Scientist Joseph Priestley's Actual Opinion on Blood Transfusions

Andrew W. Lusk


In attempts to buttress its position on blood, the Watchtower Society has taken some real liberties with written presentations, including those of "early scientists." One of these is Joseph Priestley.

The Watchtower Society comments on Priestley in the pamphlet "How Can Blood Save Your Life?" (Copyright 2000). In Part 2 "Blood -- Vital For Life," section Blood and True Christians, the last paragraph states the following:

"Scientist Joseph Priestley concluded: "The prohibition to eat blood, given to Noah, seems to be obligatory on all his posterity ... If we interpret [the] prohibition of the apostles by the practice of the primitive Christians, who can hardly be supposed not to have rightly understood the nature and extent of it, we cannot but conclude, that it was intended to be absolute and perpetual; for blood was not eaten by any Christians for many centuries.""

This partial quotation is grossly misleading, as will be shown. First, why would the Watchtower quote Joseph Priestley, especially in a section of a blood pamphlet that deals with "true Christians"?

Priestley, the "discoverer" of oxygen, was not only a scientist but also a minister and founder of the first Unitarian Church in America. This fact is something the Watchtower fails to note in the "Blood and True Christians" section of their blood pamphlet. Since the Watchtower believes that all churches are part of Satan's organization, one wonders how the Watchtower could associate Priestley with "true Christians," however loosely.

See J. T. Rutt's 25 volumes of "The Theological and Miscellaneous WORKS & c. of Joseph Priestley, LL.D. F.R.S. & c. with Notes by the Editor", 1972 edition, Kraus Reprint Company, New York, 1972. The Watchtower quotations of Priestley are located in Volume II of Rutt's works. The volume contains "The Institutes, Appeal, and Familiar Illustration."

In Volume II, please note Part III: "Containing a View of the Doctrines of Revelation," Appendix Section II "Of Abstinence from Blood," pages 376 to 380. (See Appendix, below.)

On page 376, Priestley's first paragraph on blood states:

"The question concerning the lawfulness of eating blood, ought to have been considered under the head of precepts that are not of a moral nature; but, as it is a subject of much less importance than the rest, and of a more doubtful nature, I have thought proper to reserve the discussion of it to this Appendix, in which I shall endeavour to do justice to the arguments of both sides."

Thus Priestley considers the Bible's comments on blood so much less important and "of a more doubtful nature" that he decides to discuss blood in an Appendix!

Priestley's discussion takes on BOTH sides of the issue regarding the eating of blood. He deals with the "eating" of blood and nothing more. Nothing is said about transfusions. He implies nothing about transfusion; any such notion is sheer fabrication and not even reasonable inference regarding "eating."

At the end of the Appendix he states:

"Though, in discussing this subject, I have generally mentioned the arguments for the prohibition of blood before those against it, and have replied to the latter more than to the former, I would not have my reader conclude, that I am fully determined in my judgement with respect to it. Let him weigh what has been advanced on both sides, and decide for himself; not forgetting, that this question relates to the least of all positive precept, and that all positive or ceremonial precepts are of little importance compared to the smallest moral duty."

Priestley never reaches a conclusion on blood and deems it of little importance compared to the smallest moral duties.

Please note: This is a much different conclusion from what the Watchtower blood publication presents.

The Watchtower quotation on Priestley is found in part of sentence 1 in paragraph 2 (on page 376) and in sentence 1, paragraph 12 (on page 380). There are ten paragraphs loaded with information between the two parts in which the Watchtower quotes Priestley.

The Watchtower clearly distorts what Joseph Priestley wanted to convey with respect to eating blood. One wonders how Joseph Priestley, a person who put great value on life, would feel about the Watchtower's stand on blood transfusions.


Appendix

Note: the bold sections are the Watchtower's quotes found in its blood pamphlet.

Part III, "Containing a View of the Doctrines of Revelation," Appendix.

Page 376

SECTION II.

Of Abstinence from Blood.

The question concerning the lawfulness of eating blood, ought to have been considered under the head of precepts that are not of a moral nature; but, as it is a subject of much less importance than the rest, and of a more doubtful nature, I have thought proper to reserve the discussion of it to this Appendix, in which I shall endeavour to do justice to the arguments of both sides.

The prohibition to eat blood, given to Noah, seems to be obligatory on all his posterity; and as it accompanied the first express grant of animal food, it seems to be reserved, by way of acknowledgment to God, as the giver of life, and of the

Page 377

food which supports it. Also this respect paid to blood, which is shed when animals are killed for food, and which is the most apparent vehicle of life, may be intended to inculcate a respect for life, as the most valuable gift of God, and to warn us not to deprive any animal of it, much less man, without necessity.

It is observable, that the awful denunciation of the judgement of God against murder, immediately follows the prohibition to eat blood, as if it had been understood that they had some connection. Gen. ix. 3-6: "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things; but flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall you not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it; and at the hand of man, at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man."

It may likewise be added, as an additional argument for abstaining from blood, that it is far from being a wholesome aliment, especially in hot countries, promoting leprous and scorbutic disorders.*

Some have argued, that the precept given to Noah, was only intended to prohibit the eating of the flesh of animals raw, or cut off without killing the animal; but the ancient Jews understood it differently; and when Moses repeats the injunction to the Jews in particular, (where it cannot but be acknowledged that he intended to express a prohibition of the use of blood itself,) he gives precisely the same reason for it as in this case. Lev. xvii. 14: "Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof." It is most probable, therefore, that the two commands differ only in terms, and that they have both the very same meaning.

It might have been imagined that, by Christianity, the Gentiles, at least, had been exempted from the observance of this precept; but among other things which were before held innocent or indifferent by them, but which were proper to be observed after their conversion to Christianity, the

*What Dr. Lardner says upon this subject is pretty remarkable. "Blood appears to me to be very unwholesome. Indeed, I esteem it filthy, and highly disagreeable. So that I cannot bear the thought of eating it. If ever it comes to me in food, it is more than I know. And I suppose it is never brought, either alone, or mixed with other things, to the table of polite people." Remarks on Ward's Dissertation, p. 132. P. Works, XI. p 380. See also on the Apostolic Decree, Acts xv. the French writer mentioned p. 183. Seconde Lettre, p. 344.

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apostles expressly included this, when they were solemnly assembled in council, in order to write to the disciples at Antioch, who had applied to them about their obligation to observe the laws of Moses. And though it is not expressly said, that they were particularly directed by God to decide in this manner, yet it seems to be implied, when they say, that it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, as well as to themselves, Acts xv. 28: "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which, if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well."

It is said by some, and especially Dr. Lardner, that this was only a temporary provision, designed to prevent giving offence to the Jews; but, in answer to this, it may be said, that there is no intimation, or hint, of its being temporary, or any mention made of a time when the prohibition was to cease; and the apostle John wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem, when it cannot be pretended that there was any necessity for observing so much tenderness with respect to the Jews.

Moreover, it is not impossible, but that the Lord himself might refer to this decree of the apostles, and thereby give his sanction to it, when, in this message to the church at Thyatira, he says, Rev. ii. 24, 25, "I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come." No moral precept is ever properly called a burden in the Scriptures; and, therefore, they are probably some observances of a ceremonial nature, that are referred to; and the very same word, baroV, burden, is made use of, both by the apostles, and by our Lord on this occasion.*

It may be seen extraordinary, that the prohibition of fornication should be joined to that of eating blood, in the same decree; but it should be considered, that fornication was not thought to be an immorality by the Gentiles; and even the Jews had not the same ideas of chastity and purity in this respect, which are enjoined upon the Christians. Dr.

* It appears to me rather extraordinary, that Dr. Lardner should be of opinion, that our Lord refers to this apostolical decree in the Revelation, which he supposes to have been written in the year 95 or 96, a long time after the destruction of Jerusalem, and yet that it should have been intended to continue in force only till his religion had made greater progress in the world; as if that was the meaning of his coming: whereas, I do not think, that any thing else in the language of the New Testament would lead us to conclude, that this phrase was applicable to any other than some determinate event, and especially the destruction of Jesualem, or the time of the final judgement. See Remarks on Ward's Dissertations, p. 122. P. Works, XI. p. 325

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Lardner supposes that, by fornication in the apostolical decree, we are to understand marriage with Heathens, from which the apostle Paul so earnestly dissuades the Christians at Corinth.

Dr. Lardner also supposes, that "this decree is not to be understood as a precept or commandment, but as delivering advice and counsel, concerning some matters of prudence and expedience, considering the circumstances of the things and persons at the time."* But it cannot be denied, that it becomes all Christians to yield to such advice and counsel, if it extend to them. And if, as he allows, it did extend to Christians after the destruction of Jerusalem, I do not see that there is not equal reason why it should extend to us. And one of the reasons for abstaining from blood, which was hinted at when the prohibition was given to Noah, is of as much weight now as ever it was.

It has been urged as an argument against the perpetuity of the apostolical decree in the Acts, that the apostle Paul never quotes or alludes to it in his writings. But, admitting it to be temporary, no person will maintain that it was not designed to extend beyond the time of his Epistles; and yet, though the unlawfulness of fornication be allow to be perpetual, Paul did not avail himself of any argument drawn from that decree when he wrote on that subject to the Corinthians, who, of all the Greeks, were most remarkably addicted to that vice.

If we interpret this prohibition of the apostles by the practice of the primitive Christians, who can hardly be supposed not to have rightly understood the nature and extent of it, we cannot but conclude, that it was intended to be absolute and perpetual; for blood was not eaten by any Christians for many centuries. When the Christians were charged with meeting in the night, and drinking blood, by way of binding one another to secrecy, in some immoral practices, Tertullian observes, with respect to it, that it is well known that no Christian would eat blood at all; insomuch, that it was usual with Heathens, when they wanted to know whether any person was a Christian, to set blood puddings before him, as a very sufficient test.

Blood is not eaten by Christians in any part of the East, or by the Greeks or Russians, who are of the Greek church, to this day; nor indeed was the use of blood introduced into this western part of the world till very late. When

* Remarks on Ward's Dissertations, p. 141. P. Works, XI. p. 335.

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the Pomeranians were converted to Christianity, which was in 1120, they were particularly enjoined to abstain from blood, as a badge of their profession. It was not allowed to be eaten in the West in the time of Bede, or a century afterwards; and blood was not eaten in any part of Switzerland till Calvin introduced the practice from some other place. See Curcellaeus on this subject. Dr. Lardner, however, says, that little regard was paid to these regulations of the apostolical decree by the Latin Christians, from the end of the fourth century.*

It is farther said, that the liberal spirit of Christians is strongly against any such a distinction of meats as the prohibition of the use of blood supposes; and that even the very letter of the declaration of our Lord and his apostles excludes any such distinction. Thus we read, Matt. xv. 11, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man." And the apostle Paul represents him who believeth that he may eat all things, as not weak but as of a stronger and more enlarged mind than he who thought and acted differently, Rom. xiv. 1. He also says, ver. 17, "The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost;" and ver. 20, "All things indeed are pure: but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence."

But our Saviour made the declaration above-mentioned, at a time when he himself strictly conformed even to the Jewish distinction of meats; and Paul might only allude to the same restrictions, to which, as well as to other Jewish rites, many Christians then conformed. The same apostle, in the same general manner, makes light of all distinction of days, through he, no doubt, made a distinction of one day of the rest.

Though, in discussing this subject, I have generally mentioned the arguments for the prohibition of blood before those against it, and have replied to the latter more than to the former, I would not have my reader conclude, that I am fully determined in my judgement with respect to it. Let him weigh what has been advanced on both sides, and decide for himself; not forgetting, that this question relates to the least of all positive precept, and that all positive or ceremonial precepts are of little importance compared to the smallest moral duty.

* Remarks on Ward's Dissertations, p. 136. P. Works, XI. p. 332. P.


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