Bible Principles of Health
Is health the means to an end, or is it an end in itself? How can we find and maintain health in our modern world?
For centuries, staying healthy was a means to an end—to survive, earn a living, raise a family or accomplish a noble goal. Today the quest for health has become an end in itself—find the ideal diet or the ultimate exercise and create the perfect body! For many today, health and body have become our modern gods!
In pursuit of bodily perfection, millions search endlessly for the latest health secrets. People spend enormous amounts of money on adjustments, injections, prescriptions and procedures—even on personal trainers! Some listen to gurus. Others look for the special nutrient or the magical cure! In the course of a year, Americans will spend more than a trillion dollars on health care and billions on supplements and alternative medical treatments—yet they are far from the healthiest people in the world!
More than 60 percent in the U.S. are overweight. More than 30 percent are obese. Millions suffer from heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and other maladies. Millions take drugs for mental disorders. The story is similar in other developed nations. For many, the modern, all-consuming quest for health is an expensive and never-ending search for a "holy grail" that often fails to produce the health and peace of mind most people desire.
But we need to ask "why?" Is there a missing dimension in our lives today regarding our quest for health? The Western world has developed a distorted perspective about health, because we have lost the compass designed to give us balance in this vital area. We are swept from one extreme to another—from drugs to herbs, from surgery to "massaging energy flows"—because we have lost track of basic guidelines provided by our Creator in the operating manual for human beings—the Bible. With the false god of health replacing the God of the Bible, most people today do not realize that the real God—the Creator of the universe and Designer of the human body—is very concerned about human health. Dozens of verses in the Bible are devoted to the subject. Although some become fanatics in a misguided attempt to make a religion out of health, the truth is that the biblical principles of health are important, reasonable—and remarkably practical!
The Bible is not a textbook about health or nutrition. Yet, in Scripture, God provides fundamental principles to guide our personal choices in ways that promote health and prevent disease. In ancient Israel it was the job of the priests and Levites—not physicians, health gurus or legislators—to provide basic health instruction and set the direction for national health policy. As we examine a number of biblical health principles, we will discover how simple, yet up-to-date, this information is—even though it was recorded thousands of years ago! God revealed fundamental truths in the Bible that medical science has taken thousands of years to confirm. Regrettably, many theologians do not understand the value of the health principles recorded in Scripture—and as a result they have failed to perform an important God-given function!
Probably the best known and least understood biblical health laws deal with clean and unclean meats (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). People often refer to these as "Jewish" food laws, because they are still followed by Orthodox Jews—yet Muslims and others also observe similar food restrictions. Many theologians assert that these biblical guidelines were not given for health reasons, but were merely cultic practices designed to separate ancient Israelites from other peoples. Others teach that these instructions were for people living under the Old Covenant, and that Christians, under a New Covenant, are free to eat whatever they want. Some argue that biblical dietary restrictions are silly and old fashioned, and merely limit human freedoms and pleasures!
These widely accepted ideas are based on ignorance. Most theologians have little or no training in biology, ecology, microbiology, parasitology, epidemiology or public health, yet knowledge of these fields reveals the wisdom behind the laws about clean and unclean foods. Many unclean animals are scavengers (e.g. snails, crabs, lobsters and gulls); their ecological role is to devour dead plants or animals. Other unclean animals are filter feeders (e.g. clams and oysters); their ecological role is to purify water in lakes, streams and estuaries. Other unclean animals are predators (e.g. lions, snakes and alligators); their ecological role is to manage the size and health of other animal populations. There are very important ecological reasons why the unclean animals God created are not to serve as food for human beings. God designed them for another purpose!
Moreover, there are also important health reasons behind these dietary restrictions. Many unclean animals carry parasites that cause serious diseases in humans. Pigs, bears, squirrels and raccoons carry trichinosis and other diseases. Scavengers such as crabs and crayfish can transmit lung and liver flukes. Human populations that frequently consume these creatures often have high rates of parasitic infections. Filter-feeding organisms, such as clams and oysters, may contain high concentrations of toxic heavy metals, pathogenic bacteria and viruses, making them dangerous for human consumption. When you eat these creatures you are actually eating organisms God created to be nature's "clean-up crew." Would you eat the contents of your vacuum cleaner bag or your garbage disposal? Hardly! Yet many "gourmet" dishes are made with these creatures, in blissful ignorance of the risks involved.
Far from being outdated Old Covenant regulations, the biblical laws concerning clean and unclean meats were inspired by a God who created all things for a purpose—a God concerned about promoting health and preventing disease! Avoiding unclean meats is a fundamental step in preventing major parasitic diseases that afflict hundreds of millions of people around the world. When we eat what God has told us not to eat, we do so to our own detriment! Regrettably, modern theologians do not understand the value of these powerful public health principles—nor do many professing Christians. For more information on this subject, ask for our free reprint article: Do You Really Want to Eat That?
The Bible contains other important instructions that medical science has only recently come to understand. Moses was inspired to record that blood and fat—even of clean animals—were not to be consumed as human food (Leviticus 3:17; 7:23–26; Genesis 9:4), yet in some cultures eating blood sausage, eating "fatback" and mixing blood and milk are common practices. The blood of animals can contain bacteria and viruses that transmit disease. This important biblical prohibition was designed to prevent the spread of illness.
The prohibition against consuming visible fat is equally important—especially as it relates to our modern diet. One of the most significant discoveries from epidemiological studies conducted in the last 50 years has been the link between high-fat diets and heart disease, stroke and various types of cancer. These are the leading causes of death in countries where large amounts of fatty foods—such as hamburgers, French fries, triple-thick milkshakes, ice cream and heavy salad dressings—are consumed. Many common foods—bacon, hot dogs, cheese and spreads—can be more than 50 percent fat. High-fat diets are also high calorie diets that contribute to weight problems in our society today. Medical science has learned that excessive fat consumption is dangerous, yet God revealed this to Moses thousands of years ago! It is a tragedy that this biblical information has been ignored for so long.
In Genesis, we read that God gave mankind fruits, vegetables and grains for food, in addition to clean meats (Genesis 1:29; 2:16; 9:3). Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain fiber and other complex carbohydrates. Nutritionists have come to recognize the value of these substances only in recent decades. Fiber, once thought to be useless, adds bulk to intestinal contents and plays a vital role in protecting the body from colon cancer and other chronic diseases. Complex carbohydrates are also an important part of a healthy diet because they reduce cholesterol levels, which helps to prevent heart disease and strokes.
Another serious problem with Western diets is the high consumption of refined carbohydrates. Refined flour and sugar have been stripped of vital nutrients. Populations that consume large amounts of refined carbohydrates experience higher rates of diabetes and other related problems. Yet the Bible cautions against this type of eating. Solomon was even inspired to record: "It is not good to eat much honey" (Proverbs 25:16, 27). Though honey is a "natural" substance, it is "refined" in a sense by the bees that make it. Pollen gathered from many flowers begins the process of making honey. The biblical principle is to use refined carbohydrates sparingly. However, because of the soaring consumption of soft drinks (more than 50 gallons per person each year in the United States), pastries, candies, and pre-sweetened foods, many people ingest more than 100 pounds of refined sugars a year—again, to their detriment!
When these biblical instructions are viewed objectively, they agree with nutritional advice based on the latest research: reduce intake of fats, increase use of complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and whole grains), limit consumption of meat and refined carbohydrates (see the Food Guide Pyramid published by United States governmental agencies). This is not surprising, because truth does not change! God revealed fundamental truths about human nutrition thousands of years ago for the benefit of human beings—and He entrusted that information to religious leaders who were to teach others. It is sobering to realize that most human suffering could be prevented if we would simply follow God's instructions!
The Bible also deals with controversial health issues. Some believe it is wrong for human beings to eat meat. Pagan Greek philosophers and many in the East promoted vegetarian ideas in the ancient world. Some argue that because Scripture does not specifically mention that God gave Adam and Eve meat to eat, it should not be eaten. But this overlooks the fact that God—the author of laws about clean and unclean meats—said, "these are the animals which you may eat" (Deuteronomy 14:4). Also overlooked is the meal Abraham served to two angelic beings and the one who became the Jesus Christ of the New Testament (Genesis 18:3). That meal included bread, meat, butter and milk (Genesis 18:3–8). Jesus Christ served fish to His disciples (John 21:9–13). Paul cautions New Testament Christians not to be caught up in vegetarian ideas (Romans 14:2; 1 Timothy 4:3). The Bible was written to help us stay balanced in the midst of ideas that lead to dietary extremes.
For many religious people, alcohol is a "red flag"—the devil's brew! While the Bible clearly condemns drunkenness and the abuse of alcohol (Proverbs 20:1; 1 Corinthians 5:11), Scripture recommends its use for a variety of purposes (Deuteronomy 14:26). Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding (John 2:1–11). Paul recommended the use of alcohol for promoting health. He told Timothy "use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23). The key is moderation (Philippians 4:5, KJV). Moderate amounts of alcohol produce relaxation, raise HDL levels, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and increase stomach acids, aiding digestion in the elderly. The Bible provides important guidelines for the use of alcohol, requiring personal decisions that develop individual character.
While tobacco and recreational drugs are not mentioned in Scripture, principles governing the use of such substances are clearly stated. Paul writes, "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19) and, "If anyone defiles the temple of God [the body], God will destroy him" (1 Corinthians 3:17). The Bible plainly states that we are not to damage our bodies—which drug abuse (whether the drug is legal or not) plainly does. These biblical principles are preventive in nature, and anyone with common sense can see this. To give in to cravings for alcohol, tobacco or drugs is a form of idolatry and lust—violating several of the Ten Commandments. Biblical health principles are not intended to limit human pleasure, but are designed to ensure that those pleasures will be positive and enjoyable experiences.
Throughout history, many have been led to believe that Christians should ideally lead a quiet, sedentary life of prayer, study and meditation. Yet Jesus Christ came to this earth not as a cloistered monk, but as a carpenter in an age without power tools! He chose fisherman like Peter, Andrew, James and John, who did not have diesel-powered winches to haul in their nets! When Jesus called His first disciples to "follow" Him (Matthew 4:19; John 7:17; 11:54), this included walking hundreds of miles a year. These examples are important because this physically active lifestyle kept them healthy and provided stamina for completing their mission.
The Apostle Paul advised that, while our primary focus should be on spiritual matters, "bodily exercise profits a little" (1 Timothy 4:8). This is exactly what modern research has shown. Exercise must occur on a regular basis, because its benefits are only temporary! However, these benefits are vital—reducing cholesterol levels, blood pressure and stress, and preventing diabetes, heart disease and a host of other problems.
One of the most interesting developments in health education has been the recognition of what is called "spiritual health." This area of study acknowledges the vital role beliefs and values play in influencing behavior and health. Individuals who believe in God, attend church regularly and hold strong moral convictions are less likely to smoke, abuse intoxicants or engage in promiscuous sexual activities. The Bible labels such actions sins—to be avoided! Just like the biblical dietary guidelines, the biblical prohibitions of gluttony, lethargy, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity are important for us today—and fall within public health guidelines for healthful living. Biblical principles of health offer a striking contrast to the misguided values of our permissive "if it feels good do it" society! When biblical values are taught by the family, and reinforced by churches and schools, individuals are more likely to develop positive behaviors that promote health and prevent disease.
However, there is more in the Bible than a list of "dos and don'ts" regarding health. While many today have lost sight of God's instructions, and have made health an end in itself, the Bible provides more profound reasons for our life choices. From Scripture we learn that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), that we will be held accountable for our actions and that we should "glorify God in our bodies" (1 Corinthians 6:20). Yet our bodies were not made to last forever (Psalm 39:5; James 4:14; Hebrews 9:27). Our real challenge is to learn to think like God, develop character like His (Philippians 2:5) and show love for others (John 15:17). This life is merely a training ground for an amazing future (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). If we learn to follow God's instructions, and properly care for what God has given us, we will receive a reward that includes reigning with Jesus Christ when He returns to establish the Kingdom of God on this earth (Revelation 5:10). That is the gospel (Mark 1:14–15)!
The saints who rule with Christ will function as teachers (Isaiah 30:20–21) who will explain the laws of God—including these important biblical health principles—to all of humanity (Isaiah 2:2–4). Because of their efforts, "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9), and health conditions will improve dramatically around the world (see Isaiah 35:5–7; Jeremiah 30:17). There are powerful reasons for learning to live by the biblical principles inspired by our Creator. He is preparing us to assist Him in changing the course of human history, eliminating the plague of disease and promoting a way of life that leads not only to physical, mental and spiritual health, but to eternal life!
Do not be deceived! Health principles are an important part of biblical religion. They are fundamental keys—revealed by our Creator—to promote health and prevent disease. When properly understood, explained and applied, these principles are an incredible blessing for all of mankind. "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 2).