Q: One of the passages the Jehovah Witnesses use to substantiate their refusal to have blood transfusions is Acts 15:28-29. Though we New Testament Christians know that the Old Testament civil and ceremonial regulations pertaining to Jews do not apply to us today (Col. 2:16, 17), how do we view the advice in Acts 15, “to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, horn the meat of strangled animals. . . “?
A: In Acts 15 the situation was this: There were some Jews, who supposedly had converted to Christianity but who still wanted to cling to circumcision, who abstained from certain foods, etc. These Judaizers forced this matter on the Gentiles who were recently converted. Legalistically, they insisted that, in order for one to have good standing before God as a believer, it was necessary for one to be circumcised and follow basically the civil and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament.
Paul and Barnabas were greatly disturbed by this. They brought the issue before the leaders of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. At this meeting Peter defended the Gentile converts who refused to go along with the ceremonial laws promoted by the Judaizers. To the Judaizers he said: “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). Peter knew that God had not commanded the Gentile believers to refrain from eating certain meats, for God had revealed this directly to Peter in Acts 10:15. Other passages that bear this out are: Romans 14:20, 1 Cor. 10:25-26, and I Cor. 6:8, 9.
The Old Testament Jews were forbidden to eat an animal that was not butchered but snared and killed by strangling, for it still had blood in it. Yet this was no longer forbidden to all Christians, since the Levitical laws had been done away with.
Even though the Jerusalem Council. had the proper understanding of faith in Christ’s grace alone as that which determines a Christian, the Council knew that Jewish Christians were sensitive to this matter. They knew that Jewish Christians could easily become offended by the noncompliance of the Gentiles, and that they might fall away from faith in Christ over it. So James asked the Gentile Christians to respect this feeling among their Jewish brothers, lest offense be given. A letter of advice was sent out to this effect. But in doing this, it needs to be underscored that the Council was not giving in to the Judaizers, nor would James and the other Christian leaders at Jerusalem have given in to the Jehovah Witnesses’ thinking on Acts 15, were they living today.
The Witnesses, who in their cultic ways take issue with Jesus’ deity, adhere to some of the Old Testament ceremonial laws. But they apply them today, not as matter of advice like the Jerusalem Council did; rather they view them as moral law, binding forever. They insist that their people not eat blood, and refer them for proof of this doctrine to Lev. 17:10, Deut. 12:15, 16 and Gen. 9:3, 4. In spite of the fact that blood transfusions are given intravenously, Jehovah Witnesses see this as eating blood, because “is it not true that when patient is unable to eat through his mouth, doctor often feed him by the same method in which a blood transfusion is administered?”
As we have shown, there is no justifiable reason for applying the advice in Acts 15:28-29, “to abstain from blood,” to the Jehovah Witness mindset which prohibits blood transfusions. Surely. all of Jehovah Witness theology comes under the harsh scrutiny the Lord Jesus’ words, “They worship me in vain their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matt 15:9).