When we think of leprosy today, we think immediately of a disfiguring and infectious disease known as Hansen’s disease. But is this what the Bible is talking about?
The first time the word ‘leprosy’ is used is in Exodus 4:6 during Moses’ burning bush encounter and there are other references to it in a number of other texts written before the time of Jesus. The New Testament as we call it did not exist until after Jesus ascended to Heaven, so we must look to the Jewish understanding of leprosy for guidance in understanding what Jesus was dealing with.
Hebrew scholars, tell us that ‘leprosy’ is a very poor translation of the original text. So if it’s not Hansen’s disease, what was the problem? Well, what our translations call leprosy was really a skin disease that was an outward sign of a spiritual problem, often associated with pride.
This is an example of how our western trained minds reach conclusions based on assumptions. You see, while generally those who had a skin disease were kept outside the camp, they were not excluded when it came to the time of the three major pilgrimage feasts of Passover, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles where all males 20 and over were required to go to Jerusalem.