The Bible and Blood Transfusions

An examination of the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine on this topic from scripture.


By Tom Smith

Last Update: September 15, 2006



The official doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (formally referred to as the "Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society", herein abbreviated "Watchtower Society) regarding the use of blood transfusions to oppose blood transfusions based upon the belief that the Bible prohibits the taking of blood, combined with the view that somehow the blood has spiritual significance (the belief that the "soul" is found in the blood) and thus that the taking in of blood from another person could affect their eternal destiny. This doctrine is based in part upon the understanding of Jehovah’s Witnesses that this verse from Isaiah prohibits intake of blood in any form:

Gen 9:4

4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.


The Watchtower Society teaches that the reference in this verse to not eating blood actually means that they are not permit to intake blood in any way. The Watchtower Society further extends the meaning of this reference to include human blood in addition to animal blood, even though human blood is not mentioned in the context, and they equate the reference to “life” to mean "soul". In fact the New World Translation(5) of the Bible issued by the Watch Tower Society changes the word to read “soul” instead of "life".


The Watchtower Society also interprets Acts 15:29 as prohibiting blood transfusions:

Acts 15:28-29

28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.


This article will examine each of these interpretations by looking at what scripture has to say regarding these points in context.

History of the Doctrine

Over the years, the position of the Jehovah Witnesses with respect to blood has varied. For example, the Watch Tower Society prohibited vaccinations in the 1930s but reversed their position to allow them in the 1950s. The Watch Tower Society subsequently prohibited organ transplants in 1967, and then reversed their position and permitted them in 1980. The latter position was based upon the belief that scripture does not speak about organ transplants and therefore they leave this up to the individual. On this point, though, I wonder how they justify this considering the fact that it would be difficult, if not impossible to avoid blood with an organ transplant, like say a heart? Would that not also affect the soul? How does the body differentiate between blood, which comes into the body through an organ transplant, and that which enters via a transfusion? How much blood is acceptable? Lastly, do you know of a single medical doctor anywhere who equates a blood transfusion with the eating of blood?

What does Scripture Say?

Let us first deal with the verse from Genesis 9:4.

Gen 9:4

4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.


The context of this verse indicates that it was directed towards Noah and his family after they had come out of the ark on to dry land, and represents one of the dietary laws of the Old Testaments. This was one of the laws which was fulfilled when Christ came, shed his blood, and rose again, fulfilling the prophetic significance of many of the Old Testament laws.

Acts 10:12-16

12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." 14 But Peter said, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean." 15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.


Further, as stated previously in this article, the reference here is to animal blood, which is eaten, not human blood that is used in a blood transfusion. There is no credible medical publication anywhere, which would equate a blood transfusion with eating blood.


As for the argument as to whether the blood carries the soul in it, let’s look at the context of this verse, by looking at what scripture says immediately following:

Gen 9:5-7

5 Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man.  6 "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. 7 And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; Bring forth abundantly in the earth  And multiply in it."


The context is that the word “life” does not actually mean life, because it is referring to life and death. The word use for life in this context is “nephesh” which means a breathing creature, or literally, that it is alive, not that it has a soul. (Reference: Strong Concordance). Further, if we were to interpret it as “soul”, this would suggest that the animals (which the verse refers to in context) have souls. Thus in context, this verse means exactly what it says. It refers to the eating of animal blood, and cannot in any way be taken to refer to blood transfusions, or to suggest that a man’s soul is in the blood.


Let's cross reference Genesis 9:4 to Leviticus 3:17 which states:

Lev 3:17

17 'This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall eat neither fat nor blood.' "


If the Watch Tower Society were using a consistent approach to interpretation, they would ban the eating of fat as well as blood based upon this verse. Yet we have never heard of a prohibition by the Watchtower Society against eating fat. The Watch Tower Society also does not prohibit eating meat which has blood in it, which is in fact what Genesis 9:4 specifically speaks about. It is interesting to know that the Jews meticulously drain the blood out of all their meat, yet accept blood transfusions. Thus they do not equate transfusions with eating. Though we should not base our understanding of scripture upon the interpretation of any specific group, the fact that the Jews, to whom this was written and in whose language this was originally written, do not understand the word "life" the way that the Watch Tower Society does is worthy of note.


In yet another inconsistency in the application and interpretation of scripture, the Watch Tower Society does permit a Jehovah’s Witness to use, at their own discretion, constituent parts of the blood, but not the whole blood itself. Here is a quote from, which is a website maintained by the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

"The other policy change came in the form of an article in the 15 June 2000 issue of the official magazine Watchtower.11 After defining the "primary components" of blood (red and white blood cells, platelets, and plasma) that must be refused, the article stated that "beyond that, when it comes to fractions of any of the primary components, each Christian, after careful and prayerful meditation, must conscientiously decide for himself." Although some of these fractions, such as albumin and globulin, had already been considered a matter of personal decision, this new policy declared that "fractions of any of the primary components" are now acceptable. One of the most noteworthy points of this change is that the fractions or parts derived from prohibited cellular components are now permitted. The new policy cites interferons and interleukins as examples, but the most profound impact will be seen when and if haemoglobin based blood substitutes are introduced into general use. As recently as 1998 two representatives of the Watchtower Society wrote to a journal for researchers of blood substitutes stating that "[Jehovah's Witnesses] do not accept hemoglobin which is a major part of red blood cells . . . According to these principles then, Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept a blood substitute which uses hemoglobin taken from a human or animal source."12 As haemoglobin based blood substitutes are now used in clinical trials with some success, this reversal of the ban on haemoglobin may have a major impact on the medical care of patients who are Jehovah's Witnesses who may participate in such trials.13 "

It appears that the Watch Tower Society also believes that under some circumstances, blood products are okay, so they obviously do not even interpret either Genesis 9:4 or Lev 3:17 to be an absolute prohibition against the intake of blood. Further, how did they determine which part of the blood it is in which the soul resides? I have also been advised by Jehovah's Witnesses that since the Bible makes no clear statement about the immediate re-infusion of a patient's own blood during surgery, a medical process known as blood salvaging, the use of such treatments is a matter of personal choice. Of course the Bible makes no statement about infusion of the blood at all, but that does not appear to have impacted the doctrinal position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Let’s now look at Acts 15:29

Acts 15:28-29

28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.


There are some questions regarding the interpretation of Act 15:29. If you look at the context, it was a reaction against those who would try to force legalism on the Gentiles, and it was a decision made by the council to provide some guidance in this matter. Further, the reason for this prohibition was not to enforce legalism (as shown earlier - this was the exact opposite of the intent) but rather to avoid offending Jewish Christians (Acts 15:19-23). Thus, it was not a matter of the “soul” being in the blood, and thus an impact on our eternal destiny, but rather we are not to be a stumbling block to our brother in Christ.


The doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses prohibiting blood transfusions is not found in scripture. They are mis-using verses which refer to the eating of animal blood. The verse to which they refer, refer to eating of the blood, which they do not prohibit. The Watch Tower Society further is inconsistent in their interpretation and application of these verses and their own interpretation of the verses.





3)        New World Translation (NWT) of the Holy Scriptures, Copyright 1961, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.    

           The New World Translation of the Bible is a translation put out by the Watchtower Society which has been modified to support

           the doctrines of the Watchtower Society.

4)        Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994,

           Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.

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