Levitical law regarding quarantine, ceremonial or judicial?

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Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Sophomore
Leviticus 13:46 (NAS): 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.

Is the law to be considered ceremonial or judicial?

Recently @Jeri Tanner asked if the (Canadian) mandatory quarantining of persons who have traveled outside of the county would be against the law of God. I emphatically said yes as my mind went to the Gods requirement to place people who were displaying symptoms of leprosy outside of the camp. I’m my opinion this shows that the sick are to be kept separate, the healthy are not and doing so violates the purpose of the quarantine and Gods law.

Is this a proper understanding of this command? And if so, are our governments currently violating Gods law by quarantining the healthy? And if they are, do we have a right to oppose their mandates based on Gods revealed will?
 
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iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Leviticus 13:46 (NAS): 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.

Is the law to be considered ceremonial or judicial?

Recently @Jeri Tanner asked if the (Canadian) mandatory quarantining of persons who have traveled outside of the county would be against the law of God. I emphatically said yes as my mind went to the Gods requirement to place people who were displaying symptoms of leprosy outside of the camp. I’m my opinion this shows that the sick are to be kept separate, the healthy are not and doing so violates the purpose of the quarantine and Gods law.

Is this a proper understanding of this command? And if so, are our governments currently violating Gods law by quarantining the healthy? And if they are, do we have a right to oppose their mandates based of Gods revealed will?
To begin with, I appreciate your desire to serve God and obey his law. However, in this case, I think you are trying to make the OT law address something it was never intended to address. Much of our contemporary lawcode will only be connected to Biblical directives in the most tangential ways. The Bible doesn't tell us whether we should tax people's income, property, purchases, or all of the above, and what the rates should be on each - though it does suggest that taxation is in principle legitimate. Some taxation may be oppressive. But different Christians (and societies) may legitimately come to different conclusions about how to organize their society and what taxation is reasonable and fair. To take another example, is it illegitimate to want to restrict immigration in some way? Israel had no such laws; the onus was only on protecting the immigrant against abuse, but many Christians would argue that some border controls are necessary. Reasonable Christians may disagree exactly what that should look like, on the basis of a number of different (and very broad) Biblical principles.

Now as to specifics. You have framed the law in Leviticus 13:46 in a particular way: "the sick should be quarantined, not the healthy". We may note in passing that only the first half of that statement comes from this verse: it says nothing explicit about what may or may not be done with the healthy. We may also note that the healthy were routinely quarantined outside the camp of Israel for many reasons other than sickness, since ceremonial uncleanness could also be contracted through certain emissions and touching a dead body (Num 5:1-4; 19:11; Deut 23:10). More pertinently, however, you passed over the earlier part of Leviticus 13. You went to a part that deals with permanent quarantine, which I don't think anyone has suggested for COVID, and passed over the requirement for temporary quarantine of people who might (or might not) have the particular skin disease (13:4-8). They were to be quarantined for fourteen days until it became clear whether they had the disease or not. If they did not, they were released from quarantine, while if they did their exclusion was made permanent. So it was clearly legitimate in the OT to quarantine someone who in the end turned out to be healthy, if there were reasonable grounds to do so. The challenging question for any administration is to determine "What are reasonable grounds to impose a quarantine? Should we only quarantine those with symptoms? Or, given the fact that most people with the disease are contagious before they have symptoms, should we impose a wider quarantine?" Reasonable Christians - including those on this Board - may differ on their answers to that question.

To be abundantly clear, I don't think a state's policy on COVID needs to be drawn from the laws of cleanliness in Leviticus. But if you want to try to do so, it isn't a straightforward task.
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Sophomore
To be clear. I meant we should only be isolating the sick and not everyone as we have been doing. That is the principle I believe is drawn from those verses.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
Well, I was trying to post something I found that is relevant, but the board software wouldn't let me. I guess I'll just leave the PDF here instead...
 

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  • North on Biblical Quarantine.pdf
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
While there may have been some overlap in decisions made by various authorities in Israel, in my view a decision by religious authority was ceremonial by the nature of the case. The high priest was not a "medicine man." There was only a couple of items on which Israelite religious authority was called to "diagnose" and "prescribe." And it was not a medical diagnosis he made; he gave no herbs or other remedy. He only imposed or raised restriction/quarantine.

The priest's pronouncement was for signification, it was a kind of "moral pronouncement;" and note that if the priest was confined to making these judgments on only the few cases defined in the law, there was little danger of abuse of this office--by proliferating the cases where he could exercise this power to put people (or in some cases, buildings) under a sort of ban.

As a case in point, biblical leprosy--whatever the nature of that disease or diseases if judged by modern medical categories--was declared in law to be a kind of "living death." We can't be absolutely positive if literal, physical contagion of illness was a health concern, or if or how easily transmission could take place. What it was, according to the ceremonies of Israel, was a religious concern, a concern of "catching" the ceremonial uncleanness. Those who were so identified were living signs, and their ailment by its physical manifestation God chose to make--not a medical or health declaration--but a moral declaration.

People try to find all sorts of modern "medical" or "health" or "social good" reasons why Israel had this law or that, especially as pertains to the ceremonials. If such a thing seems plausible or not should be of no concern. Pork was not "off limits" because it is naturally unhealthy. God forbade Israel to eat it, and maybe there was no other reason than that he put them to the test. We don't need to come up with a "scientific" justification (e.g. for circumcision), or imagine how "cultural history" validates then codifies best practices.

It's OK if there be no other reason (or discoverable plausibility) than: "Because the LORD said so." Israel was supposed to be "different," so there could be a hidden advantage in God's directions; or there could be no such secret, just weirdness. There could even be functional disadvantage to obeying God's will, meant to force Israel to trust God when their instincts told them otherwise. Walk by faith, not by sight; stand still, don't run or fight, and see the salvation of your God.

Health quarantine could have been something known in a general way to Israelite society, something learned during centuries in Egypt for instance. It might have been something that tribal judges oversaw. The Law of Moses' rules respecting leprosy can be seen as something that follows a generally known quarantine pattern already in place of handling infectious disease. Only, the concern of the Law in Leviticus is when and how the priest might be called on to add his religious diagnosis and ruling to a particular situation.

The Law did not exist to give us the impression that priests, among their other tasks, were also the national health care bureaucracy.
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Sophomore
While there may have been some overlap in decisions made by various authorities in Israel, in my view a decision by religious authority was ceremonial by the nature of the case. The high priest was not a "medicine man." There was only a couple of items on which Israelite religious authority was called to "diagnose" and "prescribe." And it was not a medical diagnosis he made; he gave no herbs or other remedy. He only imposed or raised restriction/quarantine.

The priest's pronouncement was for signification, it was a kind of "moral pronouncement;" and note that if the priest was confined to making these judgments on only the few cases defined in the law, there was little danger of abuse of this office--by proliferating the cases where he could exercise this power to put people (or in some cases, buildings) under a sort of ban.

As a case in point, biblical leprosy--whatever the nature of that disease or diseases if judged by modern medical categories--was declared in law to be a kind of "living death." We can't be absolutely positive if literal, physical contagion of illness was a health concern, or if or how easily transmission could take place. What it was, according to the ceremonies of Israel, was a religious concern, a concern of "catching" the ceremonial uncleanness. Those who were so identified were living signs, and their ailment by its physical manifestation God chose to make--not a medical or health declaration--but a moral declaration.

People try to find all sorts of modern "medical" or "health" or "social good" reasons why Israel had this law or that, especially as pertains to the ceremonials. If such a thing seems plausible or not should be of no concern. Pork was not "off limits" because it is naturally unhealthy. God forbade Israel to eat it, and maybe there was no other reason than that he put them to the test. We don't need to come up with a "scientific" justification (e.g. for circumcision), or imagine how "cultural history" validates then codifies best practices.

It's OK if there be no other reason (or discoverable plausibility) than: "Because the LORD said so." Israel was supposed to be "different," so there could be a hidden advantage in God's directions; or there could be no such secret, just weirdness. There could even be functional disadvantage to obeying God's will, meant to force Israel to trust God when their instincts told them otherwise. Walk by faith, not by sight; stand still, don't run or fight, and see the salvation of your God.

Health quarantine could have been something known in a general way to Israelite society, something learned during centuries in Egypt for instance. It might have been something that tribal judges oversaw. The Law of Moses' rules respecting leprosy can be seen as something that follows a generally known quarantine pattern already in place of handling infectious disease. Only, the concern of the Law in Leviticus is when and how the priest might be called on to add his religious diagnosis and ruling to a particular situation.

The Law did not exist to give us the impression that priests, among their other tasks, were also the national health care bureaucracy
I greatly appreciate your response and it has given me much to consider, as always when you speak I listen.

I agree that leprosy is treated by the levitical law as a special case, “living death” as you called it hits the nail on the head. Certainly this disease was seen as a visual representation of sin in the law and given special treatment by Christ during his ministry. From this perspective the quarantine mandate would be primarily ceremonial in nature.

Would you then disagree with my above statement that judicial laws can be gleaned from ceremonial laws? Naturally this should be done with great care as to not impose abrogated laws, but surely there is still temporal governing wisdom to be found in the ceremonial law?
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Would you then disagree with my above statement that judicial laws can be gleaned from ceremonial laws? Naturally this should be done with great care as to not impose abrogated laws, but surely there is still temporal governing wisdom to be found in the ceremonial law?
Leviticus primarily addresses who may approach God and asks the closely related question: how may one approach God in the time before the church had the full revelation in Christ. To take that text and try to extract modern health law is at best eisegesis.
 
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Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
A quick story: I used to have conversations with my late father-in-law, who was a dairyman. He had an interest in convincing people to eat more butter and ice cream, and he contended, in all seriousness, that the Bible commanded a fat-rich diet. He had his proof texts: "You shall eat of the fat of the land," and such. I finally had to tell him (and I struggled to do it respectfully) that he was misusing the Bible. It is not meant to be a dietary guide. To use it that way not only might mess up your diet but, of more concern, cheapens the Bible.

I think we have to guard against the same with COVID. We have strong feelings about what actions our governments and churches ought to be taking. It is very tempting to search out Bible passages that might seem to support, or even command, that our view is the biblical view. The first test we must give ourselves is to ask: What came first, my convictions on this matter or my search for biblical answers? If we first searched the Scriptures and then, having found an answer, changed our views to fit what God taught us, that is a good sign. But if we first become convinced of what we think is right and then happened to find a scriptural "rule" that confirmed our views, we should be wary.

So, the OP asks a great question—a highly commendable question. It's exactly the sort of self-examining and Scripture-examining question we should be asking when we find ourselves eager to apply the Bible to a situation like this. It shows a humble willingness to be teachable and truly led by Scripture. In fact, being the sort of believer who asks the question and examines his proof-texting is probably more important than what the right answer turns out to be.

But as for the answer... Myself, I think the best answer is similar to what I told my father-in-law: The Bible is not really a medical guide, and we cheapen it if we treat it as such. The laws in Leviticus 13 are probably more ceremonial/spiritual than they are medical. And even if they are in part medical, it's had to insist they apply to COVID in 21st-century America unless you also have instructions that other types of diseases (respiratory, cancer, mental illness) should forever be treated the same way as skin diseases—which you won't find because any doctor knows the protocols differ, and because the Bible is not a medical guide. And even if Leviticus 13 did directly apply, we would have to consider not only the full context of all infectious-disease laws but also the abundant guidance the Bible gives about government authority, gathering to worship, bearing each other's burdens, putting concern for others ahead of one's own rights, the need for fellowship and human touch, and so on. The list of considerations is long and varied. To point to one chapter (of questionable application in our situation) ends up dismissing further study of the rest of the Bible.

Which means, Bob, that I think you are right to check yourself before assuming Leviticus 13 prescribes how to handle a pandemic in America today. It is a sign of humble godliness, and submission to all of Scripture, for you to inquire before you leap to that conclusion.
 

ChristianReadYourBible

Puritan Board Freshman
Would this fall under "general equity", since ceremonial law has been abrogated by Christ and judicial law has (from 1689) "expired together with the state of that people?" Or am I understanding this concept from the reformed confessions incorrectly?
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Sophomore
Would this fall under "general equity", since ceremonial law has been abrogated by Christ and judicial law has (from 1689) "expired together with the state of that people?" Or am I understanding this concept from the reformed confessions incorrectly?
Yes, that is correct. What I am working through is if there is a general equity principle that can be applied concerning quarantine, or more precisely the quarantining of the healthy. The command here as others have already pointed out is ceremonial in nature, those laws have been fully done away with in Christ and only applied to Israel in covenant with God. To draw a judicial law from the ceremonial is dangerous, I still think it is possible, but should be handled with extreme caution.

As Jack assumed correctly, I am most likely trying to find a Biblical principle to justify my frustration with the current (ungodly) government. I still think the government is wrong, but it is even worse for me to bend Scripture to my opinion and emotions.

To be completely honest, I am sympathetic to theonomic thinking and am still wrestling with it. The situation the world, country and especially my state finds itself in only feeds my desire for a more Godly rule.... I need to keep my self in check to make sure my thinking is guided by Scripture and not my frustrations.
 

ChristianReadYourBible

Puritan Board Freshman
Yes, that is correct. What I am working through is if there is a general equity principle that can be applied concerning quarantine, or more precisely the quarantining of the healthy. The command here as others have already pointed out is ceremonial in nature, those laws have been fully done away with in Christ and only applied to Israel in covenant with God. To draw a judicial law from the ceremonial is dangerous, I still think it is possible, but should be handled with extreme caution.

As Jack assumed correctly, I am most likely trying to find a Biblical principle to justify my frustration with the current (ungodly) government. I still think the government is wrong, but it is even worse for me to bend Scripture to my opinion and emotions.

To be completely honest, I am sympathetic to theonomic thinking and am still wrestling with it. The situation the world, country and especially my state finds itself in only feeds my desire for a more Godly rule.... I need to keep my self in check to make sure my thinking is guided by Scripture and not my frustrations.
Thanks brother, and I'll be praying for you and the situation in California. And for wisdom for all of us to carefully study and apply these principles as our God intends.

For what it's worth, it's comforting to know other brothers and sisters out there are contemplating the same issues!
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
As Jack assumed correctly, I am most likely trying to find a Biblical principle to justify my frustration with the current (ungodly) government. I still think the government is wrong, but it is even worse for me to bend Scripture to my opinion and emotions.
I don't think this is a fair allegation for anyone to ascribe to you, or you to yourself. What? Are we only supposed to arrive at conclusions before certain relevant issues occur in order for them to be pure in motive? If that were the case, could we not accuse the Trinitarians of going to Scripture only to bolster their preconceived notions about the nature of the Godhead? That's just not how things work out sometimes, though. Sometimes we are confronted with a problem, for which we formulate an initial assessment/hypothesis, and then go to Scripture and have it happily confirmed. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes we, out of no ill motive, seek to go to Scripture to see our suspicions (which are often based upon a current knowledge of Scripture, which we are trying to make better through deeper study) in fact confirmed. That is altogether different than "bending Scripture to your opinion and emotions."
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Would this fall under "general equity", since ceremonial law has been abrogated by Christ and judicial law has (from 1689) "expired together with the state of that people?" Or am I understanding this concept from the reformed confessions incorrectly?
General equity is a very useful principle to give us wisdom, but by its very nature, it is not able to give us specific policy guidelines. So the requirement that Israelites were required to build a parapet around the roof of their house (Deut. 22:8) might give us the general equity principle that states may impose building safety codes, but it doesn't tell us exactly what that code looks like. A fence around all swimming pools? Ground fault interrupter outlets on bathrooms and garages? Mandatory smoke detectors? Or perhaps it only tells us that individuals should build houses with safety in mind and it is overreach for the State to get involved? Different Christians may come to different conclusions as to what the application of that general equity principle looks like in their situation, because it is by definition "general". Wisdom is required in its application.

So too with quarantines. The most we can say from Leviticus 13 is that sometimes temporary quarantines are warranted, and even that is likely stretching the passage beyond its intended purpose. Most of us can envisage circumstances where temporary quarantines would make good sense: if an island country has no cases of Covid internally, would you blame them for requiring any visitors to self-isolate for fourteen days, to reduce significantly the risk of any possible spread of the disease to that country? Would that protection of their people be unbiblical?

But our contemporary situation in the US (and in Europe) is far more complex. There have been lots of different models proposed and tried, but the data is complicated and hard to analyze, and the situation constantly changing all around us. There is no clear "Biblical" solution, so the best we can do is to pray for wisdom for those who are charged with governing us, try to evaluate for ourselves what wise behavior looks like, and extend a lot of grace for Christian brothers and sisters who reach different conclusions from ourselves, in line with Romans 14.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
Leviticus 13:46 (NAS): 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.

Is the law to be considered ceremonial or judicial?

Recently @Jeri Tanner asked if the (Canadian) mandatory quarantining of persons who have traveled outside of the county would be against the law of God. I emphatically said yes as my mind went to the Gods requirement to place people who were displaying symptoms of leprosy outside of the camp. I’m my opinion this shows that the sick are to be kept separate, the healthy are not and doing so violates the purpose of the quarantine and Gods law.

Is this a proper understanding of this command? And if so, are our governments currently violating Gods law by quarantining the healthy? And if they are, do we have a right to oppose their mandates based on Gods revealed will?

The nationwide lockdowns were clearly a violation of Biblical principle. It is quite clear that to quarantine people who have no symptoms of a disease, and where there is no credible grounds for believeing they may be infected, violates Biblical law. The trickier problem is the quarantining of people who have returned home from coutries which have high rates of the virus, and those who have been "tracked and traced" as having been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. In principle these practices are consistent with Biblical law. In this particular instance, however, they are farcial in practice. People being quarantined because they were "in France", regardless of exposure. The UK PM being told to self-isolate despite being in a covid secure premises, maintaining social distancing from the person who tested positive. Why are we even social distancing if we still need to self-isolate if we've been in a room with someone who tests positive? All this just proves, yet again, what a nonsense this "pandemic" is and the irrationality underpinning the restrictions.

This would also apply to the other laws which have been brought in, especially requiring face coverings, banning singing in churches, limiting the number of those who can attend. What has happened this year has been a great test of the visible church. One which, by and large, the visible church has failed.
 

ChristianReadYourBible

Puritan Board Freshman
But our contemporary situation in the US (and in Europe) is far more complex. There have been lots of different models proposed and tried, but the data is complicated and hard to analyze, and the situation constantly changing all around us. There is no clear "Biblical" solution, so the best we can do is to pray for wisdom for those who are charged with governing us, try to evaluate for ourselves what wise behavior looks like, and extend a lot of grace for Christian brothers and sisters who reach different conclusions from ourselves, in line with Romans 14.
I believe this is further complicated by the fact that there are individuals who may skewing the data, or distorting the analysis of that data, to support their position in this quarantine-or-no-quarantine argument. So in the hypothetical situation you presented with the COVID-free island county, their decision to quarantine visitors is based on the data they are analyzing, and our evaluation of their decision is based on the data we are analyzing. Those two data sets could have significant differences.

Ultimately in this situation, I think all have to make a decision on what data or reports are to be considered truthful and base decisions on that choice. This includes the choice of indecision, which appears to lead to conformity with the civil magistrate's mandates anyways.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
This would also apply to the other laws which have been brought in, especially requiring face coverings, banning singing in churches, limiting the number of those who can attend. What has happened this year has been a great test of the visible church. One which, by and large, the visible church has failed.

I am afraid that I have to agree with you. The church's capitulation to the unnatural and anti-Christian "new normal" has been beyond shameful. I know of instances of people being turned away from church services because the building was supposedly full to capacity. (In reality, there were fewer than one hundred people in buildings that hold between 500-700 people.) Imagine if you were a pagan who turned up out of the blue one morning or evening because you wanted to hear the gospel, but were turned away because of the COVID-19 restrictions. What the church is effectively saying to you is that the fear of someone getting a virus (from which they would in all likelihood recover in a few days) is of greater concern to them than people going to hell.

Why are we even social distancing if we still need to self-isolate if we've been in a room with someone who tests positive? All this just proves, yet again, what a nonsense this "pandemic" is and the irrationality underpinning the restrictions.

I believe that part of the totalitarian agenda is to get people to accept irrational nonsense as if it were real so that they will submit to anything that the government/media tells them. We have seen it already with "gay" marriage and transgenderism, wherein we are supposed to believe that two people of the same sex can be married and that biological men can be women even though nature and common sense tell us the opposite. Hence, if you accept these myths as a reality you can likewise easily accept fearmongering that COVID-19 is the black death and that socialist distancing and face-nappies are necessary to save you from it.
 
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