The Bible guide to disease control


The Bible guide to disease control


a) Infectious discharges

The law of Moses had strict guidelines regarding conditions giving rise to any form of bodily discharge:

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean … Every bed is unclean on which he who has the discharge lies, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean … He who sits on anything on which he who has the discharge sat shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And he who touches the body of him who has the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. If he who has the discharge spits on him who is clean, then he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening … The vessel of earth that he who has the discharge touches shall be broken, and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.’
Leviticus 15 v 1 to 12

In these verses there are several up-to-date principles of public hygiene:

  • All discharges were regarded as unclean
  • The person having the discharge was also unclean
  • Furthermore, anything he came into contact with was unclean
  • Anyone spat upon by a person who was unclean was made unclean
  • Contaminated earthen vessels were to be destroyed, but wooden vessels could be rinsed in water

It is only relatively recently that we have learnt that disease is spread by contact from discharges and from spitting.

The Bible correctly recommended:

All contact with bodily discharges required washing

Being spat upon required washing

Contaminated earthen pots were to be destroyed

Contaminated wooden vessels could be just rinsed


b) Washing after handling dead bodies

He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean.
Numbers 19 v 11 and 12

Moses told the Jews that after they had handled a dead body they had to be quarantined for seven days, and then undergo an elaborate washing procedure afterwards.

Until about a hundred years ago surgeons used to handle the dead and the dying and then go straight into the operating theatre without washing. Many of their patients died of infections. These might have lived if early surgeons had kept this principle from the law of Moses.

Nowadays healthcare workers are aware of the risk of cross infection between patients. They wash their hands frequently and wear protective clothing, such as disposable sterile gloves and theatre gowns.


The Bible correctly recommended Washing to prevent the spread of infections.


c) Isolation of infectious diseases

Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare … He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Leviticus 13 v 45 and 46

“Lepers” were commanded to live separately from the rest of the people. The Biblical term “leprosy” includes a whole group of infectious diseases. The modern practice of isolating those suffering from infectious diseases was derived directly from the Jews.

…the priest shall isolate the one who has the sore seven days. And the priest shall examine him on the seventh day; and indeed if the sore appears to be as it was, and the sore has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall isolate him another seven days. Then the priest shall examine him again on the seventh day
Leviticus 13 v 4 to 6

The law of Moses also recommended what we know as “quarantine”, which involves isolation and re-examination to confirm the diagnosis in doubtful cases.

The Bible correctly recommended:

People with infectious diseases should be isolated

Quarantine is required for doubtful cases


We have seen that the law of Moses given 3,500 years ago incorporates many aspects of modern public health which have only been discovered in the recent past. We can conclude that the intelligence behind the law given to Moses was from a being with knowledge far ahead of the civilization of those days.


The challenge

How did Moses come up with such a remarkable law giving knowledge of good community health practice thousands of years ago.


The Bible good food guide

Water supply and waste disposal

A civil law ahead of its time


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