In Leviticus chapter 13 we read all the regulations with regards to how to determine if a skin condition is leprousy and how to deal with someone who is affected. I always thought that the condition of leprousy in the OT is a picture of sin. Therefore I don't understand why in verses (12-13) it is said that someone who is fully covered with leprosy, is considered clean. Can anyone shed some background on the reason why?

And if leprosy breaks out all over the skin, and the leprosy covers all the skin of the one who has the sore, from his head to his foot, wherever the priest looks, then the priest shall consider; and indeed if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean who has the sore. It has all turned white. He is clean. (NKJV)

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    I have heard a theory about this, that if leprosy is indicative of sin, then once a sinner realises that he is wholly sinful and no longer justifies himself, he is clean. But I have no support for that. Maybe there are references, somewhere to support the concept ? +1.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 6, 2019 at 15:45
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    +1 This is a very good question. Aug 7, 2019 at 11:33
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    When suffering from a certain liver condition, one is contagious before becoming jaundiced, rather than afterwards. Probably the same logic applies here.
    – Lucian
    Aug 8, 2019 at 0:10

8 Answers 8


I found an interesting article called "The Nature of the Leprosy of the Bible. From a Medical and Biblical Point of View". According to the author leprosy in the bible is not the same as modern leprosy or Hansens disease. The author brings a lot of evidence from the bible indicating that it is something else. On pages 165-6 he explores the illness of vitiligo as a viable candidate for biblical leprosy:

There is a disease known as "vitiligo," quite common in the tropics, which is characterized by bright white spots, the hairs of which lose their color and become white. The disease tends to get progressively worse, and may involve large areas of the body surface. Cases are on record of negroes affected with this disease turning entirely white. The affection is a harmless one and is only objectionable on account of the disfigurement that it occasions. While this description is fresh in our memory, let us refer to Levit. I3:I2: "Then the priest shall consider and behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean, that hath the plague: it is turned white: he is clean." This verse would be quite inexplicable if this disease were regarded as leprosy, for it partakes of the nature of a paradox that the spreading of a diseased area (granted that the disease be of the gravity of leprosy) until the entire body is involved should be interpreted as rendering one clean or free from disease. This verse could be readily explained, however, under the assumption that the disease was vitiligo: the turning white of the entire surface would cause the obliteration of all spots, as there would then be uniformity of color; vitiligo having no other symptoms, the patient would, to all intents and purposes, be well or clean.

I'm sure there are many other symbolic approaches to explain this paradox, but this has the advantage of coming from a medical point of view. Hope you find this useful.

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    This answer is absurd. We would have to assume that these great efforts to avoid transmission of a disease that's really a genetic disease is some nonsense rather than a generally well-reasoned law.
    – Joshua
    Aug 6, 2019 at 20:58
  • Actually, the idea that Hansen's is cured by being completely covered with the disease makes for awesome Protestant sermons but it has no basis in science. However, having a birth defect spoils the type of Christ so it did make people ceremonially unclean. +1
    – Ruminator
    Aug 8, 2019 at 11:02
  • How is this ‘disease’ vitiligo a mark of uncleanness if it’s non contagious? “Please do not let her be as one dead, whose flesh is half consumed when he comes out of his mother’s womb!”” ‭‭Numbers‬ ‭12:12‬ this hypothesis is counter to what the Bible claims leprosy actually is. Aug 9, 2019 at 4:13
  • @Autodidact where does the bible ever claim that it is contagious? The fact that he is quarantined can be explained as a preventative measure not to spread the impurity contracted by the leper. Num. 12:12 does pose a problem though I have to admit.
    – bach
    Aug 9, 2019 at 12:38
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    @Autodidact this is what you would like to think, but this is most probably not the way the biblical authors viewed it. The rationale behind the laws of purity were much more symbolical and had a deeper meaning and were not merely simple medical precautions. Anyone who thinks so is gravely mistaken. Milgrom wrote an excellent work on Leviticus and did a pretty good job demystifying most of its bizarre rituals and explain their symbolic meanings. You should take a look at it. I really learnt a tremendous deal from it.
    – bach
    Aug 9, 2019 at 15:23

I am trying to find the answer to this too. Logic would suggest that once the leprosy has covered the entire skin and turned white, the infectious agent has gone through all available cells and has died and the turning white is the dead or post leprosy cells. This would be similar to a cold sore - if it's still yellow and bubbling you're contagious, but once it all scabs over and dries up, the outbreak is over.


I think the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary offers probably the best explanation of this passage.

13:9-37. If the rising be white—This BRIGHT WHITE leprosy is the most malignant and inveterate of all the varieties the disease exhibits, and it was marked by the following distinctive signs: A glossy white and spreading scale, upon an elevated base, the elevation depressed in the middle, but without a change of color; the black hair on the patches participating in the whiteness, and the scaly patches themselves perpetually enlarging their boundary. Several of these characteristics, taken separately, belong to other blemishes of the skin as well; so that none of them was to be taken alone, and it was only when the whole of them concurred that the Jewish priest, in his capacity of physician, was to pronounce the disease a malignant leprosy. If it spread over the entire frame without producing any ulceration, it lost its contagious power by degrees; or, in other words, it ran through its course and exhausted itself. In that case, there being no longer any fear of further evil, either to the individual himself or to the community, the patient was declared clean by the priest, while the dry scales were yet upon him, and restored to society. If, on the contrary, the patches ulcerated and quick or fungous flesh sprang up in them, the purulent matter of which, if brought into contact with the skin of other persons, would be taken into the constitution by means of absorbent vessels, the priest was at once to pronounce it an inveterate leprosy. A temporary confinement was them declared to be totally unnecessary, and he was regarded as unclean for life [Dr. Good]. Other skin affections, which had a tendency to terminate in leprosy, though they were not decided symptoms when alone, were: "a boil" (Le 13:18-23); "a hot burning,"—that is, a fiery inflammation or carbuncle (Le 13:24-28); and "a dry scall" (Le 13:29-37), when the leprosy was distinguished by being deeper than the skin and the hair became thin and yellow.


I am looking into the leprosy in this part of the bible being about smallpox. Once a person is completely covered in smallpox from head to toe, they are moving to the healing stage and no longer contagious.

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Look This Post of Mine

The matter is How to understand the Holy Books. The question is: Is the Hermeneutics as a science, complete and perfect?. What is the difference between Philosopher, Philosopher of Religion and the Hermeneut?

Could the Hermeneut be a Dialectic?

Almost, all the chapter 13 of Leviticus is to be taken allegorically.

Leprosy is translated in Arabic versions of the Bible as: بَرَص which means "Vitiligo." It seems that "Leprosy" in KJV and the Like, has two or more opposite meanings. It may means a bad disease as a symbol of Sin, and in another circumstances, under other considerations it may mean "Vitiligo" as a symbol of being good. Just a point of view.

An Example for verses should be taken alligorically in OT, the following verses of Marriage and widowhood, in (DRB) Deuteronomy 25:5-10;

5 When brethren dwell together, and one of them dieth without children, the wife of the deceased shall not marry to another: but his brother shall take her, and raise up seed for his brother: 6And the first son he shall have of her he shall call by his name, that his name be not abolished out of Israel. 7But if he will not take his brother's wife, who by law belongeth to him, the woman shall go to the gate of the city, and call upon the ancients, and say: My husband's brother refuseth to raise up his brother's name in Israel: and will not take me to wife. 8And they shall cause him to be sent for forthwith, and shall ask him. If he answer: I will not take her to wife: 9The woman shall come to him before the ancients, and shall take off his shoe from his foot, and spit in his face, and say: So shall it be done to the man that will not build up his brother's house: 10And his name shall be called in Israel, the house of the unshod.

These verses are to be taken allegorically even if we don't take in consideration:

  • Leviticus 18:16.
  • Leviticus 20:21.

The woman to marry a Strange of her Died Husband is Evil. BUT to marry her Husband's Brother is more and more Evil.

I hope my point of view is clear. I hope you understand my words.


Why when the leprosy covers the entire body the leper is pronounced pure?

The Test for Leprosy--Leviticus 13:1-46

It can be seen that leprosy might begin with an eruption, a scab, a blotch, a boil, or a scar in one’s flesh from fire. When God gave the Mosaic Law to Israel it provided the priest with information enabling them to diagnose leprosy and to distinguish it from other less serious skin deceases.

Leviticus 13:1-2 NASB

1 "Then the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 “When a man has on the skin of his [a]body a swelling or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes [b]an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests."

It was accepted that leprosy could reach a stage in which it was no longer infectious, this happened when the diseased action spread all over the body, turning it white. Provided that no raw flesh appeared on him. This was evidence that the spread of the infection was over, and it posed no further danger to anyone. Leviticus 13:12-17

Leviticus 13:12-17 (NASB)

12 If the leprosy breaks out farther on the skin, and the leprosy covers all the skin of him who has the infection from his head even to his feet, [a]as far as the priest can see, 13 then the priest shall look, and behold, if the leprosy has covered all his [b]body, he shall pronounce clean him who has the infection; it has all turned white and he is clean. 14 But whenever raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean. 15 The priest shall look at the raw flesh, and he shall pronounce him unclean; the raw flesh is unclean, it is leprosy. 16 Or if the raw flesh turns again and is changed to white, then he shall come to the priest, 17 and the priest shall look at him, and behold, if the infection has turned to white, then the priest shall pronounce clean him who has the infection; he is clean.

Is vitiligo leprosy? (from Google)

These two conditions are entirely different from each other. Leprosy is an infection caused by a bacteria in which the patient develops light-colored patches with loss of sensation and loss of hair over these patches. Vitiligo, on the other hand, occurs because of the loss of melanin pigment from the skin.


Why when the leprosy covers the entire body the leper is pronounced pure?

This is similar to the paradox of the red heifer - the ashes purify the defiled, while they defile the pure. Unlike "Thou shall not murder", which humans can understand and probably would have put into law themselves, the laws of leprosy are divine statutes which defy human intuition.

Why does the priest have to determine purity? If there are clear signs, the leper himself could learn the laws and self-diagnose. The whole point is that this is a spiritual malady, connected to the sin of slander, and what matters is the priest's final word.


The Lord's instruction to the priests is to determine whether the disease is contagious.

The contagious symptoms that declared unclean are;

  1. Swelling, rash or a shiny sport on skin (Lev 13:2)
  2. Hairs in the sore on the skin turn white (Lev 13:3)
  3. Rash spreading (Lev 13:8)
  4. There is raw flesh in the swelling, implying chronic skin disease (Lev 13:11, 13:14-15)
  5. A boil more than skin deep and hairs in it turn white (Lev 13:20)
  6. A burn more than skin deep, and hairs in it turn white (Lev 13:25)
  7. A sore more than skin deep, and hairs is yellow and thin (Lev 13:30)
  8. Reddish-white sore on bald head (Lev 13:42-43)

Isolation required for further examination whether the disease is contagious;

  1. If the shiny spot on the skin does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white (Lev 13:4)
  2. A boil less than skin deep and no white hair in it (Lev 13:21)
  3. A burn less than skin deep and no white hair in it (Lev 13:26)
  4. A sore less than skin deep and no white hair in it (Lev 13:31)

The followings indicate no further risk of contagion

  1. the disease covers the whole body indicated no further development of the disease (Lev 12-13)
  2. A boil does not spread (Lev 13:23)
  3. A burn does not spread (Lev 13:28)
  4. A sore does not spread (Lev 13:34)

Appearance that are not contagious disease

  1. White spots on the skin that are dull white (Lev 13:38)
  2. Man lost his hair and bald (Lev 13:40)

Further precaution of contagious disease is to burn the articles the people wearing, as discussed in Lev 13:47-59.

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