Is isolation of people during disease pandemic biblical?

by Matt Slick
3/26/2020, updated 4/9/2020


In light of the recent coronavirus pandemic, Christians have asked me if isolation due to disease is biblical. I can say without a doubt that it is. The Bible speaks a lot about how to handle sickness, and it clearly promotes isolation and quarantine to contain illnesses. In fact, during the time of the Black Plague in the 14th century, biblical cleanliness laws were implemented in Vienna, Austria, and it succeeded in stopping its spread.

"Fortunately, the church fathers of Vienna finally took the biblical injunctions to heart and commanded that those infected with the plague must be placed outside the city in special medical quarantine compounds. Caregivers fed them until they either died or survived the disease. Those who died in homes or streets were quickly removed and buried outside the city. These biblical sanitation measures quickly brought the dreaded epidemic under control. Other cities and countries rapidly followed the medical practices of Vienna until the deadly spread of the black death was halted."
   Jeffrey, Grant R.; The Signature of God, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO, 2010, pp. 145-146.

Obviously, it took a while for secular "science" to catch up with the biblical truth. Nevertheless, the Bible does teach the concept of isolating people due to such things as sickness, disease, coming in contact with dead things, and due to discharges from the body. Separation of the sick from the well and washing are repeatedly recommended in Scripture to help stop the spread of disease.

Bible verses on quarantining

There are many verses dealing with isolation and quarantining and being unclean for period of time. I've listed many of them at the end of this article. But for now, let's just consider a few so we can quickly establish that quarantining is biblical.

  1. Leviticus 13:21, "But if the priest looks at it, and behold, there are no white hairs in it and it is not lower than the skin and is faded, then the priest shall isolate him for seven days;"  
  2. Leviticus 13:46, "He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp."
  3. Numbers 5:2, "Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person."

Clearly, the idea of quarantining is biblical. However, we have to ask a question.

Do we Quarantine everyone or just a sick?

The verses above (and those at the end of this article) deal with quarantining the sick, not the healthy. So, can we expand this quarantining idea to the healthy as is being done in the present pandemic of the coronavirus? First of all, the healthy are not being quarantined. The sick are being quarantined. The healthy are practicing self-isolation, not imposed quarantine. They do this because, unlike the visible sickness of leprosy, the coronavirus cannot be seen. Also, it's incubation is different from person to person. Therefore, they are exercising caution in their self-isolation so as not to catch or spread the virus.

According to a recent report, more than 97 percent of people who contract SARS-CoV-2 show symptoms within 11.5 days of exposure. The average incubation period seems to be around 5 days. However, this estimate may change as we learn more about the virus." https://www.healthline.com/health/coronavirus-incubation-period

As you can see from the above quote, the incubation period for the coronavirus is around five days, with symptoms showing up in 11 days. Therefore, the practice of self-isolation is warranted so that those who do not know they have the virus will not spread it to others.

Isolate those not sick, but are unclean

  • Leviticus 7:21, "When anyone touches anything unclean, whether human uncleanness, or an unclean animal, or any unclean detestable thing, and eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belong to the LORD, that person shall be cut off from his people.’ ”"
  • Leviticus 11:28, "and the one who picks up their carcasses shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; they are unclean to you."
  • Leviticus 13:46, "He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp."
  • Leviticus 14:46, "Moreover, whoever goes into the house during the time that he has quarantined it, becomes unclean until evening."

When someone was unclean, he was to be separated from other people until his uncleanness was either atoned for (Lev. 14:19) or the required duration of time was met (Lev. 13:46).  there are many verses like this in the Bible, too many to go into here. But, in some instances, it is biblical to isolate those who are not showing any symptoms of an illness.  Of course, there is precautionary-isolation practiced for those who come in contact with dead things (Lev. 11:40; Num. 5:2), or touches something unclean (Lev. 7:21), and who have discharges from the body (Lev. 15:4-7; Deut. 23:10-11).  Neither of these categories require that anyone was showing any symptoms.

CDC on Isolation and Quarantining

Defining terms is always important. How does the Centers for Disease Control define the terms?

"Isolation refers to the separation of persons who have a specific infectious illness from those who are healthy and the restriction of their movement to stop the spread of that illness...Quarantine refers to the separation and restriction of movement of persons who, while not yet ill, have been exposed to an infectious agent and therefore may become infectious."  https://www.cdc.gov/sars/quarantine/fs-isolation.html

We can see that there are similarities between isolation and quarantine. Isolation is for those who have the illness, where quarantining is for those who been exposed to the illness.

Self-isolation is different than regular isolation and quarantine. Self-isolation is voluntary. Typical isolation and quarantining are not. Self-isolation is a precautionary effort so as not to catch the virus. Typical isolation and quarantining are not.

Galatians 5:13–14, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”"

The idea of self-isolation (self-imposed separation) so as not to risk infecting someone else as well as to not risk infecting one's self, is biblical. It falls under the scriptural obligation to not use our freedom to harm anyone else, but to use our freedom to serve one another and to love our neighbors. Self-isolation is just that, a form of loving others so as not to cause them sickness and harm by risking the spread of the virus.

Conclusion

The word of God teaches that quarantining the sick is a method for stopping the spread of disease. God, in His infinite wisdom, provided this instruction thousands of years before modern science discovered the same principles. Isolation and washing are very effective in stopping the spread of diseases, and the people of Vienna, Austria, implemented those biblical laws to stop the black plague from spreading. It's too bad that the secular world will not give credit to the Bible where it's due. Finally, self-imposed isolation for not infecting others is a loving principal that falls under the command to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39; Gal. 5:13-14). So, let's love others, protect them via self-isolation, and yet also be wise as we exercise our Christian freedom.

 

 

Bible verses on quarantining

  1. Isolation due to sickness and disease
    1. Leviticus 13:4 “But if the bright spot is white on the skin of his body, and it does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and the hair on it has not turned white, then the priest shall isolate him who has the infection for seven days. 5 “The priest shall look at him on the seventh day, and if in his eyes the infection has not changed and the infection has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall isolate him for seven more days.
    2. Leviticus 13:21, "But if the priest looks at it, and behold, there are no white hairs in it and it is not lower than the skin and is faded, then the priest shall isolate him for seven days;"  
    3. Leviticus 13:46, "He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp."
    4. Leviticus 14:38, "then the priest shall come out of the house, to the doorway, and quarantine the house for seven days."
    5. Leviticus 14:46, "Moreover, whoever goes into the house during the time that he has quarantined it, becomes unclean until evening."
    6. Numbers 12:10, 15, " But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous... 15 So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again."
  2. Isolation due to contact with dead things
    1. Numbers 5:2, "Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person."
    2. Leviticus 11:40, "He too, who eats some of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening, and the one who picks up its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening."
  3. Isolation due to nocturnal emission.
    1. Deuteronomy 23:10-11, “If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp. 11 But it shall be when evening approaches, he shall bathe himself with water, and at sundown he may reenter the camp."
  4. Isolation due to discharge from the body
    1. Leviticus 15:2, 4-7, "Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, ‘When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean. 4 Every bed on which the person with the discharge lies becomes unclean, and everything on which he sits becomes unclean. 5 ‘Anyone, moreover, who touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening; 6 and whoever sits on the thing on which the man with the discharge has been sitting, shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. 7 ‘Also whoever touches the person with the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening."
  5. Washing clothes
    1. Due to touching dead things
      1. Leviticus 11:24–25, "By these, moreover, you will be made unclean: whoever touches their carcasses becomes unclean until evening, 25 and whoever picks up any of their carcasses shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening."
      2. Leviticus 11:28, "and the one who picks up their carcasses shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; they are unclean to you."
    2. Due to infection
      1. Leviticus 13:6, "The priest shall look at him again on the seventh day, and if the infection has faded and the mark has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only a scab. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean."
    3. Due to disease
      1. Leviticus 14:8, "The one to be cleansed [from leprosy] shall then wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe in water and be clean. Now afterward, he may enter the camp, but he shall stay outside his tent for seven days.
      2. Leviticus 14:46–47, "Moreover, whoever goes into the house during the time that he has quarantined it [due to leprosy], becomes unclean until evening. 47 “Likewise, whoever lies down in the house shall wash his clothes, and whoever eats in the house shall wash his clothes."
  6. Burying excrement
    1. Deuteronomy 23:13, "and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement.

 

 

 

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.