HEALING, HEALTH. In the Scriptures healing is the restoration to a state of health by physical means or by miracle; the methods not necessarily mutually exclusive.
I. Healing by physical means
Healing by means of medicines and surgical appliances is supported by Scripture. Local applications of ointments and bandaging of wounds was certainly standard treatment in OT times (
Other than these few instances, the Bible gives little or no information regarding healing with medicines. This is no wonder, for the introduction of the great array of medicines, such as penicillin, sulfonamides, tetracyclines, insulin, and chloroquine, which are so effective today in healing and prolonging life, have all come on the scene in the past several decades.
II. Healing by miracle
Miraculous healing with or without associated use of physical means is frequently referred to in the Bible. It was performed, not as broadcast philanthropy, as Short points out, but as a sign. He declares that the purpose of the miracles was to show that God was at work in a new way, using and accrediting men so that their message might be believed.
Short brushes aside the natural assumption that the ailment involved was functional or hysterical in most cases. Whereas it is true that hysteria may imitate a great variety of truly organic diseases, he says,
We may rest assured that the man with the withered hand, the woman with the issue of blood, the woman with the bowed back presumably due to bony fusion of the vertebrae, either tuberculous or osteoarthritic; the blind people, and the lepers, cannot reasonably be written down as functional....Cases of paralysis are occasionally functional, and there is a one-in-a-million chance that the patient who was brought by his four friends may have been an example, but it is begging the question to regard him as a case of hysterical paralysis just because he got well.
It is interesting to note that Christ in two cases (
III. Health in pagan nations surrounding the Israelites
The view that history books give of conquering and defeated armies is often a distorted one. Back of these conquests was often a health situation that determined the outcome of wars.
A. Superstitions regarding the cause of illness. The nations round about Israel were deeply steeped in idolatry, and they frequently blamed their diseases on evil spirits, which must be driven out by incantations or magical formulas. Without knowledge of the one true God, such vagaries of reasoning were doubtless inevitable. Epidemics wrought havoc among these peoples, often causing them to flee their lands to get away from supposed evil spirits to which they attributed disease.
B. Fantastic ingredients of pagan medicines. The Egyp. Papyri, discovered in Thebes about 1862, furnish medical prescriptions issued in Egypt about 1552 b.c. Sometimes these prescriptions were used to repair the supposed damage caused by an evil spirit, the medicine being given after the evil spirit was exorcized. These prescriptions are, in the light of our day, a compilation of fantastic and worthless nostrums. Listed among them, as quoted by McMillen, are
lizards’ blood, swine’s teeth, putrid meat, stinking fat, moisture from pigs’ ears, milk, goose grease, asses’ hoofs, animal fats from various sources, excreta from animals including human beings, donkeys, antelopes, dogs, cats, and even flies.
He further notes that to embedded splinters, worms’ blood and asses’ dung were applied, which doubtless resulted in a heavy toll of death from lockjaw since dung is loaded with tetanus spores. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder how these nations survived to the extent they did under such unsanitary conditions, lacking enlightened medical care.
IV. Health among the Israelites
In striking contrast, the Israelites enjoyed comparatively good health. They had been given God’s promises that, hearkening to His commandments, none of the diseases that afflicted the Egyptians would come upon them (
A. Significance of the laws of the Pentateuch for Israel’s health. In light of the fact that Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (
1. Sanitary disposal of excrement. Noteworthy is the instruction given in
2. Washing and the use of running water. The emphasis on washing of the body and the clothes in water after contact with disease is worthy of comment. It is significant, too, that in some instances running water was specified (
3. Isolation and quarantine. Isolation and quarantine were imposed upon the Israelites in the Mosaic law. It is a natural corollary to the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. It is noteworthy that, as Short points out, the Jews escaped lightly in Italy in the 14th cent. when others died in epidemics of plague. It was rightly concluded that this might be due to their laws of uncleanness after touching dead bodies. On this basis the Jewish code was made compulsory on the whole community, and a period of forty days quarantine (derived from quaranta, Italian for forty) was imposed (
4. Dietary regulations. The food laws of the Pentateuch are remarkable in the light of modern science. The restrictions regarding meats are based on two simple tests, namely, the animals suitable for human consumption must both part the hoof and chew the cud. This means that the pig and the rabbit are categorized as being unsuitable for eating. Modern parasitology has demonstrated that these animals are especially liable to infections with parasites and are safe only if well-cooked. The pig in particular is an unclean feeder, and often harbors two kinds of parasites, namely, trichina and the pork tapeworm, which are frequent causes of disease in man. These diseases still occur in the United States, although the introduction of federal meat inspection and compulsory boiling of garbage have greatly helped to reduce their incidence. In the absence of such adjuncts and good culinary apparatus, including readily available fuel for cooking (which certainly was not the case in ancient Israel), the complete avoidance of the use of these animals for food was indeed beneficial in preventing the spread of disease.
5. Dealing with bodily discharges. The method in the Pentateuch of dealing with infectious discharges has long aroused the admiration of experts in sanitation. Although not all bodily discharges, i.e., “issues out of the flesh” (
6. Cleansing after touching the dead. The regulations of the Pentateuch regarding touching dead bodies in connection with their burial specified a period of uncleanness of seven days’ duration. During this time, the person involved must be isolated from others and had to perform certain acts that included bathing his body and washing his clothes. On completion of these acts and at the expiration of the time period, the unclean person was considered cleansed so that he could return to community life (
7. Sexual morality. The strict laws of the Pentateuch concerning sexual morality should not be glossed over in these days when there is so much loose talking and thinking regarding promiscuous sexual relations. These laws, and in particular the seventh commandment, if strictly observed, would put an end to the spread of venereal diseases. Sexual immorality by adults, who may be unknowingly infected with venereal disease, consisting of sexual intercourse with mutual consent, is no more hygienic, or permissible on a common-sense basis, than is it for a tuberculosis patient to spit tuberculosis germs in public places, where ignorance also may constitute consent. Not only does sexual promiscuity have dire psychological consequences, but the resulting high incidence of venereal disease is a steep price to pay. The complete cure of syphilis and gonorrhea, even with the newest and best of antibiotics, is rarely if ever absolutely sure. Often the initial symptoms respond promptly to treatment, convincing the individual that he is cured, whereas the disease may readily crop up twenty years or so later in a rapidly fatal heart condition or a severe mental disturbance, such as the general paresis of the insane caused by advanced syphilis of the brain, which, according to Kessel, afflicted Hitler with its typical irresponsible, delusional, grandiose notions, and plunged the world into frightful, bloody carnage. God knew what He was commanding when He gave the seventh commandment, and this law has not been abrogated.
8. Circumcision and its timing. Modern medical data demonstrate that, where male circumcision is practiced, the incidence of cancer of the male procreative organ is greatly reduced. Interestingly enough, the incidence of cancer of the female genitals, particularly of the cervix uteri (the mouth of the womb), is likewise greatly reduced where the husband has been circumcised. This low incidence of cancer of the genitals of both sexes is attributed to the absence of carcinogenic smegma in the circumcised male, since without the foreskin, smegma can no longer be harbored in this location for local irritation in the male or for transmission to a female sex partner. In the light of this, circumcision of males may not only be regarded as a religious rite but also as a hygienic measure. Moreover, the specification in the Pentateuch of the eighth day after birth, constitutes the optimum time for circumcision as demonstrated by modern research, McMillen points out. After cutting off the foreskin, stanching of bleeding requires two elements to be present: (1) One of these is vitamin K, which is not formed in normal amounts in the baby’s intestine until the fifth to seventh day of life. Then by the eighth day adequate amounts of vitamin K are absorbed into the blood to enhance clotting. (2) The other essential element is prothrombin. Careful investigations of the available prothrombin are charted by McMillen and show that on the third day of a baby’s life the available prothrombin is only 30 percent, whereas on the eighth day it is 110 percent, after which it levels off to 100 percent. In other words there is more prothrombin available for clotting the blood on the eighth day of life than at any other time in the whole life of the individual.
B. Significance of the laws of the Pentateuch to public health today. Modern sanitary measures have been arrived at occasionally as the outcome of research and discovery, sometimes through trial and error; but frequently these measures have been developed by reverting to the sanitary precepts of the Pentateuch, even in the absence of clear rationale for doing so. McMillen, quoting Rosen, points out that following the major plagues of the Dark Ages, including leprosy and the Black Death, which left the physicians of the day completely perplexed, order came out of chaos only when the church took over and used as its guiding principle the concept of contagion embodied in the OT. Thus combating leprosy, the first great feat in methodical eradication of disease was accomplished. More recently, the writer, when in China as a medical missionary, observed at first hand the decimating effects of contagious diseases such as diphtheria and scarlet fever in the absence of quarantine as it wiped out the early-school-age child population of whole villages. Amazingly, the nationals in the primitive part of the country viewed our notions of quarantine as a kind of imported Western superstition. Eventually the government public health services, organized on modern epidemic prevention principles, took over with salutary results.
Modern surgical procedures are largely made possible through the simple measure of washing the hands, introduced in 1847 by Semmelweis under such great protest and ridicule that it was many years before it was universally adopted. Yet the oft-repeated, almost monotonous, admonition to wash one’s body with water and change the clothes as instructed in Leviticus furnishes the key to the whole matter. Before surgeons adopted these principles, the mortality following major surgical operations was exceedingly high.
McMillen further points out that the New York State Department of Health became so alarmed over the spread of infections from a carrier who failed to wash his hands carefully that in 1960 the department issued a book on techniques for washing the hands, which approximates the Scriptural method given in
Bibliography P. E. Adolph, Surgery Speaks to China (1945), 92; A. R. Short, The Bible and Modern Medicine (1953), 37-46, 70-73, 101-108; P. E. Adolph, Release From Tension, 137-145; J. Kessel. “The Man with the Miraculous Hands,” Reader’s Digest, LXXVIII (May 1961), 277, 278 (condensed from the book); S. I. McMillen, None of These Diseases (1963), 11-24.