Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day Texts from the Bible - Twitter

Take a look at the right-hand side of this Blog, which shows updates from our Twitter account. 

In addition to using Twitter for various updates for recent or for important information, I have been using Twitter to send out "Day Texts," or translations from the Bible based on my nearly twenty-five years of experience in researching, evaluating, and handling biblical texts. 

I make no special claims for my translations, or for myself. As always, what I offer is what I consider to be based on the best available reasons. For these Day Text translations, I have put forth what I consider an accurate expression of each text according to each document's idiom and context, historically and textually. I offer you what I consider the best meaning of the text according to my fairly casual reading each morning, or in researching a particular text.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From Elihu Books' “Chat” Re: Blood, the Bible, and the Watchtower

The Elihu Books online Chat is a more interactive feature of the site which allows me to “chat” more regularly with others in (hopefully) briefer segments for which the particular Chat we use is limited by design. At times in the history of the Elihu Chat I have approved and posted material that spans several Chat “posts.” Though more extensive responses can be more informative, they are not so easy to follow in the currently defined Chat format.

While I still use the Chat for briefer and sometimes for longer interactive discussions, I am more inclined to keep the Chat as brief as possible and then take issues or points from it which may require or deserve further discussion and put them “Upon the Lampstand,” or here on this Blog. Recently, I posted a question submitted by “John” on January 24, 2010, which can be read in its original post on the Chat in message #124. Here I am going to resubmit John’s question in what I hope will be viewed as an accurate expression of what John asked me in the Chat. I will also then present my response, which after writing I believed was too long for the Elihu Chat, but which I believe is important enough to post here in response to John and also to help others who may have similar questions about these often difficult subjects.

Here is John’s question, re-worded for this Blog:
Mr. Stafford, I recently saw your blog about the Watchtower Society Blood Policy and the prohibition of transfusions and felt compelled to write you this question.

My question is does it really matter how our bodies use the blood? That is, whether blood is used as food or as blood, can we not use the prohibition of blood in Acts in principle to apply to either blood used as food or blood used as blood?

Here's an example of what I mean, though it is not intended as a precise parallel:

In 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told, “All Scripture is inspired of God.” Yet, at the time Paul wrote to Timothy the “Scripture” he wrote about as “inspired” was the Hebrew Scriptures. Similarly, could we not use 2 Timothy to cover all of the books of the Bible, though Paul only had in mind the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament?

If such a broader application is possible, why would it be unacceptable to use the prohibition against “blood” in Acts 15 and 21 to cover blood transfusions in principle?

I'm not sure if I made myself clear. I apologize if I didn't.

Best Regards,

Hello, John:

Thank you for your post to the Elihu Books Chat. I think you were clear in expressing what you wanted to say, and why, but I do believe there are some things in your reasoning on these points that you might want to reconsider. Specifically, here is what I mean, in further answer to your question:

No one can credibly use 2 Timothy 3:16 to prove, or even argue as likely, that any books of the Bible are “inspired.” It is merely a comment, important for Christians, but one which itself does not provide a good reason for belief that any particular books of the Bible are inspired. It simply shows Paul’s belief, and so also that of the early Christians, but his conclusion is not itself a good reason for our use in showing the ‘inspiration’ of the books of the Bible. No one can credibly use 2 Timothy 3:16 as a “cover” for 66 unspecified books of the Bible, let alone for any New Testament books (like Revelation), many of which were not even written by the time of 2 Timothy 3:16.

Further, 2 Timothy 3:16 cannot be used as a good reason to support the conclusion that the Bible is inspired, because Paul’s words themselves are a conclusion (“all scripture is inspired”) Therefore, as with any other conclusion (which is never to be used as a good reason to support itself, or else the argument would be circular, using its conclusion as a premise in the same argument), we must look at the best available, supporting good reasons just as we would look at the good reasons put forth for any other belief, particularly one which claims to be about, from, or otherwise motivated by God.

Based on Paul’s words to Timothy, I can say Paul had good reasons for belief (= he had faith) that the writings passed down to him in association with Jah God were “inspired,” or put forth or motivated by God, though given to men and kept among us for our use and preservation for others to use, similarly. However, from Paul’s own writings we can gain a better understanding of how he and the early Christians understood the limitations of written books (even biblical books) given among men, even if they were directed by or from God. That is why Paul wrote in ways which show he understood that the writing process involved with ‘inspiration’ included, at times at least, the tendencies and even the ‘opinions’ of individuals, writing as he did “according to [his] opinion,” noting that at times he and others of his day “see in a hazy outline,” knowing things only “partially.” Yet, at all times (even when giving his “opinion”) Paul professed to have “God’s spirit.”—1 Corinthians 7:40; 13:12.

So I would say a proper understanding and resulting perspective on the books of the Bible and what it means to be “inspired” is important. Indeed, a definition or understanding of “inspired” which fits with and, thus, derives from each Bible book’s presentation of history and doctrine must be made plain in each case under consideration. The reason for this was given by another of the earliest Christians, one after whom you are named (“John”), “For many false prophets have gone forth into the world.”—1 John 4:1.

Since not one of the copies of the Bible that we have today is original, then based on the best available reasons (which we can and should, and I will argue we already always try to or actually do use in determining what is true or most likely true), I can credibly argue or show that Jah permitted tampering with his “inspired” Word. This can be seen plainly in the treatment of the divine name in Greek biblical texts since the second century CE and following. However, I believe it can be reasonably shown that allowing what Jah inspires to exist among men, and to be transmitted and copied by humankind, provides Jah with a basis for further evaluation and judgment of those who copy and who share his written history and laws, even as does the “law” that is within each one of us.—Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 1:13-16; 2:6; Revelation 2:23; 20:13.

Further on this point, based on the manuscripts we have available for our study and use today, the early canon of biblical books included far more than what we regularly use, because there was less concern about a collection of specific books at that time, I believe, than there was about using the books and texts which were accurate or reliable, in large part, historically or doctrinally, or both. I think you would have a hard time excluding, for example, First Clement from any catalog of early Christian writings which can be tested and shown to be reliably useful. Indeed, this book (First Clement) was even included in some of the earliest collections of biblical books (part of Codex Alexandrinus, along with Second Clement; Vaticanus contains the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermes). All of these books, including the accepted biblical books today, can and should be ‘tested’ by those who would look to them for guidance and for confirmation of what we can see in the world around us, and in ourselves. This can be done effectively, since any writings claiming to be from the God who made us and who made our world, and the universe, would have to be consistent  in any book he inspires with “the things made.”—Romans 1:20.

But Christians do not assume our beliefs. We do not, or try not, to believe or to practice anything but that which the best available reasons expressly support. This helps keep us and those to whom we speak from falling victim to any “inspired expressions” (1 John 4:1). That is why the Watchtower Society must be rejected at this time, because they do not permit the kind of ‘testing’ Christians are required to give to “inspired expressions” and to those who make special claims of representation, like they make (compare Revelation 2:2). Only if we actually do such testing, to a reasonable degree, can we credibly say we believe “x” books are reliable history and teachings from the past about Jah and about Jesus, and then use them to teach others. Or, as I would put it to a non-Christian, “I believe ‘x’ number of books are reliable history and teachings concerning the eternal, intentionally intelligent life who gave life to other life,” that is, in association with my recent Blogs on the “origin of life” and on the “intelligence” in life. (More on the intentional intelligence of the eternal life who gave life to life will be published here, soon.)

So it’s not about an exact number of “books,” but about the message of truth that is from Jah, through Jesus, to us, a message which we already know in large part due to the knowledge we obtained from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:22; Isaiah 7:16), but because of sin and this world we too quickly forget (James 1:22-25). However, the creation and the history of our race can remind us, if we take the time to consider the best available reasons for belief. When it comes to uses of blood, it most certainly does matter how blood is used in the body since understanding its use(s) is helpful, if not essential, to better understanding the biblical prohibitions concerning any prohibited use(s) of blood, over which people continue to make life-changing decisions, publicly, in the names of Jah and Jesus.

This is a very serious matter, John, as I am sure you would agree (hence, your question). But it gets even more serious the farther you go into the Society’s policy about fractions of blood (such as gamma globulin, or hemoglobin) and about the Society’s teaching on the use of blood’s four major components (platelets, red cells, white cells, and plasma, none of which are “blood” individually). This brings us back to your question, “[W]hether blood is used as food or as blood, can we not use the prohibition of blood in Acts in principle to apply to either blood used as food or blood used as blood?”

Just how would you do that, John, that is, without understanding what are uses of blood as blood and what are the uses of blood as a food, so that you properly understand the differences between the two and then can make an informed decision about a very complex subject? A proper understanding of this subject (uses of blood) is necessary in order to interpret and then apply ancient texts having to do solely, at least explicitly and contextually, with eating blood as a food, but without anything expressly to do with modern medical uses of blood as a non-food.

Further, why would you want to apply a text about eating blood to uses of blood as a non-food (transfusion) in the first place, when the two are demonstrably not the same? Since there is nothing in the biblical text or in its history which suggests a prohibition against using blood as blood (or as a non-food), then it would seem the only reason the question of non-food, transfusion uses of blood as blood comes up is because of the Watchtower Society, not because of what the Bible expressly teaches. Would not this knowledge of their evident differences be important to you, to make the right decision? Why, then, is the entity (the Society) most concerned about blood and the Bible also not the leading voice and authority on the actual, prohibited uses of blood according to the Bible? Instead, they can’t seem to adopt even a single, consistent policy.

The Bible does not anywhere equate using blood as blood with using blood as a food. In fact, it can be shown easily that the two are not the same, and that they are so different that to equate the two is disingenuous. No one can simply apply the prohibition about not eating blood to uses of blood as blood without providing very clear, indeed, nearly incontrovertible evidence that such should be done. Otherwise, why not let each person decide what he or she will do when it comes to uses of blood, and then let that person stand before Jah and Jesus, which is where we will all "stand" someday, anyway,  not in front of you, or in front of me, nor will any of us stand before the Watchtower Society in the Judgment. Yet, the Society judges people now anyway for using blood as blood, but not as a food:

God’s law definitely says that the soul of man is in his blood [see Lev 17:11]. Hence the receiver of the blood transfusion is feeding upon a God-given soul as contained in the blood vehicle of a fellow man or of fellow men. This is a violation of God’s commands to Christians, the seriousness of which should not be minimized by any passing over of it lightly as being an optional matter for the conscience of any individual to decide upon. [“Questions from Readers,” The Watchtower, January 15, 1961, page 64 (underlining added).]

On the same page as the above judgment is given the Society directs that if a Witness does take a blood transfusion because of weakness or immaturity, but then “begs divine forgiveness and forgiveness of God’s congregation on earth,” mercy should be “extended to him and he need not be disfellowshipped.” But the “mercy” to be “extended” to such a one involved (or may still involve) the person being “put under surveillance”! I do not have good reasons to believe the Society has been faithful or discreet, or even truly ‘merciful’ to those who want to serve Jah and Jesus and to follow what the Bible expressly teaches, but who in doing so do not believe Jah or Jesus forbids the use of blood as blood, rather than as a food.

If the Watchtower Society spent as much time and money on “the form of worship which is pure and undefiled from the standpoint of our God,” namely, “to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation” (James 1:27), as they do when instructing people how not to use blood as blood, Jah’s and Jesus’ names would be looked upon with greater respect than they are today because of the Society’s blood policy. But the Society cannot even quote one text from the Bible or one medical textbook today in support of its position, that is, once it has been properly defined and fully disclosed. So, again, why would we follow after them when they are speaking what we cannot attribute for good reasons to Jah or to Jesus, and where they cannot even accurately quote a human textbook which they claim supports their understanding of blood and of its components, whereas the Bible does not?

Other than an individual’s choice about what is or what is not a safe medical treatment, there are no good reasons supporting the Society’s positions on blood, and there are plenty of good biblical and medical reasons to reject their teachings on this subject almost entirely. Their position of not using blood as blood has no biblical foundation; it stems only from the misinterpretations by the Society which took root about half a century ago, the entire chronology of which, leading up to their 1961 position (quoted above), can be reviewed here.

The Watchtower Society and certainly most of its members often do not even realize they do permit uses blood other than as a food every single time they use blood for withdrawal, storage, and for subsequent testing or even for fractionating, rather than 'pouring out' the blood on the ground (Leviticus 17:13). Every way you consider it, there are errors and possibly even deception within the Society over the blood issue, and there is certainly nothing discreet or faithful in the Society’s contradictory teaching about whether withdrawn blood should be ‘poured out.’ Not immediately ‘pouring out’ any withdrawn “blood” would be a violation of the Society’s own use and interpretation of texts like Leviticus 17:13, but which texts actually refer to the proper bleeding of animals (if possible) prior to consuming them as food. This text (Leviticus 17:13) and the rest of the biblical prohibitions concerning the use of blood, including Acts 15 and 21, all have to do with eating animals with their blood or with eating or with drinking blood itself, as a food.

You also asked, “Why would it be unacceptable to use the prohibition of blood in Acts, to cover blood transfusions, in principle?”

Because you must have good reasons supporting your view, not simply use a negative question (“Why would it be unacceptable ...”) to justify or try and support an interpretation after the fact. Again, the biblical prohibitions can only clearly apply to eating blood as a food. A particular “use” is in view here, just as ‘abstaining from ... things strangled’ (Acts 15:29) involves a particular, prohibited use of the ‘strangled animal’; we could not, for example, use the prohibition in Acts 15 and 21 to “cover [‘strangled animals’] in principle,” to follow through with your argument using another prohibited use for a named subject (again, ‘strangled animals’). Such a prohibition, for example, would not on its face mean (based on the context) that you cannot use the bones, skin, or other parts of a ‘strangled animal.’

We can see easily that the prohibitions in Acts 15 and 21 apply to eating blood, based on the accounts’ contexts and reliance on existing understandings from “Moses” who at the time of Acts was “read aloud in the synagogues every sabbath” (Acts 15:21). That is precisely how we know which “use” of “things strangled” is prohibited (see above paragraph). As I explain in my recent Third Edition of Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended, pages 590-591, the other prohibited items (“fornication” and “things sacrificed to idols” [Acts 15:29; 21:25]) are prohibited without further defining any use since “fornication” is an act- or (sexual) use-word on its own, and something “sacrificed to an idol” openly as such is not Christian to use as part of anything we practice, though even here such a thing is at all times between the individual Christian and “his own Master,” ultimately.—Compare Romans 14:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 with Mark 7:18-19.

There is nothing to use in the biblical text or in the history of the biblical periods to show that using blood as blood (the very purpose for which Jah created it) was expressly prohibited, or that people should be refusing to use blood as blood today and instead give their life for no good biblical or other reasons, except for the chance there might be tainted blood. But this is a risk that is outside of what the Bible expressly prohibits regarding the eating of blood as food. Therefore, in large part, Watchtower followers refuse to use blood as blood in transfusions (though, again, they “use” blood for withdrawing, and for testing, and for fractionating) because the Society has misled people so badly about what the Bible actually teaches about uses of blood. Further, the Society has failed to make clear the differences between eating blood and using blood as blood, and they have also misquoted medical texts to support their position rather than using such texts and the good reasons they contain, if any, to correct their own mistaken views. Rather, people are left to “wait on Jehovah,” when what is really happening is they are waiting on men.

In the process the Society has made it harder for people to see these differences so that each person can make a fully informed decision about which uses of blood are actually prohibited by the Bible. Transfused blood, usable as blood, has not been shown to be the same as eaten blood. Yet, millions are taught regularly by the Watchtower Society that these two “uses” of blood are the same, involving the same subject (“blood”), when only one use (eating/drinking blood as a food) is expressly prohibited while the other is not. Further, “blood” as an object apart from any “use” of blood is not prohibited anywhere in the Bible, either. That is why many Watchtower followers do not object to ‘using’ “blood” for storage and for subsequent testing, rather than “pour it out on the ground.”—Leviticus 17:13.

The Society and those who follow it have had nearly half a century (at least since 1961) to get their position on the use of blood correct according to the Bible and according to what “blood” is according to science and medicine. However, as with chronology and with prophecy, the Watchtower Society has chosen to speak forth with great authority (in the names of God and Jesus of Nazareth) and to cling to its traditions. I do not see enough good reasons to show that Jah God sent them forth to speak any of their misinterpretations of prophecy or in defining and then redefining again and again what are proper uses of blood, and even what is “blood” in relation to its component parts.—See Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Jeremiah 28:15.

The Society has forged its blood policy on its own, and it has demanded that its policies be followed each time they are given, even when they contradict what they previously taught. It simply takes longer for each person to fully realize all that is involved with their blood policy(ies) and related issues. But once you have good reasons to believe or to act, you should do so, according to your circumstances. Jah will assist you just as he assisted his Son who stood up for what he learned to be true from his Father, rather than attempt to justify his own will apart from Jah God (compare John 7:14-18; 8:26 with Luke 10:21 and John 2:15; 18:20). If you do this, too, then along with me or one other human person you will constitute at least the “two or three” or more needed to proceed.—Matthew 18:20; 28:19, 20.

In closing, unfortunately it has become apparent that the Society will not come forth to defend itself by presenting good reasons for its belief in various doctrines, including interpretations of chronology, prophecy, and uses of blood, all of which it requires its followers to accept or face expulsion from their organization and shunning from its members. That’s not Christianity. It’s vanity. But aside from this vanity, we can serve Jah God happily, which will add life to our soul.—Ecclesiastes 11:5; 12:8-14

Best regards,
Greg Stafford