The only New Testament passages that really deal with this subject are Acts 15:20,29. The whole point in context is that these are things which were forbidden by the law and which are still forbidden by the gospel, hence Gentile converts should be taught to observe them. The rest of the New Testament says virtually nothing about this point (cf. Acts 21:25), yet James is clearly saying that this practice is forbidden in the New Testament. To understand the point, we must study the Old Testament law to which James refers. Since the New Testament law here is clearly the same as the Old Testament, we can accept the Old Testament definition of the law.
The Old Testament law required people not to eat flesh with the blood in it; rather, they were required to pour the blood out. See Gen. 9:4; Lev. 3:17; 19:26; 17:10-15; Deut. 12:16,23-28; 15:23; 1 Sam. 14:31ff. Further, they were not to directly eat blood of any animal - Lev. 7:26,27; 17:10ff; Deut. 12:23.
The reason for this is that the life is in the blood, and the blood is offered as the atoning sacrifice - Lev. 17:10-14; Deut. 12:23-28. The wages of sin is death, and death is described as the shedding of blood. Since blood then is the requirement of sin, Jesus today is still our sacrifice having shed His blood for us. The conclusion is that we today are not to eat blood, because Jesus shed His blood for us.
The point is not that there must be not one drop of blood in the meat we eat. It would be impossible to remove every corpuscle. The point is that we are not to deliberately eat blood for the sake of eating blood as a food. Reasonable precautions are to be used to remove the blood, draining it from the animal, "pouring it out." This is to be done at the time the animal is killed; and it is done in slaughtering animals today. Cooking meat also tends to cook out the blood.
Note further that, contrary to Jehovah's Witness' doctrine, nothing here prevents taking blood transfusions. What is condemned is eating blood as a food, not taking it intravenously as a medicine to save lives in time of emergency. The Scriptures and all people recognize the difference between eating or drinking something as a food for nourishment or pleasure, as compared to taking the same thing for medical treatment (see 1 Tim. 5:23).
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 1/2007
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