What Does the Bible Teach Us About Vaccinating?
At the time of writing, there is controversy about whether we as Christians should vaccinate against the coronavirus or not.
There always has been a low level of disagreement about vaccinations and even medical treatments in general – both within the Christian community (particularly adherents of the Jehovah’s Witness and Christian Scientist churches), and the “anti-vaxxers” who object on reasons totally unrelated to Christian teachings. The controversy – within both groups – seems to have become super-charged due to the nasty coronavirus outbreak.
To state our opinion up front, we have no objection, whatsoever, on Christian grounds, to any type of vaccination. We have some medical concerns about the new vaccines for the coronavirus and the degree of testing they’ve undergone prior to their emergency use approvals (none of the vaccines have been fully approved yet), but that’s another issue entirely, and even then, while we have some concerns, those concerns are diminishing every day because we see another two million Americans and 15+ million in the rest of the world being vaccinated, and so far – touch wood – there have been no significant negative outcomes, just a huge positive outcome – reducing the number of people at risk of the virus.
We are deliberately overlooking all the generic “anti-vaxxer” claims. Those claims are not based on any claimed Christian values, but on science which may or (more probably) may not be valid. This article is solely looking at vaccines from the Christian perspective.
We find it difficult to discuss this issue from a Christian perspective because we can’t start to grasp what “vaccines are bad” people say to support their view. We understand both sides of some of the difficult issues within the Christian world, but we don’t understand the rationale behind not being vaccinated. So we first had to research why self-professing Christians claim it to be un-Christian to be vaccinated.
We may have overlooked some part of the reasoning advanced by Christians opposed to vaccines. This is not intentional and feel free to add extra points in reader comments.
Do Vaccines Frustrate God’s Will?
One argument against vaccines is that if God has introduced the virus into our world – and of course, everything that happens is either part of his Plan or else something he permits/allows – then we are frustrating his Plan and his Will by developing and taking a vaccine.
On the face of it, maybe there is some validity in this concept, but if you think carefully about the sentence above, you’ll see a huge contradiction within it.
Yes – everything that happens in this world only happens with God’s permission, including even every act of evil instigated by the devil. “Everything” includes developing vaccines. If the virus is part of God’s Will, surely too the vaccines are equally part of his Will.
Are Vaccines an Unnatural Response?
This is only slightly different to the preceding argument. But what does it mean to be “natural” or “unnatural” (and why is unnatural bad whereas natural is good)?
Is it natural to keep clean? Maybe running our hands under water is natural, but is it natural to use a bar of soap to aid the cleaning process? To use shampoo for our hair – I just looked at a container of Pantene shampoo and the ingredient list contains things such as methylchloroisothiazolinone and I’ll wager that no matter how you define “natural”, this is truly not a natural substance.
Sure, vaccines are developed in a laboratory rather than grow on a tree. But, so what? It is still all part of God’s creation, created according to the physical and chemical laws he instituted when he developed this world and how it works. And some things that grow on trees will kill you. Not everything natural is good, and not everything “unnatural” is bad.
Jesus Cured People with Miracles Rather than Medicines – So Should We?
We don’t deny that a miracle trumps a medicine, every time. And while we can all aspire to lead a life that emulates his, we can’t expect to be able to invoke miracles at will as Jesus could.
That’s not to say we don’t feel God’s comforting presence and help in every part of our lives, every day, but he makes no promise to us to guarantee us an easy life. Our rewards are in the afterlife, not in the present (see John 16:33, and our article “The reason why bad things happen to good people“. ). So while we thankfully accept all he gives us, we also recognize the need to fend for ourselves and care for ourselves.
A healthy person can better participate in and help advance God’s Plan than an unhealthy person can. We can better share God’s Word and his Plan with other people when we’re in full command of our senses and our health. Jesus had miracles. We have a much lesser magic in the form of surgical procedures, antibiotics, painkillers, vaccines, and all manner of other medical procedures.
We also note, in one of the few texts in the Bible that obliquely addresses this topic, when Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) he speaks approvingly of the Samaritan’s actions, when he cared for the wounded man with bandages and salves, and suggested this was a better response than that of the priest who simply avoided the man by crossing the road.
Jesus didn’t say that the Samaritan should just have prayed then hurried on his way. He praised the Samaritan for showing compassion and mercy, and concludes with the command (Luke 10:36-37 AMP)
36 Which of these three do you think proved himself a neighbor to the man who encountered the robbers?”
37 He answered, “The one who showed compassion and mercy to him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and constantly do the same.”
We are told to show compassion and mercy – to do things, not just to pray, when we care for people in need. We suggest that administering medicines to our fellow men, and therefore, to ourselves too, is covered by this admonition.
Should We Trust in God?
This is another variation of the flawed argument that taking a vaccine is somehow seeking to frustrate God’s Will, something we know to be impossible.
This variation says we are showing no confidence in God’s ability to protect us if we resort to man-made things like vaccines. If God intends us to live, we’ll live, and if he intends us to die, we’ll die, according to people who say this.
Let me ask you – do you put on a seat belt when getting into a car? Do you stop and look both ways before crossing a busy road? Do you put on warm clothing before going outside in the middle of winter?
Of course we all do all those things, and observe many other cautionary and common sense things too, and it seems there is no difference between those prudent sensible actions and taking a vaccine to avoid becoming infected with a virus, and – equally importantly – to avoid infecting other people too.
Are Vaccines a Tool of the Devil?
We have seen some terribly “out-there” videos claiming via hard-to-follow reasoning that vaccines are a tool of the devil, and suggesting that if we take a vaccine we may be giving ourselves to the devil, making him our master, and turning our back on salvation.
It is not altogether fair to argue against those suggestions by saying “The Bible doesn’t tell us to avoid vaccines” because of course most medical processes were unknown back then, and the flipside of that is the claim “The Bible doesn’t authorize us to take vaccines”.
But that flipside claim is not valid. We don’t need the Bible to authorize our actions. The offer of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus also included freeing us from the former Old Testament laws. Our path to salvation is not via strictly observing all the Old Testament laws, but by accepting the personal sacrifice of Jesus. We don’t need the Bible to either specifically allow or forbid the taking of vaccines; and because the Bible is silent on this, both ways, we can fairly accept that vaccine use is not an important condition and element of our salvation.
Back to the devil-based fears. The chances are you have a friend – a Christian friend – who has been vaccinated already. Did he renounce his faith shortly afterwards? Has he (or she) changed mentally or morally? None of the people we know have shown any change in their faith or personality at all, other than for a positive improvement in their view of the future.
Are the Vaccines Made from Aborted Babies?
The same videos that suggest vaccines are a tool of the devil also refer to them as being made from aborted babies, in sometimes very graphic and unpleasant terms.
This is more a factual and scientific issue than a Christian issue, but we can understand how Christians would be concerned at a suggestion that babies had to be killed to create their vaccine.
Happily, there is no reality to these claims at all, and respected religious leaders dismiss such suggestions completely on both medical and faith grounds. Here’s an excellent detailed discussion on the matter by Dr Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC President proudly shared his getting vaccinated on Facebook. Franklin Graham also advocates being vaccinated.
The Bible Tells Us to Avoid Blood
There are a number of dietary restrictions in the Old Testament which of course no longer directly apply in the New Testament. There is also a passage in Acts 15 that tells of a discussion at the Jerusalem Council and a letter subsequently conveyed from the Council to the church at Antioch. This is often quoted briefly, verse 20 or 29, which talks about (Acts 15:28-29 AMP) :
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place on you any greater burden than these essentials:
29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from [consuming] blood, and from [eating the meat of] things that have been strangled, and from sexual impurity. If you keep yourselves from these things, you will do well. Farewell.”
This seems a clear-cut suggestion to avoid [consuming] blood as per the Jewish law. It has been used as a reason to refuse blood transfusions and other medical procedures too. But this passage needs to be understood in the context of the previous parts of chapter 15 – remember, any time anyone cites any Bible passage, you should always read what comes before and what follows after, to understand the context and full meaning of the passage.
In this case, when you place those two verses into context, you see that first Peter, then Barnabas and Paul, then thirdly James all spoke on the subject of salvation being via faith alone, and the Council was concerned with how to honor that wonderful freedom we have without upsetting/annoying strictly-law-observant Jews. It was decided, for practical and political reasons, to compromise and to suggest/recommend Christians avoid flaunting their freedoms in front of Jews, but rather be modest and discreet and avoid giving offense.
These four things cited seemed either to be inconsequential or else obvious things that no good Christian would wish to do anyway, while also being important to Orthodox Jews, and so it seemed a painless sacrifice to make. (As an aside, we’re uncomfortable with ever sacrificing our faith and principles to appease other non-Christian groups, but that’s a topic for another time!)
The letter from the Council is not a direct command from God or a direct teaching of Jesus, or even a direct statement of one of the Apostles. Quite the opposite. It is the outcome of a negotiated and awkward political compromise, moving away from the “salvation through faith alone” doctrine that leading figures in Christianity at the time were telling the Council was the sole and guiding principle for how to lead a good Christian life.
There also seems to be a huge difference between avoiding eating bloody meat from a beast and having a blood transfusion from a fellow human.
We don’t see this passage in Acts as speaking against vaccines or any other medical treatments.
Is Refusing a Vaccine Tantamount to Suicide or Murder?
Here’s an interesting thought in support of being vaccinated. Largely in the Old Testament there are admonishments against suicide, and it could be said that refusing some types of medical treatments is a form of suicide.
There is no difference between doing something that you know will kill you (taking poison, for example) and not doing something that you know will save you (moving out of a burning building, for example). Not taking a vaccine when you know there is a risk you’ll become infected with the virus, and a risk that after becoming infected, you might die, is just as much a conscious decision to not do something that might lead to your otherwise avoidable death as is a conscious decision to do something that would also lead to the same outcome.
Now let’s think that through to the next stage. What happens if we become infected, due to not being vaccinated, and then pass that infection on to someone else, who then dies from the infection. (Yes, we know that being vaccinated doesn’t eliminate your risk of still getting a mild infection and possibly being somewhat infectious, too, but it does reduce these risks greatly.) There is a direct link between our decision not to become vaccinated and the other person’s death, and with the chances being that it is a person we are close to, we’re not only causing their death – murdering them – but also failing to honor our family and care for our neighbors.
Does the Bible Actually Advocate for Vaccines?
In the New Testament, we are told to honor God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and to feed and care for our body, just as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:29).
Isn’t taking a vaccine caring for our body? Yes, of course it is, absolutely and definitely.
God loves us, and who doesn’t want the people we love to be as happy and healthy as is possible.
How could God not be anything other than pleased to see us using the skills and ingenuity he so generously granted us to develop a response to this virus and to reduce the harm it has been causing us all – not least of which being the harm in making it harder and dangerous for us to enjoy regular fellowship in church with other Christians.
So, from a Christian point of view, please rejoice in the development of vaccines, and if – for medical reasons – you feel being vaccinated is prudent and correct, please do so without any concerns that you are compromising on the principles of your Christian faith.
A Personal Note
When this blog was first started, back in mid 2018, I wrote about topics of interest and importance to me, and based on questions often encountered and issues/challenges present in the Christian world.
These days, I write much less often, and I dare to sometimes feel that I am now writing on topics important to God rather than important to me. I’ve felt a growing need and sense of mission to write on the topic of vaccines for a month or more.
I had a small personal challenge and asked for God’s help in resolving that challenge, and sensed that writing this article would be a fair quid pro quo. My personal challenge was resolved, so now I’m fulfilling my part of that bargain.
I do not claim any special insight, enlightenment, or authority at all. But I hope I’m both pleasing God and helping you in this article.
And now, for the truly last word. I noticed the Bible verse of the day when going to post this, and thought it a great thought to close on – 2 Corinthians 4:17 (ESV)
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison