apostolic council.

Therefore when some early writers said they abstained from blood, this had nothing to do with the text of Acts 15, because as far as they knew it was forbidding murder, not the eating of blood. It is evident, of course, that the practice of not eating blood, at least among some early Christians, was based on the early decree from Jerusalem to avoid upsetting the Jews. But there is no explicit Biblical prohibition, merely a cultural development.

Many Christians today have similar cultural prohibitions: Some heed the Torah and avoid marriage between close relatives, most forbid polygamy, many observe Sunday as a ‘Christian Sabbath,’ etc., despite finding no explicit law about these in the New Testament. As Jehovah’s Witnesses we have many of our own taboos against such things as saying ‘good luck,’ toasting, and a number of things we consider "pagan," again without finding support in the Bible. In some cases these are not even forbidden in the society's literature anymore.

Likewise, by the time the question of not stumbling Jewish Christians had gone into the background, the counsel in Acts 15:28,29 had been extended and made into a cultural taboo, a law not to eat blood. The mechanisms behind this development are easy to understand. We see that even in the early Christian congregation many wanted to develop rules and regulations far beyond what were necessary for Christians under the Kingly law of love. It is particularly interesting to note that one of the texts the WTS appeals to is Tertullian’s On Modesty. Any JW reading this extremist text will have his belief reinforced that these Church Fathers often presented a perversion and a departure from the Christianity of the Apostles.

Furthermore, the fact that the decree was changed from a set of ritual rules into ethical rules demonstrates that the decree was understood as a temporary law by many copyists and early Christians. Despite the fact that some Christians have made exactly the same mistake as the WTS in interpreting the blood prohibition as eternal (like Martin Luther did), this textual evidence further reinforces the position that the decree was issued to avoid stumbling Jewish Christians, not as an eternal law.

Summary of evidence from the Christian Scriptures. The writings of the Church Fathers give little support to the claim that the apostolic council created an eternal law against eating blood. The point can be argued, but it is a weak position. Furthermore, a blood transfusion is not the same as eating blood. Even more important, no opinions from the post apostolic era can change the direct evidence given in the New Testament itself:

  1. James himself states that these four injunctions were issued because the Torah was read in Jewish synagogues every Sabbath (Acts 15:21).
  2. As a list of universal rules for Christians, some, like murder and theft, are remarkably absent. The four requirements listed in Acts 15:20,29 are exactly the same as the compulsory rules for foreigners living in ancient Israel, and are listed in the same order (Lev 17:1 to 18:27).
  3. The words themselves are not in the form of a command, as a number of Greek experts have emphasized. This fact alone undermines the WTS' argument.
  4. Later, James repeated that the letter was sent to avoid stumbling Jewish Christians, and recommend that Paul perform a Jewish ritual for the same reason. Abstaining from eating blood was then no more a Christian obligation than performing a Jewish ritual was. (Acts 21:23-25)
  5. Paul emphasized in his letter that the Christian freedom gave them a right to eat meat offered to idols, one of the things explicitly mentioned in Acts 15. However, even Paul noted that to avoid stumbling weaker ones they should abstain (1Co 8:1,4,7).
  6. Jesus stated that nothing coming from outside the body could defile a person, which would necessarily include meat with blood in it (Mr 7:15).

The Modern Historical Perspective

The current application of certain Bible texts, notably Acts 15:28,29, to support a blood prohibition for Christians was not shared by Charles Taze Russell, founder of the WTS. In a commentary about the apostolic council of Acts 15, Russell said:

"He [James] further suggested writing to them merely that they abstain from pollutions of idols (verse 29), and from things strangled and from blood as by eating such things they might become stumbling blocks to their Jewish brethren (See 1. Cor. 8:4-13) and from fornication" (Zion’s Watch Tower, Nov. 15, 1892, p. 1473 reprints)
So even though blood transfusions were not yet in use, Russell was clear that he did not even consider the dietary law on blood as binding for Christians.

After Russell’s death the WTS gradually changed its view. The Watchtower of Dec. 15, 1927, page 371, hinted strongly that the "blood prohibition" in Genesis 9:4 applies to all men. Nevertheless, as long as only dietary law was being considered, this was not a controversial question.

A key to the development of the current blood doctrine was the appointment of Clayton J. Woodworth as editor of the Golden Age Magazine. Woodworth used the magazine as a voice to air his extraordinary personal views on science and medicine. It is here amidst the lunacy and paranoia we find the seeds of the WTS' blood doctrine.

What follows is a brief outline of the modern day historical developments:

1892 - The Watchtower's first mention of the blood issue. Russell's view was that the injunction at Acts 15 was a temporary measure to promote unity during the transition from the Jewish age to the Church Age (Watchtower 1/15, pp. 349-352).

1909 - Br. Russell comments on Acts chapter fifteen indicating his belief that observing the prohibition did not "MAKE THEM CHRISTIANS", but served to to preserve the body of Christians and Gentiles.(Watchtower 4/15/09, p. 4374)

1919 - Clayton J. Woodworth becomes editor of the Golden Age Magazine (Watchtower 2/15/52, p. 128)

1923 - An article entitled "The Vaccination Fraud" begins the Watchtower's opposition to vaccination (Golden Age, 1/3, p. 211 #35). Sample quote: "When it has been shown conclusively that there is no such things as rabies." (Golden Age, 4/22, p.455, #15).

1925 - The man who frequently donates blood for transfusion is commended. (Golden Age, 7/29, p. 683, #52).

1929 - Vaccinations are again condemned: "Thinking people would rather have smallpox than vaccinations, . . . Hence the practice of vaccination is a crime, an ourtrage and a delusion . . . it has never saved a single life" (Golden Age, 5/1, p. 502, #40).

1931 - Vaccinations are a violation of the Eternal Covenant God made with Noah. (Golden Age 2/4/31, p. 293)

1931 - The Society acknowledges that Genesis nine and the "Eternal Covenant" is not really about eating blood. "All reasonable minds must conclude that it was not the eating of the blood that God objected to, but it was bringing the blood of the beast in contact with the blood of man." (Golden Age, 2/4, p. 294, #42).

1935 - Vaccination is a direct injection of animal matter in the blood stream and a direct violation of the law of Jehovah God. (Golden Age 4/24/35, p. 465) For seventeen years Witnesses refuse smallpox vaccination until the Society, after the death of Br. Woodworth, reverses the vaccination ban. As it turns out, the smallpox vaccine wasn't even manufactured from blood. During this period, many cartoons appeared in the Golden Age magazine showing things like piles of pock marked babies, damaged by vaccines. Other cartoons depicted "dope doctors" holding syringes labeled "puss." Today we can scarcely imagine just how incredible of a situation developed around this issue. Children were not able to attend school without a vaccination certificate, Witnesses could not leave or enter countries, and Witnesses in prison were placed in solitary confinement.

It's important to remember how serious a problem smallpox was at this time. In 1921 there were 100,000 cases of smallpox in the U.S. alone, with mortality as high as 40%. One can only wonder how many Witnesses suffered real physical harm or even death as a result of conforming to the Society's ban on vaccination.

1940 - Report of a doctor donating a quart of his own blood during an emergency. It was portrayed as heroic (Consolation, 12/25, p. 19, #53).

1945 - Blood transfusions and blood products are officially banned as "pagan and God-dishonoring." (Watchtower 7/1/45, p. 198-201)

1949 - Organ transplants are discussed as unobjectionable and "wonders of modern surgery." (12/22/49 - "Spare Parts for Your Body")

1951 - Clayton J. Woodworth, editor of the Golden Age/Consolation until it became Awake in 1946, passes away and is buried on December 18, 1951. (Watchtower 2/15/52, p. 128)

1952 - In a letter dated April 15, 1952, vaccinations, such as smallpox, are now officially allowed. Many Witnesses have already been taking them for a dozen years or so, and the Society has known that smallpox vaccination does not contain blood ever since being advised of this by a Witness named William Cetnar. It is certainly reasonable to speculate that the ban wasn't officially lifted until 1952 out of respect for Clayton J. Woodworth who was so strongly opposed to vaccines. Watchtower 12/15/52 P. 764

1953 - "Vaccinations are no longer considered feeding on blood and no longer considered related to sex relations. (Make Sure, P. 48, #47).

1954 - Blood serums are wrong. "We are told that it takes one and a third pints of whole blood to get enough of the blood protein or "fraction" known as gamma globulin for one injection... its being made of whole blood places it in the same category as blood transfusions as far as Jehovah's prohibition of taking blood into the system is concerned."- Awake! 01/08/1954 p. 24

1958 - An answer to a "Questions From Readers" explains that an anointed sister should be allowed to partake of the emblems at the memorial if she has had a blood transfusion, reasoning that she is simply immature. (Watchtower 8/1/58, p.478)

1958 - Blood serums are OK. Important ruling on blood serums like diphtheria antitoxin and gamma globulin states that these may be used as a matter of personal judgment. (Watchtower 9/15/58, p.575)

1959 - Blood has to be poured out, therefore, it would be wrong to remove one's own blood, store it and later put it back. (Watchtower 10/15/59, p. 640)

1961 - Accepting blood or a banned blood product is made punishable by disfellowshipping. (Watchtower 1/15/61, p. 63-64)

1961 - Organ donation is a matter of conscience. (Watchtower 8/1/61, p. 480)

1961 - Personality traits, the impulses to commit murder and suicide are transmitted in the blood. (Watchtower 9/15/61, p. 564)

1963 - Blood serums are wrong. 1958 ruling is overturned. Any fraction of blood is now considered as a nutrient and forbidden. Ruling does not apply to vaccines. (Watchtower 2/15/63, p. 124) Note: Published comments from the WTS in 1961 had created much confusion about blood serums.

1964 - Blood serums are OK. Just 21 months later the position reverses again! This is the fourth complete reversal in seven years. (Watchtower 11/15/1964 pp. 680-3) View our database of WTS published positions on blood serums.

1964 - Witness doctors may administer transfusions to non-Witness patients. (Watchtower 11/15/64, p.682)

1966 - Blood transfusion is referred to as cannibalism (Watchtower, 7/1, p. 401, #57).

1967 - Organ transplants are now cannibalism. This is another total reversal. Organ donation is now strongly advised against. (Watchtower 11/15/67, p. 702)

1971 - The heart is not just a pump, it is linked to the brain through nerves and is the actual organ where affections, motivations, desires and emotions are literally formed. (Watchtower3/1/71, p. 133-135)

1974 - Another complete reversal on blood serums. They are once again a matter that must be left for each individual conscience, though the article seems to be hinting that they are not such a great idea. (Watchtower 6/1/74, p. 352)

1975 - As to the treating of hemophilia with plasma factors the Society says of course, that true Christians do not use this treatment, heeding the Bibles command to abstain from blood. (Awake 2/22, p.30, #74).

1975 - Four months later a reversal. The Governing Body decides that blood fractions for Hemophiliacs are acceptable as a matter of conscience. Beginning in the early 1970's brothers were told that they could accept a one time only treatment. Those phoning the Society after June 11th are told that they may make a personal decision about whether or not to use Factor VIII and IX. This policy will not become official for three more years, apparently because the governing body does not want to officially reverse itself so quickly. Those who have written about using factor VIII and IX are contacted directly by the society. Those who called by phone cannot be contacted and likely die.

1975 - Those who accept organ transplants and blood transfusions may suffer a personality transplant as well. (Watchtower 9/1/75, p. 519)

1977 - Blood transfusions are now considered organ transplants, and parents must be allowed to refuse blood transfusion for their children. ( Jehovah's Witnesses and the Question of Blood, p.41)

1978 - A softer position on serums. They are apparently not a method of "sustaining life." Hemophiliacs now officially learn that may accept treatment with blood components or fractions, if they had called the Society they would already have learned this some 3 years before, if they didn't call, then they were probably dead by then. Witnesses may use heart-lung machines if primed with non blood fluids. (Watchtower 6/15/78, p. 30-31)

1980 - More "new light" on organ transplants. In a complete reversal, they are no longer to be considered cannibalism, and elders should not take judicial actions against a Witness who has one. (Watchtower 3/15/80, p. 31)

1980 - The Society is now setting up hundreds of HLC's or Hospital Liaison Committees. Lists of sympathetic doctors are kept, and the committees will endeavor to circumvent doctors of social service agencies who try to intervene on behalf of minors.

1982 - The Society introduces it's doctrine of major and minor blood components. Minor products are allowed, major ones are forbidden. Hemodilution is listed as objectionable. (Awake 6/22/82, p.25)

1984 - Bone marrow is discussed as a matter of conscience, but seems to be discouraged. (Watchtower 5/14/84, p. 31)

1984 - The Society quietly abandons the idea that literal heart is responsible for affections, motivations, desires and emotions. (Watchtower 9/1/84, p. 6)

1985 - AIDS is seized upon to give credibility to the Society's position on blood. (Watchtower 6/15/85, p. 30)

1988 - AIDS has become a world-wide problem the Society frequently sites as proof of the correctness of their doctrine, and claims that their policy has protected Jehovah's Witnesses from AIDS. They acknowledge that some 10,000 Americans with severe Hemophilia have been infected. What they fail to mention is that these individuals were infected because of treatment with Factor VIII and IX, which have been on the approved list for the past ten years or more. The Society's position was no protection at all for these Witnesses. We estimate that several dozen Witnesses contracted AIDS in this manner. (Awake 10/8/88, p. 11)

1989 - The Society appears to open the door to some intraoperative autologous transfusions. Though not mentioned by name, it is implied that use of scavenging techniques are permissible. (Watchtower 3/1/89, p. 30,31)

1991 - Witnesses are encouraged to rehearse what answers they will give if questioned by a judge. (KM - 3/91)

1992 - The Society tells us not to be concerned about whether or not food contains blood unless we have good reason to suspect that it does. (Watchtower 10/15/92, p. 30)

1994 - "Youths Who Put God First" - Article about Witness youths who have died as a result of the blood prohibition. (Awake 5/22/94, p.3-15)

Discussion of RH factor (made from blood serum). Article states that "this journal and it's companion have commented consistently on this matter." (Awake 12/8/94, p.27) Note the RH injection was absolutely forbidden until 1974, and still discouraged until 1978. Witnesses who receive this type of blood transfusion are typed and receive the same identifying wrist ban as any other transfusion recipient.

1995 - A Witness may have his own blood transfused back into him under certain circumstances. Acute Normovolemic Hemodilution (ANH) and autologous blood salvage procedure (Cell Saver) are acceptable and involve brief storing of the blood outside of the body. (Watchtower 8/1/95, p. 30)

1997 - Elders encouraged to help and provide understanding for those who have accepted blood transfusions. In judicial cases elders will remember that love is the backbone of Christianity, and they will temper firmness with mercy. (Watchtower 2/15/97, p. 20)

1997 - Dan Sydlik, Governing Body member, fails to respond to a plea for assistance in reforming the blood issue. On February 23rd, the web site NEW LIGHT ON BLOOD, comes on line, and the reform movement begins to organize.

1997 - The Watchtower Society allows a Jehovah's Witness in Australia to accept a new therapy involving the transfusion of white blood cells. These are still listed as a prohibited blood product by the Watchtower. The procedure is called "autografting", which sounds more like transplants than transfusion, and the setting of leukapheresis is for CD34+, rather than usual granulocyte. Learn more about this procedure.

1997 - A group of eight HLC members and a handful of other Jehovah's Witness elders being to regularly communicate. In June, AJWRB is born.

1997 - Mass mailings to Jehovah's Witnesses begin in November.

1998 - A final plea is made directly to the Governing Body in March. Major medical journals begin to focus attention on the blood reform movement within the WTS and the ethical controversy grows. Foreign language versions of "New Light on Blood" begin to appear.

1999 - The WTS seeks to identify and disfellowship anyone connected with AJWRB.

1999 - AJWRB holds first major medical exhibit at the American College of Emergency Physicians conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

2000 - In the spring, Circuit overseers in the United States receive a letter instructing them to inform local bodies of elder not to disfellowship anyone who accepts blood transfusions. If their conduct becomes known and they are deemed unrepentant, they will be considered to have disassociated themselves.

2000 - In June the Watchtower institutes sweeping reforms of its blood  policy. "...when it comes to fractions of any of the primary components, each Christian, after careful and prayerful meditation, must conscientiously decide for himself." This lays the foundation for members to accept oxygen carrying hemoglobin solutions. (Watchtower 6/15/00 p.29-31) Reports soon filter in from the media confirming the new policy on hemoglobin. In September it becomes evident that the WTS will permit the use of bovine hemoglobin.

2000 - In October the Journal of Medical Ethics publishes what amounts to a crushing defeat of the Watchtower's position in the medical ethics community. These groundbreaking articles open the door to the larger medical community.

2000 - AJWRB hosts a large exhibit at the American Society of Anesthesiologists convention in San Francisco, USA. in October.

2001 - In January the British Medical Journal (BMJ) publishes the article "Bioethical aspects of the recent changes in the
policy of refusal of blood by Jehovah's Witnesses". The article is published online and extensive debate quickly ensues in the BMJ rapid response publishing system.

2001 - In February AJWRB publishes a new diagram which illustrates the revised Watchtower policy which in essence permits 100% of blood to be used in fractionated from.

2004 - The June 15th Watchtower expands on the June 15, 2000 article. For the first time, the rank and file Jehovah's Witness learns that the single largest blood component (hemoglobin) is now permitted as a matter of personal choice. (Insiders and AJWRB members have known for four years. JW's have been using Polyheme and Hemopure where available in clinical trials as well).

Footnotes:

1. Bruce M. Metzger: A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 430-1

2. Bruce M. Metzger: The Text of the New Testament, 1968, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 132


The Evolution of the Watchtower Blood Policy

by Zack Daniels

In order to understand how the Society’s objections to transfusion medicine were originally conceived and formulated, it must first be realized that mankind has not always understood just exactly what part blood played in sustaining the life of the body. A very basic misconception that existed from the time of Claudius Galen in the 2nd century clear up to the late 19th century was the belief that the blood was ultimately the food upon which the body internally sustained itself. This misunderstanding can be found here and there in the literature of the time period and even beyond because it continued to be a "laymen’s misconception" even into the 20th century. As an example of how this misconception influenced the thinking of even intelligent well educated people in times past, consider this quote from the 1898 novel War Of The Worlds:

"Strange as it may seem to a human being, all the complex apparatus of digestion, which makes up the bulk of our bodies, did not exist in the Martians....They did not eat, much less digest. Instead they took the fresh living blood of other creatures and injected it into their own veins."
H. G. Well's fanciful speculation as to how a highly evolved race might sustain themselves reflects the complete misunderstanding that existed as to just exactly what role blood played in nourishing the body. When blood is viewed in this light, it is perfectly understandable why the Society would have objected on scriptural grounds to the practice of blood transfusion, because if blood is ultimately the food upon which our bodies are sustained, then receiving the blood of someone else would in a very real sense constitute a "feeding" upon the blood of another creature. The link between the eating of blood and the transfusion of blood was first made in the July 1, 1945 issue of The Watchtower, pages 200,201 which said:
"Among the barbarous and fierce, savage nations, such as the Scythians, Tartars, desert Arabs, Scandinavians, etc., who lived most on animal blood, there were some even who drank the blood of their enemies after making cups of their skulls. And quite interestingly, in our consultation of various works on the subject of blood, this related item came to light on page 113, column one, of Volume 4 of The Encyclopedia Americana, Revised Edition of 1929:
"Transfusion of blood dates as far back as the time of the ancient Egyptians. The earliest reported case is that practiced on Pope Innocent VIII in 1492. The operation cost the lives of three youths and the Pontiff’s life was not saved. Great strides in the research and practice of transfusion on animals were made after Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood in the middle of the 17th century. Physicians in Germany, England and France were especially active in the work of blood transfusion after this discovery. They reasoned that as the blood is the principal medium by which the body is nourished, transfusion, therefore, is a quicker and shorter road to feed an ill-nourished body than eating food which turns to blood after several changes. So transfusion was thought of not only as a cure, but also a rejuvenator."
It should be noted that the quote from the 1929 Encyclopedia Americana which was reproduced in The Watchtower presented this information not as current thinking in the field of medicine, but as the opinions of researchers in the 17th century. Certainly by 1945, it was known that this viewpoint was inaccurate. Why this fact would have been overlooked is hard to say today in 1998, but the fact that we are dealing with the perceptions of individuals whose ideas and personal views had probably been formed many years even before 1945 is undoubtedly a factor. In the next five years, this error was further compounded as the Society began to authoritatively teach that there was no physical difference whatsoever between the transfusion of a blood product and the eating of whole blood.

By the year 1950, this view had solidified to the point where the Society was referring to both as simply the "transfer" of blood (see for example W50 pp. 80 & 143) This viewpoint was crystal clear in explanations such as the one that appeared in the July 1, 1951 issue of The Watchtower on page 415:

A patient in the hospital may be fed through the mouth, through the nose, or through the veins. When sugar solutions are given intravenously, it is called intravenous feeding. So the hospital's own terminology recognizes as feeding the process of putting nutrition into one's system via the veins. Hence the attendant administering the transfusion is feeding the patient blood through the veins, and the patient receiving it is eating it through his veins.
It is obvious from these statements that in the Society’s view, blood was ‘nutrition’ and a transfusion was an ‘intravenous feeding’ not materially different in nature than the administration of Dextran. Ten years later, the Society was still laboring under this same misconception. For example, the September 15, 1961 issue of The Watchtower on page 558 attempted to substantiate the validity of this viewpoint with a slightly different explanation:
It is of no consequence that the blood is taken into the body through the veins instead of the mouth. Nor does the claim by some that it is not the same as intravenous feeding carry weight. The fact is that it nourishes or sustains the life of the body. In harmony with this is a statement in the book Hemorrhage and Transfusion, by George W. Crile, A.M., M.D., who quotes a letter from Denys, French physician and early researcher in the field of transfusions. It says: "In performing transfusion it is nothing else than nourishing by a shorter road than ordinary—that is to say, placing in the veins blood all made in place of taking food which only turns to blood after several changes."
Here we see the same misconception about blood repeated again; that food was converted into blood and that blood itself was what actually nourished the body. A virtually identical quote appeared on page 14 of the booklet "Blood, Medicine and the Law of God." (1961) What the Society didn't bother to tell anyone in either of these quotes however was that the book Hemorrhage and Transfusion: An Experimental and Clinical Research had been published in 1909 and could not by any stretch of the imagination have been considered an authoritative medical text 52 years later. Further, the Society did not inform anyone that Jean Babtiste Denys had done his research in the 1600's and had been dead for 257 years by 1961. Much more disturbing than these two lapses however is the way in which this quote deliberately gives the incorrect impression that the viewpoint being promoted was one which had the support of a semi-modern medical authority, George W. Crile himself. This is apparent from the study question for this paragraph which asked:

What shows that the transfusing of blood is a "feeding" on blood?

What follows however, is the complete quote from the original book as it appears in Chapter VII "A Brief History Of Transfusion."

"In the same year Denys of Montpellier, wrote concerning experiments which he performed on animals. He followed Lower's method in a general way except that he did not withdraw enough blood from the donor to cause death. He also tried transfusion from three calves to three dogs with success in each case. In a letter to M. de Montmore he describes two transfusions which he made on patients. His idea was that "In practicing transfusion one can only imitate the example of nature which, in order to nourish the fetus in the uterus of the mother, makes a continuous transfusion of the blood of the mother into the body of the infant through the umbilical vein. In performing transfusion it is nothing else than nourishing by a shorter road than ordinary--that is to say, placing in the veins blood all made in place of taking food which only turns to blood after several changes" (Hemorrhage and Transfusion: An Experimental and Clinical Research pp. 153, 154)
When viewed in its proper context, it is obvious that Crile was simply providing a historical narrative of the accidents, ignorance, and mistakes that befell the early researchers in this field and not seriously agreeing with the humorous level of ignorance which he had found in a 252 year old (in 1909) research paper. Further, no one in their right mind even in 1909, let alone 1961, would have seriously believed Deny's own reason for making that statement----that the blood of the mother was continuously transfused into the body of the infant. (In an incredible twist of irony, today, the maternal/fetal relationship is used as a basis for disallowing certain blood components.)

Even if we are to discount the element of dishonesty which was beginning to manifest itself in the treatment of this subject, we are still left with a clear example of a gross misunderstanding of basic biology on the part of the Society. For anyone in 1961 with even a high school education to claim that the body was directly nourished by the blood was absurd. Your blood carries nourishment to the cells of your body. This is done by the blood plasma and its solutes. Each and every cell of your body is nourished on an individual basis by being in direct contact with the blood stream. Your digestive system breaks the food you eat down into soluble materials that can diffuse into the plasma, namely amino acids, simple sugars, fatty acids, trace elements (vitamins and minerals) and water. The plasma, being mostly water itself, functions simply as the means of conveyance, in a manner analogous to the way your hand is the means of conveyance whereby nourishment is carried to your mouth. You don't bite the fingers off of your hand and swallow them when you eat, and the individual cells of your body do not devour your blood as it goes by and this was certainly known in the 1950’s and early 60’s. Despite this though, the Society’s statements on the blood issue during this time period all reflected this mistaken idea. The 1953 edition of the publication "Make Sure Of All Things" on page 47 gave this definition of blood transfusion:

"Transferring blood from the veins or arteries of one person to another. As in intravenous feeding, it is A feeding on blood. An unscriptural practice."
Eventually though, the organization began to realize that this view was seriously in error. In the next rationale, an attempt was made to address this problem by providing a more up-to-date explanation as to why it was felt that a transfusion would constitute a "feeding" upon blood. This appeared in the December 1, 1967 issue of The Watchtower on page 720, one month after the new understanding prohibiting organ transplants was introduced:
In a further argument for transfusion, it is claimed that what is transfused is merely a vehicle to convey food directly to the human body, and that the body does not feed on the vehicle itself. We therefore ask the question: After the transfused vehicular blood has released its oxygen and food elements to the body tissues of the patient, is this vehicular blood extracted from the patient's body and transfused back into the body of the blood donor? This would be quite embarrassing and impossible, especially where the blood donor or donors are not known or if the blood has been taken from a newly dead cadaver. So the transfused vehicular material is left in the patient's body. What then? Well, in the course of the years during which the human body renews itself into a new body, this vehicular blood is used or consumed by the patient's body, the same as any other transplant of an organ. In what way, then, does this outworking of things differ essentially from feeding on the transfused blood? The results are the same: the patient's body does sustain itself by transfused stuff.
Please note that the Society here was killing two birds with one stone as it were by simultaneously explaining their objections to organ transplants and blood transfusions using the exact same explanation for both. Donated organs taken into the body via transplant as well as donated blood taken into the body via transfusion were both viewed as being "eaten" in principle for the same reason. Although this explanation was sounder from a medical and biological standpoint, it was inconsistent in a ‘real world’ application because the process of metabolic breakdown and cellular renewal that was described happens with our own blood and our own organs as well. If this process as the Society claimed does in fact constitute "eating" than everyone is guilty because by the Society's own interpretation of the Bible, it is just as much a violation to eat our own blood as to eat someone else's blood. Therefore this rationale effectively condemned everyone on the whole planet. With the reversal on the prohibition against organ transplants in 1980 this rationale had to be dropped. This was also the last attempt to produce an explanation that directly equated a blood transfusion with the eating of blood. It can be seen therefore that the Society was starting to run into some very serious problems in maintaining their original viewpoint by the late 60’s. It must be remembered that the mistaken notion about blood actually being a nutrient was the foundational cornerstone of their objection to transfusion medicine as the September 15, 1958 issue of The Watchtower on page 575 clearly shows:
Each time the prohibition of blood is mentioned in the Scriptures it is in connection with taking it as food, and so it is as a nutrient that we are concerned with in its being forbidden.(bold added)
However, blood in and of itself is not a nutrient and because of this a blood transfusion does not nourish the body, does not have as its design the nourishing of the body, and is not given because the patient needs nourishment. This is a fact that the Society has by degrees been forced to silently concede.

Overlapping the second explanation but outlasting it in the end, a third rationale drew an analogy between blood and other substances. For example: certain substances have the same effect on the body whether they are taken orally or by injection and thus a prohibition against taking one of these orally would also apply to taking it intravenously. This principle was said to be equally true with blood. This analogy appeared as long ago as 1968 in the publication "The Truth That Leads To Eternal Life" and as recently as 1989 in the publication "Reasoning From The Scriptures." In both of these books alcohol was the substance used in the analogy. In the booklet "Jehovah's Witnesses and the Question Of Blood." (1977) on page 18, the same line of reasoning was used, this time with antibiotics:

Doctors know that a person can be fed through the mouth or intravenously. Likewise, certain medicines can be administered through various routes. Some antibiotics, for instance, can be taken orally in tablet form or injected into a person's muscles or circulatory system (intravenously). What if you had taken a certain antibiotic tablet and, because of having a dangerous allergic reaction, were warned to abstain from that drug in the future? Would it be reasonable to consider that medical warning to mean that you could not take the drug in tablet form but could safely inject it into your bloodstream? Hardly! The main point would not be the route of administration, but that you should abstain from that antibiotic altogether. Similarly, the decree that Christians must 'abstain from blood' clearly covers the taking of blood into the body, whether through the mouth or directly into the bloodstream.
With substances like alcohol and certain antibiotics it makes no difference how they are administered since the end result --the absorption by the body-- is the same. If a doctor forbade you to drink alcohol, naturally you couldn't inject it into your blood stream either because it would have the same undesirable result. However, would this mean that you couldn't use a mouthwash or cough syrup that contained alcohol, or use alcohol as a topical antiseptic or in an aftershave? Of course not. The very idea is absurd since the end result is either not the same at all, or the benefits far outweigh the risks. In the case of blood, is the end result of receiving a transfusion the same as if you had eaten the blood?

A viable blood product like packed RBC 's for example is alive; it is living tissue. This is the whole reason that blood products typically have a limited shelf life. When they are no longer viable, they are useless. When they are eaten, the digestive process kills this living tissue. Blood transfused however, retains its form and resumes its divinely designed function in the body of the recipient. For all intents and purposes then, a blood transfusion is an organ transplant. Even the Blood booklet itself on page 41 acknowledged this fact:

Consequently, whether having religious objections to blood transfusions or not, many a person might decline blood simply because it is essentially an organ transplant that at best is only partially compatible with his own blood. [bold added] - Jehovah's Witnesses and the Question of Blood, p.41
Therefore, there is a basic and fundamental difference between eating blood as food and having it transfused. It is the same difference between eating another human's kidney and receiving it as a transplant. The two acts are radically different which fact the Society now recognizes. There was no basis then for comparing the transplant of living tissue in a manner consistent with its design purpose with the taking of a substance which is simply absorbed by the body no matter how it is administered. The ludicrous nature of the Society's analogy can easily be shown by comparison:
"Consider a man who is told by his doctor that he must abstain from alcohol. Would he be obedient if he quit drinking alcohol but had it put directly into his veins?" Reasoning from the Scriptures p. 73
"Consider a man who is told by his doctor that he must abstain from meat. Would he be obedient if he quit eating meat but accepted a kidney transplant?"
Clearly there is no connection between the eating and digesting of food and the transplant of living tissue. The two acts are completely unconnected. The alcohol/antibiotic vs. blood analogy amounts to nothing more than a sophism. This may sound a little harsh but it must be realized that an analogy is only a figure of speech, a way of making a statement by drawing a comparison. An analogy like any other speaking technique can be used to say absolutely anything no matter whether it be right or wrong. Typically, false analogies rely upon false comparisons as their starting point. This can be seen in the Society’s analogy which relies upon the reader’s acceptance of an equality between the transplant of a living tissue like blood and the injection of a substance such as alcohol. The validity of any analogy lies not in the analogy itself but in the actual proof that the comparison to be made is indeed a valid one, which normally would be offered first.

The year 1980 brought a reversal on the Society's 1967 ruling on the question of organ transplants. They were now allowed as a matter of conscience again. This further weakened the case against blood transfusions. Remember that in 1967 organ transplants had been condemned for the exact same reason that blood transfusions were. Now, that reason was officially retracted. After having said publicly that taking a donated organ into the body via transplant need not be viewed as eating it in principle, the Society could not very well at this point fall back on the explanation they had just rejected and say that taking donated blood into the body via transfusion was eating it, especially after having admitted just three years prior to this that a blood transfusion was "essentially an organ transplant."

In our view, this was the point at which the Society completely lost their case against blood transfusions. No longer could they without contradiction, make the claim that a blood transfusion was the same even in principle as the eating of blood and because of this, the original ties to the scriptural prohibition against eating blood were damaged beyond repair. The Society did not give up, but from this point forward any explanation establishing a link between blood transfusions and the eating of blood would only be made in the vaguest, most roundabout of ways.

In the brochure How Can Blood Save Your Life? (1990) on page 6 the attempt was again made to link the eating of blood with transfusions by quoting from a 17th century professor of anatomy named Thomas Bartholin, who thought the two were similar:

Similar is the receiving of alien blood from a cut vein, either through the mouth or by instruments of transfusion. The authors of this operation are held in terror by the divine law, by which the eating of blood is prohibited.'
The Society did not even attempt to explain why the two were similar, relying entirely on the quote from Bartholin. However, since they themselves had quite evidently misunderstood the role that blood played just 30 years before this, why are we now supposed to accept the thoughts of a man from over 300 years ago? Bartholin was obviously reasoning under the same misconception about just exactly what blood really did in the body as his contemporary, Denys (and everyone else in the 17th century for that matter.) In Bartholin's day leeches and laxatives were the sovereign remedy for everything, and the administering of anesthetic to a patient required the placing of a metal bowl over the head and striking it with a hammer. He died 184 years before the issue of spontaneous generation would be settled and 92 years before oxygen would be discovered. He may well have been a good man, but accurate observations on medical matters require accurate knowledge of the issues involved.

Finally the explanations ceased altogether. In the largest recent article on the blood issue, entitled "Treasure the Real Life" which appeared in the January 15 1995 issue of The Watchtower, no attempt at all was made to explain why a blood transfusion would be the same as eating blood. In order to cope with the complete absence of even a tiny shred of proof that would in any way substantiate this idea, the Society has had to resort to embroidering the scriptures, that is to say rephrasing the pertinent texts in a way which greatly enlarges their scope. The most common of these rewordings in the publications is referred to as "The Creator's ban on taking in blood to sustain life." There are a number of problems with this approach though.

First of all, stating Jehovah's law in terms this draconian would prohibit any and all uses of blood. This is quite impossible to harmonize with the Society's current position which allows some blood components and prohibits others.

The most obvious problem with this approach however, is that NOWHERE in the Bible can you find Jehovah's law on blood expressed in these terms. At no place in the Bible is a distinction ever drawn as to the motives one might have in eating blood. It didn't matter if it sustained your life or not and because of this 'sustaining life' was not an issue. In like fashion the substitution of the word 'eat' with the phrase 'taking in' is completely meaningless and even diversionary because nowhere in the Bible is it even hinted that blood could enter your body in a way other than by eating and because of this the broader aspect of 'taking in' (e.g. a tissue transplant) is not an issue either. The facts prove that, the transfusion of a blood product is not analogous to eating it.

Rephrasing the Bible in this way makes it appear to say something that in reality it doesn't say at all. One has to wonder why there would be a need to rephrase the scriptures in the first place? To attempt to prove a point that has not and cannot be proven with reason and logic? One would logically suppose that Jehovah God, the creator of language itself would be capable of clearly and distinctly expressing his will to his servants in a way that would eliminate the need for subsequent generations to add to it, reinterpret it and reword it.

In view of the pejorative nature of the argumentation that has been used to uphold the prohibition on blood transfusions, one might wonder why the Society has stuck so doggedly to the position that transfusions do in fact constitute a feeding upon blood. I cannot begin to explain all the reasons, but the foremost would have to be that this is a moral necessity on the Society's part.

When one considers the question from purely a legal standpoint, it takes no great insight to realize that showing the act in question to be prohibited by proving that it definitely does fall under the umbrella of what the law specifically states is a much sounder approach than stretching the law to cover an act that definitely falls outside those boundaries by the arbitrary claim that the law could have/should have/might have meant more than what is specifically stated. Even if this would be permissible from a legal standpoint, it must be remembered that we are dealing with a religious, not a legal question. As a religious stand based upon the Bible, there are some very strong scriptural precedents that rule out the "stretch the law to fit the situation" approach. The Society has always been cognizant of the moral necessity of providing a clear link which would positively place the medical procedure of transfusion within the definitive boundaries of what was specifically forbidden in scripture, namely the eating of blood. This was stated very succinctly over 40 years ago:

It is his law we are seeking to comply with in this matter of blood, and after we have followed his requirement to bleed the animal, and thus met his demands, is that not sufficient? We need not become absurd and quibble like a Pharisee, piling on burdens beyond the requirements of divine law.-Matt. 23:4. w51 7/1 415 Questions from Readers
For anyone to take what they have speculated and conjectured upon individually as to what the prohibition against eating blood might mean in the context of 20th century medicine, and elevate it to where it becomes the absolute standard that others are forced to accept and believe in, emphatically does mean to commit the "Sin of the Pharisee's" in the fullest sense of the term.

Therefore it should be self-evident that as long as the acceptance of a blood product remains a disfellowshiping offense, the need to positively link a transfusion with the original biblical prohibition has never become a non-issue and never will. However that is exactly the problem the Society now faces. If the original premise is to be accepted by anyone today, it should not be too much to ask for them to justify this premise with a logical explanation. How could anyone expect parents to make these kind of health-care decisions for their children if the underlying principles cannot be adequately explained?

In this regard, it can be seen that despite 53 years of trying, no lucid explanation has ever been given. Today the Society is reduced to rewording the Bible and using misconceptions about blood from the 1600's as proof of their claim. The fact that the Society cannot quote from a single modern source is further symptomatic of the problem they now face, which is that the very reason that blood transfusions were declared as unscriptural in the first place was based upon a mistaken premise. No medical doctor anywhere (including those who are Witnesses) will come forward in support of this position. For this reason, the Society today no longer even attempts to explain why transfusions would fall under the prohibition against eating blood because it has become impossible to perpetuate the original mistaken premise.