The Bible and Medical Science
Text: Isaiah 45:20-25
I. We know that the Bible is God’s directions for mankind
A. It is not a history book per se; that is, it doesn’t document all of world history. Just a small, but relevant portion.
B. It is not a science book, but it does mention scientific facts once in a while.
C. It is not a medical book, but it does mention medical and health facts once in a while.
D. In a book written by man, when the author mentions something that is not in his line or is not the primary focus of his book, we expect to find inaccuracies. After all no one knows everything.
E. But in a book that claims to be written by an all-knowing God ought to be accurate even in the casual side details.
F. It is that accuracy which should make people sit up and take notice of the Bible.
II. Moses was educated in Egypt - Acts 7:22
A. If the first five books of the Old Testament were solely the product of Moses, without the inspiration of God, we would expect to find Egyptian influences in Moses’ ideas.
B. Egypt was considered the most advanced nation of its time in the medical sciences.
1. “Egypt was the medical center of the ancient world”[A Sketch of Medicine and Pharmacy, Dr. S. E. Massengill, 1943].
2. King Darius of the Medo-Persian Empire kept “in attendance certain Egyptian doctors, who had a reputation for the highest eminence in their profession” [The Histories, Herodotus].
C. Egyptian medical practice
1. A document, known as the Ebers Papyrus, discovered in 1872, gives 811 remedies for ailments.
a. For example, to draw out a splinter it was suggested that a poultice made of worm blood, mole, and donkey dung be used.
(1) Unfortunately, donkey dung is filled with tetanus spores.
(2) Thus, “a simple splinter often resulted in a gruesome death from lockjaw” [None of These Diseases, S. I. McMillen and David Stern, 2000].
b. A remedy for healing skin diseases called for a hog’s tooth, cat’s dung, dog’s dung, aau of samu oil, and berries of the xet plant all pounded and blended together to form a poultice. [Ancient Egyptian Medicine: The Papyrus Ebers, Cyril Bryan, 1930].
c. To promote hair growth, it was suggested that you mix lizard dung with the blood from a cow, donkey, pig, dog, and stag. [Cyril Bryan].
2. Some of the medicine actually did work and was helpful, but it wasn’t consistently good. Some did nothing and others would cause additional harm.
3. For example, Egyptians believed that pus in a wound was a good sign, thus many remedies deliberately caused infections in order to gain pus.
III. Contrast this to the writings of Moses
A. While not a medical book, it is obvious that there was a grasp of the concept of disease-causing germs. It exists in a society that had no means of seeing bacteria or viruses.
B. It was in 1847 that an obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis tried to do something about the 1 out of 6 death rate in his ward. His wasn’t unique, all other modern hospitals of his time has similar death rates. It looked really bad compared to having a baby at home with a mid-wife; there at least the death rate was only 3%.
1. He noticed that doctors were performing autopsies, rinsing their hands in a bowl of bloody water, wiping them on a common towel, and then visiting their patients.
2. He ordered everyone to wash his hands throughly in a chorine solution after every examination. In three months the death rate went from 18% to 1%
C. Moses wrote that touching a dead body required isolation for seven days in which they had to wash on the third and seventh day, a proper method for preventing the spread of diseases that caused someone’s death - Numbers 19:11-13
D. Ordinary water wasn’t used for purification
1. Ash was made from a red heifer, cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet - Numbers 19:6
2. Water was run through the ashes of a red heifer - Numbers 19:17
3. It might sound like a magical incantation, but look at the ingredients
a. Pouring water through ash is how you collect lye, used in lye soap
(1) Concentrated lye is very caustic, but diluted, it makes an excellent agent to remove dead skin cells and kill bacteria.
b. Hyssop contains thymol, an antiseptic which is used in some brands of mouthwash today.
(1) “Once used for purifying temples and cleansing lepers, the leaves contain an antiseptic, antiviral oil. A mold that produces penicillin grows on the leaves.”
(1) “Cedar wood has long been used for storage cabinets because of its ability to repel insects and prevent decay. In oil form, applied to humans, it is an antiseptic, astringent, expectorant (removes mucus from the respiratory system), anti-fungal, sedative, and insecticide.”
(2) Recent research on oriental cedars, “do in fact have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.” They also note that it inhibits the reproduction of type A influenza and is effective in treating eczema. [“Thuja,” Rebecca Frey]
d. Scarlet is thought to refer to scarlet wool. “Adding wool fibers to the concoction would have made the mixture the ‘ancient equivalent of Lava soap,’ since the small fibers would require more scrubbing to remove.” [McMillen and Stern].
4. In other words, long before all our modern discoveries, Moses at the direction of God told the Israelites to wash with antibacterial liquid soap when they became unclean to purify themselves.
IV. Quarantine rules
A. The book of Leviticus lists the symptoms of a number of diseases and for some prescribes isolation while the person is ill.
B. For example, leprosy - Leviticus 13:46
1. If someone gets close - Leviticus 13:45
2. Notice the covering of the mouth, like you do when you sneeze. Why? It prevents spray from the nose and mouth to carry germs to another person.
C. “The idea of contagion was foreign to the classic medical tradition and found no place in the voluminous Hippocratic writings. The Old Testament, however, is a rich source for contagionist sentiment, especially in regard to leprosy and venereal disease.” [Encyclopedia of Medical History, Roderick McGrew, 1985]
V. Contrary to the practices of his day Moses wrote rules for dealing with disease and its spread that rivals modern practice.
A. “In the prevention of disease, however, the ancient Hebrews made real progress. The teachings of Moses, as embodied in the Priestly Code of the Old Testament, contain two clear conceptions of modern sanitation – the importance of cleanliness and the possibility of controlling epidemic disease by isolation and quarantine.” [S. E. Massengill]
B. It is clear that the teachings found in the Bible, while medically sound, do not match the practices of Egypt, where Moses was trained, or the of the nations.
C. Such is not what we would expect to find in a man-made book, but it is consistent with the claim that Moses was inspired by God.
D. Isaiah 46:8-10
Based on “Scientific Foreknowledge and Medical Acumen of the Bible” by Kyle Butt, MA, Reason and Revelation, December 2006
VI. Additional Medical Practices (Not Mosaical)
A. The Samaritan’s use of oil and wine on wounds
1. Oil slows bleeding and speeds the healing of wounds
2. Wine kills germs and causes blood vessels to contract
B. Timothy told to use a like wine for his stomach ailment