Uncover the misinterpretation of Leviticus 17:10–14 by Jehovah's Witnesses, analyzing their views on blood transfusions in light of historical context, New Testament perspectives, and ethical implications in modern medicine.
Leviticus 17:10–14 is a scripture often cited by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses) to justify their strict prohibition against blood transfusions. This interpretation, however, raises significant questions when examined in the context of both the historical background and the broader biblical narrative. This analysis will explore how this passage has been misapplied, considering the original intent and the implications for modern medical practices.
Historical Context of Leviticus 17:10–14
The verses in Leviticus are part of the Mosaic Law, given to the Israelites as they formed a unique covenant community. The prohibition against consuming blood was rooted in the belief that life, represented by blood, belonged to God. This commandment was a reminder of their distinctiveness and God's sovereignty over life and death.
Biblical Interpretation and Hermeneutics
To interpret any biblical text accurately, one must consider the genre, historical context, and intended audience. Leviticus is a legal text meant for the Israelite community under the Old Covenant. New Testament teachings and the fulfillment of the Law in Christ significantly impact how Christians understand these Old Testament commandments.
The New Testament Perspective
In the New Testament, particularly in Acts 15:28-29, the early church decided that Gentile believers were not bound by the entire Mosaic Law. The commandment about blood was seen more as a matter of respecting Jewish sensitivities than a perpetual moral requirement. This context is crucial in understanding the application for Christians today, including Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Watchtower's Interpretation
Jehovah's Witnesses extend the prohibition in Leviticus to the medical practice of blood transfusions. They interpret the passage as an absolute, timeless command against the use of blood in any form. This interpretation, however, fails to differentiate between dietary laws specific to Israel and moral laws of universal applicability.
This misinterpretation has significant theological implications. It overlooks the New Testament's revelation of freedom in Christ from the Old Testament ceremonial laws. It also fails to recognize the principle of "loving one’s neighbor," which can include preserving life through medical means.
Ethical and Medical Considerations
Refusing blood transfusions on religious grounds raises ethical dilemmas in medical practice. While respecting religious beliefs is vital, it is also essential to consider the overarching biblical principle of preserving life. The rigid application of Leviticus in this matter overlooks the advancements in medical science intended to save lives.
Some Christian denominations interpret Leviticus 17:10–14 as a dietary law not applicable to modern medical practices like transfusions. They see these verses as unrelated to the life-saving medical procedure of transfusing blood, which was unknown in biblical times.
The Jehovah's Witnesses' interpretation of Leviticus 17:10–14 demonstrates a literalistic approach to Scripture, failing to consider the broader biblical narrative and the context of modern medical practices. While the respect for Scripture’s authority is commendable, their application in this instance appears to be a misinterpretation, lacking in hermeneutical and theological depth. Christians are called to interpret Scripture responsibly, considering the original context, audience, and the transformative work of Christ.
About the Author
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).
RECOMMENDED READING: ANSWERING THE CRITICS: Defending God's Word Against Modern Skepticism
RECOMMENDED READING: DISCOVERING THE ORIGINAL BIBLE: Accuracy, Authenticity, and Reliability
RECOMMENDED READING: ARCHAEOLOGY & THE OLD TESTAMENT
RECOMMENDED READING: ARCHAEOLOGY & THE NEW TESTAMENT
RECOMMENDED READING: THE MACCABEES: The Hasmonaean Dynasty between Malachi and Matthew
RECOMMENDED READING: HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE