The Bible Fought Disease Before Science Did
Whenever the Bible is mentioned today, many uninformed people automatically dismiss it as not worth their attention. They refuse to open their minds to discover that it stated thousands of years ago what modern man has only recently learned or has yet to learn. This is true relative to world events, government, astronomy, environment, natural history, physiology, and psychology. It is also true of disease.
THE Bible is a book of life. No other text or collection of literature has such broad application to so many aspects of life. Good health and life are related, so it should not be surprising that the Bible contains many principles that bear directly on health. The Bible mentions numerous diseases, such as leprosy, piles (hemorrhoids), dropsy (edema), and stomach sickness.—Deuteronomy 24:8; 28:27; Luke 14:2; 1 Timothy 5:23.
The Bible was not written primarily to instruct us about physical disease. What information it does supply, however, is scientifically accurate and beneficial for review. The human body was awe-inspiring to the psalmist of old, and concerning it he wrote: “For you [Jehovah] produced my kidneys; you kept me screened off in the belly of my mother. I shall laud you because in a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, as my soul is very well aware. My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret, when I was woven in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, and in your book all its parts were down in writing, as regards the days when they were formed and there was not yet one among them.”—Psalm 139:13-16.
Even though the embryo is screened off in the darkness of the womb, Jehovah sees it forming and the bones growing. With him “the darkness might just as well be the light.” (Ps 139 Verse 12) There is no hiding from Jehovah. Medically speaking, the embryo is shielded off from the mother by the placenta and thereby escapes rejection as a foreign body. However, the truth expressed by this psalm is not medical but spiritual, namely, Jehovah sees all, even in the darkness of the womb.
From the moment of conception, ‘all our body parts are down in the writing’ of the genetic code in the fertilized egg cell in the mother’s womb. Also, the timing ‘as regards the days when they were to be formed,’ each one in its proper order, is determined by the many biological clocks that are programmed into the genes.
The psalmist David did not know all this scientific detail, but Jehovah, who inspired him to write the psalm, did, for He had created man in the first place. Higher critics deny David’s writership, but even they have to assign the time of the psalm’s writing to centuries before Christ.
The Bible Focuses on Prevention
Reviewing God’s laws given to Israel through Moses 15 centuries before Christ, it is seen that the primary emphasis of that Law as regards health was clearly focused on prevention. For example, at Deuteronomy 23:13, it says: “And a peg should be at your service along with your implements, and it must occur that when you squat outside, you must also dig a hole with it and turn and cover your excrement.” This law on the burying of fecal waste was a profoundly advanced preventive measure for protecting against fly-borne salmonellosis, shigellosis, typhoid, and a host of other dysenteries that still claim thousands of lives today in areas where that principle is not adhered to.
Leviticus chapter 11 establishes in principle that disease can be spread by insect, by rodent, and, most important, by contaminated water. This latter silently attests to the principle that disease is caused by microorganisms, showing the Bible to be millenniums ahead of Leeuwenhoek (1683) or Pasteur (19th century). The same could be said of quarantining, mandated in Leviticus chapter 13 in cases of leprosy.
Dietary prohibitions recorded at Leviticus 11:13-20 included predators, such as eagles, ospreys, and owls, and scavengers, such as the raven and the vulture. Located as they are at the top of the food chain, they concentrate large quantities of toxins. Animals lower down in the food chain ingest these toxins in amounts that are insignificant in themselves, whereas those animals at the top of the food chain accumulate them in concentrated doses. The Mosaic Law allowed the eating of some animals that were vegetarians and were not in a food chain that concentrated toxins. Certain forbidden meats harbored encysted parasites such as those causing trichinosis.
The Bible’s prohibition against misuse of blood, embodied in the Mosaic Law in several places, is now after 3,500 years proving to be medically sound. (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-16; 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16; 15:23) The restriction is repeated in the Christian Greek Scriptures at Acts 15:20, 29 and Ac 21:25. Medical practice is attempting to minimize or entirely eliminate use of donor blood in kidney dialysis, heart-lung pumps, and surgery in general. Hepatitis in its many forms, AIDS, cytomegalovirus infection, and myriad other blood-borne maladies stand as gruesome reminders to the worldly wise who ignore God’s laws.
Exercise is vital for good health, and the Bible acknowledges its benefits. Active exercise three times a week for as little as 20 minutes a session can lower risks to the heart and the circulatory system. It increases the protective HDL form of cholesterol, improves your energy level, and adds to your flexibility and sense of well-being. The Bible, while recognizing the value of exercise, puts it secondary to the more important development of spirituality: “Bodily training is beneficial for a little; but godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.”—1 Timothy 4:8.
The moral laws of the Bible serve as the primary protection against sexually transmitted diseases, which were no doubt present but as yet unidentified or perhaps even unsuspected by scholars for centuries.—Exodus 20:14; Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 18; Galatians 5:19.
“A Very Accurate Scientific Book”
Hippocrates was a Greek physician of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. who has become known as “the father of medicine,” but much that the Bible says about diseases was written by Moses, about a thousand years before then. Yet, significantly, The AMA News published a letter from a doctor that said: “The best informed medical researchers now doing the best work are arriving at the conclusion that the Bible is a very accurate scientific book. . . . The facts of life, diagnosis, treatment, and preventive medicine as given in the Bible are far more advanced and reliable than the theories of Hippocrates, many still unproven, and some found to be grossly inaccurate.”
Dr. A. Rendle Short in his book The Bible and Modern Medicine, after pointing out that sanitary laws among the nations surrounding ancient Israel were very elementary if they existed at all, said: “It is the more surprising therefore that in a book like the Bible, alleged to be unscientific, there should be a sanitary code at all, and equally surprising that a nation just escaped from slavery, frequently overrun by enemies and carried away into captivity from time to time, should have on its statute books so wise and reasonable a code of rules of health.”
The Bible has proved to be medically advanced in its recognition of the psychosomatic association of some health disorders long before such was commonly accepted in the medical field. Moreover, the Bible’s explanation of the role of the mind in the manifestation of physical disease remains a model of clear understanding. Proverbs 17:22 states: “A heart that is joyful does good as a curer, but a spirit that is stricken makes the bones dry.” Note that there is nothing judgmental here, only the statement of fact. There is no admonition to tell the overwhelmed person to snap out of it, as if it were that simple.
A positive attitude is helpful; worry is negative and detrimental. “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down, but the good word is what makes it rejoice.” (Proverbs 12:25) Pr Chapter 18, verse 14, of Proverbs is worthy of pondering: “The spirit of a man can put up with a malady; but as for a stricken spirit, who can bear it?” This scripture suggests that one’s ability to withstand a given degree of physical sickness (malady) may be enhanced by drawing on one’s spiritual forces.
James T. Fisher, a psychiatrist, had this to say about the psychological value in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “If you were to take the sum total of all the authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene—if you were to combine them, and refine them, and cleave out the excess verbiage—if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount. And it would suffer immeasurably through comparison.”—A Few Buttons Missing, page 273.
Psychosomatic feelings can influence our physical condition, but this in itself does not mean there is no actual physical illness. It is therefore important first to try to assist with the physical needs and at the very least recognize the ailment, while at the same time encouraging a positive frame of mind and spirit, which will help a person to endure. This is especially important when there may be no definitive treatment available in this present system of things.
After Adam’s sin, death became a foregone genetic reality for all mankind. (Romans 5:12) Hence, it is usually not appropriate to attribute an individual’s specific disease to his spiritual status. This is important to keep in mind when dealing with problems of individuals who are in an emotionally weakened state.
The Physician’s Role
How should Christians relate to physicians and the modern practice of medicine? In examining the Bible, we find no Scriptural basis for putting physicians on a pedestal or for looking to medical technology as the ultimate hope for good health. Rather, there is evidence to the contrary. Mark tells us of “a woman subject to a flow of blood” for many years who “had been put to many pains by many physicians and had spent all her resources and had not been benefited but, rather, had got worse.” (Mark 5:25-29) Though this common disorder is often successfully treated today, many diseases remain untreatable, and a host of new untreatable diseases are constantly being discovered.
However, the Bible does not support the opposite extreme taken by some who view the traditional practice of medicine as having little or no value. Some take the doctor off the pedestal and replace him with themselves or some other nonmedical approach that may be the fad of the moment. At Colossians 4:14, the description of Luke as “the beloved” physician no doubt referred to his spiritual qualifications rather than his medical abilities. However, the privilege he enjoyed in writing part of the Holy Scriptures under inspiration would not likely have been bestowed upon one whose medical practice was unethical or unscriptural.
There is evidence to suggest that Luke practiced medicine that was modern for his time, using terminology and medical description that suggest the influence of Hippocrates. Though Hippocrates was not always accurate, he did attempt to introduce logic into the practice and denounced superstition and pseudoreligious theories of medicine. Also, Jesus’ simple illustration at Luke 5:31, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are ailing do,” would have little meaning if it was not accepted that those with medical experience could be of some value in dealing with sicknesses.
There is no Scriptural basis for taking an extreme view to condemn the use of antibiotics, antiseptics, or analgesics when the need for their use is indicated. Jeremiah 46:11 and Jer 51:8 describe a balsam in Gilead that may well have had soothing analgesic properties as well as antiseptic value. There is no Scriptural or doctrinal position against taking medicines internally.
Massive quantities of antibiotics, however, have not been able to keep up with the continual exposure to contagious disease carried by flies, mosquitoes, and snails—the number one cause of death worldwide. Health workers have had to go back and begin with the basic Bible principles of safe sewage disposal, protection of the water supply, control of insect carriers, and precautions in person-to-person and hand-to-mouth contact. As recently as the 1970’s, nurses and doctors were repeatedly reminded by signs posted over hospital sinks and over beds of patients that read: “Wash Hands”—the number one way to prevent spread of disease.
A Precautionary Word
Those giving health advice—whether a physician, a chiropractor, a homeopath, or a well-meaning but possibly uninformed friend—take on a major responsibility whenever they counsel someone in ill health. This is particularly the case if the advice they give is harmful or diverts, biases against, or delays assistance that has often been effective. There are ample warnings in the Bible to health practitioners as well as clients to guard against quackery and spiritism in what may be a desperate personal search for assistance. Remember Proverbs 14:15: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.”
Are the principles outlined in the Holy Scriptures practical for maintaining health today? Just as the primary focus of the Mosaic Law was prevention, so today, the preventive approach to health care has proved to be of far greater value than those based primarily on treatment. The modern lesson of the World Health Organization in trying to implement modern health treatment in underdeveloped countries is this: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
In conclusion, a Christian should have a respectful, long-range view of health with the goal of using good health to the glory of God in furthering the joyous Kingdom work. And under that Kingdom rule, the promise is: “No resident will say: ‘I am sick.’”—Isaiah 33:24.
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“My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret”