A Law Ahead of its Time


The Bible was written a very long time ago with the Law of Moses being about 3500 years old. You would therefore imagine that a text this old would be riddled with scientific inaccuracies, but this is not the case. There are many laws give to the Israelites that were vastly ahead of their time scientifically speaking. 

One example of this is the law of hand washing described in Numbers 19 (particularly verses 11-13, however much of the chapter talks about this). The Israelites were required to wash their hands after touching a dead body. Furthermore they were considered 'unclean' for seven days after they had touched a dead body and had to ritually wash themselves in this time before they would be considered 'clean' again. Now to us today this seems like an obvious thing to do. Why would you not wash your hands if you had touched something like a dead body? However, we actually live in a very privileged time with regard to hand washing. It has not always been as common a practice as it is now. In fact it was not until 1847 that Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis brought the idea of hand washing into hospitals. He implemented the practice of hand washing, particularly after touching a dead body before giving an examination. At the time his idea was rejected by the wider medical community as no-one could explain why washing hands should help as germ theory had not been developed. However 3500 years previously the Law of Moses demonstrates a remarkable understanding of how diseases spread.

Another example of hygiene laws ahead of their time is found in Deuteronomy 23:12-13. This is a law given about how to deal with sewage when the Israelites were travelling in tents. The Law commands the Israelites to have a designated area outside of the camp to do their business. Furthermore it instructs them to take a digging implement, dig a hole, and then cover their refuse when they are finished. Now again, keeping human waste outside of the camp may seem fairly intuitive to us today. However, in this country we only need to think back to Victorian London to realise that good sewage systems are a relatively modern idea, and in other parts of the world there are big issues with people defecating in the streets. Again this 3500 year old law demonstrates an awareness of hygiene far beyond what was humanly possible at the time. 

It is not just in the law that we find these scientifically accurate statements. The Old Testament also refers to the water cycle and the way that the Earth "Hangs on nothing" (Job 26:7), two things that were not fully understood until hundreds of years after they were written.This level of scientific accuracy appears at the very start of the Bible. In Genesis chapter 3 Adam is told by God that when he dies he will "Return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you  shall return" (Gen 3:19).  The impressive scientific statement here is that were are made of the same stuff as everything else. There's not difference between the substances that make up organic and inorganic matter. However, throughout history it has been commonly thought that organic matter was fundamentally different to inorganic matter. This view began to be overturned in 1828 when Friedrich Wohler synthesised the organic substance urea (found in urine) from inorganic ammonium cyanate. After this discovery it began to be accepted that all matter is made from the same fundamental components. Yet thousands of years previously the Bible offhandedly comments on this.

The fact that there are these laws and scientifically accurate statements so far ahead of the level of knowledge available at the time is further evidence that the Bible is the inspired word of God.