We have thus considered the historical, secular and scientific aspects of the No Blood doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We continue with the final segments which address the biblical perspective. In this article we carefully examine the first of the three pivotal verses used to support the No Blood doctrine. Genesis 9:4 says:
“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” (NIV)
It is acknowledged that examining the biblical perspective necessarily involves entering the realm of lexicons, dictionaries, theologians and their commentaries, as well as using rationale to connect the dots. At times, we find common ground; at times, views are incompatible. In this article, I share a perspective that has theological support. However, I acknowledge one cannot be dogmatic on any point in which scripture itself is not clear and emphatic. What I share is a strong inclination, the most logical path I have discovered among available paths.
In preparing this article, I found it helpful to consider history from the third to sixth creative day, and then history from Adam’s creation to the flood. Very little was recorded by Moses in the first 9 chapters of Genesis dealing specifically with animals, sacrifices and animal meat (though the period from man’s creation spans more than 1600 years). We must connect the few dots available with solid lines of logic and rationale, looking to the ecosystem that surrounds us today as supporting the inspired record.
The World Before Adam
When I began compiling information for this article, I tried to imagine the earth at the time when Adam was created. Grass, plants, fruit trees and other trees were created on the third day, so they were fully established much as we see them today. The sea creatures and flying creatures were created on the fifth creative day, so their numbers and all their variety were teeming in the oceans and flocking in the trees. The animals moving upon the earth were created early in the sixth creative day according to their kinds (in varied climatic locations), so by the time that Adam came along, these had multiplied and were flourishing in variety all over the planet. Basically, the world when man was created was very similar to what we see when visiting a natural wildlife preservation somewhere on the planet today.
All living creation on land and sea (except humankind) were designed with a limited life span. The life cycle of being born or hatched, mating and giving birth or laying eggs, multiplying, then aging and dying, was all part of the cycle of the designed ecosystem. The community of living organisms all interacted with the nonliving environment (e.g. air, water, mineral soil, sun, atmosphere). It was truly a perfect world. Man marveled as he discovered the ecosystem we witness today:
“A blade of grass ‘eats’ sunlight through photosynthesis; an ant will then carry away and eat a kernel of grain from the grass; a spider will catch the ant and eat it; a praying mantis will eat the spider; a rat will eat the praying mantis; a snake will eat the rat;, a mongoose will eat the snake; and a hawk will then swoop down and eat the mongoose.” (The Scavengers’ Manifesto 2009 pp. 37-38)
Jehovah described his work as very good after each creative day. We can be certain that the ecosystem was part of his intelligent design. It was not a result of random chance, nor survival of the fittest. The planet was thus prepared to welcome its most important tenant, humankind. God gave man dominion over all the living creation. (Gen 1:26-28) When Adam came alive, he awoke to the most amazing wildlife retreat one could imagine. The global ecosystem was established and thriving.
Does not the above contradict Gen 1:30, where it states that living creatures ate vegetation for food? The record does state that God gave living creatures vegetation for food, not that all living creatures actually ate vegetation. Certainly, many do eat grass and vegetation. But as the above example so vividly illustrates. many do not directly eat vegetation. Yet, can we not say that vegetation is the origin of the food source for the whole of the animal kingdom, and humankind in general? When we eat steak or venison, are we eating vegetation? Not directly. But is not grass and vegetation the source of the meat?
Some choose to view Gen 1:30 as literal, and they suggest that things were different back in the Garden. To these I ask: When did things change? What secular evidence supports a change in the planet’s ecosystem at anytime during the last 6000 years—or ever? To harmonize this verse with the ecosystem God created requires us to view the verse in a general sense. Animals eating grass and vegetation become food for those that were created to prey upon them for food, and so forth. In this sense, it can be said that the whole animal kingdom is supported by vegetation. Regarding animals being carnivores and at the same vegetation being viewed as their food, note the following:
“The geological evidence of the existence of death in prehistoric times is, however, too powerful to be resisted; and the Biblical record itself enumerates among the pre-adamic animals the chayyah of the field, which clearly belonged to the carnivora. Perhaps the most that can be safely concluded from the language is ‘that it indicates merely the general fact that the support of the whole animal kingdom is based on vegetation’. (Dawson).” (Pulpit Commentary)
Imagine an animal dying of old age in the Garden. Imagine tens of thousands dying outside the Garden every day. What happened to their dead carcasses? Without scavengers to eat and decompose all the dead matter, the planet would soon become a cemetery of inedible dead animals and dead plants, the nutrients of which would be bound up and lost forever. There would be no cycle. Can we imagine any other arrangement than what we observe today in the wild?
So we proceed with the first dot connected: The ecosystem we witness today existed before and during the time of Adam.
When Did Man Begin Eating Meat?
The Genesis account says that in the Garden, man was given “every seed-bearing plant” and “every seed-bearing fruit” for food. (Gen 1:29) It is a proven fact that man can exist (very well I might add) on nuts, fruits and vegetation. In that man did not need meat to survive, I lean toward accepting the premise that man did not eat meat before the fall. In that he had been given dominion over the animals (naming those indigenous to the Garden), I envision a more pet-like relationship. I doubt Adam would have viewed such friendly critters as his evening meal. I imagine he became somewhat attached to some of these. Too, we remember his richly abundant vegetarian menu provided from the Garden.
But when man fell and was put out of the Garden, Adam’s food menu changed dramatically. He no longer had access to the lush fruit which was like “meat” to him. (compare Gen 1:29 KJV) Nor did he have the variety of garden vegetation. He would now have to toil to produce “field” vegetation. (Gen 3:17-19) Immediately after the fall, Jehovah slayed an animal (presumably in the presence of Adam) for a useful purpose, namely; skins to be used as their garments. (Gen 3:21) In so doing, God demonstrated that animals could be slayed and used for utilitarian purposes (garments, tent coverings, etc). Does it seem logical that Adam would slay an animal, peel the skin off, then leave its dead carcass for scavengers to consume?
Imagine yourself as Adam. You just forfeited the most wonderful and tasty vegetarian menu ever imagined. All you now have for food is what you can eke out of the ground; ground which likes to grow thistles by the way. If you came upon an animal that had died, would you skin it and leave the carcass? When you hunted and killed an animal, would you use only its skin, leaving the dead carcass for scavengers to feed on? Or would you address that gnawing hunger pain in your stomach, perhaps-cooking the meat over fire or cutting the meat in thin slices and drying it out like jerky?
Man would have killed animals for another reason, namely, to maintain dominion over them. In and around villages where humans resided, the animal population had to be controlled. Imagine if man did not control the animal population during the 1,600 years leading to the flood? Imagine packs of wild preditorial beasts ravaging domesticated flocks and herds, even man? (compare Ex 23:29) Regarding domesticated animals, what would man do with those he used for work and for their milk when they were no longer useful for this purpose? Wait for them to die of old age?
We proceed with the second dot connected: After the fall, man ate animal meat.
When Did Man First Offer Meat In Sacrifice?
We know not if Adam raised herds and flocks and offered animals in sacrifice immediately after the fall. We do know that about 130 years after Adam was created, Abel slaughtered an animal and offered part of it in sacrifice (Gen 4:4) The account tells us he slaughtered his firstlings, the fattest of his flock. He butchered off the “fatty pieces” which were the choicest cuts. These choice cuts were offered to Jehovah. To help us connect the dots, three questions must be resolved:
- Why did Abel raise sheep? Why not be a farmer like his brother?
- Why did he choose the fattest from his flock to slaughter in sacrifice?
- How did he know to butcher away the “fatty parts?”
There is only one logical answer to the above. Abel was in the habit of eating animal meat. He raised flocks for their wool and since they were clean, they could be used as food and in sacrifice. We know not if this was the first sacrifice offered. No matter, Abel chose the fattest, most plump from his flocks, because they were the ones with “fatty parts.” He butchered away the “fatty parts” because he knew these were the choicest, the best tasting. How did Abel know these were the choicest? Only one familiar with eating meat would know. Otherwise, why not offer a younger lean lamb to Jehovah?
Jehovah found favor with the “fatty parts.” He saw that Abel was giving up something special—the choicest—to give to his God. Now that is what sacrifice is all about. Did Abel consume the rest of the meat of the lamb offered in sacrifice? In that he offered only the fatty parts (not the entire animal) logic suggests he ate the rest of the meat, instead of leaving it on the ground for scavengers.
We proceed with the third dot connected: Abel set a pattern that animals were to be slaughtered and used in sacrifice to Jehovah.
The Noachian Law — Something New?
Hunting and raising animals for food, their skins, and for use in sacrifice was part of everyday life during the centuries that passed from Abel to the flood. This was the world that Noah and his three sons were born into. We can logically deduce that during these centuries of time, man had learned to co-exist with animal life (both domesticated and wild) in relative harmony within the ecosystem. Then came the days just preceding the flood, with the influence of the demonic angels that materialized on earth, which upset the balance of things. Men became fierce, violent, even barbaric, capable of eating animal flesh (even human flesh) while the animal was still breathing. Animals may also have become more fierce in this environment. To get the sense of how Noah would have understood the command, we must visualize this scene in our minds.
Let’s now examine Genesis 9:2-4:
“The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But [only] you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” (NIV)
In verse 2, Jehovah said that fear and dread will fall upon all the animals, and that all living creatures will be given into the hand of man. Wait, were not animals given into the hand of man since the fall? Yes. However, if our presumption that Adam was a vegetarian before the fall is accurate, the dominion that God gave man over living creatures did not include hunting and killing them for food. When we connect dots, after the fall man did hunt and kill animals for food. But hunting and killing was not officially sanctioned until this day. However, with the official permission came a proviso (as we shall see). As for the animals, especially those wild game animals typically hunted for food, they would perceive man’s agenda to hunt them, which would increase their fear and dread of him.
In verse 3, Jehovah says that everything that lives and moves about will be food (this is nothing new to Noah and his sons) BUT….ONLY….
In verse 4, man receives a proviso which is new. For over 1,600 years men have hunted, killed, sacrificed, and eaten animal meat. But nothing was ever stipulated regarding the manner in which the animal should be killed. Adam, Abel, Seth, and all that followed them had no directive to drain the blood of the animal before using it in sacrifice and/or eating it. While they may have chosen to do so, they might also have strangled the animal, given it a blow to the head, drowned it, or left it in trap to die on its own. All of which would cause the animal more suffering and leave blood in its flesh. So the new command prescribed the only method acceptable for man when taking an animal’s life. It was humane, as the animal was put out of its misery in the most expedient means possible. Typically when bled, an animal loses consciousness within one to two minutes.
Recall that immediately before Jehovah spoke these words, Noah had just led the animals off the ark and built an alter. He then offered some of the clean animals as a burnt sacrifice. (Gen 8:20) It is important to note that nothing is mentioned regarding Noah slaughtering them, bleeding them, or even removing their skins (as was later prescribed in the law). They may have been offered whole while still alive. If this is so, imagine the agony and suffering the animals experienced while being burned alive. If so, Jehovah’s command addressed this as well.
The account at Genesis 8:20 confirms that Noah (and his ancestors) did not view blood as anything sacred. Noah now understood that when man takes the life of an animal, draining its blood to hasten death was the exclusive method approved by Jehovah. This applied to domesticated animals and hunted wild animals. This applied if the animal would be used in sacrifice or for food, or both. This would also include burnt sacrifices (such as Noah had just offered) so that they would not be in agony in the fire.
This of course paved the way for the blood of an animal (whose life was taken by man) to become a sacred substance used in conjunction with sacrifices. The blood would represent the life inside the flesh, so when drained out it confirmed the animal was dead (could feel no pain). But it wasn’t until the passover, centuries later, that blood came to be viewed as a sacred substance. That being said, there would have been no issue with Noah and his sons eating the blood in the flesh of animals that had died on their own, or were killed by another animal. As man would not be responsible for their death, and their flesh did not have life, the command did not apply (compare Deut 14:21). Furthermore, some theologians suggest that Noah and his sons could have used the blood (drained out of the slaughtered animal) as food, such as for blood sausage, blood pudding, et cetera. When we consider the purpose of the command (to hasten the death of the animal in a humane manner), once the blood is drained from its living flesh and the animal is deceased, has not the command then been fully complied with? To use the blood for any purpose (be it utilitarian or for food) after complying with the command would seem to be permissible, since it falls outside the scope of the command.
A Prohibition, or a Conditional Proviso?
In summary, Genesis 9:4 is one of the three textual legs of support for the No Blood doctrine. After close examination, we see that the command is not a general prohibition against eating blood, as the JW doctrine purports, for under Noachian law, man could eat the blood of an animal he was not responsible for killing. So, the command is a regulation or proviso imposed upon man only when he caused the death of a living creature. It mattered not if the animal was to be used in sacrifice, for food, or for both. The proviso applied only when man was responsible for taking its life, that is to say, when the living creature died.
Let’s now attempt to apply the Noachian law to receiving a blood transfusion. There is no animal involved. Nothing is hunted down, nothing is slayed. The donor is a human being not an animal, who is not harmed in any way. The recipient is not eating the blood, and the blood may well preserve the recipient’s life. So we ask: How is this remotely connected to Genesis 9:4?
Moreover, recall Jesus said that to lay down one’s life to save the life of his friend is the greatest act of love. (John 15:13) In the case of a donor, he is not required to lay down his life. The donor is not harmed in any way. Do we not honor Jehovah, the lover of life, by making such a sacrifice for the life of another? To repeat something shared in Part 3: With those who are Jewish (who are ultra-sensitive regarding the use of blood), should a transfusion be deemed medically necessary, it is not only viewed is as permissible, it is obligatory.
In the final segment we will examine the two remaining textual legs of support for the No Blood Doctrine, namely, Leviticus 17:14 and Acts 15:29.