(c) Copyright 1987

by Joel Stephen Williams


The refusal of blood transfusions by Jehovah’s Witnesses is the background for this study of ethical issues in compulsory medical treatment. The large body of legal precedent developing from the transfusion cases is important in resolving forthcoming ethical problems arising from advances in medical treatment. The study is set within the environment of American constitutional law and draws upon legal and medical sources in addition to theological and bioethical authorities.

Analysis of the history and the beliefs of the Witnesses explains the origin and importance of their refusal of blood transfusions as a factor highly integrated into their view of the world. The views of the Witnesses are explained in light of the "Christ against culture" stance advanced by H. Richard Niebuhr. Their ideology is typical of a sect as defined by the sociologists of religion. The legal precedents or tests for a question of the free exercise of religion are outlined with brief reference to other controversies involving the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The privileged status of religious freedom is explained.

A review of numerous court cases involving the Witnesses and the transfusion issue narrates society’s


attempts to resolve the problem. This review uncovers the ethical issues in a problem of compulsory medical treatment. The court cases are divided into categories involving children, adults, child custody, class action suits, disability suits, and malpractice suits.

Ethical analysis balances the rights of the individual, namely autonomy and freedom of religion, against the rights of society in an effort to define proper bounds for paternalism. The rights of society that are weighed are the right to prevent suicide, preserve the sanctity of life, protect the medical profession, protect children, and other lesser state interests.

Limitations on the prevailing attitude of paternalism toward the Witnesses are argued based upon a whole-person approach to treatment. A more pervasive paternalism is justified with children or incompetents, but respect for autonomy and religious freedom should place strong limitations on paternalism with competent adults.






Brief History of the Jehovah's Witnesses 6
Method of Analysis 11
The Witness View of the World 16
The Witness View of the Bible and Authority 34
The Witness Argument Against Transfusions 42
The Historical Development of the Witness Doctrine 56
Transfusions and Witness Ideology 71


Reynolds, Polygamy, and the Free Exercise Clause 79
Vaccinations 87
Suicide 89
Religious Snakehandling and Drinking of Poison 91
Religious Use of Illegal Drugs 95
Fluoridation of Water Supplies 99
Faith Healers and Christian Scientists 102
Children and Parens Patriae 104
Religious Freedom and Blood Transfusions.... 111
The Status of Religious Freedom 112


Introduction 116

Cases Involving Children 118
Cases Involving Adults 139
Child Custody Cases 184
Class Action Suits 192
Disability Suits 194
Malpractice Suits 197
Summary of the Transfusion Cases 202


Introduction 210
Rights of the Individual 211
Rights of Others 231
Balancing Considerations 258
The Limits of Paternalism: A Whole-Person Approach 264






The refusal of Jehovah’s Witnesses on religious grounds to take blood transfusions has been an important issue in the recent history of United States jurisprudence.1 The issue of compulsory blood transfusions has not been addressed by the Supreme Court, but significant litigation has occurred in the lower courts. From the viewpoint of society as a whole, one might think a resolution of this issue is not urgent, since it affects so few people. Efforts are being made to use replacement fluids when possible with Witnesses in order to avoid blood transfusions. To the Jehovah’s Witness who is being urged to take a transfusion and to the medical professional faced with a difficult


1Many Jehovah’s Witnesses carry a card such as the following: "No Blood Transfusion! As a God-fearing Christian and a believer in Jehovah God’s word, the Bible; I hereby demand that blood, in any way, shape or form, is NOT to be fed into my body, however, BLOOD SUBSTITUTES may be used in cases of extreme loss of blood such as DEXTRAN, OKRA, PVP, SALINE SOLUTION, ALGINON, or LEVOPHED. "Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh. Leviticus 17:14. Scriptures: Gen. 9:4, Lev. 3:17; 7:27, Acts 21:25; 15:20, 28, 29. "By my signature above I release all physicians, hospitals, and their personnel from any responsibility whatever for unfavorable reactions or any untoward results due to my refusal to permit the use of blood or its derivatives and I fully understand the possible consequences of such refusal on my part" (Cited by John J. Paris, "Compulsory Medical Treatment and Religious Freedom: Whose Law Shall Prevail?" University of San Francisco Law Review 10 [Summer 1975]: 3n).


decision, though, the issue is very significant. The blood transfusion problem is important to others for another reason. As medical knowledge advances, similar problems which involve refusal of treatment will continue to arise. The precedents that are set in the Jehovah’s Witnesses cases will become more important partly because they provide "the largest single body of precedent for the new cases."2 This potential impact upon the rest of society is typical in the history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ever since the l930s and l940s when this small sect won numerous cases, their importance in the delineation of religious liberty in our nation has been recognized:

It is plain that present constitutional guaranties of personal liberty, as authoritatively interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, are far broader than they were before the spring of 1938; and that most of this enlargement is to be found in the thirty-one Jehovah’s Witnesses cases (sixteen deciding opinions) of which Lovell v. City of Griffin was the first. If "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," what is the debt of Constitutional Law to the militant persistency--3 or perhaps I should say devotion--of this strange group? By turning to the Supreme Court as a refuge, the Jehovah’s


2Sonya Meyers Davis, "The Refusal of Life-Saving Medical Treatment vs. the State’s Interest in the Preservation of Life: a Clarification of the Interests at Stake," Washington University Law Quarterly 58 (1980): 88.

3Edward F. Waite, "The Debt of Constitutional Law to Jehovah’s Witnesses," Minnesota Law Review 28 (March 1944): 246. Also see John E. Mulder and Marvin Comisky, "Jehovah’s Witnesses Mold Constitutional Law," Bill of Rights Review 2 (Summer 1942): 262-68; William Shepard McAninch, "A Catalyst For The Evolution Of Constitutional Law: Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Supreme Court," University of Cincinnati Law Review 5, no. 4 (1987): 997-1077. None of these cases were on the issue of blood transfusions. Most related to evangelistic activities of the Witnesses or their refusal to participate in duties such as saluting the flag.


Witnesses have been able to defend their legal rights. Religious liberty for every American has been better defined as a result of their litigation.

The issue of refusal of blood transfusions is a complex one. What interest should the state have in the individual? How compelling is this interest? Besides being a life-and-death issue, the blood transfusion question is complicated by the problem of religious freedom. How absolute can, or should, freedom of religion be? Free exercise of religion has been given a position of honor by the Constitution of the United States. How far can the state go in limiting this right? Even though the Supreme Court has never ruled on this question, it has been termed the "ultimate challenge to the states limitation power--the right of an adult to refuse medical treatment on the basis of religious conviction even at the risk of death."4 In the lower courts there have been numerous cases from which a legal background for future decisions is being developed.

The issues at stake are the conflicting and complex individual rights versus the rights of society. How are these various rights to be weighed? Which is to be given precedence? First, there are the rights of the individual


4Paris, "Compulsory Medical Treatment," 2.


such as (1) the right of bodily control, (2) the right of privacy, (3) the right to acquiesce in imminent and inevitable death, and (4) the right of free exercise of religion.5 Analysis of these rights reveals that the blood transfusion question can be approached from the standpoint of religious freedom or by appeal to nonreligious rights.

In tension with the rights of the individual are the rights of the state. The state's rights include: (1) the right to prevent suicide, (2) the right to protect incompetents, (3) the right to protect the medical profession, (4) the right to protect minor children, and (5) the right to protect public health.6

Frequently, the rights of the medical community are pitted against the rights of the individual. Not only is legal protection for the medical profession a consideration, even the religious conscience of the doctor can be a factor. Furthermore, the patients rights are weighed against the right of the next of kin in some cases.

Not only are competing rights weighed against one another, but conflicts among different values are placed in the balance. In this study a primary value conflict is that between the value of human freedom and the value of human life. One can argue that a human life is so valuable and


5Robert M. Byrn, "Compulsory Lifesaving Treatment for the Competent Adult," Fordham Law Review 44 (1975): 1-8.

6lbid., 9-17.


sacred that this value outweighs that of freedom. In order to protect life, even religious freedom is sometimes limited. Others contend that society in many cases sacrifices individual lives for the sake of freedom. Which of these or other values should be given dominant consideration?

The purpose of this study is to examine the ethical issues involved in compulsory medical treatment as found in the problem of compulsory blood transfusions for Jehovah’s Witnesses. This dissertation will attempt to weigh and balance the competing legal, medical, and religious claims and provide insights from the standpoint of the discipline of Christian ethics for proper handling of transfusion cases.

This dissertation will not attempt to give an overview of the Jehovah’s Witness movement, except where its attitude toward culture impinges upon the issue of compulsory medical treatment and religious freedom. There will be no attempt to survey in detail current medical opinion on the safety and necessity of blood transfusions, though some summary information will be useful. The problem will be approached within the setting of the American judicial system where church-state relations are an important component of the legal and cultural context. Only cursory attention will be given to the problem in other countries. Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses until recently preferred a lower case "w" for their name, an upper case "w" will be employed except in quotations from Witness literature.




A Brief History of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

By looking at a brief history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and studying their relationship to culture, an understanding of why the Witnesses are so committed to refusing blood transfusions will be enhanced. Their sources of authority and a history of the development of their doctrine against transfusions are integral issues in reaching this understanding.

The history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses will be examined only brief outline, emphasis being given primarily to points associated with a cultural analysis of the their doctrine.1 The purpose of this survey is to gain an


1Some histories of the Witnesses are Walter R. Martin and Norman H. Klann, Jehovah of the Watchtower (New York: Biblical Truth Publishing Society, 1953), 11-28; Anthony A. Hoekema, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), 9-24; Marley Cole, Jehovah’s Witnesses: The New World Society (New York: Vantage Press, 1955); A. H. Macmillan, Faith on the March (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957); Timothy White, A People For His Name: A History of Jehovah’s Witnesses and an Evaluation (New York: Vantage Press, 1967); Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1959); George D. McKinney, The Theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), 19-32; Edmond Charles Gruss, Apostles of Denial: An Examination and Expose of the History, Doctrines and Claims of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1970), 9-78; and M. James Penton, Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), 13-156. The works by White and Cole are highly sympathetic to the Witnesses. Macmillan is a Witness and Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose is the official history of the movement. Some historical surveys are polemics against the Witnesses like Martin and Gruss.


understanding of why they believe as they do about blood transfusions. Although their doctrines and names have changed, the origin of the Witnesses can be traced to Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). Russell, a Congregationalist, rebelled against some of the orthodox doctrines of the mainline denominations of his day such as the teaching of eternal punishment. He began to teach Bible classes and publish his ideas. Soon he was the leader of dozens of congregations made up especially of those who were dissatisfied with the teaching found in the denominations of that day. In 1881 he established the Zion Watch Tower Tract Society.

After his death Russell ‘s writings were quietly forgotten over a period of time. Most Witnesses today are ignorant of his position in the history of the movement and would be embarrassed at the many scandals associated with him. Russell and his wife were separated and a jury trial drew national attention. Accusations of impropriety with female parishioners were frequent. The Society also became involved in a scandal involving the sale of so-called Miracle Wheat. Russell suffered further embarrassment in the courtroom in a lawsuit he filed against a Baptist minister who accused him


of being a pseudo-scholar with no higher education and no knowledge of Biblical languages. In the courtroom the truth of these accusations was admitted by Russell and he lost the trial.

The lasting impact of Russell’s work for later Witnesses has been his attack on the doctrine of hell and Christendom and his millennial fervor. Many of his other teachings are now abandoned. Russell taught that the pyramids were a clue to God’s plan of history, that Jesus died on a cross rather than a torture stake, that congregations rather than the Society in Brooklyn were to select elders, and that citizens should serve in the army of an earthly government. He did not teach that one should not salute the flag or that blood transfusions were wrong.2

In 1917 Joseph Franklin Rutherford became the president of the Watchtower Society, initiating many doctrinal reforms among the Witnesses. He coined the famous phrase "Millions now living will never die" which pointed to the Witnesses’ belief in the imminent return of the Lord. In 1931 at a convention in Columbus, Ohio, he announced the new name for the group, the "Jehovah’s witnesses", based upon Isaiah 43:12. Formerly the group had been known as Bible Students, Millennial Dawnists, Russellites, Watchtower


2William J. Whalen, Armageddon Around the Corner (New York: The John Day Company, 1962), 34-47.


people, and Rutherfordites.3

Many reforms were made in evangelistic methods including the current emphasis on printing and distributing literature. Rutherford proved to be a prolific writer. Ideas of the Witnesses as a separate theocracy matured under Rutherford, and their withdrawal from culture became manifest in numerous ways. This trend was evident at the beginning when Rutherford and other leaders were imprisoned during World War I for their teachings against war and their refusal to serve in the armed forces. The society moved from a democratic organization to a "theocratic" one during his years as leader, with directors of local congregations being appointed by the Society in Brooklyn.

In 1942 Nathan H. Knorr became the third president of the Society. Under the leadership of Knorr the Society became a more effective organization, and it experienced tremendous growth. Rather than using the tactics that gained the Witnesses a reputation for being belligerent, they began a massive adult education program. Witnesses were to be able to present their faith in their own words rather than merely hand out literature or play recordings. They made elaborate plans for continued canvassing of the whole country and began the current emphasis upon foreign mission efforts. Printing of books continued at an ever increasing pace; the books were


3lbid., 55-59.


now appearing anonymously even though Knorr probably did most of the writing.

Knorr attempted to supervise every activity of the Witnesses including their morality. In 1953 he delivered a speech entitled "Living Now as a New World Society" which began regulation of the most private of details in the individual’s life. This has been resented by some Witnesses and has been criticized frequently by those who have left the movement. Since then the Watchtower publications have seen no end to the addition of regulation after regulation in the codifying of a body of "thou-shalt-nots" along with positive rules for life.4 As a result, the role of lower level leaders in the Witnesses became more complex and personal. Instead of being merely directors of the house-to-house evangelism or the local Bible study, stewardship in spiritual and personal matters became more important.5

Knorr died in 1977, and the Watchtower Society elected Frederick W. Franz as the new president. It is too early yet to say what directions his guidance will mean for the Witnesses. In Knorr’s later years more authority was given to the Governing Body in order to avoid the dangers of an organization being led by a single individual. This policy of group leadership is being continued under Franz.


4White, A People For His Name, 383-86.

5lbid., 387.


Method of Analysis

As a framework for understanding the Jehovah’s Witnesses the work of H. Richard Niebuhr in Christ and Culture has been chosen along with the church-sect typology commonly used in the sociology of religion. There has been continuous debate over what characteristics each religious group in the church-sect typology should have and even on the very nature by which the groups should be categorized. Sociologists express frustration in attempting to apply these standards to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.6

The purpose of this paper is not to further the discussion of the church-sect typologies but merely to show how the Witnesses’ refusal to receive blood transfusions fits their overall view of the world and to attempt to understand the mentality of a Witness who would refuse what might be a lifesaving procedure. The beliefs of the Witnesses regarding transfusions are so incredulous to many in the medical and legal professions that the Witnesses have sometimes been dismissed without any concerted attempt to understand those beliefs.

In his classic volume Christ and Culture H. Richard Niebuhr outlines various ways in which Christianity can interact with the world or culture. These are very useful in


6James A. Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah’s Witnesses (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1975), 93-102.


understanding Witness doctrine as a part of their view of the world.7 These relationships are (1) Christ against culture, (2) Christ of culture, (3) Christ above culture, (4) Christ and culture in paradox, and (5) Christ the transformer of culture. The Christ against culture label fits the Witnesses more than any other category in Niebuhr’s analysis, and he does list them there. The Christ against culture posture stresses the opposition between the world and the community of the faithful, giving people "either-or" type decisions.8 Any positive meaning of Christianity is accompanied with

an equally emphatic negation. The counterpart of loyalty to Christ and the brothers is the rejection of cultural society; a clear line of separation is drawn between the brotherhood of the children of God and the world.9

Two examples used by Niebuhr were Tertullian and Tolstoy. Although the world is seen as evil, believers of this type find it impossible to escape completely from culture. The Christ against culture devotees believe that human reason as found in culture is inadequate and even erroneous and deceptive.10 They are usually legalists who define right conduct by conformity to definite rules.’11

Another way of integrating the belief of the Witnesses about blood transfusions into their view of the


7H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951).

8Ibid., 40 .

9Ibid., 47-48.

10Ibid., 77.

11Ibid., 79.


world is by analyzing the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a sect. The term "sect" is used here to apply to a religious movement that emphasizes its separateness and distinctiveness from the social environment in which it exists and which it rejects. Sects will usually exhibit traits similar to these:

1. They tend to be exclusive. 2. They claim to have a monopoly on religious truth.

They often think of themselves as encompassing God’s faithful remnant.

3. They tend to be lay organizations.

4. They usually reject the religious division of labor (clergy-laity) and deny special religious virtuosity to anyone except maybe to a few leaders or their founders.

5. They are a voluntary organization.

6. They have certain standards among their members and sanctions against those who fail to abide by those standards.

7. They tend to demand total allegiance.

8. They are a protest group.12

The Witnesses are a sect, but sects exhibit tremendous


12Bryan Wilson, Religion in Sociological Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 91-93. For discussions of the church-sect typology see David 0. Moberg, The Church As A Social Institution: The Sociology of American Religion (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962), 73-99; J. Milton Yinger, The Scientific Study of Religion (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1970), 251-81; and Barbara Hargrove, The Sociology of Religion: Classical and Contemporary Approaches (Arlington Heights, Illinois: AHM Publishing Corporation, 1979), 108-33.


variety. Wilson lists four broad types of sects: (1) conversionist, (2) adventist or revolutionist, (3) introversionist, and (4) gnostic.13 He places the Witnesses in the second of these. Such a sect remains hostile towards society and promotes separation from the world.

Similarly, one interesting study called the Jehovah’s Witnesses a "proletarian" movement, comparing them to fanatical movements among the Zionists, Nazis, and Communists.14 While recognizing the drastic differences among those movements, the author, nevertheless, noted common characteristics centered around feelings of alienation. Marx had described the proletariat working class in this manner. They lived and worked in but did not participate in capitalistic society. In a similar way the Witnesses manifest an aura of social estrangement and a profound distrust for social institutions. The world is wicked; its values are superficial, hypocritical, and false. Cohn sees this isolation and detachment from society and its institutions as the core of proletarianism which results in the Witness contempt and mistrust of worldly institutions and methods.


13Bryan R. Wilson, ed., Patterns of Sectarianism (London: Heinemann, 1967), 25-29. For a criticism of Wilson’s classification on several points which are not crucial to the argument of this paper see A. Beckford, "New Wine in New Bottles: A Departure from Church-Sect Conceptual Tradition," Social Compass 23 (1976): 71-77.

14Werner Cohn, "Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Proletarian Movement", The American Scholar 24 (Summer 1955): 281-90.


The Witnesses appear to have halted their trek from sect to denomination and have become an established or institutionalized sect that is quite stable.15 As such, they continue to feel a hostility toward the world even though they are routinized in their traditions and are existing as a post-first generation group. Sociologists of religion now realize that a sect can still remain a sect in many ways, even though it outlives the life expectancy of such a group and does not become accommodated to the world. This type of group is not static.16 Their development continues, but the transition toward being a denomination may be slowed, almost to a halt. In such a sect the alienation from the world is distinctive and well defined even for the second or the third generation.17 At best, the Witnesses can be called a "world-indifferent sect" which tolerates the world but encourages its members to live a better and higher life that is not of the world.18


15Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, 3; Joseph F. Zygmunt, "Prophetic Failure and Chiliastic Identity: The Case of Jehovah’s Witnesses," American Journal of Sociology 75 (May 1970): 943-46. For Niebuhr’s influential thoughts on this point see H. Richard Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism (New York: New American Library, 1929), 17-21.

16Werner Stark, Sectarian Religion, vol. 2: The Sociology of Religion: A Study of Christendom (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967), 264-67.

17Bryan R. Wilson, Sects and Society (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1961), 3, 116.

18Wilson, Religion in Sociological Perspective, 111-12.


The Witness View of the World

Many beliefs and practices among the Witnesses illustrate their sectarian stance and shed light on their mentality which is so opposed to blood transfusions. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that this present world, the organization or system of things, is terribly corrupt and is about to pass away. They believe that the devil is "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). They are a remnant in the world, the sole possessors of the truth. The rest of the world is deluded by the devil and his demons. All other religious groups are corrupt and the religious clergy are deceived.19 The word "Christian" is used to describe the Jehovah’s Witnesses while "Christendom" is the term for the corrupt religions of Catholicism and Protestantism. One of the favorite slogans of Rutherford was "Religion is a racket."

A frequent target for attacks by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the clergy of other religious groups.20 The Jehovah’s Witnesses even hold the cross, the key symbol of Christianity, in contempt. They insist that Jesus was


19One example would be "Let God Be True" (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1946), 105-17; W. J. Schnell, Thirty Years A Watch Tower Slave: The Confessions of a Converted Jehovah’s Witness (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), 179-91.

20For example see True Peace and Security--From What Source? (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1973), 22-36. Also see Martin and Klann, Jehovah of the Watchtower, 101-12.


crucified on a torture stake and contend the cross is a carry-over of pagan sex-worship, being a representation of the vagina,21 Of all religious groups, the Roman Catholic Church is the most commonly attacked by the Witnesses. To the Witnesses she is the Babylon of Revelation and the cause of most religious corruption in the world today.

While the Jehovah’s Witnesses would agree that Witnesses practice religion, they would want religion defined in a particular manner and the word "true" or "pure" prefixed to "religion" if it is used to describe them.22 "Religion" in general, Christian and non-Christian, is evil. Their sentiment is evident in the title of one of their popular books--What Has Religion Done for Mankind?

Human organizations such as the United Nations are to the Jehovah’s Witnesses defiant of the authority of God. Even organizations of the world which do some good in promoting health, education, and freedom are forbidden realms for the work of Witnesses. In spite of the good such organizations accomplish, they are still not advocates of God’s kingdom.23 The Witnesses believe there are two worlds


21Heather Botting and Gary Botting, The Orwellian World of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), 26.

22What Has Religion Done for Mankind? (Brooklyn, New York: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1951), 7-47, 323-32.

23True Peace and Security, 130-31.


or communities in existence--the Witnesses and the rest of the world. Friendship or relationships with those in the world are discouraged. A Witness might work very hard at his job, but he may attend few if any of the company social gatherings. Rather than thinking of themselves as a good leaven in society, Witnesses prefer isolationism.24 If one truly believes the world is controlled by the devil and his demons, it is not difficult to see plots against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not only in Communist subversion but also in the medical community. If one believes the whole world is deluded by the devil in most affairs of life, it is not hard to believe the world could be fooled into thinking blood transfusions are a good thing.

Former members of the movement confess to a belligerent, sneering attitude within the movement towards the outside world that is under the influence of Satan. One traces this attitude back to Judge Rutherford, the second president of the Society.25 Many Witnesses feel superior to the world as if it has no power over them. Upon being asked if he pitied people he would see walking down the street because they did not understand the truth as he did, one Witness confessed that he often did.26


24W C. Stevenson, The Inside Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses (New York: Hart Publishing, 1967), 157-59.

25Ibid, 42.

26Herbert Hewitt Stroup, The Jehovah’s Witnesses (New York: Columbia University Press, 1945), 90.


One example of their dogmatism is the way the Jehovah’s Witnesses view their system of chronology. It is thought to be very certain, even scientifically and historically correct beyond a doubt. Even though the same was said about Russell’s chronology of history which was later rejected by the Witnesses for their current one, there is a bold rhetoric about their confidence in its correctness. Russell admitted that any chronology was not certain and should be accepted by faith and the supposition that God even intended that we have a correct chronology of ancient history. His caution, though, became translated into the current confidence that the Witnesses are right, even though the scholarly world disagrees not only with their chronology, but with their assumption that such a chronology can be obtained.27

The Witnesses are not concerned that they are in a minute minority in their religious opposition to blood transfusions, which fits their overall propaganda that the world with its false religions is deluded. After noting what they perceive as Biblical evidence against blood transfusions, they comment, "How few religionists in Christendom keep this rule today!"28 The Witnesses sincerely believe they are the sole possessors of the absolute truth. For example, they


27Edmond C. Gruss, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Prophetic Speculation (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1972), 62-80.

28What Has Religion Done for Mankind?, 80.


regard the prophetic and apocalyptic portions of the Bible as storehouses of information which have been unlocked only by the Witnesses. They have no doubts that the overwhelming majority of the people of the world are deluded. One of their members of sixty years in the movement views the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a "lone movement" against whom the forces of Nazism, Fascism, Communism, and the dominant religions of the world are arrayed.29 This attitude is prevalent throughout the Witnesses and their literature, as illustrated in the following:

Though all other kinds disagree with it, there must be only one kind of worship, one religion, that is right. This is the one harmony with the absolute truth. Since there is just the one that is true, set against so many hundreds of others that prove to be false, it follows that those who adopt and practice the true must necessarily be in the minority.30

Their literature regularly carries stories of opposition or persecution which the Witnesses have endured around the world. These are told and retold to magnify the belief that the whole world is arrayed against them as the little army of God. The Witnesses simply and neatly divide all of mankind into two categories--the saved and the unsaved or the believer and the non-believer. Whatever differences they may have among themselves, the Witnesses feel united against a common foe-the world.

Their symbol, the watchtower, is appropriate for the


29Macmillan, Faith on the March, 5.

30What Has Religion Done for Mankind?, 16.


attitude of the Witnesses toward culture. The world is warring against the Witnesses who are bravely guarding the truth of Jehovah. Also very appropriate is the title and content of a book published by Rutherford in 1937 entitled Enemies in which he describes in detail the various organizations in society which Satan is using to attempt to defeat the truth.31 Witness literature is quick to reproduce any complimentary opinion, whether spoken or written, that an outsider has said about them; but more frequently, their community spirit in the face of persecution is used to bring about a sometimes fanatical commitment to the most unusual of commands such a prohibition of receiving blood. Their scheme of eschatology tells them that such persecution will increase as the end time draws near. With a disposition such as this, it is no surprise that they are not concerned about holding a minority position in society which brings them ridicule.

Many of the positions for which the Witnesses are known represent an attempt to live out their understanding of the relationship between Christ and culture. Their refusal to vote, to salute the flag, to enter any human army, to be a member of a union, the PTA, a lodge, or a social club, to hold public office, to pursue higher education, or to hold titles of distinction are all related to their Christ against culture views. The role of Rutherford in developing this stance among the Witnesses has been compared to the role


3lJ. F. Rutherford, Enemies (Brooklyn, New York: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1937).


of Brigham Young in Mormonism. Young explained the exodus west as an effort to "get away from the United States and the Christians." In Rutherford’s day there was no frontier to which the Witnesses could escape: "Judge Rutherford nevertheless led his followers into the wilderness of the Theocracy. They became strangers in the land of their birth, men without a country."32

One former Witness describes the mind-set in which a prospective Witness or a recent convert is trained. They are taught that the distinctive doctrines of the Witnesses are God’s truth which has been lost for two thousand years. This truth is rediscovered, preserved, and protected in the Witness movement.33 They are taught not to think as an individual. They are taught to think, but only as the organization trains them.34 The truth of this is evident in the treatment many Witnesses of high rank have received when they began to question basic doctrines of the Watchtower organization.

The Witnesses stance toward culture is seen in their attitude toward education. Russell had a strong antipathy for colleges, religious and secular. Such schools are a part of the structure of Satan’s kingdom in this world. He said


32Whalen, Armageddon Around the Corner, 67.

33Ted Dencher, The Watchtower Heresy Versus the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1961), 123.



Christianity’s "chief theological seminaries are hot-beds of infidelity."35 Russell had a distrust of all secular education:

If every man in Europe and America were a college graduate today, the conditions would be worse, instead of better, than they now are . . . it is . . . true that some of the most wicked men have been educated men and some of the 36

most holy men have been "unlearned," like the Apostles. He believed education was founded on pride. Russell’s ideas shaped the thinking of the Witnesses on education. The Witnesses do not establish traditional schools or encourage traditional education. It is not uncommon for children from Witness families to be taken out of school as soon as the law allows in order to separate them from the tainting influences there. In recent decades the Witnesses have received much of their Bible training and leadership skills in their own Theocratic Ministry Schools while many trainees for mission work attend The Watchtower Bible School of Gilead which was established in 1943.37

Their distrust of education is seen in their conviction that the world is being misled by scholars of all types in numerous ways. One example is their attitude toward evolution. Their literature and teaching frequently give arguments against evolution. One favorite approach is to


35Russell, Studies in the Scriptures, 6 vols. (Brooklyn, New York: Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1891), 4: 16-17.

36Ibid, 450. 37McKinney, Theology of the Witnesses, 270-74.


point to other scientific theories which are now abandoned or to arguments formerly used for evolution which are now dismissed as inaccurate.38

Witness dogma is very negative toward many forms of entertainment and sports. Activities such as school dances, clubs, being a cheerleader or beauty queen, modern music, most movies, and a host of other similar things in culture are discouraged or condemned. The type of literature encouraged by the Watchtower is extremely narrow.39

The Witnesses’ attitude toward the world is seen in their view of ministry. There is no clergy-laity distinction in the Witnesses. All are theoretically on a common level. All are ministers. There are no official titles, no ordination as other religious groups have, and no essential academic training at colleges or seminaries. The Witnesses dislike academic distinctions very much and are full of scorn for the clergy of other denominations.40

The Witnesses’ distrust of education, their belief that the institutions of the world are evil, and their attitude that the lay person has equality with the professional (clergy) helps reinforce the Jehovah’s Witnesses view of blood transfusions. The combination of these factors


38Stevenson, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 75-76.

39Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, 274-79.

40Edgar Royston Pike, Jehovah’s Witnesses: Who They Are, What They Teach, What They Do (New York: Philosophical Library, 1954), 99-102.


means that they are distrustful as a whole of the educated medical professionals of the world. Typical of Witness thought is their admission that most doctors are sincere in their belief in blood transfusions. On the other hand, they believe

there are doctors who are simply unaware of the latest findings in the field of medicine, especially in connection with what can be done without blood. Others are too proud to admit they are not infallible, and still others simply do not care about their patients rights. . So while many doctors and officials have proper motives and respect their patients’ requests and rights, there are those who do not, and who trample on them instead. That such an attitude could exist today is sobering food for thought. It shows that the thinking of some is not far from the mentality of the ‘‘Dark Ages ‘‘ and Nazi concentration camps.41

The Witnesses’ eschatology is of paramount importance in understanding their attitude toward the world. Although they are known for their evangelistic activity, they are classed with the adventist sects rather than the conversionist sects. The Witnesses believe that this present world order will soon pass away. A favorite passage with them is 1 John 2:17 which reads: "And the world passes away, and the lust of it." The Witnesses will be the ones who repopulate the new world order.

Times of crisis call for drastic measures and a system of ethics which might not be acceptable otherwise. At the end of the world, material possessions might be viewed as


41"To Whom Does Your Body Belong?", Awake!, 8 November 1971, 8-9.


a burden, so some Witnesses feel prompted to give huge estates to the Society. Likewise, drastic measures such as refusing a life-saving blood transfusion would be logical. After all, they reason, the end is coming soon anyway. Their millennial beliefs predispose them to a negative, pessimistic view of this world.42 The Witnesses are not known for their social concern. They spend little time in building hospitals or schools.43 They are unlikely to progress much further in accommodating themselves to the world as long as they are able to maintain any intensity of belief in the coming end of this world order.

The Witness belief that we are living in the last days, and their certainty that Armageddon is going to happen soon lends an air of urgency to their message. In spite of their repeated failures in setting dates for the end, they gain many converts to their teaching and attain greater diligence and commitment from present converts by their apocalyptic appeal.44 The Witnesses have used various techniques to adapt to their repeated prophetic failures. In recent years their evangelistic activity is seen more in terms of deliverance rather than a harsh judgment of the world. Tact is encouraged and attacks on the evil


42Joseph F. Zygmunt, "Prophetic Failure and Chiliastic Identity," American Journal of Sociology 75 (May 1970): 930.

43Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, 154-56.

44Gruss, Prophetic Speculation, 81-96.


institutions of the world are toned down. Instead of acting in a hostile manner and inviting criticism or martyrdom, Witnesses are trying to coexist in a more peaceful manner. One example is their recent booklet School and Jehovah's Witnesses which is being given to teachers to reduce tension for young Witnesses when, for example, they do not stand for the national anthem or participate in class preparations for a Halloween party.45 As a result the Witnesses seem less militant and have suffered less persecution in the United States at least, but their conviction that the world is condemned is as strong as ever. Adaptation due to their prophetic failure has reshaped the movement, but it has not moved it very far along the continuum from sect to denomination:

It needs to be emphasized that this recent decline in militancy has not been at the expense of the group's sectarian rigor. The group has not only maintained its polarity vis-a-vis the world but has continued to cultivate marks of distinctiveness. . . . Considering the organizational hazards to which millenarian groups would seem to be peculiarly vulnerable, the success of the Witnesses in sustaining their chiliastic fervor over more than nine decades is an instructive example of the capacity of sectarian groups to adapt to crises, to perpetuate themselves, and to grow without appreciable capitulation to the "world" in the realm of values.46

If there is only a short time left before this present world order ends, it is much easier to call for radical behavior


45"School and Jehovah’s Witnesses--The Brochure Is Helping," Awake!, 8 September 1985, 20-21.

46Zygmunt, "Prophetic Failure," 940-41.


such as the refusal of blood transfusions. This approach continues to evoke a commitment from Witnesses.

The stance of the Witnesses toward culture is further illustrated in their relationship to civil government.47 The Witnesses refuse to serve in the armed forces of any nation. They claim, and some obtained, exemption in the United States as ministers rather than "religious, political or academic pacifists."48 The Witnesses are also opposed to participation in elections and politics. Participation even by voting is seen as being tainted by the world which belongs to the devil.49 The Witnesses’ refusal to salute the flag of a civil government, whether it be the Nazi flag or the flag of the United States, is well known. To them the salute is equivalent to worship of a ruler or nation and is a violation of the commandments to worship only God.50

This attitude toward government is agitated by the custody cases where blood transfusions are ordered for the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They compare such actions to totalitarian acts by dictatorships.51 Similar actions


470n the changes in their Bible interpretation about their attitude to civil government see M. James Penton, "Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Secular State: A Historical Analysis of Doctrine," Journal of Church and State 21 (Winter 1979): 55-72.

48"Let God Be True", 230.

49Ibid., 229.

50Ibid., 233-39.

51"Australian Court Tests Parental Rights," Awake!, 8 July 1960, 9-12; "Does Your Child Belong to the State?" Awake!, 22 July 1963, 8-13; "Will Parental Rights be Lost?" Awake!, 22 May 1967, 4-8; "Court Decision Deprives Parents of Rights," Awake!, 8 March 1968, 21-24; "Supreme Court Agrees: Your Children Do Not Belong to You," Awake!, 8 July 1968, 12-16; "Conflict With Constitutional Guarantees," Awake!, 22 May 1967, 9-11; W. Glen How, "Religion, Medicine and Law," Canadian Bar Journal 3 (October 1960): 385-404.


with regard to adults are also abhorred by the Witnesses.52 Witnesses decry the attempts to charge parents or relatives with manslaughter in the event of the death of a Witness after blood was refused.53 The Witnesses view such government actions as coercion and their own as behavior similar to the martyrs of the early church.54 There is a very real fear among the Witnesses that their rights will not be respected by physicians who will administer a blood transfusion to them while they are unconscious, in spite of previous assurances.55

Since the Witnesses are a sect that sets itself against the world, it is likely that the Witnesses would be made up primarily of lower class people. This likelihood is


52"Freedom to Decide Threatened," Awake!, 22 January 1964, 12-15; "Emotional Judgment Denies Individual Rights," Awake!, 8 May 1964, 22-25; "Do Hospital Patients Have Rights?", Awake!, 8 September 1964, 21-27; "Religious Freedom Upheld in Medical Treatment," Awake!, 8 August 1965, 12-15; "Your Personal Choice Threatened," Awake!, 22 May 1967, 3.

53"If You Were the Judge, What Would Your Decision Be?", Awake!, 22 September 1972, 17-21; "Your Medical Freedom--The Courts Speak!", Awake!, 8 September 1985, 9-12.

54"Does Coercive Medical Treatment Make Sense?", Awake!, 22 May 1967, 27-29.

55"Court Asked to Safeguard Patients," Awake!, 22 September 1967, 3-10.


assumed by most writers with no proof being offered. Noting the large number of members from minority groups, one writer described the Witnesses as ‘the forgotten people of an affluent society who are distrustful of the world situation partly because they are being ignored by the larger denominations."56 The studies of Czatt in the early l930s reached that conclusion and the work of Stroup in the 1940s had an even lower opinion of the social rank of the Witnesses.57 There are many poor, blue-collar, and unemployed members in their ranks who would be attracted to the future hope that a millennial religion offers. Among such people a will to believe can be extremely strong, making the content of the belief of little importance. A religion of emotion rather than logic and reason would appeal to such a stratum of society. The Witnesses’ doctrines, though, are not what one would expect of an otherworldly faith, so the characterization of the Witnesses as primarily the lower class is suspect.

The study of Stroup was limited in scope and to the United States in the early 1940s. He was unable to obtain "hard-and-fast data on the social class composition of the


56M. Thomas Starkes, Confronting Popular Cults (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), 41.

57Stroup, The Jehovah’s Witnesses, pp. 76-77; Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die: A Study of Jehovah’s Witnesses (London: Constable, 1969), 174-75.


sect at that time."58 His work must be approached with caution. Beckford’s studies in England have concluded that the social composition of the Witnesses there is the same as the general population. The only difference appears to be a slight flattening of the composition. The "extremes are under-represented, and the centre over-represented."59 Beckford, though, does categorize the lives of British Witnesses as being typical of lower middle class.60 A survey made by the United States Department of Justice during World War II of 8,000 Witnesses confirms that during that period they were average in education and social rank.61 To add to the difficulty of categorizing the Witnesses by social rank is the diversity of Witnesses from one country or geographical region to another. Although the evidence is not conclusive, the weight of it points to many Witness converts being drawn from the lower classes. The experience of almost all students of the Jehovah's Witnesses is that they are dealing with lower middle class society at best.

Perhaps more importantly is the Witnesses inner disposition. Witnesses as a sect may not be at the bottom of the economic scale, but they possess a hostility toward the world and are unable to be totally at home in it. Thus Weber


58Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy, 151-52.

59Ibid., 142.

60Ibid., 146.

61Rogerson, Millions, 175.


described the psychology of sectarianism and an individual’s reason for joining a sect as an overcompensation of an inferiority complex."62 This may be due to social factors or individual circumstances or a combination of both. While social standing is not the only factor for Witnesses, it appears to be a contributing one.

Members who attain some educational standing are likely either to leave the movement or suffer personal conflicts. Upward social mobility is definitely hindered by Witness theology.63 The result is that the Witnesses are not bothered by the overwhelming odds in the institutions of society and among the peoples of the world being against their beliefs. As Stroup summarized several decades ago:

This attitude toward religious experience is typical among the naive; and such, as a whole, are the Witnesses, whose literal-mindedness and unsophistication becomes almost ludicrous to minds unsympathetic to their cause. . The character of the Witnesses’ thinking is also revealed by the nature of their problems. Seldom have I found a Witness who is involved with a practical, experiential problem of religion. Most often the Witnesses are worried about theoretical, lifeless problems of religion, such as whether Jehovah spoke Hebrew or not, whether, to God, the angels are "higher" beings than man, whether the age will come to an end this year or next, etc. These matters are seemingly significant to many Witnesses, but to the outsider they


62Stark, Sectarian Religion, 158. See also 49, 263 . 63Havor Montague, "The Pessimistic Sect’s Influence on the Mental Health of its Members: the Case of Jehovah’s Witnesses," Social Compass 24 (1977): 140-43. Pentori, Apocalypse Delayed, 253-58.


reveal the paucity of real life-imbued religious experience •64 It is true that there is little emphasis upon social concerns among the Witnesses except in matters which relate directly to their freedom to practice their distinctive beliefs.65 This approach of the Witnesses toward personal morality has been described by White as a reversion to Old Testament morality.66 Christian themes are made inferior to Old Testament legalism. One student of the Jehovah’s Witnesses considers them to be more "a mutation of a conservative, apocalyptic Judaism rather than a variant of Christianity."67

An examination of the world of thought of the Jehovah’s Witnesses shows that they fit into the mold of Christ against culture. They exhibit the typical characteristics of a sect also.


64Stroup, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 127-28.

65Rupert E. Davies reached a similar conclusion: "No one who reads the literature of the Witnesses can fail to notice that ethics play a very minor part in the Witnesses system" (Jehovah’s Witnesses: Is their Witness True? [London: Epworth Press, 1958], 13).

66White, A People For His Name, 389; Stuermann makes a similar comment: "Almost everywhere they subordinate Christian and New Testament themes to those of Judaism and the Old Testament. One wonders sometimes whether Jehovah might not just as well dispense with his chief executive officer, Jesus Christ" (Walter E. Stuermann, "Jehovah's Witnesses," Interpretation 10 [July 1956]: 345).

67Stuermann, "Jehovah’s Witnesses," 345.


The Witness View of the Bible and Authority

The foregoing explanation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses attitude toward culture makes their position easier to understand. It is easy to see how any doctrine that makes them distinct from the world could be integrated into their religious life. There are other religious groups, though, that are sectarian and fit the mold of Christ against culture. Some are millennial sects that have splintered off from the Witness movement. These other groups do not refuse blood transfusions, so an examination of the Witnesses’ attitude toward the Bible and the source of their religious authority is essential.

The Bible is respected very highly by the Witnesses. Their publications frequently contain apologetic articles and arguments to prove that the Bible is inerrant, infallible, and verbally inspired. There is no higher appeal for them than a quotation from the Bible. There is little appreciation among the Witnesses for differences between the Testaments or between different types of literary material in the Bible. There is very little appreciation of progressive revelation. Their Bible interpretation is extremely literal. Poetical and highly figurative passages of scripture are interpreted as historical narrative. All texts have equal value without regard to their context. Cole’s highly favorable account of the Witnesses praises their devotion to the Bible and their copious references to and indexing of the


Bible on every subject in their literature. He compares their treatment of the Bible to that of a "smart housewife" thumbing through an indexed cookbook.68 The Witnesses Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers explains that topical treatment of truth was not necessary in Bible times but apostasy and religious confusion since that time have made it important for a modern minister to have such indexed tools at his disposal.69 What this leads to, though, is a non-critical examination of the scriptures in a piecemeal fashion which results in proof-texting.70 The Witnesses have been called "fundamentalists of fundamentalists" for whom "the generations of Bible critics have toiled in vain.71 Stevenson, a former member and full-time worker in the movement, says it is "this type of fallacious reasoning which leads the Witnesses into making an issue of such matters as blood transfusions.72 He notes their literal explanation of Old Testament prohibition. He now believes it "is quite obvious" that the prohibition was against the practice of eating blood of animals, not the


68Cole, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 138.

69Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1945); cited by Ibid., 139.

70For other criticisms of the Witnesses’ methods of interpretation see Gruss, Apostles of Denial, 217-18.

71Pike, Jehovah’s Witnesses," 33.

72Stevenson, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 38-41.


medical procedure of transfusion to save a person’s life. That the prohibition was not about human blood he says is obvious, since there was no need to tell people that cannibalism was wrong. Any attempt to interpret the Bible within its historical background, though, is quickly dismissed as a "work of the Higher Critics" who are destroyers of the faith.73

For the individual Witness, though, Bible interpretation means accepting the doctrines and statements that are pronounced and handed down by the Watchtower Society. Interpretation is done by the leaders of the movement, and the individual Witness must accept these views without question. There is a policy among the Witnesses which discourages a challenging attitude toward any decree or doctrine handed down by the governing bodies. Open discussion of difficulties or doubts is viewed as dangerous to unity (uniformity) and borders on disloyalty.74 If a Witness does challenge these views too loudly, his place within the movement is threatened.75 When a Witness of some position and importance within the movement renounces certain beliefs, that Witness is immediately isolated from others to


73Stevenson, 41; cf. Stuermann, ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses," 332-39.

74Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1983), 234-35; Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, xiv.

75Gruss, Apostles of Denial, 216.


avoid a spread of the contamination. If that Witness cannot be brought back into line with the Watchtower position, a strict and complete disfellowship follows.

While the Witnesses will admit that the Watchtower is a fallible organization that can make mistakes, they contend it is the "channel" by which God is making his will known to mankind. In their authorized history of their movement, they assert, "Jehovah had chosen the publication we now call The Watchtower to be used as a channel through which to bring to the world of mankind a revelation of the divine will."76 One must even recognize this special channel of blessing before the Holy Spirit will be imparted and an understanding of Gods word realized.77 The method by which the Witnesses approach the Bible as their authority has been compared to the method employed by the Christian Scientists in their devotion to Mary Baker Eddy's writings.78 In a similar way the writings of Russell, then later of Rutherford, and now, additionally, of the Society's many anonymous publications, are organized and the correct interpretations are presented.

The movement has been described as "authoritarian" since what the hierarchy or most prominent leaders say must be accepted. Their belief system has been termed "totalitarian," since it claims to have already succeeded in


76Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, 22.

77Gruss, Apostles of Denial, 219.

78Stroup, Jehovahs Witnesses, 47.


finding the final answer to all important religious problems.79 Witness publications frequently print criticisms of Christendom by Catholic and Protestant authors or spokesmen. Such criticisms reflect the disdain the Witnesses hold for Christendom. That such self-examination and self-criticism might be a healthy thing is ignored while at the same time there is an absence of any similar healthy self-criticism by the Witnesses.80

Beckford explains that the very structure of the Watchtower organization encourages continuity and discourages dissent:

Since the very early days of Russell’s Bible study meetings in Allegheny, the Watch Tower movement has lacked anything approximating to a high-level forum for doctrinal discussion, that is, a legitimate occasion or procedure for criticizing, or contributing to, the canon of official teachings. Creativity has been carefully restricted to the inner councils of the Society’s elite, with the result that Jehovah’s witnesses are more accurately considered in this respect as consumers of a packaged product rather than participants in a productive process. This situation has been reinforced by the lack of doctrinal specialists among Jehovah’s witnesses whose role could be likened to that of theologians vis-a-vis mainstream Christian churches. Only Gilead graduates and the school's teaching staff are in the strong position to develop critiques of current orthodoxy, but the rules governing their behaviour and the exhausting nature of their tasks virtually preclude the possibility of criticism from them.81

If a leader like Raymond Franz rebels, he is isolated and


79Ibid., 124-25.

80Whalen, Armageddon Around the Corner, 119, 173.

81Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy, 119-20.


disfellowshipped if he does not recant. With Brooklyn’s tight control on the publications which are the heart and soul of the indoctrination and education process of the Witness movement, there is no other opportune place within the movement for valid criticism to take place.

It is not surprising, then, for a former Witness to claim, "The Witness deifies the organization, and to him, it can do no wrong."82 He asserts that their dependence on the books published by the society is so strong that a discussion which uses only the Bible will throw most Witnesses into "utter confusion."83 In a discussion among Witnesses if an answer to a Bible question can not be found in existing Watchtower publications, then the usual procedure is to write to New York for an answer. Franz, a former member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, explains that the governing body spends a great deal of time answering the multitude of questions sent to them. Very little time is spent studying the Bible for such answers, partially because the questions are usually on matters about which the Bible is silent. The propositional approach to religion by the Witnesses, though, needs specific rules for every situation and the governing body hands down those rules. The end result, according to Franz, is legalism with a set of double


82Dencher, The Watchtower Heresy, 127.




This very problem caused Penton to write such different accounts of the Witnesses. His first book Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada: Champions of Freedom of Speech and Worship was highly favorable. Eight years later he had become convinced that the Witnesses were inconsistent. They worked hard for freedom in society at large, especially their own rights; yet they were tyrannical to dissenters inside their own ranks. Many Witnesses Penton met in Brooklyn were very desirous of reform or renewal, but "the governing body seemed unprepared to listen to any outside advice."85

Other former Witnesses who have lived inside the headquarters at Bethany testify to the rigid atmosphere. Only a very few have any input in the shaping of Witness doctrine. On one occasion in 1952 an argument occurred


84Franz, Crisis of Conscience, 95-135. He is not the same Franz who is now President of the Society.

85M. James Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada: Champions of Freedom of Speech and Worship (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1976); Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, xiv. One interesting study of the Witnesses by one who was raised as a Witness compares the Watchtower organization to Big Brother in the writings of Orwell. Chapters are introduced with pertinent quotations from Orwell such as "Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth" or "A party member is expected to have no private emotions and no respites from enthusiasm" or "Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death" or "He is too intelligent. He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party does not like such people" (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1949], 252, 212, 29, 54; cited by Botting, The Orwellian World of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 3, 76, 111, 151). Other writers have made similar analogies between the Witnesses and Orwell’s work before the Bottings’ book was written.


between several ranking Witnesses on a doctrinal point in one of their papers. President Knorr supposedly ended it by saying, "Brothers, you can argue all you want about it, but when it gets off the sixth floor it is the truth."86 He was referring to the printing presses on the sixth floor. Once a position was printed, there should be no more discussion.

The strong central organization of the Witnesses has led to a surprising uniformity throughout the movement. This is due in part to the nature of their religion. Witness life is defined primarily in terms of a few limited, specific, visible tasks, namely the attending of meetings and the dissemination of Witness literature. There is no difference in Witness thought between those who are true followers of Jehovah on the one hand and those who follow this limited style of life on the other hand. Personal goals become molded according to the formal goals of organization which encourages submission and tends to limit creativity or dissent from the lower ranks.87 The development of a central organizational structure among the Witnesses which makes pronouncements on all beliefs should not be equated with the expected transition of sect to denomination. Central


86This story is told by William Cetnor in Edmund C. Gruss, We left Jehovahs Witnesses (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974), 77.

87James A. Beckford, "Structural Dependence in Religious Organizations: From Skid-Road to Watch Tower," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 15 (June 1976): 173.


organization can be used to prevent such a transition. Frequently the development of a strong central organization is done in response to a threat like heresy. When this is done, faithfulness is determined by one’s allegiance to the headquarters. Wilson appears correct in allowing for diversity of organizational types within the category of sects. It is the organization in Brooklyn which strictly enforces the dogma of the Witnesses against blood transfusions, and one must abide by this teaching to be a faithful witness.88

The Witness Argument Against Transfusions

The objection of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to blood transfusions is a religious one. The Witness argument against blood transfusions usually begins with the foundation fact that blood is the symbol of life. Blood is often just an alternate term for life itself, and because "the soul or life resides in or is inseparably connected with the blood, the blood is the equivalent of the soul or life of a person."89 That God allowed only the use of blood in sacrifices is seen as evidence of the sacredness of blood and


88Bryan R. Wilson, Patterns of Sectarianism, 33-36; Bryan R. Wilson, Religious Sects: A Sociological Study (New York: McGraw-Hill Company, 1970), 16-17, 237-39. See also Cohn, "Jehovah’s Witnesses", 295-97. 89Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God (Brooklyn, New York: Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1966), 322.


the seriousness of our proper use of blood today.90 The Witnesses are not only concerned about blood transfusions but about any use of blood which they deem disrespectful to its being a symbol of life, including the use of blood as an ingredient in commercial products such as fertilizer.91 This is seen as typical of a general disregard for life in a world where abortion, suicide, the use of drugs, and the use of tobacco are so common.92 Every passage in the Bible that mentions blood is used to impress the reader of Witness literature with the importance of blood in the mind of God. Whether it be the value of the blood of Christ or the seriousness of shedding the blood of man, all are used to lend an air of urgency and drama to the Witness prohibition of blood transfusions.

A potential contradiction is recognized by the Witnesses in their argumentation. If blood transfusions should be avoided on the principle that a Witness is respecting life, should a blood transfusion be taken in order to save one’s life? Here is their response:

Thus, though we should be concerned over our health and seek to protect our lives as a gift from God, even here there are certain limits to observe. . . . If it is a question of facing death because of obeying God or of disobeying him to preserve one's present life, the true servant of God would prefer death to disobedience. 93


90True Peace and Security, 164.

91Ibid., 165.

92Ibid., 155-65.

93Ibid., 165.


This response shows that, while Witnesses appeal to dangers inherent in taking blood transfusions or to doctrines such as the sanctity of life, all other considerations hang upon their conviction that God’s law says they should not take a blood transfusion. Their ultimate concern is not really the sanctity of human life which might be saved in some situation through a blood transfusion, but rather it is their conviction that God’s law prohibits transfusions even if it means the loss of life. Their literature is replete with references to the "sanctity of blood."94 Although they equate blood with life, it is the sanctity of blood rather than life with which they are concerned. Since this matter pertains to salvation for them, they contend they are choosing real life.95 They give examples where others risk or sacrifice their lives for principles which hold a higher worth such as freedom or democracy.96

The Witnesses believe that blood transfusions are a violation of plain Bible teaching, and they are quick to use an arsenal of proof texts to uphold their stance. Their argument usually begins with God’s command to Noah:


94Life Everlasting, 326.

95"Does Refusing Medical Treatment Mean Refusing Life?", Awake!, 8 July 1984, 12-14.

96Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1977), 23.


Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image (Gen. 9:3-6).

This is God’s first law on the sanctity of blood and is seen by Witnesses as a prohibition against eating or drinking the blood of animals or humans as food. They apply the principle to human blood due to the context (Gen. 9:5-6). It is commonly thought by Old Testament scholars that this taboo was given due to the significance of blood in sacrifice. For the Witnesses, though, no subtle purposes are important. To them it is a law for all mankind. How do they equate this with the modern medical practice of blood transfusions? Since the bloodstream feeds the body and since the medical profession sometimes speaks of transfusion in terms of nourishing or feeding the body, the Witnesses equate transfusion with eating blood.97


97"Respect for the Sanctity of Blood," Watchtower, 15 September 1961, 558, for example, quotes a French physician as saying, "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." One argument from analogy used by the Witnesses based upon the word "abstain" in Acts 15:29 is this: "If a doctor were to tell you to abstain from alcohol, would that mean simply that you should not take it through your mouth but that you could transfuse it directly into your veins? Of course not! So, too, abstaining from blood means not taking it into our bodies at all" ("Godly Respect for Life and Blood," Watchtower, 1 June 1969, 327). Another analogy the Witnesses use is the giving of antibiotics by mouth as compared to injection. Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, 18.


The command to Noah is thought to be valid for all of mankind. The Witnesses agree that the law of Moses was abrogated by Christ and that any laws concerning blood contained within the law of Moses are not laws for Christians. They still appeal to Jewish regulations, however, as illustrative of God’s attitude toward blood and how man ought to respect it. The legislation in Leviticus is appealed to repeatedly: Moreover you shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwellings. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people. . If any man of the house of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. Any man also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust. For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off (Lev. 7:26-27; 17:10-14). Blood was to be poured out on the ground or on the altar in the case of a sacrifice. To act differently was being disrespectful (cf. Deut. 12:16, 24-27; 15:23). The pouring of the blood on the ground is taken in a very literal


way by Witnesses to mean the returning of a life or soul back to God. By pouring the blood out one is not responsible for the life of the animal.98 There is no recognition of the ancient symbolism of uncovered blood of men or animals crying out to God for revenge. In ancient times the slaying of animals for food was usually done according to the ritual of a sacrifice and the blood portion belonged to gods. The Hebrews reserved this for the one God. With the Witnesses there is no symbolism inherent in these passages on blood-- just literal truth. Any explanation of these passages that attempts to explain them out of the background of ancient taboos found among Hebrew or non-Hebrew people are superfluous to the Witnesses.99

An incident in the life of David is given frequent treatment in Witness literature due to their stance on blood. David’s men fought their way through the Philistines into Bethlehem in order to draw water for David from the well by the gate. When it was offered to him he refused it, pouring


98Life Everlasting, 327-29.

99For recent critical study on the meaning of blood in Israel see Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1961), 418-21, 433-56; Dennis J. McCarthy, "The Symbolism of Blood and Sacrifice," Journal of Biblical Literature 88 (June 1969): 166-76; Dennis J. McCarthy, "Further Notes on the Symbolism of Blood and Sacrifice," Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (June 1973): 205-10; Keith Crim, ed. The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible: Supplementary Volume (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962, 1982), s.v. "Blood," by Dennis J. McCarthy.


it out, saying, "Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it" (1 Chron. 11:19). There was no blood intermingled with the water. The men who obtained the water had not done, so by the shedding of their blood, but only at the risk of their lives or blood.

The Witnesses say laws against partaking of blood can not be set aside in an emergency like the critical need for a blood transfusion of a dying patient. They appeal to the case of Saul’s soldiers eating meat with the blood after a battle when they were extremely hungry.100 Saul was told, "Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord, by eating with the blood" (1 Sam. 14:33). Saul halted the practice and built his first altar in order to provide for the proper slaughter of their food and disposal of the blood.

Witnesses believe Old Testament restrictions regarding the use of blood are still in force for Christians for two reasons: (1) the law given to Noah was for all men and it has never been repealed, and (2) the law against eating blood was reinstated in the decree from the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem conference. In order to quiet the disagreement between Jewish and Gentile Christians, a letter was sent from Jerusalem saying, For it has seemed good to the Holy spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary


100Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, 9.


things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well (Acts 15:28-29).

Witnesses frequently mention that this decree was still in force years later (Acts 21:15-25).

Even though Russell had taught that the Jerusalem decree was temporary as an expedient toward fellowship between Jews and Gentiles in the church, the Witnesses contend strongly that it is permanent, quoting non-Witness authorities whenever possible in order to bolster their position.101 They appeal to other scriptures and keep accurate statistics on the number of occurrences of "blood" in the Bible, but the above passages contain the argument from the Bible in full. It is these that are found in almost every article they print on the subject.

Many of the Witness arguments against blood transfusions are woven into their stance toward culture. The Witnesses believe a part of the foretold apostasy (2 Thes. 2:3-2) was a change in thinking introduced by Augustine, that the injunction in Acts 15 was only temporary.102 They draw a


101"’Abstain from Blood’--for How Long?", Awake!, 8 March 1976, 26-28; "Firmly Resolved About Life and Blood," Watchtower, 15 June 1978, pp. 22-23; Jehovahs Witnesses and the Question of Blood, 12-17.

102Life Everlasting, 333-34; "Respect for the Sanctity of Blood," 556. This latter source and other Witness literature frequently quote the early Christian writer Tertullian with approval. This is interesting, because Tertullian is the early church example Niebuhr uses for the Christ against culture stance toward the world. Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, 51-55. "Preservation by Obedience to God’s Law on Blood," Watchtower, 15 April 1961, 250.


contrast between Pope Innocent VIII and Pope John XXIII (both of whom had blood transfusions but died anyway) and the apostle Peter whom the Witnesses say would never have permitted human blood to be injected into him.103 Witnesses trace blood transfusions back to ancient Egypt. They combine their view of a corrupt Catholic Church which continually allows pagan innovations into their faith with the assumption that blood transfusions have a pagan origin. The argument is based upon many false premises and suppositions, but it is very attractive to the Witnesses in that is has an underlying emotional appeal to the anti-Catholic feeling of the Witnesses and their strong conviction that Christendom in general is deluded.

Likewise the Witnesses point to the contradiction of a soldier’s receiving a blood transfusion in order to save his life, yet that soldier continues in warfare in the shedding of other men’s blood.104 Their art work commonly ties blood transfusion and war together, both as examples of bloodshed. The argument is no argument at all, but it has emotional appeal for a Witness who already recoils in horror at the thought of war. By such appeals the Witnesses can associate together a potentially life-saving procedure and a


104Ibid 336-37.

103Life Everlasting, 336.


life-destroying enterprise as being of like nature.105

In a similar manner the Witnesses attempt to arouse suspicion and distrust toward blood transfusions by questioning the motives of those involved. They declare that "it is hideous that blood of man and beast should be commercialized for financial gain to those who have no fear of God or respect for his published law."106 This is supported by the general suspicion and distrust Witnesses have for society and is butressed further by their eschatology. The hideous disrespect that society is showing for God’s law on blood is surely an indicator that the end is near and that men will be punished for this travesty.

The use of scripture by the Witnesses in support of their prohibition of blood transfusions is typical of fundamentalists with no appreciation for the historical and critical methods of modern scholarship. Their arguments are also interlaced with emotional appeals that would gain a sympathetic hearing from one who already has the mentality of a Witness alienated from the world and Christendom.

Most of the critics of the Witnesses are fundamentalists who argue in the same manner from the scriptures as a Witness would. Among the critics of the Witness position on blood are the various Russellite splinter groups like the Dawn Bible Students Association. They claim


105Ibid., 339-40.

106Ibid 342.


blood transfusion was unknown to the ancients, and that eating and drinking blood are not the same as transfusion. Drinking blood of an animal required its death while a blood transfusion from a human does not require death. When blood is ingested into the body, part of it is absorbed through digestion and part of it is eliminated. It is destroyed as blood. In a transfusion, though, it continues to function as blood. In methods like these, some interpreters attempt to distinguish between eating blood and a transfusion.107

Critics usually contend that the Witnesses take their favorite passages out of their context. Grigg, for example, notes that the eating of fat is condemned in the same context as the eating of blood (Lev. 7:22-27), so if one is wrong the other must be too. 108 Other critics say the Witnesses are in error because the blood in the Biblical legislation is animal blood rather than human blood.109 Similarly it is argued that the Witnesses are inconsistent on laws that pre-date Moses. Circumcision, animal sacrifices, and the distinction between clean and unclean animals were all practiced before Moses, but these are terminated along with the law of Moses by the Witnesses although they do not terminate the


107Gruss, Apostles of Denial, 184-87.

108David H. Grigg, Do Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Bible Agree? (New York: Vantage Press, 1958), 75-76.

109See Anthony A. Hoekema, "Assessing Jehovah’s Witnesses," Christianity Today, 21 July 1967, 16.


prohibition against blood.110

The key passage about the Jerusalem conference is handled in different ways by critics of the Witnesses. Some would admit that it is a permanent law for Christians. They would merely contend that blood transfusions are not the same as eating blood. Others remove the passage from the discussion entirely by interpreting "blood" to mean murder. Instead of three dietary prohibitions combined with one ethical command, it is possible that only three ethical problems are discussed. If the words "what is strangled" are removed as is the case in some manuscripts, the remaining words could forbid the sins of idolatry, murder, and fornication.111 Textual support for this position is weaker than the fourfold prohibition, but this view has many advocates.

Other scholars interpret the passage as a conditional, temporary rule for the church. In its context the passage is dealing with a fellowship problem. It must be interpreted in


110James D. Bales, "Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions," Firm Foundation, 8 August 1978, 7.

111For a variety of discussions of the passage see Hugh J. Schonfield, "Should ‘Things strangled’ Be omitted from Acts xv. 29?", Expository Times 41 (December 1929): 128-29; John C. Ford, "Refusal Of Blood Transfusions By Jehovah’s Witnesses," Catholic Lawyer 10 (Summer 1964): 213; A. S. Peake, "Paul and the Jewish Christians," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 13 (January 1929): 45-48; J. W. Hunkin, "The Prohibitions Of The Council At Jerusalem (Acts xv 28, 29)," The Journal of Theological Studies 27 (April 1926): 272-83; W. Sanday, "The Test of the Apostolic Decree," Expositor 6 (October 1913): 289-305; Kirsopp Lake, "The Judaistic Controversy, and the Apostolic Council," The Church Quarterly Review 71 (January 1911): 345-70.


light of that difficulty in the early church. It is clear that Christians were not required at all times to observe Jewish regulations in the bleeding of animals. Paul allowed Christians to eat meat which was sold in the market, which would not have been bled according to Jewish regulations, and may have been used in idol worship. The only condition was that it did not bother one's conscience or cause a brother to stumble (1 Cor. 10:23-33).

Lenski is typical of those who make the Jerusalem ruling a conditional moral law:

To eat such an animal or to eat anything that was prepared with blood . . . was no longer forbidden to Christians since all these Levitical regulations had been abrogated. Why, then, introduce these items? Certainly not in order again to enforce these points of the Levitical law. That would have been Judaistic legalism, and if any part of it was to be imposed, it should not have been one minor point regarding food but circumcision, the sine qua non of Judaism. James mentions these two points because the Jewish Christians were especially sensitive regarding them. They, too, knew that these points of the law were abrogated but they still felt a horror of eating blood or any meat that had retained the blood. The Gentile Christians were asked to respect this feeling and thus from motives of brotherly love, and from these alone, to refrain from eating blood and meat that still had its blood.112

Lenski’s approach upholds the priority of love in Christian ethics and avoids the trap of legalism into which the Witnesses have fallen. The only real objection against this interpretation of the Jerusalem ruling is the inclusion of


112R C. H. Lenski, The Acts of the Apostles (Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1944), 616.


fornication in the list of things from which to abstain. One likely solution is the recognition that this letter is being written with the Gentile way of thinking in mind. To them fornication was as acceptable as idolatry or the eating of blood, and it was sometimes practiced in coordination with them (see Ezek. 33:25-26).113 Prohibiting fornication was not an obligation based solely on love in order to promote fellowship and unity, yet it was essential for that."114

Other than the Biblical arguments, a central issue is whether or not blood transfusions should be equated with eating blood. Of course the Witnesses contend they are the same, but the two are not truly equivalent. One critic says, "A transfusion is no more eating blood than a skin graft is cannibalism."115 The Witness equation of the two has led them into a maze of dilemmas and problems of definition as will be noted later.

Although many of the critics are attempting to speak to the Witnesses in their own terms with arguments which a Witness would accept, a more astute argument in favor of the morality of transfusions comes in a different manner. One


113This is supported by Innes Logan in "The Decree of Acts xv.", Expository Times 39 (June 1928): 428. Hunkin in "Prohibitions of the Council" (282-83), says fornication was made light of in the comedies of the day and is condoned by most serious thinkers of the period.

114Lenski, Acts, 615; Bales, "Jehovah’s Witnesses."

115Bales, "Jehovah’s Witnesses."


physician who entered the medical profession due to his witnessing a woman’s life being saved by a transfusion of blood, amazed by the complexity of the body’s circulatory system and inspired by the spiritual imagery of blood in the Bible, made this speculation: "It would not surprise me at all were Jesus, if born in the twentieth century rather than the first, to choose the image of transfusion rather than a parallel one of drinking blood." 116 The heart of the matter for the Christian ethicist is not an obscure argument based upon faulty logic from an isolated passage of scripture. Instead one should think of the love that can be expressed in the giving of a blood transfusion to save the life of another. Arguments of this type have no impact upon the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Historical Development of the Witness Doctrine

The present day teaching of the Witnesses against blood transfusions cannot be traced to Rutherford who may have even been favorable towards them. Another influential man in Witness history, though, held a disposition towards medicine which is compatible with the Witnesses’ world view and helped lead to their current stance on blood transfusions. Clayton J. Woodworth is known as a co-author of many books with Rutherford. Of the key supporters of


116Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, "Life in the Blood," Christianity Today, 18 March 1983, 21.


Rutherford during days of internal opposition, Woodworth is called "the least rational of all" and in "later years he was to prove himself a thoroughgoing health faddist and hater of the medical profession."117 Woodworth was extremely fanciful in his allegorical interpretation of the Bible. He interpreted Biblical passages as applying specifically to personages within the Witness movement of his day. So wild were his speculations that Penton says one is tempted to wonder if he were not mad.

Woodworth tried to impose some very strange ideas upon the Witnesses through his influence as editor of The Golden Age, a hi-weekly magazine established by Rutherford. Typical of some of his quack ideas, Woodworth warned readers against the dangers of using aluminum cookware. It was poisonous! He was also opposed to vaccination, the germ theory of disease, chlorination of water, aspirin, and the American Medical Association. The Golden Age offered cures and remedies for everything from the common cold to cancer. Quack doctors were given free expression, but the American Medical Association and its professionals were ridiculed in the same manner that Woodworth ridiculed the Catholic clergy. 118

The Golden Age reported a case where a Witness


117Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, 50, 52.

118White, A People For His Name, 173-74, 391-92; Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, 66.


refused vaccination with the following rationale:

The law of Jehovah God is against the intermingling of animal matter with any human blood, as it is stated in Leviticus chapter 18. The life is in the blood, and as vaccination is a direct injection of animal matter in the blood stream vaccination is a direct violation of the law of Jehovah God. 119

In 1943 the magazine Consolation, the new name of The Golden Age, spoke against eating or partaking of blood.120

The radical ideas of Woodworth did not gain wide acceptance, but the disposition they manifest toward medical science is one that aided in the later acceptance of Witness pronouncements prohibiting blood transfusions. Their literature frequently portrays medical authorities in a negative manner, in particular telling of the pressure they exert upon Witnesses to get them to submit to a transfusion.121 Witnesses had stressed the Bible injunctions against eating and drinking blood before 1945. They refused to eat blood sausages or blood puddings, but there was little concern with blood transfusions before that time. In 1937 the first large scale blood bank was established in Cook County, Illinois, but Witnesses paid little attention to this


119The Golden Age, 24 April 1935, 465; cited by White, A People For His Name, p. 392. It is interesting that Witnesses may now receive vaccinations.

120Consolation, 22 December 1943, 23; White, A People For His Name, 392.

121"Preservation by Obedience to God’s Law on Blood," Watchtower, 15 April 1961, 252-53.


except through later historical notations.122

During World War II, though, the use of blood transfusions became much more frequent and common. Before the war was over the first official declaration by the Witnesses against transfusions came in the 1 July 1945 issue of The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom. It appealed to Psalms 16:4 and began the controversy which continues to this day.123 Very soon the pages of Awake! and Watchtower were featuring articles on the blood transfusion question with regularity.

On 22 June 1961 at the international series of United Worshipers District Assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses which was held in Yankee Stadium in New York, talks were delivered on "Respect for the Sanctity of blood" and "Using Life in Harmony with the Will of God". The booklet Blood, Medicine and the Law of God was released at this time.124 This booklet was the most scholarly presentation of the case of the Witnesses up to this time, designed to sway the opinions of professionals in medicine in particular.

In 1977 the Witnesses made a world-wide effort to educate the medical community on their reasons for refusing


122Life Everlasting, 336.

123Life Everlasting, 340; White, A People For His Name, 392; Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, 153.

124Life Everlasting, 341; Blood, Medicine and the Law of God.


blood transfusions. A sixty-four page pamphlet124 was given to 370,000 doctors, 1,000,000 nurses, and 320,000 lawyers and judges in the United States alone. This booklet contains a summary of their thought which is similar to the arguments in their previous book Blood, Medicine and the Law of God. Both booklets contain the best supporting quotations from medical and legal literature and from historical and Biblical studies that the Witnesses have been able to collect over the years. The tone is very subdued, designed to gain a sympathetic hearing from those with whom a Witness may be in conflict over a transfusion. For example their 1961 booklet Blood, Medicine and the Law of God says,

While some of Jehovah’s witnesses are doctors and nurses, the majority are not, so they are not going to try to tell the doctor that they know more about his business than he does. However, since the refusal of blood transfusion is an issue that particularly involves Jehovah’s witnesses, we are glad to co-operate with doctors, saving them time in research in their own medical literature, by putting at their disposal information from medical publications that will help them to appreciate that even from a medical viewpoint the religious belief of Jehovah’s witnesses on the matter of blood is not unreasonable and that, even without the use of blood, there is much that can be done for those who need treatment. 126

Their 1977 booklet that was distributed so widely expressed similar feelings.127 Varieties of responses were reported,


125Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood.

126B1ood, Medicine and the Law of God, 16-17.

127Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, 27-28.


but overall the Witnesses were very pleased with the results of this effort.128

Beckford asks if the Witness stance on blood transfusions is "dictated more by considerations of tactics than of principle." Noting that the Watchtower position was unclear at first on this issue and on the flag-salute, conscription, vasectomy, and artificial insemination by donor issues and that only later after lengthy deliberation was a position defined and delivered to the movement as a whole, this is a reasonable question. Beckford outlines three possible approaches:

(a) The decisions may have been taken with a view to optimizing the Society ½ chances of defending and promoting its interests. (b) They may have been ad hoc responses to immediate problems without an underlying rationale. (c) They may have reflected sincere attempts to translate certain abstract scriptural principles into rules for practical conduct. 129

It is impossible to know which of these is more nearly correct because of our ignorance of the inner workings of the process by which such positions were defined in Brooklyn. Beckford is uncertain, but he thinks that all three may be true in a sense. Looking at their decisions from the standpoint of results he points out that the Society has provided


128"Blood Transfusions: Why Many Are Taking a Fresh Look," Awake!, 8 September 1978, 16-23.

129James A. Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy, 59.


legal, moral and material assistance to its members in their struggle to implement its decisions in the face of stern opposition. In this way, the ensuing hardships have not been a strongly divisive factor among Jehovah’s witnesses but have contributed in part towards a great sense of solidarity, for on balance, the positive advantages of public distinctiveness probably outweigh the depressing effects on recruitment rates.130

Since the initial stand was taken in 1945 the "governing body has waxed stricter and stricter on the question of blood."131 Before 1961 disfellowship was not recommended for those who accepted a transfusion. At that time, though, when a reader asked, the governing body answered:

The inspired Holy Scriptures answer yes. . . . Blood transfusions were not in vogue in the apostolic days. Nevertheless, although the twelve apostles and their fellow members of the Jerusalem congregation may not have had such a thing as the modern blood transfusion in mind, yet the decree handed down by them included such a thing in its scope. 132

If the member in question was an immature believer committing a first offense, then forgiveness could be granted upon repentance. If it were a repeat offense or if the individual did not repent, disfellowship was necessary.

One former Witness told of his disfellowship over the transfusion question. He had privately questioned the doctrine in the early l950s but was not reprimanded in any way for it. In the late l950s he counseled with a family to



131White, A People For His Name, 395.

132"Questions from Readers," The Watchtower, 15 January 1961, 63.


let the doctor make the decision on a transfusion for a child in the family. For this he was disfellowshipped even though he had not given blood or received a transfusion himself. He protested that some higher persons in the movement had either given blood or received a transfusion without a single rebuke, but this defense did not help him.133

The Witnesses have prohibited blood transfusions for pets or the feeding of pet food that contains blood. Blood may not even to be used as fertilizer.134 These declarations brought ridicule from Witnesses who saw an inconsistency. Animals in nature did not drain the blood from their food, and blood poured out on the ground became fertilizer anyway.135

As new information comes to light and as new applications are discovered by medical science, the Witnesses are confronted with a continued need for defining right behavior. They have condemned the practice of receiving a transfusion of one’s own blood but permitted the use of a device like a heart-lung pump or a kidney dialysis machine as long as it is primed with a non-blood solution. The Witnesses have resorted to technical and inconsistent


133These events are related by William Cetnor, a former employee of Bethany, in Gruss, We Left Jehovah’s Witnesses, 84.

134"Questions from Readers," The Watchtower, 15 February 1964, 127-28.

135White, A People For His Name, 396.


distinctions such as momentary storage versus channeling blood directly back into the body in order to draw clear lines about right behaviour in such cases.136

A very brief note appeared in Journal of the American Medical Association recommending a technique where blood from a hemorrhage is channeled back into the body when one is dealing with a Jehovah’s Witness. The note commented, "Apparently, officials of the Jehovah’s Witnesses will sanction a patient receiving a transfusion of his own blood."137 The Watchtower Society was quick to respond, saying that this technique was not a transfusion, therefore they would not oppose it. They objected to the suggestion that they condoned transfusions of one’s own blood:

If the blood were to be ‘collected’ and kept even for a few moments before being transfused, . . then the technique would come within the definition of transfusion and would be contrary to the Bible….

We sincerely trust that you will make every effort to see that this clear-cut position is not misunderstood. We trust that you will also take every precaution to see that nothing is published in your journal which might be used in an effort to convince one of Jehovah’s Witnesses that there might be some exceptions to blood transfusion authorized by the Bible. There are none.138


136Blood Medicine and the Law of God, 15; United in Worship of the Only True God (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1983), 158; Wayne Jackson, "Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions," Christian Courier 7 (November 1971): 27.

137George X. Trimble, "Critique and Cavil," Journal of the American Medical Association 188 (11 May 1964): 532.

138"Autotransfusion and Jehovah’s Witnesses," Journal of the American Medical Association 188 (1 June 1964): 832.


The Witnesses have permitted blood tests, but they frequently repeat warnings about blood in food.139 They have declared the ingredient lecithin permissible, and blood substitutes or plasma expanders have been approved.140 They discourage bone-marrow transplants on the basis that the marrow would contain a few blood cells and additional transfusion might accompany the procedure, but they have not strictly forbidden them.141 Leaving such a transplant to the conscience of an individual Witness is a clear example of how inconsistent the Witnesses can be. Technically, the procedure involves at least a mini-blood transfusion.

One other example of the inconsistencies in which the Witnesses are entangled is their stance on inoculation. They say that inoculations are virtually unavoidable in some segments of society, so they leave the decision up to the individual conscience of the Witness. They admit inoculation involves a "serum containing blood fractions." Nevertheless, it is permissible since one "is not directly eating blood." This argumentation is of great significance since a blood transfusion is viewed as eating blood. Their reasoning is


139"Questions from Readers," Watchtower, 15 June 1978, 29-31 . 140"Questions from Readers," Watchtower, 15 March 1979, 31; "Questions from Readers," Watchtower, 15 January 1984, 31.

141"Questions from Readers," Watchtower, 15 May 1984, 31.


that it "is not used for food or to replace lost blood."142 Although they condemn other uses of blood as a violation of the command to eat blood even when the motivation may not be for nourishment, here the injection of blood is permissible and judged not to be eating blood because of the motive. The question of serums continues to arise and is left as a ‘‘ gray area" for the individual Witness to decide. Since it involves only a little bit of blood and is not a "flouting" of God’s law, it is thought to be different from a blood transfusion.143

Even the manner in which Witnesses obey the prohibition against blood is a topic of frequent discussion. They are encouraged to resist blood transfusions very strongly, making sure that medical authorities are aware of their faith. If a court orders a transfusion, one may be forced to receive blood, but one should not willingly cooperate. One Witness who told the court that she would not authorize a transfusion, but neither would she resist one, was held up as a poor example of the lack of the proper resolve for God’s will.144

A letter from the Watchtower Society to the Villanova


142"Employment and Conscience," Watchtower, 15 November 1964, 682.

143"Questions from Readers," Watchtower, 1 June 1974, 351-52; and Ibid., 15 June 1978, 30-31.

144"Questions from Readers," Watchtower, 15 August 1967, 511.


Law Review makes clear the need for a "conscientious witness" to resist:

Unless the conscientious witness of Jehovah knows within himself that he has done everything possible within reason and right and without injury to another to observe God’s law foremost, and to nullify the effect of the court order against him, he knows within himself that upon being subjected to such a forced blood transfusion by court order he is . . . guilty of offending God. . The conscientious witness of Jehovah knows, furthermore, that his taking blood into his system under such circumstances will come up for review before the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses of which he is an acting member. When the judicial committee appointed by the congregation examines into his case if it finds that he has not done everything possible and within reason and right to avoid the forcible enforcement of the judicial court order upon his person, but has willingly submitted to its enforcement without recourse to all available steps and measures, then the congregation’s judicial committee will find him guilty of willfully violating the law of God and will issue a decree of excommunication against him.145

Although the Witnesses recognize that on occasion a blood transfusion may save a life, they prefer to bolster their position by sensationalizing the dangers and failures of blood transfusions. Their reasoning is that as a breaking of the will of God, receiving a blood transfusion is more dangerous than refusing one. Witness literature constantly tells of the dangers of blood transfusion such as improper administration, poor matching in spite of tests, and the possible spread of diseases such as syphilis, malaria, and


145Cited by Edward C. Mengel, Jr., "Constitutional Law--Freedom of Religion--Blood Transfusions May Be Administered to Expectant Mother Despite Her Religious Objections if Necessary to Save Her Life or That of Her Child," Villanova Law Review 10 (Fall 1964): 141n.


hepatitis.146 A lack of trust in the accuracy of tests and in the efficiency of the medical profession heightens the fear of the Witnesses. The recent phenomenon of AIDS is being appealed to by them in a prominent way as a perfect example of why their teaching is best.147 A lengthy Witness report on AIDS concludes: "Perhaps more people will now search out doctors who have developed the more careful methods that are used by specialists in the growing field of bloodless surgery."148

Farr estimates that 40 percent of their literature on blood is devoted to medical objections to the practice. He admits that Witnesses are correct that transfusions can be


146"’Blood Transfusions Can Kill,"’ Awake!, 8 July 1960, 8; "Blood Transfusion of Women Can Kill Their Babies," Awake!, 8 November 1960, 20-23; "Preservation by Obedience," 253-55; "Using Life in Harmony With the Will of God," Watchtower, 15 September 1961, 561-64; "Do Hospital Patients Have Rights," 22-24; "Blood Transfusions are Hazardous," Awake!, 22 May 1967, 20-21; "Not Appreciating the Dangers," Awake!, 22 May 1967, 22-23; "Medical Treatment With Blood--An Emotional Issue," Awake!, 22 May 1979, 3-4; "When Doctors Seek to Force Blood Transfusions," Awake!, 22 May 1974, 18-20; Blood, Medicine and the Law of God, 16-38; Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, 41-49; and How, "Religion, Medicine and Law," 374-79, 411-12, 415-18. How is a Witness and a member of the bar in Canada. He has appeared in court in the United States in blood transfusions cases and served as counsel for Witnesses in Canada on many occasions. Also see J. Lowell Dixon, "Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusion," Connecticut Medicine 39 (July 1975): 434-35. When this article was written Dixon was serving as medical director for the Watchtower Society.

147"’Legal Issues’ in Transfusion Medicine," Watchtower, 15 April 1986, 26-27; "How to Protect Yourself From AIDS," Awake!, 22 April 1986, 9.

148"AIDS" Awake!, 22 April 1986, 7.


abused and dangerous. He agrees that "cosmetic" transfusions are inexcusable. He rightly concludes, though, that the abuse does not make transfusions wrong in and of them- selves.149 Farr is correct except the Witnesses’ medical arguments are secondary evidence to them, not the prime motivation for their refusal of blood.

The Witnesses constantly stress that many blood transfusions are unnecessary and that many forms of alternative treatment are available.150 Very commonly Witness literature explains techniques of how anemia can be treated without blood, or of how major surgery--including open-heart surgery--can be performed without blood transfu- sions.151 Transfusions are described by one Witness as a medical craze that may be obsolete tomorrow.152 There are many unnecessary transfusions that are performed and there is


149A. Derek Farr, God, Blood and Society (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1972), 41-42.

150"Do Hospital Patients Have Rights?" 26-27; "Supreme Court Agrees: Your Children Do Not Belong to You," 15-16; "Coping With the RH Threat in Childbirth," Awake!, 8 April 1965, 17-19; "Parental Decision Vindicated," Awake!, 22 November 1970, 12-15; Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, 38-41, 49-55.

151"Surgery Without Blood Transfusions," Awake!, 22 July 1965, 8-13; "Doing Without Blood Transfusions," Awake!, 22 May 1967, 24-26; "Alternatives to Blood Transfusion," Awake!, 22 August 1969, 17-23; "Major Surgery Without Blood," Awake!, 22 June 1974, 17-22; Blood, Medicine and the Law of God, 38-47; Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, 55-58.

152How, "Religion, Medicine and Law," 379-85.


risk involved in any transfusion.

Although the Witnesses carry regular features about members who refused a blood transfusion and died, they soften the reality of refusal of treatment by appealing to the hopelessness of some of those cases, the unprofessional conduct of the physicians, or the glory of the firm resolve of the Witness who was steadfast in his or her faith.153 Stories of those who refused a transfusion and lived are also told as justification of their doctrine.154 They also report about Witnesses who were forced to receive a transfusion and died in spite of it.155

The origin and development of the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine against blood transfusions has been traced from its beginning during World War II to its current enhancement and application. While the doctrine is made more acceptable by the Witnesses cultural outlook, that alone does not explain the rise of the belief. Further information on the inner workings of the Society explaining their development of this


153"Preservation by Obedience," 252-53; "Her Faith Was Unshakable," Watchtower, 1 August 1982, 22; "Strength Beyond What Is Normal--How They Found It," Watchtower, 15 February 1983, 28-29.

154"Preservation by Obedience," 252; "Court Decision Deprives Parents of Rights," 24; "Your Medical Freedom--The Courts Speak!", 12-13; "We Stuck To Our Beliefs," Awake!, 22 May 1979, 8-16; "‘You Will Die Without Blood!"’, Awake!, 22 December 1983, 12-15; "Finding a Doctor Who Would Respect Their Beliefs," Awake!, 8 November 1965, 17-19.

155"Suing the Doctor," Awake!, 22 June 1960, 9; "Maintaining Integrity Despite Pressure," Awake!, 22 May 1967, 16-19.


doctrine will probably not be forthcoming. The aura of secrecy lends an air of authority to the pronouncements of the Society. One can expect the requirements of further applications as technology pushes the Witnesses’ legalism to more precise definitions in ever newer circumstances.

Transfusions and Witness Ideology

The thought of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been analyzed by Beckford and categorized according to their ideology. His analysis is very valuable in reflecting how the Witness way of thinking can affect attitudes and behavioral patterns. An attempt to understand why the Witnesses believe that blood transfusions are sinful and how they attain such widespread devotion to their teaching is aided by Beckford’s typology. His characteristics of their ideology are listed with the author’s application to the issue of blood transfusions.156

1. Historicism. They are concerned with patterns, periods, and laws of history. There is a built-in resistance to the possibility that the group's understanding of God’s plan in history could be wrong at any point. This point of their ideology does not directly affect their view on blood transfusions, but it does reflect their mind-set as to holding a minority position.

2. Absolutism. The Witnesses believe the Society


156Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy, 196-209.


dispenses absolute truth, and the Witnesses resist any counter-claims. The individual Witness must show absolute loyalty to the Society. This characteristic is useful in obtaining obedience to an ethic that is a minority position in society and potentially life-endangering such as the refusal to receive blood.

3. Activism. The Witnesses are highly motivated to perform certain acts, particularly relating to evangelism. These acts define their relationship with the group and are a prerequisite of salvation. The inclusion of faithfulness in refusing blood transfusions within that narrow scope of activities required for salvation and for fellowship is a strong incentive to obedience.

4. Rationalism. Certainty and reason are important to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Truth is viewed as absolute and attainable. The Witnesses make a great show of being systematic and logical in their argumentation. Their meetings, as a result, are unemotional, and emphasis is placed upon teaching. A common characteristic of the modern day sect is the presentation of its claims in the traditional forms found in secular society.157 Russell and others do not play the role of charismatic leaders. Beliefs are presented with logic and argument designed to convince the hearer through an appeal to the intellect. As to their refusal to


157Bryan R. Wilson, Religion in Secular Society (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1966), 214-17.


receive blood, Witnesses quickly dismiss emotional appeals to save One’s life and rely on the cold logic of obedience to the commands of God even if it means death. They appeal to a variety of evidence to bolster their claim, in particular any medical authorities whose conclusions point to dangers inherent in blood transfusions.

5. Authoritarianism. All Witness doctrine is rigidly structured. Their beliefs are thought to be a self-contained closed system which, in itself, limits criticism or questioning from the members. Members realize that they must either accept the society’s position on blood or leave.

6. Extremism. Beckford argues that this characteristic is the most common public perception of the Witnesses. However, his study reveals that the behavior of Witnesses "betrays no signs of violent alienation from major social institutions or processes."158 Except for a few selective areas in which they exhibit a refusal to conform to the expectations of society, Beckford believes the Witnesses might better be described as indifferent to the world rather than extremist or revolutionary.159 He finds a possible explanation in that Witnesses are closer to middle-class radicalism than to working-class radicalism, the latter of which has a propensity toward violent, political upheaval. Also by revolutionary he is thinking in terms of their doctrines about the end of time and the total restructuring


158Ibid., 206.

159Ibid., 207.


of society they envision.

The outlook of Witnesses "is basically conservative and fully congruent with their social and material status,"’60 but world indifference lends authenticity to their stance against blood transfusions as a rejection of the accepted conventions of the world. The description of extremist by the average person probably has more to do with the Witnesses being a "non-conformist group" or their image as a weird religious sect’’ than public perceptions about political revolution.161 The extremist label is appropriate, though, if it is understood in terms of a "heightened sense of commitment and distinctiveness" which is common to sectarianism.162 The intensity of the religion of the Witnesses, which has been maintained through repeated eschatological claims, gives rise to the label of extremist.

The strong convictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses against blood transfusions has been analyzed through the historical development of the doctrine and explained by virtue of the overall disposition of the Witnesses toward culture. Their belief in an impending Armageddon and in the extreme importance of obedience to the society’s prohibition of transfusions explains how a Witness can choose death by refusal of treatment, or even be actively instrumental in the


1601bid., 207-08.

161Rogerson, Millions Now living Will Never Die, 1.

162Wilson, Religion in Secular Society, 210.


death of another by preventing their reception of blood.163 There is no question that the belief of a Witness may be a sincere conviction based upon what is thought to be Bible teaching. The purpose here has been to understand how their beliefs about blood can be held with such tenacity that it can even mean death for a Witness needing a transfusion. Witnesses’ beliefs are highly integrated in their whole thought structure about life and the world.

Their separation from the world predisposes them to accept a doctrine that makes them distinct from the world. Their sectarian nature encourages them to accept a practice that unites them and serves as a test of allegiance to the group. Their history has conditioned them to distrust the medical sciences. Both their belief in the corruption of this world and Christendom and their superior attitude as sole possessors of the truth isolate them from possible persuasion away from their faith or fair consideration of evidence against their stance. Their conviction that they must be persecuted as God’s faithful minority conditions their belief that persuasion or court orders to receive blood


163The high murder rate among Witnesses has been associated with their low concern over the loss of human life in Havor Montague, "The Pessimistic Sect's Influence," 137. Montague says it is common in his treatment of Witnesses to "hear hours of verbalizations, expressing severe hopelessness, hostility towards both insiders and outsiders, regret and doubt" (Ibid., 139). He presents convincing evidence of the high rate of mental illness among Witnesses as does John Spencer, "The Mental Health of Jehovah’s Witnesses," British Journal of Psychiatry 126 (June 1975): 556-59. Also see Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, 288-92.


are examples of that persecution. Their alienation from education opens the way for and perpetuates their natural distrust in the professional opinion of educated medical experts. Their view of ministry without clergy-laity distinctions encourages their belief that through the Watchtowers publications a Witness can know as much about blood as any physician.

Their millennial faith promotes urgency to "obey the commands of God" rather than taking thought for this life. Their lower social rank adds to their feeling of dispossession and alienation from society and encourages their fear of medical or legal institutions having control over them. Their literal, uncritical approach to Bible study makes it easier for them to accept untenable positions on religious truth. Their allegiance to the Watchtower as the definer of truth places their intellect at the mercy of others with little or no opportunity for input or criticism. Their lack of critical and historical study leaves most of them ignorant of the origins of their belief. Their alienation and distrust of outsiders limit the possibilities of their hearing arguments against their beliefs. One study approached the Witnesses by analyzing their reasons for affiliation rather than the usual church-sect ideology. In testing various theories it was found that confusion about moral standards in the world was an important


factor in a persons becoming a Witness.164 This type of predisposition would make an individual prone not only to become a Witness but to be converted to a well-defined system of morality which claims the sanction of God and the brotherhood of Gods people throughout the centuries before the corrupting innovations of modern society initiated change. It also should help a non-Witness understand how the Witnesses can hold such a belief with devoted defiance against the rest of the world.


164Beckford, "New Wine in New Bottles," 80-81.

[End of chapter 1]