How the Watchtower Distorts the Writings of Tertullian to Justify a Blood Transfusion Ban

Andrew W. Lusk (with Maximus and Marvin Shilmer)


On page 29 of the June 15, 2000 Watchtower, the "Questions From Readers" (herein called QFR) section deals with blood transfusions. Tertullian is quoted in the fifth and sixth paragraphs of that page.

Tertullian's remarks in the QFR are found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, Chapter IX, The Apology. The Watchtower's blood pamphlet also uses similar remarks of Tertullian to support a blood transfusion ban. The quotations can be read as different versions on the Internet sites shown below.

Full copies are attached in the Appendix and in bold the quotations used by the Watchtower. Note that the Watchtower has only partially presented and not correctly quoted certain sections of Tertullian's Apology, Chapter IX.

The Watchtower's Reasoning book also quotes Tertullian. The Watchtower states the following:

"Does the Bible's prohibition include human blood?

"Yes, and early Christians understood it that way. Acts 15:29 says to "keep abstaining from ... blood." It does not say merely to abstain from animal blood. (Compare Leviticus 17:10, which prohibited eating "any sort of blood.") Tertullian (who wrote in defense of the beliefs of early Christians) stated: "The interdict upon ''blood'' we shall understand to be (an interdict) much more upon human blood." -- The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 86."

Tertullian's full sentence from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV is as follows (the part quoted by the Society is bold):

"Sufficient it is, that in this place withal there has been preserved to adultery and fornication the post of their own honour between idolatry and murder: for the interdict upon "blood" we shall understand to be (an interdict) much more upon human blood."

It is evident the Society wants readers to conclude that Tertullian supports the idea of abstaining from eating human blood.

It is also evident that, when read in their entirety, Tertullian's remarks were not at all about eating human blood. Rather, Tertullian's remarks were that the interdict to abstain from blood found in the Apostolic Decree of Acts, Chapter 15, applies "much more upon human blood" in respect to murder.

Perhaps Tertullian too goes beyond what is written. For example, he provides no comment on Deuteronomy 14:21 as well as no comment with respect to Leviticus 17:15. This later pericope provides for one to cleanse himself and take a bath if he had to eat "unbled" meat.

When one fully reads Chapter IX of Tertullian's Apology, Tertullian is seen to be refuting the Romans. He explains that Christians believe it is wrong to sacrifice children and do not partake in that sort of ritual, including abortion. The final portion of Chapter IX deals with refuting postulated incest.

It is true that some early Christian writers abhorred and denounced the practice of eating human blood. However, this practice had to do with eating blood from executed convicts or slaughtered gladiators. Tertullian, in Chapter IX, uses examples of how "food" that comes from dead people, may it be blood or flesh is wrong. In order to refute what bad things have been said about Christians, Tertullian makes the point to the Romans that Christians don't sacrifice people (especially little children) and animals for no good reason and eat them for the simple reason that murder is wrong. In each case persons were partaking of blood taken by force.

Tertullian's comments are fundamentally different from accepting donor blood for transfusion. With donor blood there is no killing involved. There is no religious or ritualistic aspect involved in modern blood transfusion. The practice of eating blood of slaughtered humans is wholly dissimilar from accepting donor blood. Because the practice of transfusion of donor blood or blood fractions did not then exist, no one knows how early Christians would have felt about this practice.

With great irony one reads in the Apology that Tertullian writes about human blood being used to nourish the fetus -- one individual, a fetus, feeding off another individual's (the mother's) blood. It would have been interesting for the Watchtower to explain Tertullian's comments while at the same time using the same information to explain that blood is not to be eaten.

Tertullian's comments were simply not presented in their fullness.


Appendix

The following is from Chapter IX. Portions quoted by the Watchtower are bold:

"How many, think you, of those crowding around and gaping for Christian blood, -- how many even of your rulers, notable for their justice to you and for their severe measures against us, may I charge in their own consciences with the sin of putting their offspring to death? As to any difference in the kind of murder, it is certainly the more cruel way to kill by drowning, or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs. A maturer age has always preferred death by the sword. In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed. As to meals of blood and such tragic dishes, read -- I am not sure where it is told (it is in Herodotus, I think) -- how blood taken from the arms, and tasted by both parties, has been the treaty bond among some nations. I am not sure what it was that was tasted in the time of Catiline. They say, too, that among some Scythian tribes the dead are eaten by their friends. But I am going far from home. At this day, among ourselves, blood consecrated to Bellona, blood drawn from a punctured thigh and then partaken of, seals initiation into the rites of that goddess. Those, too, who at the gladiator shows, for the cure of epilepsy, quaff with greedy thirst the blood of criminals slain in the arena, as it flows fresh from the wound, and then rush off -- to whom do they belong? those, also, who make meals on the flesh of wild beasts at the place of combat -- who have keen appetites for bear and stag? That bear in the struggle was bedewed with the blood of the man whom it lacerated: that stag rolled itself in the gladiator's gore. The entrails of the very bears, loaded with as yet undigested human viscera, are in great request. And you have men rifting up man-fed flesh? If you partake of food like this, how do your repasts differ from those you accuse us Christians of? And do those, who, with savage lust, seize on human bodies, do less because they devour the living? Have they less the pollution of human blood on them because they only lick up what is to turn into blood? They make meals, it is plain, not so much of infants, as of grown-up men.

"Blush for your vile ways before the Christians, who have not even the blood of animals at their meals of simple and natural food; who abstain from things strangled and that die a natural death, for no other reason than that they may not contract pollution, so much as from blood secreted in the viscera. To clench the matter with a single example, you tempt Christians with sausages of blood, just because you are perfectly aware that the thing by which you thus try to get them to transgress they hold unlawful. And how unreasonable it is to believe that those, of whom you are convinced that they regard with horror the idea of tasting the blood of oxen, are eager after blood of men; unless, mayhap, you have tried it, and found it sweeter to the taste! Nay, in fact, there is here a test you should apply to discover Christians, as well as the firepan and the censer. They should be proved by their appetite for human blood, as well as by their refusal to offer sacrifice; just as otherwise they should be affirmed to be free of Christianity by their refusal to taste of blood, as by their sacrificing; and there would be no want of blood of men, amply supplied as that would be in the trial and condemnation of prisoners."

Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.toc.html

The following is the complete Chapter IX:

"That I may refute more thoroughly these charges, I will show that in part openly, in part secretly, practices prevail among you which have led you perhaps to credit similar things about us.

"Children were openly sacrificed in Africa to Saturn as lately as the proconsulship of Tiberius, who exposed to public gaze the priests suspended on the sacred trees overshadowing their temple -- so many crosses on which the punishment which justice craved overtook their crimes, as the soldiers of our country still can testify who did that very work for that proconsul. And even now that sacred. crime still continues to be done in secret. It is not only Christians, you see, who despise you; for all that you do there is neither any crime thoroughly and abidingly eradicated, nor does any of your gods reform his ways. When Saturn did not spare his own children, he was not likely to spare the children of others; whom indeed the very parents themselves were in the habit of offering, gladly responding to the call which was made on them, and keeping the little ones pleased on the occasion, that they might not die in tears. At the same time, there is a vast difference between homicide and parricide. A more advanced age was sacrificed to Mercury in Gaul. I hand over the Tauric fables to their own theatres. Why, even in that most religious city of the pious descendants of Aeneas, there is a certain Jupiter whom in their games they lave with human blood. It is the blood of a beast-fighter, you say. Is it less, because of that, the blood of a man? Or is it viler blood because it is from the veins of a wicked man? At any rate it is shed in murder. O Jove, thyself a Christian, and in truth only son of thy father in his cruelty! But in regard to child murder, as it does not matter whether it is committed for a sacred object, or merely at one's own self-impulse -- although there is a great difference, as we have said, between parricide and homicide -- I shall turn to the people generally.

"How many, think you, of those crowding around and gaping for Christian blood, -- how many even of your rulers, notable for their justice to you and for their severe measures against us, may I charge in their own consciences with the sin of putting their offspring to death? As to any difference in the kind of murder, it is certainly the more cruel way to kill by drowning, or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs. A maturer age has always preferred death by the sword. In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed. As to meals of blood and such tragic dishes, read -- I am not sure where it is told (it is in Herodotus, I think) -- how blood taken from the arms, and tasted by both parties, has been the treaty bond among some nations. I am not sure what it was that was tasted in the time of Catiline. They say, too, that among some Scythian tribes the dead are eaten by their friends. But I am going far from home. At this day, among ourselves, blood consecrated to Bellona, blood drawn from a punctured thigh and then partaken of, seals initiation into the rites of that goddess. Those, too, who at the gladiator shows, for the cure of epilepsy, quaff with greedy thirst the blood of criminals slain in the arena, as it flows fresh from the wound, and then rush off -- to whom do they belong? those, also, who make meals on the flesh of wild beasts at the place of combat -- who have keen appetites for bear and stag? That bear in the struggle was bedewed with the blood of the man whom it lacerated: that stag rolled itself in the gladiator's gore. The entrails of the very bears, loaded with as yet undigested human viscera, are in great request. And you have men rifting up man-fed flesh? If you partake of food like this, how do your repasts differ from those you accuse us Christians of? And do those, who, with savage lust, seize on human bodies, do less because they devour the living? Have they less the pollution of human blood on them because they only lick up what is to turn into blood? They make meals, it is plain, not so much of infants, as of grown-up men.

"Blush for your vile ways before the Christians, who have not even the blood of animals at their meals of simple and natural food; who abstain from things strangled and that die a natural death, for no other reason than that they may not contract pollution, so much as from blood secreted in the viscera. To clench the matter with a single example, you tempt Christians with sausages of blood, just because you are perfectly aware that the thing by which you thus try to get them to transgress they hold unlawful. And how unreasonable it is to believe that those, of whom you are convinced that they regard with horror the idea of tasting the blood of oxen, are eager after blood of men; unless, mayhap, you have tried it, and found it sweeter to the taste! Nay, in fact, there is here a test you should apply to discover Christians, as well as the fire-pan and the censer. They should be proved by their appetite for human blood, as well as by their refusal to offer sacrifice; just as otherwise they should be affirmed to be free of Christianity by their refusal to taste of blood, as by their sacrificing; and there would be no want of blood of men, amply supplied as that would be in the trial and condemnation of prisoners.

"Then who are more given to the crime of incest than those who have enjoyed the instruction of Jupiter himself? Ctesias tells us that the Persians have illicit intercourse with their mothers. The Macedonians, too, are suspected on this point; for on first hearing the tragedy of Oedipus they made mirth of the incest-doer's grief, exclaiming, h9laune ei0j th\ n mhte/ra. Even now reflect what opportunity there is for mistakes leading to incestuous comminglings -- your promiscuous looseness supplying the materials. You first of all expose your children, that they may be taken up by any compassionate passer-by, to whom they are quite unknown; or you give them away, to be adopted by those who will do better to them the part of parents. Well, some time or other, all memory of the alienated progeny must be lost; and when once a mistake has been made, the transmission of incest thence will still go on -- the race and the crime creeping on together. Then, further, wherever you are -- at home, abroad, over the seas -- your lust is an attendant, whose general indulgence, or even its indulgence in the most limited scale, may easily and unwittingly anywhere beget children so that in this way a progeny scattered about in the commerce of life may have intercourse with those who are their own kin, and have no notion that there is any incest in the case.

"A persevering and stedfast chastity has protected us from anything like this: keeping as we do from adulteries and all post-matrimonial unfaithfulness, we are not exposed to incestuous mishaps. Some of us, making matters still more secure, beat away from them entirely the power of sensual sin, by a virgin continence, still boys in this respect when they are old. If you would but take notice that such sins as I have mentioned prevail among you, that would lead you to see that they have no existence among Christians. The same eyes would tell you of both facts. But the two blindnesses are apt to go together; so that those who do not see what is, think they see what is not. I shall show it to be so in everything. But now let me speak of matters which are more dear."


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