What does the Bible say about social distancing?


To many introverts such as myself, social distancing sounds like a welcome reprieve from the extroverts we often find ourselves surrounded by. But, that’s not the point of this post. With the seemingly rampant spread of Covid-19 / coronavirus, governments and infectious disease experts are recommending social distancing as a necessary way to slow the spread of the virus. Interestingly, social distancing in order to stop the proliferation of a disease is explicitly mentioned in the Bible.

Leviticus chapter 13 addresses leprosy, an infectious skin disease. If a person was diagnosed with leprosy after being examined by a priest, he/she was required to separate from everyone else, living outside the camp (Leviticus 13:45-46). Even worse, if the leper had to be around other people, he/she had to shout out “Unclean, unclean” in order to warn everyone. Beyond what Leviticus 13 required, Israelite culture imposed even stronger “social distancing.” People with leprosy were despised and shunned. It was assumed that the only way a person would be infected by such a horrible disease was if he/she was being cursed by God.

So, the idea of quarantining sick people is not foreign to the Bible. It is a proven method to slow, or even stop, the spread of an infectious disease. It is strange to think, though, that approximately 3400 years after Leviticus 13 was written, humanity’s answer to the spread of a pandemic disease has not changed much.

Unlikely leprosy, which usually produces indisputable evidence of an infection, the most dangerous aspect of Covid-19 is that a person can be infected, and infectious, and yet have no symptoms. That is why the coronavirus is so dangerous. People who feel completely fine and have no symptoms could be unknowingly spreading the disease to the people around them.

That’s the only major fear I have about the pandemic. In my age range, I am far more likely to be entirely asymptomatic than I am to experience a significant sickness. My chances of dying from the disease are extremely slim. But, in my family, my church, and my community, there are a lot of people in the danger zone. The idea that I could unknowingly infect them, possibly resulting in their death, is alarming. As a result, I am doing my best to follow the recommendations of the experts. Making sacrifices on the behalf of others seems like a very Christian thing to do.

Thankfully, having to walk around shouting “Unclean, unclean!” would actually be counterproductive to stopping the spread of Covid-19. However, if social distancing for days, weeks, or even, gasp, months could save people’s lives, so be it. I’m just thankful that a quarantine would be in a temperature-controlled, comfortable home with ample food and entertainment options instead of a leper colony. If only I could find some toilet paper…

S. Michael Houdmann

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What does the Bible say about social distancing?