On August 21 2021, a Facebook account shared a Twitter screenshot which purportedly quoted Leviticus 13:45-46 in reference to ongoing debates regarding masks and social distancing:
The Bible doesn't mention anything about masks, so quit referencing God when saying you won't…
The Bible DOES mention wearing masks when sick?!
AND SOCIAL DISTANCING?!?! pic.twitter.com/9hFv0VeTXk
— Tinker Secor (@TinkerSec) August 19, 2021
A screenshot labeled “Leviticus 13:45-46, New International Version” was attached; the tweet itself read:
The Bible doesn’t mention anything about masks, so quit referencing God when saying you won’t…
The Bible DOES mention wearing masks when sick?!
AND SOCIAL DISTANCING?!?!
In this context, “Leviticus” refers to the third book of the Torah and Old Testament. That book included the instructions of Leviticus, which emphasize legal and moral practices rather than a belief system.
Google Trends registered a spike in interest for searches of “Leviticus” in the early hours of August 25 2021 (measuring the seven-day period ending that day). Related searches with “breakout” popularity included:
- “Leviticus 13 45-46 KJV”;
- “Leviticus 13 45”;
- “Leviticus 13 45-46 meaning,” and;
- “Leviticus 13 45-46 covid.”
Although the tweet was published on August 19 2021 and the Facebook post two days later, searches didn’t begin registering until August 25 2021. Google also automatically populated “Leviticus 13 45-46 Reddit” as a suggested search.
On August 25 2021, a Reddit user on r/TheMonkeysPaw (a subreddit for users to share impulsive wishes) referenced Leviticus 13:45-46, lamenting that it had only entered the conversation a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic:
I wish people had posted Leviticus 13:45-46 all over the internet when Covid first appeared. from TheMonkeysPaw
A post about the passage was discussed on r/OrthodoxChristianity in November 2020. BibleHub.com made Leviticus 13:45 and Leviticus 13:46 easily searchable, with “New International Version” the first listed:
“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’
As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.
Bible Gateway’s “Leviticus 13” section was subtitled, “Regulations About Defiling Skin Diseases.” It presented Leviticus 13 in a broader context, and contained directives for the management of diagnosable disease:
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 2 “When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a shiny spot on their skin that may be a defiling skin disease,[a] they must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons[b] who is a priest. 3 The priest is to examine the sore on the skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is a defiling skin disease. When the priest examines that person, he shall pronounce them ceremonially unclean. 4 If the shiny spot on the skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days. 5 On the seventh day the priest is to examine them, and if he sees that the sore is unchanged and has not spread in the skin, he is to isolate them for another seven days. 6 On the seventh day the priest is to examine them again, and if the sore has faded and has not spread in the skin, the priest shall pronounce them clean; it is only a rash. They must wash their clothes, and they will be clean. 7 But if the rash does spread in their skin after they have shown themselves to the priest to be pronounced clean, they must appear before the priest again. 8 The priest is to examine that person, and if the rash has spread in the skin, he shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling skin disease.
A footnote provided context about leprosy:
The Hebrew word for defiling skin disease, traditionally translated “leprosy,” was used for various diseases affecting the skin; here and throughout verses 3-46.
However, Bible study resource StudyLight.org included more in-depth theological examination of Leviticus 13:45-46, including scholarly assessments regarding whether the passage was specific to leprosy. One selected section of analysis (“Bridgeway Bible Commentary”) addressed the limits of medicine at the time:
Biblical scholars and medical scientists alike have shown that the leprosy the Old Testament speaks of was not always the disease that we know as leprosy today. The word had a broad meaning that covered a number of infectious skin diseases, some of which were curable. It applied even to fungus or mildew on clothes and buildings … These chapters are not concerned with the treatment of the disease. Instructions outlined here were for priests, not for doctors. Priests had the responsibility to see that holiness was maintained in the camp, and this holiness was inseparable from ordinary health and cleanliness. These laws helped the priests detect the disease in its early stages and so prevent infection from spreading.
Two sections labeled “Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable” addressed whether the affliction of Leviticus 13:45 was leprosy, explaining:
God dealt with 21 different cases of skin diseases in this pericope. Some of these may have included measles, smallpox, scarlet fever, and other diseases characterized by skin rash. [Note: Harris, p. 577.] Some authorities believe that exact identification of the various forms of scaly skin disorders described in this chapter is impossible today …
… Many translations and commentaries have regarded the legislation in these chapters as dealing with leprosy, but this is misleading. The confusion has arisen because the term “leprosy” appears in most English texts in these chapters, and English readers automatically think that what we know as modern leprosy is in view. However as the chapters unfold it becomes increasingly clear that what is in view is not modern leprosy (Hansen’s disease).
The solution to the problem involves recognizing that the Septuagint version has influenced the English translations of the Hebrew word used here, tsara’at. In the Septuagint, the Greek word lepra translates tsara’at, and the English translations have simply transliterated this Greek word because of similarities with modern leprosy. The Greeks used a different term for human leprosy: elephantiasis, not lepra. That tsara’at does not mean leprosy becomes especially clear in chapter 14 where we read that tsara’at appeared as mold and mildew in clothes and houses, something modern leprosy does not do. What tsara’at does describe is a variety of abnormalities that afflicted human skin as well as clothing and houses, coverings of various types …
A July 2014 post to r/Christianity appeared years before the events of 2020 and 2021, offering that Leviticus 13 and Leviticus 14 were not about leprosy but rather physical manifestations of spiritual deficiency:
Leviticus 13-14 isn’t about leprosy. Some explanation as to how we know. from Christianity
An August 19 2021 tweet maintained that Leviticus 13:45-46 included directives for communicable disease, primarily by wearing a mask (“cover the lower part of their face”) and social distancing (“as long as they have the disease they … must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”) Biblical discourse has long debated whether the passage pertained to leprosy alone, but it was nevertheless accurately labeled and relayed. For further context, the Book of Leviticus concerns descriptions of rituals, legal issues and concerns, and morality and hygiene rather than beliefs — including directives for local leaders to manage outbreaks of communicable disease.