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Would you please explain your understanding of the Bible’s teaching on quarantine, and how it is to be applied today?

The Bible is an instruction manual for mankind on a whole raft of issues and can be extremely useful in helping us with matters that might otherwise go unheeded.  One principle that seems to be ignored in general today is the Quarantine Principle.   Quarantine is defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as: Period of isolation imposed on voyagers, travellers, sick persons – that might spread contagious disease.

The Bible has much to say about quarantine and leprosy which was highly contagious and is covered in some detail.  However, the same principles apply about colds, flu, sore throats and other infectious and contagious diseases which can equally and easily be spread – thus inconveniencing and causing problems to others.

Let us look briefly at leprosy and how this was dealt with.  We read in Leviticus 13:4: “But if the bright spot iswhite on the skin of his body, and does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and its hair has not turned white, then the priest shall isolate the one who has the sore seven days.”

Further on in the same chapter, we read: “Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’  He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (verses 45-46).

In this passage, we find a detailed discussion of the rules for the detection of the disease, followed by the isolation required.

In Leviticus 14:8 is the ritual for cleansing healed lepers: “He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days.”

This is spelled out in an elaborate manner with much detail, and we can take from it the fact that isolation or quarantine was required for a period, and this was for the well-being of all the people.

In 2 Kings 15:5 we read:  “Then the Lord struck the king, so that he was a leper until the day of his death; so he dwelt in an isolated house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the royal house, judging the people of the land.”

Here, King Azariah was struck with leprosy and dwelt in an isolated house.   Again, the same principle of isolation or quarantine was necessary.

In Luke 17:12 it says:

“Then as He (Jesus) entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.”

They stood afar off. They weren’t mixing with everyone else. It was taken for granted, and expected, that they would keep themselves to themselves because of their unfortunate physical condition.

One commentator on-line stated that “In the Med-Planet encyclopedia we read that ‘It was not until 1873 that leprosy could be shown to be infectious rather than hereditary.’”

Of course God knew this all along, as His laws to Moses reveal (Leviticus 13:14, 22; Numbers 19:20). His instructions regarding quarantine to prevent the spread of leprosy and other infectious diseases are nothing short of remarkable, considering that this life-saving practice was several thousand years ahead of its time.

The UK imposes strict quarantine laws on animals coming into this country in order that the potential for rabies is eliminated.   If quarantine is considered sensible for animals, how much more should we take care?

In the Global Church of God’s Feast of Tabernacles booklet for many years, it read:   “If you think that you have a contagious disease, please do not come to services or to the Festival desk to be anointed.   Likewise, please do not bring children with contagious diseases or illnesses to services or activities.”

Similar statements have been made in our Feast booklets of the Church of the Eternal God and the Kirche des Ewigen Gottes.

For many years, it was taken for granted that if we had a cold, flu or a sore throat – or, in fact, any other contagious or infectious problem, we simply did not attend Church services. 

Having seen what the Bible says about quarantine, what should our attitude be?

It should be love for others. Mr Herbert Armstrong, the late human leader of the Worldwide Church of God, who died in 1986, defined love as an “outgoing concern for the good and well being of others”.   If we take this seriously, we will not want to pass on any contagious sickness or disease to anyone else.   We must remember that there are those who may have lower resistance to infection than others.   So, by not going to services when one is suffering from an “infectious or contagious” sickness is not the same as “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25) – but having love and concern for the rest of the brethren.   We may want to see everyone, every week – that is understandable – but only if we are well and not likely to pass anything contagious on to any of the members.

Esteeming others better or more important than self is another good, solid Biblical principle (compare Philippians 2:3).  If we do this, we will certainly not want to pass on anything that is contagious.   We should always put the good and welfare of others above our own perceived requirements.  Again, this principle will make sure that we always do the right thing and not infect others when we are not well.

The golden rule as laid out clearly in the Bible is:   “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31; compare Matthew 7:12).

None of us want a cold, influenza, nor a sore throat. We don’t want to feel ill, and so we should, and must, consider others, by not passing on these bugs, germs and viruses.   We should treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves.

Of course, there may be times when we are incubating a problem that we do not realize is about to happen.  Incubation is a phase through which germs of disease pass, before the development of first symptoms.   But if we know that we’re feeling less than well and that a cold, flu or some other problem is coming on, then we should just not attend services.   We need to use a good deal of wisdom in this area.

This brief overview of the quarantine principle should provide sufficient information for us to take seriously and ensure that we do not cause unnecessary distress to others by passing on any contagium (the causative agent of a communicable disease).   However, this is not to be used as an excuse for not attending Church services when we are well enough to do so and free from any contagious or infectious problem.

Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)