Medical Treatments – A Biblical Perspective

Preface

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.                                 Genesis 1:1

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.                                                                                    Genesis 1:27

Since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made.   Romans 1:20

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.                Revelation 22:18-19

It is absolutely vital for Christians to possess a sound biblical understanding of medicine and medical treatments. This is especially true in light of the recent mandated, experimental, and questionable treatments and drugs. Christians have often thought that the only biblical objection to a medical treatment or drug is based on whether aborted fetal cells are involved. However, this binary test is not only reductive but also insufficient when it comes to providing Christians with a framework for evaluating discoveries, inventions, and procedures. Following are several key points for examining a drug or medical treatment in light of biblical truth.

1.1 Respecting Life

A respect for life is an obvious reason for rejecting certain medical treatments. In the Old Testament, the character of both Isaac and Esau were clear to God before either had been born, Jeremiah was known by Him before conception, and the Psalmist confesses that all his days were ordained before one came to pass. In the New Testament, the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in the womb. Unborn life is still life, so intentionally ending that life is murder, whether or not the life was wanted and irrespective of the circumstances surrounding its coming into being. In the early days of abortion clinics, women claimed that abortion must be allowed when the pregnancy or birth would endanger the mother’s life; this sounds like a valid exception, but it is so rare as to be comparatively nonexistent. Today, many doctors have so little respect for life that they may claim the mother’s health is “at risk” for almost any stress or discomfort. Still, the actual situation could be possible. In that case, Christians must make medical choices with an understanding that the unborn baby is as much a life as if it were already born. This also clearly removes the option of using any contraceptive drugs or devices that are likely to cause abortions.

The Bible also makes it clear that people are responsible not only for their own actions but also for their support of the actions of others. This is a serious principal in matters related to abortion. Just as Christians rejected the “potential” benefits resulting from Nazi experimentation on concentration camp prisoners, so benefits derived from experiments involving aborted fetuses must be rejected. A person benefiting from a medical treatment or drug that directly or indirectly results from an abortion is implicitly agreeing with the abortion or, at a minimum, not objecting to the abortion. This includes drugs developed with or a treatment using cell lines produced from an aborted fetus whether or not the immediate contents are from an abortion. Some Christians may have a personal conviction that this does not apply to a cell line replicated from a previous abortion, believing some arbitrary separation exists due to time, but nothing in the Bible actually supports that position. Christians should avoid these treatments for the sake of respecting life.

A separate concern involves drugs or treatments tested using aborted fetal cell lines. This involves conscience more than absolutes because tests may have nothing to do with the source or development of a drug or treatment. For example, God has provided numerous supplements in nature for our health. If Christians stop using a vitamin because some doctor tests it on aborted cell lines, the manipulated harm could be profound. Also, Christians may differentiate between current practices and those utilized before science learned to obtain stem cells without abortions: the former is willful without justification; the latter may have involved conscientious objection and regret. If a drug or treatment has no direct link to an abortion, it is a matter of conscience.

Exodus 20:13; Jeremiah 1:5; Ezekiel 3:17-19; Psalm 136:16; Luke 1:15

1.2 Honoring the Body

Millennia ago, God created a man and woman in a garden. He created them with physical bodies that He then in-breathed with life. In the Bible, God commands respect and responsibility toward the body. During the earliest years of the Church, proponents of Gnosticism argued that a believer’s spiritual life was separate from the physical body; however, this was refuted as heresy. Paul declared that there are sins “against the body,” the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” and people are to “worship God with the body.” Christians are responsible to treat their bodies as holy and refrain from causing themselves intentional harm. This requires wisdom as there can be activities that cause a minimal level of cell damage or discomfort for a greater benefit, such as exercise and fasting, which are natural activities that improve health and are recommended in the Bible. In a case where there is positive benefit with absolutely no long-term harm, it is allowed.

Additionally, there are treatments causing short-term damage associated with long-term benefits, ranging from cosmetic treatments to life-saving surgery. In the Bible, certain piercings were allowed. These require careful consideration to compare the benefits to the costs to decide whether they are worth it; however, not all are equal. For example, some medical treatment may extend a person’s life but reduce the quality of life so significantly that the person is relatively worse off than before it. In this situation, Christians should make informed decisions according to faith and reason without being forced into a treatment against their will. A good rule of thumb is that there should be as little damage done to the body as possible; anything beyond this is sin.

A third category involves indirectly impacting our bodies with drugs and treatments. If we are eating foods that have been genetically modified (GMOs) or that have been treated with harmful pesticides (not organic), we can be putting harmful products into our bodies. This is a less absolute category, but it is important to mention. We really are what we eat; if we fill our bodies with junk food, genetically modified foods, or food sprayed with chemicals so toxic that farmers wear full-body protective garments, we are clearly not honoring the body.

There is also a fourth category where the body gets seriously damaged with relatively no health benefit. This includes self-mutilation, self-disfigurement, self-debilitation, recreational drugs, gender reassignment treatments, suicide, abortion (which also causes serious harm to the woman), etc. A useful philosophy for evaluating these treatments is to consider the seriousness if they were imposed on another person against their will. Under no circumstances can Christians involve themselves in these as they are clearly and profoundly sinning against the body.

Genesis 2:7; Leviticus 19:28; Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:15-20

1.3 Reflecting the Image

The Bible explains that man and woman, male and female, are made in the image of God. It is important to differentiate between honoring the body and reflecting the image of God; they are similar but not identical. Honoring the body is certainly an aspect of reflecting the image, for it is not possible to harm the body without marring the image, but they are different: the former has to do with flesh and blood while the latter includes non-physical qualities, such as intellect, will, spirit, etc. Some treatments may distort the image independent from harming the body, such as physically or chemically changing a person’s gender, diminishing the intellect, destroying the personality, or weakening the will. Christians cannot participate in these medical treatments.

Other treatments may not do physical damage but could still obscure the image: examples include gene modifications, biotech implants, and organ transplants. Some of these procedures could be beneficial without interfering with the person reflecting the image of God; however, the potential exists for distortion. Human technological ability does not guarantee ethics or morality. In cases where medical treatments might change a person in some cellular or biological way, the potential danger is significant. In these cases, people must do extensive research and rely on their conscience. If a procedure or drug affects people physically, but they feel assured that it is not changing their personal identity as created in His image, they can proceed. However, Christians must not participate in medical treatments they have any reason to believe will intentionally or potentially distort their identity as created in the image of God and made to reflect that image.

Genesis 1:26-27; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:15; Colossians 3:10; 1 John 3:2

1.4 Living by Faith

Faith plays a significant role in Christianity. The Bible clearly tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith, and Jesus commands us to have it. Faith has a slightly complicated relationship with both medicine and science. Although science and faith are often perceived as opposing viewpoints, this is not necessarily the case. In its basic form, science is a sequential approach to understanding how the universe works by performing controlled tests to support or disprove hypotheses. An important fundamental of real science is that it can never actually prove anything; it can only support or disprove a hypothesis according to current paradigms. Religion, in contrast, has as its aim to understand why things are the way they are. It takes as its foundation that God is the answer—i.e., its proven theory—and fits reality into a corresponding framework. Science relies on proof and theory while religion relies on faith and obedience. These are two paradigms that can coexist in harmony as long as proponents recognize that faith is as necessary for the one as experimentation is for the other.

The Christian Church does not view faith and science as automatically in opposition, but that can be the condition if the latter elevates itself to a position of ultimate truth over the former. In relation to medicine and medical treatments, this can easily become the case. Faith depends on obeying what cannot be proven, which resides outside the realm of science. Abraham believed he and Sarah would have children although they were both over 90 years old; he had faith, and they had a child. King Asa trusted doctors but refused to seek God; he suffered for two years and then died. Paul states that whatever is not from faith is sin. For Christians, faith supersedes science.

The Bible does not state that people should never use drugs or medical treatments. Many medical drugs are derived from nature, which God created. However, there is a tension between faith and science because the latter needs evidence while the former does not. There are instances when Christians should trust medicine as provided by God, but there are times when God calls them to rely on Him alone; in those instances, medicine can be contrary to faith. The appropriate choice is to stay informed while obeying the direction God gives. Because faith is individual and contextual, it is based on obedience. Some Christians may be led to allow surgery but not a drug while others may be convinced they can only partake of natural remedies. What is true one time may not be true in another. Faith is dependent on obeying what the Christian hears from God in a situation. Humans are fallible, so the counsel of others must be considered, but the Bible is clear that acting contrary to faith is sin. Christians must avoid medicines or treatments in the instances where they have convictions that using those are contrary to their faith.

Genesis 15:6; Psalm 103: 1-3; Isaiah 53:5; Mark 11:24; Hebrews 11:1, 6; James 1:6; James 2:17

1.5 Obeying the Conscience

Every person has a conscience, created by God and placed within human beings to guide their actions. The conscience is initially formed during childhood through what the child hears, sees, and experiences, including discipline. Proverbs says that if children are taught the right way to live, they will follow that path when they get older. This refers to developing the conscience as a child grows. Although this is a Godly principle, it is not guaranteed, for everyone has free will. People are not frozen the way they are raised; they can learn and make their own choices. A person with a terrible childhood may become a saint while a person with a wonderful childhood may turn into a sociopath. Nevertheless, how a person is raised does make a huge difference.

Because the conscience continues to be formed throughout life, Christians understand it must be protected. Paul warns Timothy that certain actions, such as believing lies, choosing sin, or living in hypocrisy, will “sear” a person’s conscience; their conscience will be hardened to the point they cannot differentiate between good and evil or will not care. In his letter to Corinth, Paul explains that Christians can disagree over certain “gray” issues, based upon the conscience. In those instances, he says those with differing opinions must not judge each other. Additionally, he sternly warns those who believe something is not sin against disregarding, condemning, or coercing those who believe that it is: if the latter become convinced to accept it, they have sinned by not following their conscience, and the former have sinned by encouraging their sin.

In terms of medicines and medical treatments, Christians must obey their consciences. It is possible that many in the Church may be convinced a certain drug or procedure is allowable, but that does not discount the convictions of those who object to it. When Christians go against the conviction of their conscience, they not only commit sin but also endanger the state of their conscience, which forms an integral aspect of their faith and life. Because a person’s conscience is always forming, changes are entirely possible; the person must not be afraid to consider other perspectives, but the final decision should be to avoid treatments that go against their convictions because doing so will endanger a hardening and searing of the conscience and loss of morality.

1 Samuel 24:5; Romans 2:15; 1 Corinthians 8:12; 1 Timothy 1:19; Hebrews 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16

1.6 Refusing the Mark

The Bible contains multiple genres of literature, including literal, symbolic, apocalyptic, wisdom, etc. Prophetic literature can be the hardest to interpret because it is sometimes intended to be understood only by a specific audience at a specific time. Nevertheless, it should be taken seriously—but not always literally—by those who believe it. Christians recognize that prophetic statements that referenced Jesus are much clearer in hindsight than they were in foresight, yet those who refused to accept Him were still judged. Some writings were meant to be cryptic while others were clear warnings. Warnings were written to be taken seriously without exception.

Some major prophecies in the Bible refer to the end times before Jesus returns. Numerous verses describe this as a major time of confrontation between good and evil when evil seems to be winning. One warning is unique among prophetic phrases: “Let the reader understand.” Both Matthew and Mark insert this phrase when quoting Jesus’ description of the end-time; they pause their narrative to instruct the reader to pay extra attention to what Jesus was saying. The Gospel writers considered Jesus’ words absolutely vital for life, but this was the only time they took the extra step to warn their readers to pay attention. John uses the similar phrase “Let him who has understanding” when describing a mark that will be mandated for all people at the end time and that will condemn its wearers to eternal fire; he stops his narration of the vision God gave him to caution his readers to pay careful attention to what he was saying. All three of these passages are describing specific things that would take place in the future, and these warnings highlight them so readers can recognize them when they occur. These inspired writers all felt a conviction that there were specific aspects of the end times that Christians needed to keep in mind: evil standing in a place dedicated to God, and a mark required of all people as a symbol of submission.

These passages do not mention medicine or medical treatments, and Jesus’ words in both Matthew and Mark seem to be describing a person or an idol. However, John’s caution can have a wider application. Being apocalyptic literature, the meaning of “the mark” remains uncertain. Some Christians interpret it literally, believing the mark will be the numbers “666” tattooed on the hand or forehead, while others consider it symbolically, viewing it as an act of submission to an authority demanding obedience that supersedes service to God. Although Christians may not know exactly what the mark will be, John’s words form a dire warning to watch for anything that is connected to a person’s body and is mandated to allow participation in society. Any medicine or medical treatment that implants, tags, or marks people for identification, represents submitting to an authority that does not allow religious exemption, or becomes necessary for buying, selling, or other daily activity should be adamantly avoided as indicative of the mark of the beast.

Daniel 7:19-22; Revelation 13:16-17; Revelation 14:9-11; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:4

1.7 Serving the Lord

A consistent theme throughout the Bible is the supremacy of God in relation to all other authorities. In matters of faith, this was an exclusionary position. God commanded His people, “You shall have no other god before Me.” This did not mean they could worship other gods as long as they kept them secondary or subservient to Him; it meant they could not have any other gods in their lives, individually or corporately. In matters of government, God’s position was one of primacy. He affirmed obedience to the law as long as the law did not contradict His command. Originally, there was no conflict because the only law was what He had decreed. Later, however, rulers rejected Him, and laws permitted sin. A person could obey the law but still be guilty of sin because the laws rejected the authority of His commands or did not recognize His will or nature.

A third category arose when kings made decrees directly opposing God’s commands and nature. When Jeroboam commanded people to worship two golden calves and Nebuchadnezzar ordered the people to bow before a giant idol, these were idolatry. A less clear example involved Caesar requiring people to bow before him and call him “Lord.” Bowing in respect and using the term “lord” was seen in ancient Jewish culture, but Christians refused because Caesar demanded these acts of submission in a context that denied God’s supremacy. Christians should normally obey the law in relation to drugs or medical procedures. However, any medicines or medical treatments must be rejected if they violate God’s laws, contradict His character, demean human nature, or involve conduct that conflicts with a person honoring God as their supreme authority.