The Biblical laws for Quarantine and Sanitation By Jack Kettler
What do the Scriptures say about quarantines? When you have a plague or an infectious disease in the land, which biblically is required to be quarantined? What about the contemporary phrase “social distancing.” Is this approach biblical? In this study, biblical quarantine and sanitary laws will be surveyed. Surprisingly, if followed, out of control, problematic health issues can be solved without infringing upon civil liberties or destroying businesses.
A study like this is relevant considering the panic of government officials over the latest of the yearly flu virus, the so-called Wuhan China flu. The panic is at least partially due to the question of the Wuhan virus, possibly being a human-engineered weaponized virus. To put things in perspective, 10 to 60 thousand people die from the flu each year in the U.S.
Most of the time, politicians from large decaying cities in America are not in the least concerned about public health issues accept for political purposes. For example, the West coast large city mayors and governors are not concerned with giant rat-infested homeless camps and humans defecating on the streets, real breeding grounds for infectious diseases.
With that said, a biblical study on how to handle a virus or plaque seems prudent. In general, compared to biblical law, political operatives have things ass-backward. God has provided biblical principles, if followed, to solve many public health emergencies.
A number of passages will be surveyed. A complete listing in this study of passages is not necessary to avoid redundancy. The majority of the passages will be from the Old Testament. How can passages from the Old Testament, which were for Israel, have anything to say today? Let us see.
The Scriptures on quarantine laws:
“But if the spot is white in the skin of his body and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall shut up the diseased person for seven days.” (Leviticus 13:4 ESV) (All passages will be in the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted).
“He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:46)
“And if the priest examines the itching disease and it appears no deeper than the skin and there is no black hair in it, then the priest shall shut up the person with the itching disease for seven days, and on the seventh day the priest shall examine the disease. If the itch has not spread, and there is in it no yellow hair, and the itch appears to be no deeper than the skin, then he shall shave himself, but the itch he shall not shave; and the priest shall shut up the person with the itching disease for another seven days.” (Leviticus 13:31-33)
“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45-46)
“Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.” (Numbers 5:2-3)
“And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance.” (Luke 17:12)
Quarantines Today by Gary North, author of more than fifty books:
“The question then arises: Is priestly quarantining biblically legitimate today? There is no indication that any of these named diseases survived the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. There is also no indication that the laws of quarantine by a priest continue into the New Covenant. On the contrary, they could not have survived the demise of the priesthood. The quarantine laws were part of the Levitical laws of the Mosaic Covenant, and, I think, to some degree were connected to jubilee land laws of Leviticus 25. These laws all perished with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. With the collapse of the judicial boundaries of the nation of Israel, there was a collapse of those ritual boundary laws that had governed the people of Israel even before they entered into the land of Canaan. There was no longer any tabernacle to be excluded from, and there was no unclean place outside either the camp or the city to which anyone could be banished. In other words, these laws related to plague, and plague in Mosaic Israel was judicial rather than biological.
In New Testament times, we can study biological afflictions as a separate class of phenomena, and we can also see them as the judgments of God. We do not have the ability to identify the specific sin, either corporate or personal, that leads to most sicknesses, with the exception of venereal diseases. Neither did the priest of the Mosaic Covenant in most cases. The priest was not asked to identify the sin that had led to the individual’s affliction. The priest was required only to identify the affliction and deal with it judicially. We can therefore say that in New Testament times, afflictions of a biological nature can be dealt with either through medical techniques or by public health techniques. Contagious people can either be cured or they can be quarantined. The quarantining process, however, is based on considerations of the contagious nature of the disease, not the judicial status of the individual. Public health laws in the modern world are to be governed by statutes, and statutes must be predictable. Individuals must know in advance the penalties or sanctions that will be imposed for specific kinds of behavior. Thus, an individual who comes down with a disease cannot be said to be a threat to the community merely because he has come down with a disease. The judicial diseases of the Mosaic Covenant are no longer with us. Therefore, the diseases that afflict us today are like the common diseases that afflicted people inside and outside of Mosaic Israel. They are to be dealt with in similar ways: by medical care, by quarantine, by prayer, or by anointing by the elders (James 5:14).
To Protect the Public
The idea of quarantine in the 13th chapter of Leviticus is based on the need to protect the public. The spread of the disease, or other forms of God’s judgment, was to be halted by removing the afflicted individual from within the city. The concern was public health, but it was not a concern about biological contagion. It was concern about the willingness of God to afflict other individuals with the disease or other afflictions because of their unwillingness to enforce His law. Thus, the quarantining process of Leviticus 13 was primarily judicial. In fact, it would probably be safe to say that it was entirely judicial. Only by the extension of the principle of the protection of others within the city is it legitimate to classify today’s diseases as being subject legally to the Bible’s quarantining process.
Does this qualification alter the legal status of the civil government? For example, does this mean that in modern times the civil government is required to finance an individual who has been quarantined? The State has brought sanctions against him in the name of the health of the community. This was also the case in Mosaic Israel. The State has put him under quarantine because he is biologically contagious. This was not the case in the Mosaic Israel. Does the shift from judicial affliction to biological affliction change the legal requirements of the civil government? Does the change from the contagious legal status of the individual to his contagious biological status change the requirements of the civil government? In other words, do the quarantine laws of the civil government go through a fundamental transformation between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant?
It is part of English common law that when a city is on fire, the authorities have the right to knock down an individual’s house in order to stop the spread of that fire. It is also part of common law that the city and the community do not owe anything to the individual who has had his house knocked down in this way. It is presumed that the fire would have destroyed the house anyway. It is also assumed that by destroying the individual’s house, other houses within the community will be protected. This law was for generations basic to the protection of cities. If the fire-fighters had to worry about the cost of repayment each time they knocked down a house, it is unlikely that they would have had the same kind of incentive to knock down the houses. Obviously, if the price of an action goes up, less of it will be demanded. In this case, it means that the city would have been less likely to be protected from the “plague” of fire because of legal obligations to repay those people who were unfortunate enough to be caught in the line of fire, and whose houses, if knocked down, would have allowed the creation of a fire break. It was assumed that the safety of the city was of greater importance than the loss to the individual. Because the house probably would have burned down anyway, it really was not a net loss to the owner.
Consider a contemporary individual who has contracted a contagious disease. He has become a threat to the community. If the community is required by law to finance this individual until such time as he recovers biologically from the disease, it is less likely that the community will take the necessary steps to isolate him. Common law therefore does not require the civil government to compensate the quarantined individual. Neither does biblical law. This is why quarantine is a devastating event in the life of the individual. Historically, quarantined people have not been permitted to leave their homes. Others have not been able to come into those homes without falling under the ban. While it is assumed that charity will be forthcoming to help the quarantined individual in his time of need, it has been assumed until very recently that the State has no legal obligation to support that person during the period of his confinement. To do so would raise the cost of confining individuals, and it would therefore lead to an unwillingness on the part of public health officials to confine them. This would increase the risk of contagion and disease in the community.
The contagious nature of the disease, in effect, is a form of violence. It is violence conducted by a third party, namely, the biological organisms that transmit the disease, but it is still a form of violence. The carrier places other people at risk. Thus, common law determined that an individual who becomes a threat to the community must be removed from the community so as to reduce the likelihood of this indirect form of violence. Public health measures are directed against the disease primarily and against its carriers secondarily.” (1)
As can be seen from North’s commentary, quarantine laws applied to those with infectious diseases, not healthy people. Moreover, as in the case of a house on fire, the police and larger society is not to bear the cost of the quarantine.
Gary North is an American paleolibertarian writer, Austrian School economic historian, and leading figure in the Christian Reconstructionist movement. … He is known for his advocacy of biblical and libertarian economics and as a theorist of dominionism and theonomy. Wikipedia
R. J. Rushdoony on Biblical Quarantine Laws
“The commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” has, as its positive requirement, the mandate to preserve and further life within the framework of God’s law. Basic to this framework of preservation are the laws of quarantine…To return to the quarantine laws with respect to diseases, those cited in Leviticus 13 and 14 are generally described as leprosy and plague. The term leprosy has changed its meaning extensively from its biblical and “medieval” meaning. The meaning then covered a variety of infectious diseases. In terms of this, the meaning of this legislation is that contagious diseases must be treated with all necessary precautions to prevent contagion. Legislation is thus necessary wherever society requires protection from serious and contagious diseases. The state has therefore a legislative power in dealing with plagues, epidemics, venereal diseases, and other contagious and dangerous diseases. Such legislation is plainly required in the Mosaic Law (Num. 5:1-4). Not only is it declared to be a matter of civil legislation, but also an essential aspect of religious education (Deut. 24:8).
It is clear, however, that this legislation, requiring some kind of quarantine or separation for those who are diseased, or who handle the dead (Num. 5:2), has implications beyond the realm of physical diseases.” (2)
R. J. Rushdoony and quarantine laws through history:
“It is also important to note that the observance of these laws helped eliminate Hansen’s disease, or true leprosy, faster in Europe than in other continents. In Europe, there were at least 9,000 hospitals for leprosy alone, maintained by Christian charity. Louis VII of France left legacies to more than 2,000 hospitals for lepers in his country; no ruler of our times has manifested any comparable charity. The Normans in France applied quarantine strictly, both in Normandy and in England. Thus, the very wealthy and influential Knight, Amiloun, was expelled from his castle to become a beggar when he contracted leprosy. The Lateran Council of 1172 required that special churches be built for lepers, and, in time, both hospitals and churches were available for lepers.” (3)
R. J. Rushdoony bio: a Calvinist philosopher, historian, and theologian and is widely credited as being the father of Christian Reconstructionism and an inspiration for the modern Christian homeschool movement. His followers and critics have argued that his thought exerts considerable influence on the evangelical Christian right. From Wikipedia
The Scriptures on Sanitary Laws:
“And an earthenware vessel that the one with the discharge touches shall be broken, and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.” (Leviticus 15:12)_
“Encamp outside the for camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.” (Numbers 31:19-20)
“If any man among you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp. He shall not come inside the camp, but when evening comes, he shall bathe himself in water, and as the sun sets, he may come inside the camp.” (Deuteronomy 23:10-11) Burying human waste “Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment, have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement.” (Deuteronomy 23:12-13 NIV)
An excerpt from The First Book of Public Hygiene: “On the positive side, the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, provide tremendous insight and relief concerning disease prevention. Remarkably, the Pentateuch is regarded as the earliest evidence we have of sound public health and sanitary practices. These ancient writings, when used in conjunction with modern medicine, can break the mode of transmission of virtually every scourge known to humanity.
What follows is a brief summary of the biblical instructions pertaining to public health and sanitation. Bear in mind that these regulations were practiced some 3,500 years before the germ concept of disease was discovered (mainly by the creationist Louis Pasteur)!” (4)
The full article is a goldmine of wisdom. As an aside, when God gave the Pentateuch and all of the wisdom included therein to the people of Israel, the continent of Europe was not much more than bands of savages.
Regarding the continuing validity of Old Testament principles:
“To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 19.4)
The “general equity” refers not to the specific law, but an abiding principle in the law.
“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet [railing] for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” (Deuteronomy 22:8)
Examples of the enduring continuity would be:
1. Having a fence around your swimming pool.
2. Having your yard fenced in if, you have a potentially vicious dog.
Some buildings and apartments have rooftop recreational areas. Of course, you would want some type of barrier or railing for protection. In modern jurisprudence, there is a whole body of liability laws that deal with things like this. The bottom line, it is about protecting your neighbor and limiting your liability.
Many of the case laws are more difficult to find principals that have modern applications. A passage from Mark 12:31 is the key to finding continuing principles of applications. “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)
Instead of locking down entire states, closing down businesses, and placing people essentially under house arrest, the biblical solution is only the person with infectious disease is quarantined, not the public at large. People are free to visit and care for the infected at their own risk. Many Christian charities do precisely this.
The contemporary phrase “social distancing” can be good advice from health and state officials. Likewise, reminding people of personal hygiene such as washing hands.
On closing churches, this should be the call of the elders of the Church in consultation with health officials. Any responsible official would seek the advice of the local clergy before issuing an edict, forcing churches to cease normal functions.
Defining churches as non-essential is an egregious overreach on the part of the state. The Church, at the very least, should protest being labeled as non-essential vigorously.
We can pray that this present crisis does not turn into a yearly-politicized flu emergency.
Here is a quote from Martin Luther when he faced the Black Death Plague: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Historically, Christians have never run away from plagues. “God has not given us the spirit of fear.” (2Timothy 1:7)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. Gary North, BOUNDARIESAND DOMINIONAN ECONOMIC COMMENTARYON LEVITICUS VOLUME 1, (Dallas GA, Point Five Press), p. 292-293.
2. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Craig Press), p. 293.
3. Rousas John Rushdoony, Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Leviticus, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2005), p. 144-145.
4. David Wise, The First Book of Public Hygiene, (Originally published in Creation 26, no 1 (December 2003): 52-55. https: //answersingenesis.org/biology/disease/the-first-book-of-public-hygiene/
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com