Leviticus 13:47–59—How can the Bible say that leprosy infected clothing?

Problem: Leviticus 13 gives the laws concerning leprosy. In verses 47–59 there are laws concerning leprosy in garments. However, leprosy is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium and does not affect inanimate objects like garments. Was not the Bible wrong to talk about leprous garments?

Solution: It is simply a matter of the confusing of names. The disease which has been identified in modern times as leprosy, commonly known as Hansen’s Disease, is not the same type of infection that is described in the OT and is translated by the English word “leprosy.” The disease which is identified today as leprosy is caused by a bacterium and does not produce the kinds of symptoms which are described in various OT passages. The Hebrew term tsaraath, translated “leprosy,” is a more general term for any serious skin disease or sign of infection or defilement on the surface of inanimate objects. The defilement on garments, or walls as in Leviticus 14:33–57, was probably some type of fungus or mold which attacks these types of material. Garments found to be infected were burned (Lev. 13:52). Infected houses were cleansed. If the infection could not be eradicated, the houses were demolished and the ruins were taken outside the city (Lev. 14:45).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.