What About Persons with Disabilities, What Does the Bible say?
Updated: Mar 2
"Is God Discriminatory?
Image: A man in a wheelchair with his back to the camera surrounded by children playing and adults supervising them. The people in the photograph are wearing masks. Image by Unsplash.
Recently as I contemplated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" came to mind as it gloriously celebrates God's power. The great 16th-century reformer Martin Luther believed God's power could help believers overcome great difficulties—even depression, a state in which he frequently found himself.
Another stalwart with a disability is the Hymn writer Franny Crosby, who became blind shortly after birth. She was a member of the Sixth Avenue Bible Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. She wrote many hymns with her minister Robert Lowry and is also a great example of grace and a practitioner of the command to elevate and call others to Christ.
She was one of the most prolific hymnists in history, writing more than 8,000 hymns and gospel songs, with more than 100 million copies printed[i]. How do we then read the passage in Leviticus 21 on excluding certain persons from ministering as we consider the millions of Christians who are daily living with a disability?
Why so harsh?
In searching for the relevance of the instructions of Moses given to Aaron to the status of worshippers with disabilities in this present age, and for the meaning of this passage as it relates to the salvation of all people as promised, let's look at the context of Leviticus 21:16-24.
For a year, at the foot of Sinai, the people of Israel were debriefed and primed for the 'promised land.' Laws and ceremonies were reintroduced. With short memories, they had forgotten the horrifying howling of the Egyptians, as they were anguished by the death of their firstborn by the plagues poured upon Egypt to accomplish God's rescue of His people.
The people were bored and no longer impressed with the magnificent crossing of the mighty Red Sea by the miraculous parting. The sight of their enemies decimated behind them was no big deal at this point. Holiness had long left the camp, but God, in His love and mercy, longed for a loving, saving relationship with His wayward children.
The Service of the Sanctuary
A Blood sacrifice of unblemished animals was required to reconnect God with man, a plan founded before the creation of the world and implemented after the fall into sin (Gen 3:15), a promise fulfilled in Jesus. Leviticus, written by Moses as a part of the Pentateuch (five books), with holiness mentioned 152 times, would be their guide to Holy living.
A system was in place to identify the promised Messiah. The sanctuary and its ceremonial sacrifices were to demonstrate the method of atonement. In this system, every Israelite was to take account of their sins and offer the appropriate sacrifice.
The High Priest was responsible for the cleansing or atonement of the people. He had charge over the other priests who officiated with him (Lev 8).
Instructions were given by God and relayed to Aaron, the High Priest (Lev 21:16-24). A set of rules or conditions as set forth barring certain priests from ministering in specific capacities. All priests, however, were to enjoy the same benefits.
'Whosoever' is the first word of the instruction given by God to Moses to deliver to Aaron in barring them from specific duties followed by a list of infirmities. 'Whosoever' is mentioned
183 times in 163 verses.
The instructions and their connection to Jesus
If atonement in the wilderness sanctuary was by blood, then its fulfillment must be the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. The 'whosever' explains itself in, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23).
In seeking proof, the Jesus was indeed the Messiah, John sent his disciples to ask of Jesus, "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?"
Jesus replied, "Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receives their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hears, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Mat 11:4,5).
Jesus, the Christ, identified Himself as the one of whom the sacrifices pointed, the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, declaring His mission of healing the very people mentioned in Leviticus 21: the blind, the lame, the disfigured, the deformed, persons with broken hand or foot, hunchbacks, dwarfs, those with a defective eye, skin sores, or damaged testicles.
Instruction to Aaron
To be in the presence of our Holy God, humanity, the church, must be made perfect; Jesus desires to "present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:27).
"Even the righteousness of God which is by the faith of Jesus Christ unto all (whosoever) and upon all (whosoever) them that believe: for there is no difference" (Rom 3:22). And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
Unlike the earthly High Priests, Christ who knew no sin offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, as imperfect beings, so that we may live the eternal life promised. "Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this, he did once, when he offered up himself" (Heb 7:27).
The ministry of Jesus
Echoes of Leviticus 21 can be found in the words of Jesus in the New Testament, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised" (Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18).
The Gospel was intended to continue the lessons at Sinai and the wilderness. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
With the call to holy living and a command to call others, the Gospels follow through with this same message of Christ's offered salvation to all. "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt 24:14).
"Go ye therefore, and teach all (whosoever) nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Mat 28:19, 20).
By some worldview, a God who gave such instructions, a God who never changes, is a God who seems unfair and not interested in those living with disabilities such as diagnoseable cognitive, hearing, vision, mobility, psychiatric, speech, or hidden impairments.
As sinful humans with all our blemishes, how are we to compare to the barred priest in Leviticus. Is there a parallel in our salvation since a blood sacrifice is unnecessary for us today because Christ did that already? The answer is a resounding YES!
All as belonging to the priesthood of believers.
We know that God desires all to be saved and that when we are in a saving relationship with Him, we will seek others for his kingdom. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people" (1 Pet 2:9).
"The work of gathering in the needy, the oppressed, the suffering, the destitute, is the very work which every church that believes the truth for this time should long since have been doing...feeding the hungry, bringing the poor that are cast out to our homes…In doing this work, we have a favorable opportunity to set forth Christ the Crucified One".[ii]
Ezekiel prophesies that "I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick" (Eze 34:16).
The ministry of Christ, in miracles, fulfilled the promise to those we would today be considered as living with a disability: in showing particular attention to this group, underscoring His inclusive call and outreach to all people as the preeminent High Priest.
Healing a man with sensory and motor damage to his arm (Mar 2:1-12)
Healing a man with a disfigured hand (Matt 12:9-13, Mar 3:1-6, and Luk 6:6-11)
Healing a woman with chronic internal bleeding (Matt 9:20–22, Mar 5:25–34, Luk 8:43–48)
Healing two men of blindness (Matt 9:27-31)
Healing a man mute with demon-possession (Matt 12:22)
Healing a 38-year-old man with Paraplegia (Joh 5:1-18)
Miraculous healing of many people in Gennesaret (Matt 14:34-36, Mar 6:53-56)
Healing a man with deafness and a speech impediment (Mar 7:31-37)
Healing a man blind from birth (Joh 9:1-12)
Healing a man with blindness (Mar 8:22-26)
Healing a man blind and non-verbal who was demon-possessed (Matt 12:22-32, Mark 3:20-30)
Healing a woman with an 18-year Back problem (Luke 13: 11)
Healing a man with abnormal swelling of his body (Luk 14:1-6)
Healing ten men with Leprosy (Luk 17:11-19)
Raising of Lazarus (Joh 11:38-53)
Healing Bartimaeus of blindness (Mar 10:46-52)
Restoring a severed ear (Luk 22:51-52)
Three of these miracles are referred to as the Messianic Miracles that would signify to the Jews that the Messiah had arrived.
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever with Defect or blemish
The effects of sin in the world has caused blemish on God's creation. "Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and… In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground" (Gen 3:18, 19).
"For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23)
"There is no one righteous, not even one" Romans 5:10
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever is blind
Nevertheless, Paul, a stalwart of the Gospel to the gentiles, was stuck blind.
"Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind." --- was the invitation to the great banquet.
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever is Lame
Mephibosheth, whose limbs were injured by a fall in childhood (2 Samuel 4:4; 9:3), was allowed to sit at the table of David.
How do we view the work of Lord Jesus in healing those identified as lame in Matthew 11:5; 15:30,31; 21:14; Luke 7:22; 14:13?
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever that hath a flat nose /disfigured
'Flat Nose' means "to cut off" or "to cut flat," or in other words– disfigured.
The SDA commentary on Isaiah 52:14 describes Christ's visage (His appearance) as "Upon returning from His conflict with Satan in the wilderness of temptation, and during the greater conflict with the powers of darkness of Gethsemane Jesus was so altered in appearance that even His friends scarcely knew Him."[iii]
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever hath anything superfluous/deformed
'Deformed' means: not having the usual or expected shape, primarily because of a problem in how something has developed or grown.
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever is Broken footed/broken foot or arm
No reference in the New Testament
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever is Crookbackt/hunchbacked
No reference in the New Testament. It occurs only in this text
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever is a Dwarf
The dictionary[iv] describes a dwarf as a person whose height does not exceed 4' 10" and is typically less than 4' 5".
This was the stature of Nicodemus, who appeared with embalming spice after the Crucifixion of Jesus to assist Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial (John 19:39–42). A most noble task performed by one accepted and honored by God.
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever is has a blemish in the eye/a defective eye
Jesus commissioned the blind man in John 9 who was sent to wash in the pool of Siloam to testify in the Temple.
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever has skin sores or scabs
Moses wrote that Job was scabbed and full of sores, yet earned the distinction of being a test of man's faithfulness to God (Job 2:7).
Naaman was healed of Leprosy and went on to praise God.
OT with NT Parallels: Whosoever is hath his stones broken /damaged testicles
Daniel, who wrote the book called by his name to give up a picture of the end time and a glimpse of the New Jerusalem, could be construed as having "damaged testicles" as he was made a eunuch in Pharaohs' kingdom.
Leviticus 21 is not a deterrent to a ministry whose time has come
Persons living with disabilities are not to be left out of evangelism. The signs of the times are undeniable. Christ, our High Priest, is about to step out of the Most Holy Place and gather His children. We have the privilege of being his coworkers.
The call for watchfulness in Matthew 24 was followed by the parable of the sleeping virgins, the unused talents. A call to take care of the least of these (little ones of God, as we all are) will be the final determinant of our place in the judgment, whether we will be considered sheep or a goat (Matthew 25).
God counsels us to "buy of Him eyesalve that we may see" (Rev 3:18), perhaps that all people are of equal value in the eyes of the Lord and that there is no more need for an earthly priest since He is now in that role, eternally.
Our instruction is clear
"Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Mat 24:42). We cannot ignore our neighbors over nineteen percent (19%) because we find it inconvenient. We cannot afford to be likened to watchmen who are blind. We cannot afford to be called ignorant, like dumb dogs, who cannot bark (Isa 56:10). We cannot afford to be found sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber (Matt 25:5) because we find it too taxing to learn inclusion strategies, universal design, or disabilities awareness. We cannot afford to be proud Laodiceans who selectively offer the hope of the Gospel.
Why the fuss and stigma of having a disability? Does it really matter in the long run? After all, we will all be changed, "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound…we shall be changed" (1Co 15:52). How beautiful heaven will be.
The gathering of 'Whosoever'
"I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, ... and unto the Lamb" (Rev 7:9, 10).
The trumpet is sounding: "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luk 21:28).
God is clearly on the side of all people, with and without disabilities. He is calling everyone to go home with Him. "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will let him take the water of life freely" (Rev 22:17).
[i] Wikipedia contributors. "Fanny Crosby." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 Nov. 2021. Web. 7 Nov. 2021. [ii]White, Elen G. "Medical Missionary Work." White, Ellen G. Testimony for the Church Volume 6. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948. 276. [iii] "SDA Commentary Vol 4, p289." Seventh-day Adventist. Bible Commentary, Volume 4. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1955. 289. [iv]Dictionary, Mirriam Webster. Dwarf. (n.d.). https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dwarf. n.d. 25 July 2018.