Health Science and the Bible

The Holy Bible was not written as a medical textbook, but the health advice in it is sound, pivotal and far ahead of its time.

The Bible is concerned more with spiritual soundness than with physical health. Yet surely the God who created us would understand what we need to be healthy. Certainly He would teach us the most important rules for caring for the bodies He designed.

Indeed, God provides sound guidance in the Scriptures to help us achieve the healthiest possible lifestyle.

Let’s see how seven of these biblical health tips stack up with modern medical advice.

1. Practice good hygiene and sanitation.

Deuteronomy 23:12-13: “Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse” (see also Leviticus 11:32; 15:11; Numbers 19:14-15; Job 9:30; and Matthew 23:25-26).

Excrement, bodily fluids and their potential to spread disease are part of life whether we enjoy indoor plumbing or not. God taught the children of Israel to cleanse themselves by bathing, washing hands and clothes, and separating latrines from the places where they ate and slept. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends these crucial precautions today. To see how striking biblical health laws are in comparison to thousands of years of medical misinformation, read our article on “God and Science.”

2. Get checked out.

Leviticus 13:2-3: “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall examine the sore.”

If you research symptoms on a medical website, you will likely receive advice to see a doctor rather than attempt to diagnose yourself. Likewise, God commanded the children of Israel to seek the advice of a trained authority, the priest, to determine whether a condition was contagious or harmless.

To make an appropriate diagnosis, the priest would sometimes need to investigate further than the symptoms his patient presented. He might isolate the patient and carefully examine him after a week for any change (verses 4-6). The necessity of studying how a condition developed over time suggests that the priests would have used some form of medical records. Applying God’s instruction, the priests were able to examine patients and curb the spread of disease through sound scientific methods, not unlike those used today.

3. Stay away from others if you are sick.

Leviticus 13:45-46: “Now the leper on whom the sore is, … his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

Until the 19th century, doctors had little idea how diseases spread or how to protect others from infection. People widely believed that sickness had atmospheric or supernatural causes; that is, it would spontaneously develop from exposure to certain vapors or was always a punishment for sin (even though Jesus refuted this idea in John 9:2-3).

In contrast, the book of Leviticus outlines the need for people with communicable diseases to cover their mouths, warn others not to get too close, and otherwise separate themselves from the community while infectious. Historically, failure to follow these principles has resulted in major epidemics that were only stopped by following quarantine and isolation procedures as God described. Such public health strategies continue to be used today.

4. Be faithful to your spouse.

1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (see also Exodus 20:14; Romans 1:27; and Leviticus 18:6).

Modern medicine has confirmed the Bible’s warnings about infidelity: Sex outside of monogamy poses serious risks. For instance, sexually transmitted diseases can destroy your health to the point that “you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed” (Proverbs 5:11). Despite technological advances, experts agree that no prophylactic can make risky sex completely “safe.” Of course, that’s not to mention the painful emotional and psychological consequences of unfaithfulness.

However, in the right context, sex is wonderful. The Bible explains that God created sexuality as a beautiful gift to husbands and wives. This special, committed intimacy was designed to be an important component in building loving families and to reflect the joy of being part of God’s own family.

Health science can reveal the odds of disease, but only the Bible can furnish the keys to healthy relationships.

5. Watch what you eat and drink.

  • Eat clean meats only.

Leviticus 11:46-47: “This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.”

When you examine the ecological roles of animals the Bible calls “unclean” (that is, not for human consumption), you find that they are largely predators and scavengers. This means that they are capable of limiting the spread of contaminants and disease in their habitats. It also means that they are more likely to make humans sick.

However, some wonder if modern freezers and ovens make God’s commands irrelevant. They do not. Obedience to any of God’s laws is always for our own good and also shows that we respect and honor His instructions. In fact, in addition to helping to protect our health, there is a deeper meaning to our obedience of food laws. In this same chapter, God tells us, “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45). We do not have the authority to alter or ignore any of God’s commandments, whether we fully understand them or not (Deuteronomy 12:32; Matthew 15:3).

Even still, a creature’s diet and how it is cooked is not the whole story. For instance, some people scoff at the idea of avoiding pork, claiming that careful food preparation mitigates the risk of the diseases and parasites (such as Trichinella) that the meat is prone to carry. However, more hazards remain.

God truly wants what is best for us. Scientists are still learning about factors that make certain meats dangerous choices for humans, but the Bible lit the way long ago.According to a 2009 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, consumption of pork consistently correlates with liver disease across countries and over decades of research in epidemiology. This pattern does not emerge with beef (a biblically clean meat).

God truly wants what is best for us. Scientists are still learning about factors that make certain meats dangerous choices for humans, but the Bible lit the way long ago.

  • Limit your alcohol consumption.

Isaiah 5:11: “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them!” (see also Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35; and 1 Timothy 3:8).

A little alcohol (up to one or two drinks in a day) can have health benefits. However, the Mayo Clinic warns, “drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, certain types of cancer, accidents,” alcoholism and even weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy). The Bible does not forbid alcohol, but it clearly shows that alcohol abuse is not only dangerous, it’s sinful.

Popular culture is full of misconceptions about alcohol. Be sure to study our article on “Alcohol Use and Abuse” to educate yourself and your family.

  • Use moderation in your diet.

Proverbs 25:16: “Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit” (see also verse 27).

Sweets and convenience foods are typically loaded with “empty” calories—too much fat and sugar, but insufficient vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, unbalanced fad diets can also lead to malnutrition. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises most people, “Ditch diets that allow unlimited quantities of any food, such as grapefruit and cabbage soup. It’s boring to eat the same thing over and over and hard to stick with monotonous plans. Avoid any diet that eliminates or severely restricts entire food groups, such as carbohydrates. Even if you take a multivitamin, you’ll still miss some critical nutrients.”

Today’s health experts recommend a balance of food choices to get all the nutrients we need. Similarly, the Bible counsels self-control and moderation. Just because something like honey or oil can be good in modest amounts (Psalm 104:15) doesn’t mean that it won’t be harmful in large doses (Deuteronomy 32:13-15)!

To learn more biblical principles for eating right, see our article on a “Healthy Diet.”

6. Get adequate rest and exercise.

Ecclesiastes 5:12: “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet” (also see Psalm 127:2 and 1 Timothy 4:8).

As sedentary occupations and recreations become more common, a growing number of us engage in barely anything more strenuous than “the lazy man” of the Proverbs, whose daily activities include rolling over in bed (Proverbs 26:14), hoisting food to his mouth (verse 15) and making excuses for staying indoors all day (verse 13).

And yet, we’re also sleep deprived, despite our idleness—or perhaps because of it. As Ecclesiastes attests, a powerful link exists between exercise and sleep. According to a 2013 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, “Vigorous exercisers are almost twice as likely as non-exercisers to report ‘I had a good night’s sleep’ every night or almost every night during the week. They also are the least likely to report sleep problems” like insomnia.

Modern medicine and the Bible agree: The sedentary, bleary-eyed lifestyle is not good for us. Sleep helps regulate our hormones and immune systems and provides time for cell repair. As a result, sleep-deprivation can make us susceptible to colds, heart disease, diabetes, accidents and even obesity, as WebMD reports.

Physical activity is similarly crucial. A lack of exercise can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, depression, arthritis and osteoporosis, according to The Wall Street Journal. And exercise is not only good for our muscles, it is good for our brains. The brain normally shrinks as we age, but exercise can help reverse that atrophy. According to The New York Times, older adults in a recent study essentially gained two years of brain health just by maintaining a walking regimen!

In summary, science confirms what we could long read in the Bible: God created us to benefit from rest at the end of an active day.

7. Cultivate a positive outlook.

Proverbs 18:14: “The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, but who can bear a broken spirit?” (see also Proverbs 17:22).

The Bible suggests that attitude affects our physical health. More and more researchers are finding that it’s true! For instance, older adults who expressed only low to moderate levels of satisfaction with their lives were, after eight years, “about 80 percent more likely than their happier counterparts to have developed mobility and functional problems,” as The Washington Post explains.

In contrast, subjects in another study were told to briefly write, once a week, about five things for which they were thankful. After only two months of “gratitude lite,” they felt happier and more optimistic. What’s more, they “reported fewer physical problems and spent more time working out,” according to The New York Times.

Need another reason to be thankful? God’s Word doesn’t just encourage us to have positive attitudes. It shows us the best, healthiest way to live now and the amazing destiny God is offering each one of us!

You can build a healthy frame of mind despite the stress of contemporary society: Be sure to read our article “Coping With Anxiety” for help. 

About the Author

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