November 19, 2012

Why there are no Jewish Vampires

by Clint Archer

Besides the banally predictable objections–undead, demonic, murderous cannibalism–there are hermeneutical considerations for not being a vampire that are worthy of investigation. The reason, for example, that there are no Jewish vampires is entirely different from the objection Jehovah’s Witnesses harbor. They both claim the same verse of the OT (Gen 9:4, Lev 17:11 inter alia) but for vastly disparate reasons.jewish vampire

Why there are no bloodsucking JWs.

In November 2007, a fourteen year old boy, Dennis Lindberg refused the blood transfusion needed to save his life. After chemotherapy for leukemia had destroyed his red blood cells, the available blood transfusion from a donor was the simple, and only way to save the boy’s life.

Doctors explained to him that with the transfusion he had a 70% chance of living to age of 19, but without it he would be dead within days. Dennis was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. This religious group does not normally refuse medical treatment, but in the case of blood transfusions they typically teach that it is against Jehovah’s will to allow another person’s blood into your body. Since the blood is believed to contain the soul of the human, mixing blood would leave the person unclean and unacceptable to God.

Interestingly, Dennis’s parents were in favor of allowing the transfusion to save his life, but he was more afraid of disappointing Jehovah than he was of dying. The State of Washington took the boy to court to force him to consent. After hearing from the parents, guardian, social workers, and doctors, the presiding Judge Meyer made this statement:

“I don’t believe Dennis’ decision is the result of any coercion. He is mature and understands the consequences of his decision. I don’t think Dennis is trying to commit suicide. This isn’t something Dennis just came upon, and he believes with the transfusion he would be unclean and unworthy.”

The judge ruled that the fourteen year old had the right to refuse a transfusion. Young Dennis died later that day.

One has to admire this teenager’s courage and conviction. But one also has to mourn the tragedy of misunderstood Bible verses.

Genesis 9:4 ”But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

The JW’s hermeneutic goes awry when they take the Hebrew word “nephesh” (soul/spirit/life) too literally, and not as a synecdoche for life. They believe that to put someone’s blood in your veins is to commingle their spiritual impurities with your soul in a type of spiritual hepatitis.

vampireWhy there are no Jewish Vampires.

The Jewish hermeneutic is more straight forward. Moses said not to do it, that’s good enough for them. No red-blooded Jew would trifle with this law. Consuming blood was the thin red line even Saul wouldn’t cross (cf. 1 Sam 14:32-34).

This rules out more than just vamprous cravings; steak tartar and sushi are also stricken from the menu. Even in the NT, at the Jerusalem council the Messianic Jews considered rare steak as repugnantly pagan as idolatry and fornication (Acts 15:20).

Why Christians drink the blood of Jesus.

What the Jews missed was that the preciousness of blood was intended as a picture. It was a shadow of the reality which materialized in the blood of Christ. It is in the NT that the significance of blood begins to run clear.

communion wineThe blood of Christ  is mentioned over thirty times in the NT, which is three times as often as the cross and five times as often as the death of Christ mentioned in other ways. This makes blood the primary term for the atoning work of Christ.

Then in John 6:54-55 Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

That’s a metaphor you can sink your teeth into. Many misunderstood, took it too literally (as the JWs would have and Catholics have) and walked away. Christians in the 1st Century were commonly accused of cannibalism. Hermeneutics is important.

A brief history of salvation sketched in blood:

  • Blood was required in Eden to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness after their first sin.
  • Blood was spilled in Egypt to be painted on the doorposts of those who believed, so that the angel of death would pass over the Jews and save the life of their firstborn sons.
  • Blood flowed every time sins were forgiven, and codified minutely by Moses.
  • Blood was spilt every year on the Day of Atonement to remind the Jews of a coming Messiah who would be their scape goat and carry the blame on their behalf.
  • Then the Messiah came and shed His blood once for all for the forgiveness of sins on the cross.
  • Now we celebrate communion, which Jesus said represents his blood.

Matthew 26:27-28 “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you,  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” 

I’m not sure if you ever considered this before, but Jesus could not have died of pneumonia to save us. He could not have got a bad case of the Spanish flu and passed away from a fever. He had to die a very specific death. He had to die in a public, undeniable, violent, sacrificial, blood-spilling death.communion cup

The blood of Jesus refers to the atoning work of the life and death of Jesus. Not the actual, liquid, red stuff in his body. Otherwise, simply grazing His knee would have saved us, pricking his finger would have been enough to draw blood.

You might think “Well duh.” But when John MacArthur said that about thirty years ago, for some reason Evangelicalism had a hissy fit and he was accused of teaching heresy!  But he then proceeded to do such a sterling job showing from Scripture that the use of blood in the Bible was a picture of Christ’s whole atoning work, that the charges were dismissed, and the recording of his defense went viral (as much as cassette tapes could). That teaching settled once for all what the phrase “blood of Jesus” actually means.

So?

So, Christians can have blood transfusions and sushi. We reverence the blood of Christ by not taking communion in an unworthy manner (1 Cor 11:26-27).

And the worst way to profane the blood of Christ is to reject His atoning work (Heb 10:29). Reverence for the blood starts with belief in the One who shed His blood for our sins.

[Clint]

Clint Archer

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Clint is the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church. He and his expanding troop of Archers live near Durban, South Africa (and pity anyone who doesn't). When he is off duty from CGate, his alter ego blogs at Café Seminoid, clintarcher.com
  • danielhaszard

    Jehovah’s Witnesses blood transfusion confusion.

    An examination of the JW deadly blood transfusion ban,shows it to be an overstep of the Kosher law not to ‘eat blood’.
    The Watchtower society leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses forbids ‘whole blood’ permitting the use of all the ‘fractionated components.
    This way the nullify the word of God with their man made rules.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that life is sacred to God therefore blood is sacred because it represents and symbolizes life. Jehovah’s Witnesses put a higher value on blood than they do life.

    Which is more sacred? The symbol or that which it symbolizes?
    No blood dogma does get people killed!
    Since 1945 year, 50-100 times as many men,women,children have been killed by the Watchtower society ban on *whole* blood transfusions than at Jonestown kool-aid mass murders.
    Please think about that!
    –Danny Haszard

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Thanks for your input Danny. It’s a chilling statistic you’ve highlighted.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bibchr Dan Phillips

    It could be my fault, but your closing paragraphs confuse me. You seem to go in two directions.

    You seem to say (1) it had to be a bloody death, and (2) blood has nothing to do with it.

    Am I misunderstanding you? Probably. Por favor clarificarme? (A little Spanish lingo.)

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Of course it’s your fault. Just kidding. Thanks for the chance to clarify. I mean that Christ’s death had to be a violent execution in order to fulfill the symbolism intended by the sacrificial system. So blood does have something to do with it, but only as far as it relates to the symbolism and shadow/reality fulfillment. The preciousness of the blood, however, is in reference to the whole atoning work of the life and death of Christ. So in that sense the red fluid was not the magical potion that saves, but what its shedding represents is. And if that is less confusing than what I said before, I’d be pleasantly surprised; but it’s the best I can do.

      • http://www.facebook.com/bibchr Dan Phillips

        Thanks.

        This is something I’ve come to exegetically, not dogmatically. Gosh, that’s got to sound smug; I just mean I don’t have some particular sectarian background on the issue that predisposed me (at least consciously) hither or thither. When I was trying to think it through, I found precious little that specifically addressed the issue, so I just had to try my erring best to get it from the text.

        So on the one hand, of course the blood wasn’t/isn’t magical. It was human blood. Probably would have looked no different under a microscope than anyone else’s.

        Yet on the other hand, as you say, Christ could not have atoned for us by dying of cancer or drowning. Leviticus 17:11, 14, and much else (to my mind) makes clear that saving atonement is necessarily bloody atonement.

        So I think we’re driven to say that, while surely there is more to Christ’s saving work than the red fluid, there is not less than that. The value of His blood lay in the value of the one bleeding (Acts 20:28).

        One of the considerations that moves me to insist that blood is not merely a symbolic figure meaning a sacrificial death (and therefore, as Thieme infamously taught, nothing but a symbol) is Communion. If we insist that the blood Christ shed is merely symbolic and nothing more, then that makes the wine of Communion a symbol of a symbol.

        And I think that’s a pretty hard case to make.

        Offered strictly FWIW.

  • http://almostreadytogoamish.blogspot.com/ Rational νεόφυτος

    This was really good – nice balance of humor and good theological consideration.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Thanks guy.

  • Tom

    I take it you view the prohibition in Acts 15:20 as culturally bound?

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Yes. It seems to be calling for a courteous sensitivity to Jewish sensibilities rather than a NT prohibition. Meat offered to idols is also on that list in Acts 15, but is dealt with very differently by Paul (cf. 1 Cor 8; 1 Cor 10:19ff).

  • GinaRD

    I know of at least one Jewish vampire, actually. :-) (In the Young Adult series “The Mortal Instruments” by Cassandra Clare.)

    But this is a good, thought-provoking post. Especially the part about the tragedy of misunderstood verses.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Yup, the real issue is hermeneutics.

  • Karl Heitman

    I don’t really get what “vampires” have to do with the blood of Christ or the improper view of blood in the life of a believer, but it’s important to not forget this: “He had to die in a public, undeniable, violent, sacrificial, blood-spilling death.” Perhaps the reason why we tend approach God in such a casual way is because we forget the seriousness of sin and what it demands: blood. Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      I don’t get what vampires have to do with anything at all, but Hollywood and just about every semi-literate teen at Barnes & Noble would disagree with me. You’re spot on that the violence of the sacrificial system and of the cross is meant to perpetually keep the heinousness of sin before us.

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