What Does the Bible Say About Leprosy and Lepers?

The four lepers find the camp leaving (2 Kings 7)
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Also known as Hansen’s disease, leprosy is a skin infection caused by a mycobacterium. Leprosy was at one-time incurable and lepers were segregated into colonies; today the infection is readily cured — it’s just a matter of reaching victims of the disease and fighting the social taboos surrounding it. Leprosy is rare in the West yet widely known through biblical references. Biblical references to leprosy, however, are to a wide array of skin diseases, few if any of which are Hansen’s disease.

History of Leprosy

Because of ancient references going back to at least 1350 BCE in Egypt, leprosy is sometimes referred to as the “oldest recorded disease” or the “oldest known disease.” In one form or another, leprosy appears to have stalked human beings for millennia, always causing those who suffer from it to be ostracized from their communities and encouraging the belief that sufferers are being punished by the gods.

Leprosy in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament of the Bible, leprosy is frequently referred to as an ailment afflicting not just humans, but also houses and fabric. References to leprosy obviously aren’t to what is known as leprosy today, but a variety of skin disorders as well as some type of mold or mildew which might affect objects. Key to understanding leprosy in the Old Testament is that it’s seen as a form of physical and spiritual pollution which requires one to be excluded from the community.

Leprosy in the New Testament

In the New Testament, leprosy is frequently the object of Jesus’ healing miracles. Numerous people who are afflicted with leprosy are “cured” by Jesus, who at times may also forgive their sins. According to Matthew and Luke, Jesus also authorizes his disciples to heal leprosy in his name.

Leprosy as a Medical Condition

Few animals other than humans can catch leprosy and the means of transmission is unknown. The mycobacterium which causes leprosy replicates very slowly because of its very specific needs. This leads to a slowly developing disease but also prevents researchers from creating cultures in the lab. The body’s attempt to fight the infection leads to extensive tissue destruction and thus mutilation which gives the appearance of rot.

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Cline, Austin. "What Does the Bible Say About Leprosy and Lepers?" Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, learnreligions.com/what-is-leprosy-248632. Cline, Austin. (2020, August 27). What Does the Bible Say About Leprosy and Lepers? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-leprosy-248632 Cline, Austin. "What Does the Bible Say About Leprosy and Lepers?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-leprosy-248632 (accessed May 29, 2023).