Public health in biblical times

Hi all,
Bit of an odd podcast listener. I’m an agnostic veterinarian with slight Quaker/Unitarian leanings, but in terms of religion/worldview, I do identify as a humanist. I do have an interest in science and religion. But I was wondering if anyone knows of any papers/commentaries on public health in the bible. Failing that, are there any academics who would be interested in collaborating?

The Bible treats the whole person: body, mind and soul. And the latter of these three is the most important (Matthew 10:28). In today’s world the soul is being increasingly seen as non-existent which is detrimental to public health. Humanists who ignore an entire sphere of being are just being inhuman.


That would be because there is no evidence consistent with a belief in a non-physical puppet master controlling the body. All the evidence tells us there is no such thing.

There is plenty of evidence however for the existence of the human mind which is not the brain but a physical living entity in the medium of linguistic communication with its own needs and inheritance passed to the next generation.

If there is a spiritual aspect to our existence (and I believe there is), it is not something inhabiting the body or the space-time mathematical structure of the physical universe and its connection to the physical is almost entirely epiphenomenal. To that we can look for continued existence beyond the physical according to Paul’s description of resurrection to a spiritual body in 1 Corinthians 15.

Christians who ignore an entire sphere of human existence (i.e. mental health), which actually does exist, are just being inhuman.


I don’t disagree. Was that supposed to be a rebuttal? Stating one truthful statement after another truthful statement t does not negate the former. Two positives don’t make a negative. The health of human souls which are eternal is the most important thing in life but we are called to care for the needy and help others. That does not mean the latter is trivial because it is not the most important. Far from it as both Jesus and the Bible teach. Living out the Gospel and following Jesus is also a great means of preaching the Gospel.

Tell me more about how you don’t believe Jesus or the Bible—both of which teach souls exist. I’m sure you can twist and contort a bunch of scripture and make it say something different that you want it to.

I am sure you believe that. You are no authority nor do you possess any special knowledge on the spiritual aspect of our existence. You are limited to natural knowledge of the physical world like me. Unless God is whispering special secrets in your ear, you only have access to the same Revelation as I do.

Others here might be interested in your fringe view, but I am not interested in you pretending to know more than you possibly could about the spiritual dimension of our existence that both the Bible and Jesus speaks of in terms of a soul.

You not being able to make sense of something is not a litmus test for reality as I see it. Even though Jesus was fully human during his incarnation, I am more inclined to trust His thoughts on spiritual matters over yours. I am not enamored with post-Enlightenement boxes constructed via methodological naturalism.


I don’t believe Jesus teaches any such thing. Did He teach a spiritual existence? Sure. But changing the word “psyche” (for life/person) into the word “soul” to support NeoPlatonist philosophy centuries later does not fool me in the slightest. Jesus taught no such thing.

I am more inclined to believe what Jesus actually taught rather than what your church added to it.

There is indeed no consensus whatsoever regarding any spiritual aspect of human existence. But that is only more reason for people to disregard the ideas of such a spiritual aspect which is not even consistent with the objective evidence. Professionals simply have no reason to pay any attention to this belief of some people which simply doesn’t look helpful to anyone.

I mention my view on the matter only to show that we can believe in a spiritual aspect to human existence which is consistent with the objective evidence.

I am not enamored with medieval philosophy cobbled together from Gnostics and Greek philosophy.

The italics was my sarcasm font. The point is that just as some Christians believe in this nonexistent puppet master from Greek philosophy, some Christians also don’t believe in psychology and mental health.

Which people (including atheists and humanists) can do in a great many different ways according to their own understanding and not only in line with what is dictated by your church.

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No it’s philosophical naturalism that fools you. Another instance of you making the Bible say what you want.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul ; rather, fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Clearly we have a soul/spiritual existence distinct from our physical bodies.

Have fun

I am more inclined to believe what billions of Christians and the church as a whole believed over the last 2,000 years and the words of Jesus and the Bible over some guy on the internet who is angry at the Church and thinks if he can’t understand something it can’t be true. This is just another instance of you hating Church leaders and making Jesus agree with you rather than vice versa.

If you disagree with the original comment state why. If you agree with it move on. This is just another red herring and you bitterly raising an issue that has nothing to do with what I was talking about. I have no interest in your anti-Church diatribes. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and prayer for those who persecute us. Viewing the Church in this manner seems far from this.

1 John “ 9 Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves a brother or sister abides in the light, and in such a person[b] there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates a brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.”


Sometimes translations can be very misleading. Especially when there is predetermined concepts thought to just already be there .

So the word body there just means flesh. It’s sōma.
The word for soul here is psuché and means breath of life.

They also use two different words here for kill/destroy.
The first word is apokteinó meaning to kill. The second word actually means a final death, a certain death. It’s apollumi.

This is important because what it’s talking about is this .

Matthew 25:46
New American Standard Bible
46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

All get resurrected. Some get resurrected to eternal life and some get resurrected to the enteral ounisbment which is the wages of sin which is hell, the lake of fire the second death.

Their belief was that after death, after the body died, they would be resurrected. The threat here is that don’t be afraid of this first death, be against of the second death which is eternal.
A good book on this subject is by Edward Fudge.

As for the OPs actual question I don’t know if any paper’s specifically on public health in the Bible. Some of the podcast episodes by the Bible project talks about being unclean which touches to somewhat on public health.

That entire exploring Leviticus series comes back to this issue a few times.

Hi @BHE1997 and welcome.

Could you talk a bit more about what you mean by “public health?”

The Bible covers a long period of time. A few thousand years, give or take. Do you have a particular time-period in mind to focus on?

Location? There are quite a few locations mentioned in the Bible. Do you have any specific one/s in mind?

If you could expand your question more, I think it would help people better understand what you are asking for.


I’ve mentioned this a few times elsewhere, a little book by a physician…

Hi @Kendel, tbh, I didn’t really have a period or location in mind, I more wanted to get an overview of what had already been done on this topic so far, to see if there were any new angles we could look at it from. I’ve got a particular interest in the health laws from Leviticus though, and possibly examining them through an epidemiological lens, and see if we start to see the early emergence of what we would now call One Health. Does this make sense?


This is sloppy exegesis (equating all the words for soul and spirit with person) that ignores other parts of scripture. For example, the words of Jesus, which oddly seem to carry little weight with some Christians on this forum, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” What you seem to be advocating here is monism. For most Christians the Bible clearly believes in a few places that some part of us lives on after death before the body is actually raised. That us why most Christians embrace a dichotomy or trichotomy when it comes to the nature of man. They simply follow suit in the footsteps of their Lord and Savior.

This is from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology text:

A more detailed treatment of Monism and answers for philosophical problems with a dualist view of the human constitution can be found in Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology. Or see a very recent Systematic Theology text by Letham.

I think it might. i wonder if @glipsnort or @T_aquaticus might be able to help out.

And I have already said that I believe in a spiritual existence distinct from our physical bodies. What I don’t believe in (and which contradicts the evidence) is a nonphysical puppet master controlling our bodies. Jesus taught no such thing.

There are too many examples of things which people believed (Christian or otherwise) for thousands of years which are simply wrong. So no I am not inclined to believe something simply because that is what people have long believed. That is a formula for the perpetuation of error.

All the bitterness is coming from you. It is YOUR word, not mine.

Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.[b] 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell[c] as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21 and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; 22 and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. 26 You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?[d] 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechari′ah the son of Barachi′ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation.

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 38 Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.[e] 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Religion is a source of great evil in the world. It can only be a force for good when we identify the evil with some discernment. Only then can we find the good in it. Whitewashing religion can only convince people there is nothing in religion worth saving.

All I said was Jesus taught we had a soul that survived our death. The Bible uses spirit and soul interchangeably to me (I subscribe to a dichotomy, not a trichotomy).

Well I believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church (again per the words of my Lotd and Savior), believers and I see no problem with a hermeneutic of trust until presented with evidence that suggests otherwise. We are also indebted to what people believed thousands of years ago (our Sacred Scripture). How do you even have a canon if you don’t trust Church authority? A bunch of people thought these books written 2-3000 years ago were the authoritative books and you, like me, buy it hook, line and sinker. We only have a partial record and there are hundreds of other books other Christians used yet we still dove in. Somewhere along the way you are just sawing off the branch you are sitting on. None of this is to say the church is infallible or beyond dispute. We know it is not. But I’m a Christian and will stand within that tradition based on Biblical teachings over philosophical naturalism or a methodological approach that rules out souls by its very nature being used to claim there is no evidence for souls and therefore they don’t exist. Circular much?

News flash. You aren’t Jesus. He can scathe His Church how He sees fit. We are all sinners just like those in antiquity who abused their power. The minute we don’t think we are sinners we become the Pharisee as opposed to the tax collector. We often see ourselves the wrong way in scripture. We are always the Israelite slaves, or the Egyptian oppressors, we are not the Pharisees but the disciples… we aren’t the rich guy who went away sad and so on and so on. Sometimes it’s helpful to read scripture with the shoe on the other foot.

For the soul part I highly suggest this episode from some actual biblical scholars.

Wanted to show an excerpt. This is something many get confused. This episode really helps shed light on it along with that other book I previously mentioned.

Anyways here is the excerpt.

“The bottom line, biblically, is that people don’t have souls—they are souls. They don’t have nephesh they are nephesh . And the ultimate hope for Christians is not a disembodied existence living as souls but an embodied existence living in their nephesh .”

Also in the Old Testament it says animals and humans are souls filled with the breath “ spirit “ of God.

It’s also helpful to see how in the new testament they put a bit of a Hellenistic approach to their concepts versus the earlier traditional Jewish ones.

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I’ve heard several make comments on how Leviticus shows how the Bible teaches good health practices, usually from a more fundamentalist viewpoint, but would have to research to find sources. There are some good principles regarding latrines and moldy houses (Leviticul14)and such, but I am not sure how much of that was common knowledge in the culture.

One warning, if you google books about health and the Bible, the book House of God is in a very different catagory. Funny in a very dark humor way, but not what you are looking for.

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For some scholars many parts of the OT are lacking in a dualistic approach to the human person. Some even think that many verses make little sense when not understood this way (see Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology from the 90s). This is very much true. But many scholars also point out this is not as universal as some pretend it is in the Hebrew Scriptures.

And it’s also a completely moot point because the New Testament, and more importantly, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does not follow that path. He clearly and unequivocally believes in a soul/spirit that survives death. Matthew 10/28 and his words to the thief next to him on the Cross for starters.

Are you a Jew who just reads the Old Testament or a Christian that actually follows Jesus? Was he just a human being to you? Most Christians, while admitting Jesus has a non-omniscient human side, are not so inclined to just dismiss him as flirting with (untrue) Hellenism.

Your argument is like saying it’s still okay to give your wife a certificate of divorce because Moses permitted it. Sorry, the incarnate Son of God trumps everything.


I think that many Christians think Jesus says stuff that is completely different from what the Jewish authors of the tanakh said because they don’t understand what was actually being said by either one. So when it comes to the soul and spirit, I think Jesus said the same exact thing “ soul sleep “ as what the Jewish authors said.

I agree Jesus (and Paul) taught we have a spiritual or supernatural aspect which survives death (needing resurrection). You may use those words interchangeably, but the word “soul” has connections and connotations from Greek philosophy, the Gnostics, and other religions, which Jesus did not teach.

Again… I don’t buy your rational for a formula for the perpetuation of error. Such a rational doesn’t change the fact that people believe things for thousands of years which are incorrect and even morally wrong.

You may not believe in following Jesus, but I do. So again, I will not buy into your rational for the perpetuation of error. Yes we are all sinners and that includes the people with authority in church organizations. I don’t believe God gives authority to ANY of them, no more than He gives authority to me. However, we are all responsible for what we do and cannot pawn it off on some church. And I will use discernment on determining if there is anything in religion that is of value and worth believing in.

now I will watch the posted link on “nephesh” by @SkovandOfMitaze and comment here afterwards… (above I was looking at the Greek word psyche which means life, mind, heart, and that which makes us a person. Sure Greek philosophy connects this word to their idea of a mental soul, but obviously Jesus did not use this word anyway.)

Ok yes this is a good critique of the use of the OT word “nephesh” for some supernatural addition (a soul) as something we have and inhabits our body to animate it. I certainly don’t believe in any such thing – there is no such supernatural thing in time and space either animating our body or controlling it like a puppet. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to deny the teaching of Jesus about a spiritual/supernatural aspect of our existence which survives death – it just isn’t part of the space-time continuum and so it isn’t something we have here inside us. And that is what I mean when I oppose this popular belief in the “soul” of the Greek philosophers, Gnostics, and other religions. But it certainly doesn’t mean I will go with this trend of many groups to reduce our existence to the physical only where the only way to have a future existence is a resurrection of the same physical/natural body like we have now.

… and to connect this to the topic… it is about whether public health should concern itself with the health of a “soul.” I say no. Mental health? Yes. This doesn’t mean I think the spiritual doesn’t exist or isn’t important… and frankly I equate this to the importance of our choices and our relationship to God. But these are not things which can be defined objectively and thus cannot be dictated to people.

We’re recording an episode with a public health epidemiologist this week. Episode will be out next month sometime. That is not the same thing as discussing public health in the Bible, though. I wonder if that is imposing categories onto ancient cultures that didn’t quite think that way?