Does Leviticus 13:45-46 Advise Wearing Masks to Stop the Spread of Disease?

As of this writing, the COVID pandemic continues and variants threaten to render our vaccines ineffective. Discussions on whether or not to reinstate stricter lockdowns and mandates have reemerged. Leviticus 13:45-46 has trended online because a cursory reading of this verse seems to suggest that people should cover their faces when they have a disease.

“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

Leviticus 13:45-46, ESV

Naturally, people want to know whether this verse suggests wearing masks to stop the spread of disease and whether quarantines are justified. I still believe that the responsible use of masks, quarantines, and vaccines is warranted during this pandemic. These measures are compatible with biblical ethics. However, I do not believe that God commands mask-wearing and quarantining per Leviticus 13 to stop the spread of disease.

Confusing a passage’s application with its interpretation is a common mistake that readers can commit. We have to resist the urge to jump to an application without first knowing the author’s intent and how the original recipients understood it.

Many things about life are perennial throughout time and cultures. However, we can’t assume that ancient people always understood things the way we do today. Nor can we always assume that they did things for the same reasons that we do now.

Germ theory states that microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses cause disease, and it is well accepted by scientists. Most people accept this theory and are familiar with ways to prevent diseases. However, we must realize that ancient people likely did not understand germ theory. Ancient people had no awareness of microorganisms.

Leviticus 13:45-46 is about keeping death from life. The notes in the ESV Reformation Study Bible explain:

13:1–14:57 These chapters contain God’s laws concerning unclean skin diseases referred to as “leprous disease” (13:2, 8). Modern physicians recognize here the symptoms of various modern complaints, but we should remember that the biblical classification is based primarily on spiritual rather than hygienic or medical considerations. The key principle in identifying a skin disease as “unclean” was whether the skin seemed to be rotting away, suggesting the spiritual principle of death. Patchy complaints amounted to uncleanness (vv. 9, 10), but a complaint affecting the whole body did not (vv. 12, 13). Stable conditions were clean, but deteriorating ones were unclean (vv. 5–8, 18–37). Similar principles applied to the diagnosis of uncleanness in clothing: progressive mildews were unclean (vv. 47–52), but stable ones were clean (vv. 53–58). The close association of uncleanness with death is shown in 13:45. The person afflicted with a serious skin disease behaved as a mourner (21:10). He was excluded from the camp, not to protect the health of Israel, but because God was in the camp and uncleanness (death) had to be separated from the presence of God (life).

ESV Reformation Study Bible

Not all skin conditions were considered ceremonially unclean, as shown in chapter 13. However, leprosy was associated with death. In his commentary on Leviticus 13:45-46, Martin Noth explains that lepers made themselves unrecognizable by covering their mouths and looked like they were morning for the dead (p. 106). They called out “unclean” as a warning to others, who presumably came by to deliver food and drink, and isolated themselves until the disease ended.

Some of the laws in Leviticus coincidentally align with modern practices for healthy living and good hygiene. However, that is neither the book’s intent nor the passage’s. The rotting skin of leprosy is death. Death was brought about by sin, which came from Adam and Eve’s disobedience towards God (Genesis 3). Sin literally means to “miss the mark,” and that mark is God’s standard for righteousness. Sin is evil, and anything evil is contrary to God’s established order for the universe. Therefore, death caused by leprosy is evil and it cannot be in God’s presence.

Leviticus describes how God’s people were to approach Him before Jesus died on the cross for the world’s sin. It foreshadows what took place on the first Easter (Romans 3:25). Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law, so we do not uphold it today. Nevertheless, the principles found in Leviticus 13 and the Old Testament ceremony are still applicable.

We should also note that Jesus, who is God the Son, approached lepers to heal them because He has made clean what was once unclean (Mark 1:40-45). We might not necessarily experience skin diseases like leprosy today. Still, we remain spiritually dead to the things of God until He breathes life back into our souls. Unable to approach God or else face His wrath in our sinful state, He poured out His wrath on Jesus as our substitute. We now have the privilege to be in God’s presence, receive the Holy Spirit, and be transformed into His likeness. Jesus Christ died for our sins so that all who die in Him shall be resurrected to life in the end.

The Mark of the Beast and COVID Vaccines

So many conspiracy theories are circulating about the COVID vaccines. One of these theories is that the vaccines are somehow the Mark of the Beast in Revelation. The conspiracy is that these vaccines somehow have the ability to implant microchips into patients so that the Antichrist can track what we do, and Bill Gates is somehow involved.

Revelation is a difficult letter to interpret, and it still perplexes and fascinates both Christians and non-Christians alike. As I wrote about before, there are different views on Revelation and the end times that are within the scope of sound doctrine.

I could be wrong, but do you think ancient first-century Christians in Asia Minor (the recipients) thought about microchips and vaccines when they read Revelation? Several biblical scholars see several allusions to Old Testament passages in Revelation. Does anyone else see the relationship between Revelation 13:16 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Matthew 21:12? Let’s look at those three passages:

And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

Revelation 13:15-18, ESV. Emphasis mine.

Here is the Shema found in Deuteronomy:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV. Emphasis mine.

Here is Matthew’s account of Jesus driving out the money-changers from the Temple:

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 

Matthew 21:12, ESV. Emphasis mine.

Are you aware that the Hebrew cryptogram (the sum of the numerical value of letters in a Hebrew word or phrase) for Caesar Nero equals 666? There are alternate manuscripts that read 616. Guess what an alternate spelling of Caesar Nero totals? 616! I’m sure the recipients were not thinking about Bill Gates!

Could it be that the Mark of the Beast is referring to apostate Jews making a mockery of the Jewish religion as they recited the the Shema every day? These apostates’ hearts were far away from God because they rejected their Messiah. Could it be that buying and selling refer to the mockery these apostates made of the temple?

The Romans granted Jews some degree of freedom as part of their political arrangement. As Christianity became recognized as a distinct religion from Judaism, both Jews and Romans persecuted the early Christian church. Could it be that the Jews were guilty of adulterating the covenant they made with God with Rome?

Speaking of adultery, in Revelation 17, we see a harlot seated on the Beast. Take note of what she is wearing and compare it with the priestly garments in Exodus 28.

And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.

Revelation 17:3-6, ESV. Emphasis mine.

“And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. It shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. And the skillfully woven band on it shall be made like it and be of one piece with it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel.

Exodus 28:6-9, ESV. Emphasis mine.

Could it be that the harlot of Babylon is another reference to apostate Jews? In the Old Testament, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the Jews. Could it be that the apostate Jews are ironically portrayed as Babylon for persecuting faithful Jewish Christians (see Acts 6:1-8:2)? As for the apostates’ judgment, the Beast (i.e., Rome) with whom they have had a love affair is to attack them (Revelation 17:15-18). The Jewish age came to an end in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem. The faithful remanent of Jewish Christians were preserved and the gospel of Christ went out to the Gentiles (see Peter’s vision in Acts 6:9-23 and also Romans 11).

Also, consider that the Beast’s seven heads in Revelation 17:9-11 is further evidence that Nero is referenced. The seven hills is a reference to the seven hills of the city of Rome. The heads of the Beast represent different Roman emperors. If we start with Julius as the first emperor (as many ancients did) and count forward through the first five that have fallen, the sixth one in line is Nero. Rome had a civil war after the seventh king, Galba, who was emperor “for a little while” (approximately seven months). Rome nearly collapsed after that civil war. An eighth mentioned is Vespasian, who resurrects the empire and “goes to his destruction.” Under Vespasian, Rome attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple during the First Roman-Jewish War in 70 AD.

Also, note that there appears to be a standing temple in Jerusalem in Revelation 11. There is no temple in the city by the book’s end (Revelation 21:22).

Could it be that the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in the late 60s of the first century and ending in 70 are the key to interpreting Revelation? I believe the internal evidence from the text demonstrates that is the case. Debates continue whether John actually wrote Revelation in the 60s. If so, then this book is a prophecy about Christ’s immediate judgment of unfaithful Jews with His second coming in the distant future to judge the nations.

Today’s majority scholarly opinion is that John wrote Revelation around 95 AD, but this may not rule out a narrative that starts in the late 60s and ends with the second coming. If John indeed wrote Revelation c. 95 AD, he could be describing the future second coming of Christ in types based on the events leading up to 70, linking the theme of Christ’s judgment found in the two events together.

Why do people today think that Revelation is written to them? Yes, it is written for them to apply its principles today. The book is not about them or else what would be the immediate context for the original recipients?

There are certainly many things from Revelation that we can apply to our lives during this crazy time. Rejecting a life-saving vaccine is not one of them, though. My conviction is that the COVID vaccine is not the Mark of the Beast. No one is making anyone renounce God when taking the shot, and no, there are no microchips in the shot either. Do as you wish, but I urge you to take the vaccine if it is suitable for your health. Let’s all do our part to knock COVID out and end this pandemic.