Leviticus 13 and 14 give God’s commands concerning leprosy. Leviticus 13:1-44 tells how it was diagnosed. A priest examined the skin of the person suspected of having leprosy and declared him clean or unclean on the basis of that examination. The next two verses describe how a person declared unclean was to live.
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)
He was isolated and forbidden to have contact with those without leprosy.
Today the term “leprosy” is given to a disease called Hansen’s disease. A comparison of Hansen’s disease and biblical leprosy shows that they are not the same. Here is how the National Institute of Health describes Hansen’s disease.
Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) is a rare bacterial infection that affects the skin, nerves and mucous membranes. After exposure, it may take anywhere from 2 to 10 years to develop features of the condition. Once present, common signs and symptoms include skin lesions; muscle weakness or paralysis; eye problems that may lead to blindness; nosebleeds; severe pain; and/or numbness in the hands, feet, arms and legs.
It causes physical problems such as weakness, blindness, pain, and numbness. Leprosy was diagnosed simply by an examination of the skin and nothing is said about the other symptoms. In fact it was possible for a leper to successfully serve as a military commander.
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. (2 Kings 5:1)
Lepers were cleansed, not healed.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. (Matthew 10:8)
Leprosy was not Hansen’s disease but was a skin condition that made the person who had it ceremonially unclean.
There is one other fact about biblical leprosy that is often overlooked.
And if the leprous disease breaks out in the skin, so that the leprous disease covers all the skin of the diseased person from head to foot, so far as the priest can see, then the priest shall look, and if the leprous disease has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean of the disease; it has all turned white, and he is clean. (Leviticus 13:12,13)
A leper was unclean as long as the marks of leprosy were only on part of his skin but when the leprosy spread so that all of his skin is affected he became clean.
Many of the Old Testament commands are intended illustrate spiritual truths that Christians must obey today. The commands concerning leprosy seem to correspond to commands that we are given in 1 Corinthians 5. In this chapter Paul rebukes the church for allowing a member to live in an immoral relationship with his stepmother and tells them that they should expel him from the church. The chapter ends with these words:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
Paul makes a distinction between how we act toward Christians who live sinful lives and those who don’t claim to be Christians. We are to have nothing to do with sinning Christians but we are free to associate with unsaved people. The reason is that when we associate with believers who are living sinful lives the world sees us as approving of their sinful lifestyles. That is not a danger when we associate with those who make no profession of being Christian.
This doesn’t mean we are free to enter into all the things that unsaved people do.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
We are not to join unbelievers in such things as marriage or business partnerships but we are free to associate with them.
A leper whose leprosy didn’t cover him completely corresponded to a Christian who lives in sin. One whose leprosy covered him completely represented an unsaved person. The Bible indicates that the Israelites were faithful in regarding lepers as unclean but how many Christians today refuse to associate with believers who live in sin? We live in a culture which supports tolerance of all lifestyles and that attitude has entered the church. One result is that when the world sees Christians living immoral lives it thinks that Christians approve of such conduct.