Vaccination: A Biblical and Theological Reflection
The word vaccination does not occur in the Bible, as is the case with many other important health terms like vitamins, transfusion, high blood pressure, kidney transplant, injection, pills, and so on. In the Bible there are no Mothers Against Drunk Driving groups, anti-smoking campaigns, instructions on gym classes or breathing fresh air, drinking 6–8 glasses of water every day, washing your hands before each meal, brushing your teeth, and so on. We could create a much longer list of such good practices not verbally addressed in the Holy Scriptures.
What’s in Your Bible?
That list would include the command, “Be vaccinated” or “Don’t be vaccinated,” so we need godly thinking to guide us as to whether to be vaccinated or not. Biblical teaching can help to counter mis- and dis-information on health issues, even though it is not a medical textbook on health.
The Holy Scriptures present important health principles that are to be (a) the bases of such reflections, (b) beneficial components, and (c) elements we can implement in everyday routines of life. The general rule is plain: what is in harmony with biblical health principles and does not contradict them is permissible. One can argue that it may be recommended or even required when health or life is to be preserved.
Allowed are activities that are congruent with God’s revelation, though not directly mentioned in the Bible. Activities like conducting Sabbath School or participating in potlucks on Sabbath; celebrating the Lord’s Supper every quarter; building schools and hospitals, organizing the church structure with conferences, unions, and so on. In other words, forbidden is (1) whatever contradicts God’s explicit command, and/or (2) is in opposition to general principles of life expressed in God’s Word.
These two principles are plainly in harmony with the first two commandments God gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden: “The LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’” (Gen. 2:16, NIV). Note well that God first commanded freedom by creating for humans a safe space for life and growth (general rule), and then put clear boundaries: no eating from one tree, “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” This was a specific command. It was neither necessary nor practical to enumerate all that was allowed: you may eat from the apple, orange, fig, pear, banana, and so on. All such were included in the general statement of freedom “to eat from any tree in the garden.” However, the specific prohibition had to be stated explicitly.
The same sound rule must be applied to vaccinations: what is not prohibited is acceptable when it is in harmony with God’s revealed health principles.
Rules About Vaxing—and Much More
Indeed, the importance of vaccinations from the biblical-theological perspective can be demonstrated from multiple angles. Prayerfully consider the following principles:
1. God is the only Healer, the true Physician, who can heal all our diseases (Deut. 7:15; 28:60; Ps. 103:3; Luke 4:40; 6:18; 7:21). In Exodus 15:26 God promised that no disease (or plague) He sent upon Egypt would fall on the Israelites if they followed His commands. He will also protect His people during the seven last plagues as He protected Israel from the Egyptian plagues (see Rev. 16). There is no sickness or disease that He cannot heal. He is the Source and Giver of life for His children; He gives abundant life (John 11:25; 14:6). Scientific and traditional medicine can be beneficial. But only the Lord of heaven can be guaranteed to preserve and restore health when He so chooses.
2. God created humans in His image (Gen. 1:27) as intelligent beings, to use their minds to reason and acquire knowledge and discern what is right, good, and profitable. Humans also need to apply common sense to life’s problems. We are rational beings, and our Creator gives us the ability to think and know what works best for our health. Our Lord wants us to take care of our bodies and live responsible lives because we are accountable to Him. Paul plainly states, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20, NIV; cf. 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 2 Cor. 5:10). Our spiritual health is closely connected to our physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being. Neither God nor we always need a “thus says the Lord” to know what to do or not to do, because He can show, and we can see, the benefits or disadvantages of many of our decisions and actions. However, whatever we do should spring from biblical principles.
Applying this thinking to vaccination, we can see that this product, a result of capacities God has given to humans to think and be creative, is a life-saving product. We can thank God for the wisdom He gives for research and invention. And we can thank Him and His human agents for the good they do in preserving and restoring life (Dan. 12:4).
3. We are not to expect that God will work for us when we overlook basic principles of life and are negligent, biased, or lazy about implementing them. Prayers for knowledge are not enough to bring success. Diligent study is also necessary. Again, it is not enough to ask for God’s intervention for reaping a good harvest and then not be willing to till the fields and work hard on maintaining the crop. In the same way, it would be presumptuous and arrogant on our part to ask God to give us good health while we neglect health principles, and remain unwilling to study and apply the results of modern medicine that He has enabled us to discover for helping suffering humanity. We need to work diligently under God’s guidance and blessing: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Ps. 127:1 ESV).
4. God wants us to preserve health—ours and everyone else’s—in the best possible shape and conditions (3 John 1:2), not only to live longer, but to be able to serve others and be useful for as long as possible. Why die prematurely simply because we neglect remedies that are available to protect and prolong our lives, thus enabling us to be a blessing to others?
5. God commands that we protect life and care for the health of our neighbors (Lev. 19:18; Ezek. 34:4, 16). In that regard, being vaccinated is an unselfish act aiding the well-being and protection of others. There are still unknowns in the long-term research on vaccination’s effects, but the benefits far surpass its known and potential problems. Thus, becoming vaccinated is an act of kindness, because vaccinations are helping to protect others from serious sickness, hospitalization, and death.
6. Prayers for healing and vitality do not annul the use of different remedies, surgeries, medicines, or vaccinations. Knowing how to apply them all depends on life’s situations. Several examples come to mind from the biblical material. God could have miraculously and instantaneously healed the dying King Hezekiah by His power, but instead He chose to heal him through the remedy of a fig poultice (2 Kings 20:5-7; Isa. 38:21). God promised to heal him, yet the very prophet who brought the good news directed that the bandage of figs be applied to his wound. Jesus could have healed a blind man by His word, but He used mud mixed with His saliva for this purpose, and had the man also go and wash his eyes in order to receive his sight (John 9:1, 6, 7). Naaman had to go and wash in the River Jordan seven times to be healed of his leprosy (2 Kgs 5:10–14). In all these instances, the God of miracles chose to give lessons of collaborating closely between Himself and humans by using available remedies. Vaccines preserve health and stop the spread of disease, and “It is no denial of faith to use rational remedies judiciously.”
7. Prevention is always more important than actual healing. To avoid being sick is a biblical mandate (John 10:10; 1 Cor 6:20; 3 John 2). Bodies in good health and physical condition are a glory to the Creator. Beyond individual health, staying safe and keeping family and community safe are sound Christian motivations. Being healthy is not primarily about vaccination, but about establishing and developing a balanced lifestyle, resulting in being in good mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual condition to serve God and others in need in the most efficient way for as long as possible. Ellen White admonishes, “Train the people to correct habits and healthful practices, remembering that an ounce of preventive is more value than a pound of cure. Lectures and studies in this line will prove of the highest value.” Vaccination is about preventing a potentially deadly virus from spreading within us or through us to others. Vaccination, nothing magical, must be supported by other intelligent choices in life such as prayerful, devotional living, a healthy lifestyle, spiritual witnessing, and trust in God. These activities point to vaccination when there is a need for it and it is available. Vaccination should then be applied according to our best knowledge and health conditions.
8. Medical science and faith work closely together and must be applied hand in hand. They are complementary. Creativity and ingenuity are God’s gifts. The evidence of science is transparently clear: vaccines save lives. Their side effects are mostly minor and short-term. Multiple positives overwhelmingly outweigh their minimal negatives and health risks. As Ellen White states: “God is the author of science…. Ignorance may try to support skepticism by appealing to science; but instead of upholding skepticism, true science contributes fresh evidences of the wisdom and power of God. Rightly understood, science and the written word agree, and each sheds light on the other. Together they lead us to God by teaching us something of the wise and beneficent laws through which He works.”
Way out of Line
It is a gross misuse of Scripture to claim that taking a vaccination against COVID-19 is receiving the book of Revelation’s mark of the beast, and that it will change your DNA. Such misinformation is connected to confusion about the mRNA basis of vaccinations against the coronavirus and SARS. Various conspiracy theories terribly misapply biblical texts to create fear and dependency on false “teachers.” Biblical prophets do not speak against vaccinations. Vaccination has nothing to do with the mark of the beast or with false Babylonian teaching. Here are several reasons why:
- The mark of the beast is a false religious system that opposes God, His people, and His law.
- The mark of the beast is about the distortion of God’s character of love by accepting the non-biblical teachings of Sunday sacredness and the immortality of the soul, including eternal torture in hell.
- The mark of the beast is about false worship involving spiritually poisonous doctrines that Scripture calls Babylonian teaching, reflecting the confusion of the tower of Babel.
The seal of God, on the other hand, is heaven’s confirmation of the believer’s experience of true rest in Jesus Christ; such rest, in its fulness, involves living and keeping the biblical Sabbath as a sign of God as our Creator and Redeemer, expressing faithfulness to the comprehensive range of biblical doctrines centered in the Triune God. Those bearing the seal of God love, honor, and give Him glory as their Creator and Savior. Their experience of continuous restoration to God’s image is seen in their character and lifestyle. Such living integrates and restores our physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social life by God’s grace, through His Word, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ellen White’s Relation to Vaccines
Ellen White wrote nothing about vaccination, but her life and practice provide good support for and confirmation of this article’s reflections. White was herself vaccinated, and encouraged others to do so for at least two reasons: (1) personal health benefits enable us to efficiently serve others; and (2) vaccination prevents transmission of disease and contamination to others. White encouraged others to take a smallpox vaccination, and took it herself, according to eyewitness D. E. Robinson, one of her secretaries: Ellen White “was vaccinated and urged her helpers, those connected with her, to be vaccinated.” She was aware that it would protect her as well as others: “She also recognized the danger of their exposing others if they failed to take this precaution.” She wisely advised, “Those who seek healing by prayer should not neglect to make use of the remedial agencies within their reach. It is not a denial of faith to use such remedies as God has provided to alleviate pain and to aid nature in her work of restoration.… God has put it in our power to obtain a knowledge of the laws of life. This knowledge has been placed within our reach for use. We should employ every facility for the restoration of health, taking every advantage possible, working in harmony with natural laws. When we have prayed for the recovery of the sick, we can work with all the more energy, thanking God that we have the privilege of co-operating with Him, and asking His blessing on the means which He Himself has provided.”
Vaccines save lives by stopping the spread of disease, but waiting too long has often made it too late. Vaccines prevent complications of health deterioration. Prayful application of God’s provisions preserves our life and protects others from being harmed.
We have found nothing biblical that would stop people from being vaccinated. On the contrary, based on the biblical material, we strongly recommend the practice to people who have no specific serious health preconditions. If our bodies are not our own, and we are accountable to God for how we care for them, and if God will require an account of our love toward our neighbor, then caring for our own health as well as for that of our neighbor is a must. Paul emphatically states that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31 NIV). Being vaccinated will give glory to God by helping us and others to have a safer life.
We need divine wisdom to know how to be best informed and make mature decisions. Evidence-based science is beneficial in this decision process, allowing us to choose the best available options in given life situations. Ellen G. White affirms such an approach. The result may serve missiological objectives: “If they [unbelievers] see that we are intelligent with regard to health, they will be more ready to believe that we are sound in Bible doctrines.” On the other hand, she clearly warns: “But when men advocate reform, and carry the matter to extremes, and are inconsistent in their course of action, people are not to blame if they do become disgusted with the health reform.… These men are doing a work which Satan loves to see go on.”
Covid fatigue can be overcome with God. May He graciously grant us discernment and power to act unselfishly according to His will so that we can be blessed by Him and be a blessing to others. Ellen White wisely advises: “God’s miracles do not always bear the outward semblance of miracles. Often they are brought about in a way which looks like the natural course of events.… We ask to be kept from the pestilence that walketh in darkness, that is stalking with such power through the world; we are then to cooperate with God, observing the laws of health and life. Having done all that we possibly can, we are to keep asking in faith for health and strength.… God gives us no encouragement that He will do for us what we can do for ourselves.”
Considering that Ellen White chose to be vaccinated both for herself and for the benefit of the community, it seems we have been given a good course to follow ourselves.