Hygiene and cleanliness are important topics in the Bible that can teach us a lot about how God wants us to care for our bodies and live in community with others. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the various principles and instructions found in Scripture related to hygiene and summarize the key takeaways for application in our lives today.
Good hygiene practices are essential for our health and wellbeing. Keeping our bodies, homes, and communities clean reflects our care for the temples God has given us, our respect for others, and our witness to the world.
While the ancient Biblical texts do not specifically discuss germs, bacteria, or modern understandings of disease transmission, there are many verses that instruct God’s people in cleanliness and avoiding practices that could be unsafe or spread illness. Examining these verses in context helps us understand the values and priorities God cares about when it comes to hygiene.
Here are some key takeaways we will explore in more detail throughout this post:
- God cares about our physical bodies and wants us to be healthy. He provided laws and instructions for good hygiene practices to help prevent illness and disease among the Israelites.
- Our bodies and our community spaces are holy places that deserve care and cleaning. We honor God by keeping our bodies, homes, and churches clean.
- God calls us to pay attention to hygiene practices like hand washing, careful handling of sewage, quarantining contagious diseases, and disposal of dead bodies that could transmit illness.
- Cleanliness practices serve both physical health purposes as well as spiritual lessons about purity, holiness, and respecting God.
- God cares just as much about our internal purity and holiness as external cleanliness. Physical washing needs to connect to repentance and spiritual renewal.
Let’s explore each of these takeaways in depth by looking at what the Bible says about hygiene!
God Cares About Our Physical Health
One key principle we find throughout the Biblical texts is that our bodies matter to God. When God created humans in His image, He formed us as whole beings with physical bodies and spiritual natures (Genesis 1:26-27). Jesus Himself took on a real human body and experienced all the stages of human life (John 1:14). This affirms that our physical bodies are important, not disposable or insignificant.
This means God cares about our health and wellbeing! He wants us to steward the physical bodies He gifted us by making wise choices. One clear application is that God would want us to follow good hygiene practices that protect our health.
The Old Testament Law included many specific commandments designed to keep the Israelites healthy by preventing the spread of disease. At the time, the Israelites did not understand the medical reasons behind these instructions the way modern science has revealed. But God in His wisdom gave them guidelines for cleanliness and quarantining sickness that protected the community.
For example, specific instructions were given for…
- Handling dead bodies (Numbers 19:11-13)
- Quarantining leprosy and bodily discharges (Leviticus 13-15)
- Proper disposal of sewage and waste (Deuteronomy 23:12-13)
- Avoiding touching unclean animals (Leviticus 11:26-27)
Following these instructions would have set the Israelites apart from other nations and prevented many contagious illnesses from spreading. God cared about preserving their physical health!
Even under the new covenant, our bodies are a gift from God that deserve our care and respect. Paul instructs us to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20) and offers the body as a metaphor for the church, emphasizing its importance (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
As Christians, we have freedom in Christ from strict legalism (Romans 8:1-4). However, this does not negate the value of hygiene and public health practices that prevent disease. We honor God by making choices that reflect our respect for the bodies He created.
Our Bodies and Spaces Deserve Care
In addition to preventing contagious disease, the Bible’s focus on hygiene and cleanliness is tied to the way God called His people to view their bodies and community spaces.
God instructed the Israelites to view themselves as a holy people set apart for Himself (Exodus 19:5-6). They were to treat their bodies and campsites as sanctuaries reflecting God’s presence. Any discharge, disease, mold, or contamination made them ceremonially unclean and required cleansing rituals before they could enter God’s presence again (Leviticus 15, Leviticus 14:33-57).
While we are no longer bound to the ceremonial laws in this way, the principles remain relevant. Our physical bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). The church collectively is God’s temple today (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Our homes should reflect our devotion to Christ as well. Keeping these spaces clean and well-cared for honors God.
Consider some of the specific instructions God gave His people:
- No mold or mildew in houses (Leviticus 14:33-57)
- Proper disposal of human waste (Deuteronomy 23:12-14)
- Cleanliness rituals for menstruation (Leviticus 15:19-30)
- No corpses left overnight (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
- Guidelines for washing clothes, body, and bedding of sick persons (Leviticus 15:1-12)
While the rituals themselves do not apply today, they demonstrated the priority of cleaning spaces where God’s people lived and worshiped Him. We can apply this by keeping our homes, cars, churches, and bodies well-cared for out of reverence for God.
Paying Attention to Hygiene Practices
Throughout the books of Moses, God instructs His people in specific hygiene and sanitation practices that protected public health. While originating in ceremonial law, these regulations helped prevent the spread of contagious disease. God cares about both our spiritual purity and our physical health.
Here are some noteworthy examples and applications:
God commanded the Israelites to wash their hands and bodies after touching dead bodies, being sick, having skin diseases, or discharging bodily fluids (Leviticus 15, Numbers 19:11-13). This prevented germs from spreading. Jesus highlighted handwashing practices as well (Matthew 15:2). Washing hands properly is one of the best ways we can prevent disease transmission still today.
The Law required careful disposal of human waste in designated areas outside the camp (Deuteronomy 23:12-13). This avoided contamination from fecal pathogens. Similarly, we now know how properly handling sewage and purifying drinking water prevents infectious diseases.
Those with infectious skin diseases were isolated from the camp until healed (Leviticus 13:45-46). Likewise, returning warriors purified themselves after battles (Numbers 31:19-24). Quarantining and disinfecting contain contagion. During outbreaks today, quarantines remain a wise health strategy.
Disposing of Dead Bodies Properly
The Bible prohibited leaving dead bodies out overnight and required prompt burial (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Dead bodies spread disease quickly. Modern medicine confirms the importance of sanitary body disposal.
Avoiding Unclean Animals/Objects
God set dietary restrictions and purity laws to keep His people from disease risks (Leviticus 11-15). While no longer binding, these reflected basic sanitation principles. God cares about our wellbeing.
By following such guidelines closely, the Israelites would have avoided many common causes of illness in their day. God provided these instructions for their good over 3,000 years before science understood infectious disease. His wisdom shows in caring for His people’s physical health in ways they could grasp.
Connecting Physical Cleanliness to Spiritual Renewal
One important pattern across Scripture is the link between physical washing and spiritual renewal. Often God would instruct people to physically wash themselves as a symbol of repentance and desire to be cleansed from sin. The outward act reflected inner transformation.
For example, Isaiah urges, “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right;” (Isaiah 1:16-17). The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God sprinkling clean water on His people to symbolize cleansing them from idolatry and pollution (Ezekiel 36:25).
Likewise, the New Testament presents baptism as an outward picture of our new life in Christ, dying to sin and rising to righteousness (Romans 6:4). Just as water removes physical dirt, Christ’s atoning sacrifice removes the stain of sin before God.
When we incorporate hygiene practices like bathing and handwashing, we should also reflect on whether our inner lives need cleansing. Physical washing reminds us to come before God in repentance and faith, receiving His forgiveness. It also represents our desire to walk in purity according to God’s word.
Conclusion: Key Takeaways on Hygiene from Scripture
In conclusion, while the Bible does not directly address modern germ theory and sanitation systems, its wisdom still offers us much guidance on hygiene. Reflecting on Biblical principles and Israelite regulations reveals key themes for staying healthy and honoring God with our bodies today:
God cares about our physical health: The cleanliness laws God gave His people prevented many contagious illnesses and reflected His desire for their wellbeing. Our bodies matter to God, so taking care of them through hygiene honors Him.
Our bodies and spaces deserve care: Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit individually and corporately. Keeping them and our community spaces clean shows reverence for God.
Pay attention to hygiene practices: Washing hands properly, disposing waste away from drinking water, quarantining disease, and handling sewage and dead bodies appropriately prevents spreading contagion. God gave such guidelines to protect His people, and these practices remain wise today.
Connect outward washing to inner renewal: Physical washing represents spiritual cleansing. As we practice good hygiene, we should reflect on how it symbolizes our need for inner repentance and renewal.
God cares about purity: Alongside physical health, many Old Testament cleanliness rituals highlighted the importance of ceremonial purity and holiness. They remind us to strive for moral purity and respect for God today.
As modern medicine continues to reveal how following Biblical principles can prevent disease transmission, we see the Lord’s wisdom and goodness to His people. May we learn to care for our bodies with the diligence Scripture teaches, keeping our temples clean and drawing near to God in both outer conduct and inner devotion.