Author: David A. Wise


    “Modern” medicine has arrived four thousand years late! Was this an accident? Is it just a coincidence that the Mosaic record does not contain a single medical misconception?

    The earliest evidences we have of public health practices are found in the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. The primary motivation behind the laws of the Pentateuch was to set Israel apart as a peculiar people distinct from the idolatrous nations surrounding her. Therefore, even eating and drinking were to be to the glory of God. Apart from religious scruples, obedience also contributed to keeping the Israelites healthy:
    If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee (Ex. 45:26).

    Health and the six day work week

    First, there must be one day of complete rest each week for physical and spiritual refreshment (Ex 20:8-11). In 1983 a group of medical researchers announced that people who follow a cycle of six days of work and one day of rest enjoy better health and become more productive at their places of employment than those who do not rest.

    Dietary instructions

    Pork was on the list of foods declared “unclean” (Lev. 11 and Deut. 14). Pigs generally tend to eat rotten flesh and garbage, causing pork sometimes to be infected with trichina and other parasitic worms.

    Scavenger birds and birds of prey were also forbidden as food. Today we know that there is a high risk of food poisoning since these birds sometimes feed upon the infected flesh of other animals.

    The restrictions on creatures living in water apparently ruled out the eating of mussels, clams, oysters, scallops, and other shellfish. These creatures occasionally possess poisonous neurotoxins that are not destroyed by cooking. Eating them could produce nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, muscle weakness, paralysis, and anaphylactic shock.

    The Israelites were prohibited from eating any animal that had died of natural causes (Deut. 14:21 and Lev. 22:8). With the discovery of the germ concept of disease, we now know that failure to heed this rule could result in the transmission of infectious microorganisms.

    If the carcass of an animal was found in drinking water, it was forbidden as “unclean” (Lev. 11:34). If, however, the water source had a continual supply of fresh water, such as a well or spring, it would remain “clean” because of the tendency of the moving water to purify itself (Lev. 11:36).

    All food and water within an “unclean vessel” (whether from contact with a dead animal or an infected person) were declared “unclean” as well (Lev. 11:34, 15:12).

    The procedure for killing an animal was clearly described, and the edible parts were designated. The food of the priests was to be boiled before consumption, and what remained (along with the flesh and hide) was to be burned with fire outside the camp (Lev. 8:31, 32).

    They were admonished not to eat the fat of any animal (Lev. 3:17 and 7:22-24). Excessive amounts of fat and cholesterol in the diet are involved in the development of coronary heart disease, our nation’s number one cause of death.

    Childbirth and circumcision

    In the eighth day the flesh of a male child’s foreskin was to be circumcised (Lev. 12:2). This surgical procedure was hygienically as well as spiritually important (Col. 2:11-12). Medical science recognizes that there is a much higher rate of disease, especially cancer, among women with uncircumcised husbands.1 The foreskin harbors many virulent bacteria, including the cancer-producing Smegma bacillus. Medical research has also discovered that the safest day to perform circumcision is the eighth. The blood’s ability to clot is poor between the second and fifth day. Also during this period, the child’s immune system is strengthened with antibodies received through his mother’s milk.

    After childbirth, a specific number of days were to be allowed for a woman’s “uncleanness” (called the “days of her separation” and the “blood of her purifying,” Lev. 12:2-3). Medical science now recognizes the fact that a woman needs time to allow for complete recovery after childbirth. By following this instruction, postpartum complications such as puerperal sepsis and hemorrhage are lessened.

    Unlawful lifestyles and disease

    Leviticus 18:22 states that a man “shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination.” Men who have participated in at least one homosexual act since 1977 make up the largest percentage of those infected with the AIDS virus.

    The Israelites were clearly forbidden from having any sexual relationships outside marriage (Lev. 20:10-16 and Ex. 20:14).2 Because of our failure to heed this admonition, sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) have become our nation’s leading contagious disease. Medical science has been unable to control the world’s venereal disease problem. This plan of two (Gen. 1:27 and 2:23-24), husband and wife, constituting a married unit, prevents the spread of venereal diseases.3

    Unlawful marriages and genetic disorders

    The Israelites were not permitted to marry members of their own family (Lev. 20). Throughout history, man’s failure to heed this admonition has resulted in birth defects and genetic disorders such as hemophilia. Today, there is no cure for genetic abnormalities.4 Thus, the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly applies here, as well as with all the Mosaic instructions discussed thus far.

    The circulatory and respiratory systems

    Life itself is contained within the circulatory and respiratory systems. Nearly every cell in the body is located next to a tiny blood vessel so that it can exchange oxygen, food, and hormones with the blood. The Bible states that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11), and that at creation, God “breathed into [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). Until just a few centuries ago, medical science had very confused understandings of these processes. For example, medical doctors believed that George Washington’s fever was caused by too much blood. On the evening of December 13, 1799, doctors prescribed bleeding several pints of blood from his body; thus, the first president of the United States was bled to death.

    Isolation and quarantine

    Great care was taken by the Israelites before diagnosing a person as having leprosy or a similar condition.5 If there was any doubt as to the certainty of a diagnosis, the person was to be isolated for observation (Lev. 13:1-14:57).

    Once a person was diagnosed with leprosy, he was to be quarantined outside the camp “all the days wherein the plague shall be in him.” He was also required to wear a covering over his mouth, and to warn others by crying, “Unclean, Unclean” (Num. 5:2-4, Deut. 23:10, and Lev. 13:45-46). Our modern hospitals also follow special isolation procedures for patients who have or are suspected of having certain infections. For example, “strict isolation” requires a private room with an independent air supply and the door kept closed. Gowns, gloves and masks must be worn by all entering the room. And a sign must be placed on the patient’s door to warn others of his condition.

    Wound, skin, and discharge precautions

    The Mosaic instructions recorded in Leviticus chapter fifteen are strikingly similar to modern aseptic techniques (procedures that exclude pathogens). Anyone touching a man with a “running issue,” or discharge (from the verb “to flow”), or anything upon which he sat or lain, became “unclean” himself. In addition, if a man with a discharge touched some person without first having washed his hands, uncleanness would be transferred to the person touched. These regulation also applies to a woman during her “days of separation” following childbirth.6

    For more than four thousand years, these simple practices of hygiene and infection control were either lost or not practiced. Just a little more than 100 years ago, these precautions were re-instituted in our nation’s medical facilities to prevent infections from spreading. “No touch” dressing and bandaging techniques are used. Gloves are necessary for persons touching infected areas, careful hand washing is observed before and after patient care. All bodily secretions (including oral) are treated as potentially infectious agents.

    Waste disposal

    The Israelites were instructed to bury their waste material outside the camp (Deut. 23:12-14). Intestinal diseases such as cholera, amebic dysentery, typhoid fever, E. Coli enteritis, and others even today continue to take a heavy toll on lives where similar sanitation practices are not followed. Today’s hospitals follow strict “enteric precautions” to prevent the spread of diseases that occur through direct or indirect contact with infected feces.

    The Israelites were told to bum used dressings. Garments that contained a growth (probably referring to a mold or fungus) were to be washed. If the growth was removed, the garment was to be rewashed before using again. If not, it was to be burned (Lev. 13:47, 50-54, 58). Today’s health practices are quite similar. Items such as blood, body discharges, sputum, vomitus, exereta, soiled dressings, and uneaten food are either flushed down toilets or removed for incineration.

    Objects that were touched by an infected person were to be washed in water. If the object was pottery, however, washing was insufficient, probably because of its porous nature (Lev 15:12 and 11:33). It was to be destroyed. Whenever possible, modern medicine uses disposable needles, syringes, eating utensils, dishes, and other items. Non-disposable items are rinsed in cold water, bagged, and labeled for decontamination.

    Interment precautions

    Direct contact with a dead body (man or animal) brought defilement (for up to seven days in some cases) and required the washing of both body and garments (Num. 19:11, 19, 22 and Lev. 11:24-28, 40). Indirect contact though objects (such as a grave, sword, pot, range, garment, vessel, etc.) that were contaminated by a dead body also resulted in defilement and required cleansing. Furthermore, when a man died in a tent, all who came into the tent, and all that was in the tent (including every “open vessel”) was declared unclean (Lev. 11 and Num. 19:14-16).

    Until the late 1800’s, it was a common practice for physicians and medical students to examine their living patients immediately after participating in autopsies of the dead. Of course, the pathogens that were present in the bodies of those in the morgue were spread to the hospital wards. When doctors began practicing procedures similar to those listed above, mortality rates were drastically reduced.

    Scripture and the germ theory of disease

    It is generally accepted that the “golden age of microbiology” came about in 1876 when Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur showed that contagion could pass from one individual to another. Their discoveries however, were ignored and even scornfully rejected by virtually the entire medical establishment. Medical scientists and practicing physicians fiercely defended the age old idea that microbial life could be generated “de novo” under certain conditions. Through careful experimentation, Koch and Pasteur were able to prove irrefutably that particular microbes begat particular kinds of maladies. Furthermore, these men were able to show that not even the simplest living things can arise from non-living matter. While presenting to his audience his ingenious “swan-neck flask” experiment, Pasteur spoke triumphantly:
    I have taken my drop of water from the immensity of creation, and I have taken it full of the elements appropriate to the development of microscopic organisms. And I wait, I watch, I question it! – begging it to recommence for me the beautiful spectacle of the first creation. But it is dumb, dumb since these experiments were begun several years ago; it is dumb because I have kept it sheltered – from the only thing man does not know how to produce; from the germs which float in the air, from Life, for Life is a germ and a germ is Life. Never will the doctrine of spontaneous generation recover from the mortal blow of this simple experiment!

    The refutation of spontaneous generation and the establishment of the germ concept of disease were undoubtedly the greatest contributions ever made to the saving of human lives. Had this not been done, physicians would still be trying to combat disease-producing organisms that they thought arose spontaneously within the bodies of their patients. Thus, preventive medicine became possible with the germ concept of disease.

    Today, a new idea of spontaneous generation is accepted by nearly the entire scientific establishment. This new idea, called chemical evolution, or abiogenesis, differs from the old only in that it claims the very first life forms arose spontaneously. In one breath we are told that spontaneous generation is impossible. In the next breath, scientists tell us that life had to originate somewhere. Since an act of creation is outside the realm of scientific verification, “An act of spontaneous generation must have occurred.”7 What is certain in any case, is that no constructive progress in medicine was possible until the ancient doctrine of spontaneous generation had been discarded. To hold to both beliefs, biogenesis and abiogenesis, is to retreat back to the stagnation and superstition of the Dark Ages.

    The facts of modern medicine, on the other hand, agree marvelously with the Mosaic record. The “Law of Biogenesis” (i.e., that life comes from other similar life) harmonizes perfectly with Genesis 1:24 in that God commanded all species to reproduce “after their kind.” Furthermore, the regulations pertaining to diet, childbirth, circumcision, isolation, quarantine, wound, and discharge care, interment precautions, and waste disposal assume that diseases are communicable, and that the best protection against them is to prevent their spread. As one person has said, “Although the Bible is not a science text, whenever it speaks of scientific matters it speaks truly and accurately.”

    David A. Wise served as a medical corpsman in the U.S. Coast Guard.


    1. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in women.

    2. The medical sciences related to human sexuality are summed up in Genesis 2:24 by the phrase, “And they shall be one flesh.”

    3. Leviticus 15:8, 16, 17 and 22:4.

    1992 Bible Science Newsletter.


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