Click to Change

Return to Top

Return to Top

Printer Icon


Prior Section Next Section Back to Commentaries Author Bio & Contents
The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: According to the Bible, Why Do People Get Sick?

toggle collapse
Choose a new font size and typeface

According to the Bible, Why Do People Get Sick?

Divine Healing – Question 16

It is obvious that all people, sooner or later, get sick. Nobody doubts this. Why does it happen? Where does sickness come from? Does the Bible give us an answer to this question?

The Scripture does indeed give a number of direct and explicit answers as to why we humans become sick. They include the following.

Sickness Is Real

First, the Bible admits the reality of sickness. Indeed, from the very beginning of Scripture until the end, we find the reality of sickness, death and dying.

Contrary to some cultic groups, Scripture does not try to pretend that sickness does not exist. It is something that each of us will have to deal with in this fallen world in which we live. Thus, sickness is here to stay as long as we are in these bodies.

Sickness Is a Consequence of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve

In fact, the Bible tells us how sickness originated. We find that all illnesses and ailments have come about as a result of the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

This first couple was warned what would happen to them if they disobeyed God’s commandment. The Bible explains it in this manner.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die” (Genesis 3:15-17 TNIV).

Adam and Eve were told that the death process would begin if they disobeyed God. Sickness is part of that process. Unfortunately, they did break God’s command and ate of the forbidden fruit. Death and dying has been the experience of humanity ever since.

Paul wrote about this truth in his letter to the Romans. He explained it in this manner.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned (Romans 5:12 TNIV)

Death, therefore, is a consequence of this original sin of the first two human beings. Each of us is born spiritually separated from God because of our sin nature. When Adam sinned, his body began to die physically. This is true of for the rest of us. We are all in the dying process.

Our Bodies Are Presently Perishing

Consequently, the Scripture emphasizes that our present bodies are corruptible and, thus, subject to sickness and death. Paul wrote about the nature of our weak, perishable, natural bodies in his letter to the Corinthians. He put it this way.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:42-44 ESV).

Each of us possesses a body which is in the process of perishing. This is why we will all die physically. The writer to the Hebrews stated.

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27 NKJV).

Sickness and death awaits all of us.

There Are Physical Causes and There Are Spiritual Causes for Sickness

There is something else which we must appreciate. Scripture speaks of both physical and spiritual causes for sickness. Sometimes a person is ill for merely physical reasons while at other times there are spiritual factors that are the cause for the sickness.

Thus, when we examine the Bible we find that sickness can have a natural origin or a supernatural one. It is not always natural, neither is the origin of sickness always supernatural. It is essential that we understand this important truth.

Sickness Can Come as a Result of Violating God’s Laws

Indeed, there are times when people get sick simply because they violate the laws of nature which God has established. In other words, if we do not take care of our bodies, then we put ourselves at risk of becoming ill.

Indeed, we find that God gave the nation Israel certain laws to follow while they were traveling in the wilderness toward the Promised Land. These laws not only had ceremonially value, they were also given for the continued health of the people. If the people of Israel violated these laws, then illness could result. We will provide a few examples from Scripture.

Sewage Was to Be Kept Separate from the People

In a very practical matter, God commanded that the people of the nation of Israel keep their sewage outside of the place where they camped. We read about this precaution in the Book of Deuteronomy. It says the following.

Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. For the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you (Deuteronomy 23:12-14 TNIV).

This law not only kept the camp holy, it protected the people from the various diseases which could result by living amongst raw sewage.

In the same manner, we need to practice simple laws of sanitation where we live. If we do not, then sickness can result.

They Were to Wash with Water after Coming into Contact with Things Unclean

In the Book of Leviticus, we read what was to take place if a member of the nation came into contact with anything unclean. We read the following words of Moses.

Everything the man sits on when riding will be unclean, and whoever touches any of the things that were under him will be unclean till evening; whoever picks up those things must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. (Leviticus 15:9, 10 TNIV).

Whenever anyone touched something which was unclean that person had to wash themselves in the manner which God prescribed. This included using running water as well as some type of antiseptic. Again, the violation of these laws could cause someone to be physically ill as well as transferring diseases to others.

The same holds true today. If we come into contact with something which is diseased then we must also take the proper steps to safeguard ourselves from catching the disease.

The People Were Isolated When Contracting Certain Diseases

We will give one more example. God commanded those who had some type of contagious disease to be isolated from the people. The Book of Leviticus gives the following instructions.

When anyone has a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to the priest. The priest is to examine them, and if there is a white swelling in the skin that has turned the hair white and if there is raw flesh in the swelling, it is a chronic skin disease and the priest shall pronounce them unclean. He is not to isolate them, because they are already unclean (Leviticus 13:9-11 TNIV).

This is another practical step which God gave to keep the people of Israel from contracting some type of communicable disease. Those who were contagious were to be kept separate from the rest of the people.

In the same manner today, we keep those who have communicable diseases isolated from the population until they are no longer contagious.

To sum up, God gave these laws to His people for a purpose. If these laws were violated then sickness could be the result.

The same holds true for us today. If we do not use common sense in taking care of our bodies then sickness may be the result. There is nothing supernatural occurring if this takes place. Therefore, sickness does not always have a supernatural cause to it.

Sickness Itself Is Not Sin

We also want to emphasize that nowhere the Bible equates sickness with sin. This is illustrated in an episode in the life of Jesus. We read of the following episode.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:1-3 NIV).

Jesus’ disciples assumed that this man was blind because of some sin which he or his parents may have committed. However, in this case, Jesus taught otherwise. His blindness was actually going to result in the glory of God. Indeed, Jesus miraculously healed this man giving him sight for the first time in his life. Thus, it was not his sin that caused his blindness.

This brings up an important principle. Nobody in Scripture was ever judged because they were sick – they were judged because they were sinful.

Sickness Can Be the Result of Sin

While sickness is not sin, it is possible for sickness to be the result of sin. Paul emphasized that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. He wrote the following to the Corinthians.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthian 6:19, 20 NRSV).

Sometimes sickness results for a very simple reason – people do not take care of themselves. People do not heed God’s commands and overindulge in food, alcohol or work. They let their body run down to the place where it is susceptible to illness. Doing this is sinful and thus sickness can be the result of sin.

Sickness Can Result from Overwork in the Ministry

The Scripture teaches that sickness can actually result from overwork God’s ministry. In fact, Paul wrote that a fellow Christian worker, Epaphroditus, was sick to the place of death because of his work for the Lord. We read the following words to the Philippians.

For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while trying to do for me the things you couldn’t do because you were far away.(Philippians 2:30 NLT).

This man of God became sick because he was overworked in the Christian ministry. This is an important warning for those who are engaged in God’s work. Rest is an important aspect of work.

We find this also to be true in the Old Testament. The prophet Daniel became ill from the spiritual battle. The Bible says.

The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true. As for you, seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now. So I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days; then I arose and went about the king’s business. But I was dismayed by the vision and did not understand it (Daniel 8:26, 27 NRSV).

Daniel became ill due to the spiritual battle in which he was engaged. Believers today can also have this same experience if they do not take care of their bodies.

Jesus Needed Rest

We find that Jesus and His apostles needed rest from their labors in the ministry. Mark records the following account.

He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:31 NRSV).

If Jesus and His disciples needed to take some time off from their work in the ministry then we certainly ought to do the same.

Paul Wrote about the Need to Be Refreshed

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about how they refreshed the man Titus. He put it in this manner.

By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you (2 Corinthians 7:13 NIV).

Rest and refreshment is something which is necessary for all humans. There is a time to work and there is a time to rest. This is something which is crucial for each of us to understand.

Indeed, we find that God commanded the people of the nation Israel to rest one day a week. In the Book of Exodus we read.

It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? See, the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day” So the people rested on the seventh day (Exodus 16:27-30 NASB).

While this command is not binding for modern day Christians, the concept behind it certainly is valid. We need to rest from our work.

Sickness Can Result from the Lack of Exercise as Well as Rest

This brings us to our next reason as to why people become sick; it is often because there is not the correct amount of exercise as well as rest.

As we study the Old Testament Scripture, we find that the Lord provided the means where the people would get sufficient exercise as well as sufficient rest. During the Old Testament period many of those from the nation of Israel practiced farming. Working a farm would obviously be physically strenuous. In other words, these people would get plenty of physical exercise. Add to this that each male had to go to Jerusalem three times a year to observe the various feasts. This type of exercise would also aid with the overall health of the people.

While the Lord prescribed such exercise He also prescribed rest. Indeed, one of out every seven days, the Sabbath day, was a day of rest. One year out of every seven was a time for the land to rest. When the fiftieth year was about to come around, the people were to commanded to rest for both the forty-ninth as well as the fiftieth year.

When we add all of this up, including the time it took for the males to walk to Jerusalem for the feasts and back, we find some interesting facts. The people rested from their work one day out of seven, one week out of seven, one month out of seven and one year out of seven. While physical labor was an essential part of their lives so was rest. Thus, the Bible allows for exercise as well as for needed rest. If we do not exercise our bodies, or give them rest, then we will subject ourselves to sickness.

Sickness Can Be Judgment from God

The Bible gives instances where God sent sickness to judge people. Certain members of the Corinthian church were judged for taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Paul explained what happened to them.

That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died (1 Corinthians 11:30 NLT).

Therefore, it is possible that sickness can be a judgment of God.

The Nation of Israel Was Divinely Judged by God

This was also true in Old Testament times. God warned the nation Israel that they would be judged with sickness if they were not obedient to Him. We read these words of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy.

The LORD will send upon you disaster, panic, and frustration in everything you attempt to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The LORD will make the pestilence cling to you until it has consumed you off the land that you are entering to possess. The LORD will afflict you with consumption, fever, inflammation, with fiery heat and drought, and with blight and mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish (Deuteronomy 28:20-22 NRSV).

These disasters which the people were to suffer would be sent by the Lord Himself. Indeed, there would be consequences for disobedience.

Moses further explained what would take place.

The LORD will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured... The LORD will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head (Deuteronomy 28:27, 35 NIV).

Again, they were warned that the Lord would judge them through these diseases.

These warnings were again restated. The Bible says.

He will bring back upon you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were in dread, and they shall cling to you. Every other malady and affliction, even though not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will inflict on you until you are destroyed (Deuteronomy 28:60, 61 NRSV).

The nation of Israel was certainly not ignorant of these God-given warnings. If they sinned against the Lord, then sickness could be the result. This was always an option which the Lord could exercise.

The Nation Is Judged

The Bible records that God actually sent a plague to the people of Israel as they were on their way to the Promised Land. The Bible says.

But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague (Numbers 11:33 NIV). From this episode, they certainly realized the warnings from God were real.

Obedience to the Lord Would Spare Them from the Plagues

God promised Israel that He would not send the same plagues to them as He did to the Egyptians if they obeyed Him.

He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26 NIV).

The nation would be spared if they obeyed the Lord. On the other hand, they would be judged if they disobeyed. It was their choice.

There Were Also Ailments Sent to Individuals

We find, at times, that the Lord judged certain individuals by means of various ailments. We can list a few examples.

Miriam Was Judged with Leprosy

Miriam, the sister of Moses was struck with leprosy for her disobedience to the Lord. We read the following account in Exodus.

So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper (Numbers 12:9, 10 NKJV).

This episode shows us that God, at times, will judge His own people with sickness.

The Servant of Elisha Was Struck with Leprosy for Disobedience

In another episode, Gehazi, the servant of the prophet Elisha, was struck down with leprosy for his disobedience to the command of the prophet as well as lying to him. Elisha said his judgment would be follows.

Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants forever. So he left his presence leprous, as white as snow (2 Kings 5:27 NRSV).

Again, we find that leprosy was used as a tool of judgment.

Herod Agrippa

The Lord struck down the evil king Herod Agrippa for not giving glory to the Lord. The Book of Acts records what happened in this manner.

Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died (Acts 12:23 NKJV).

This judgment for this godless king was death. This was God’s righteous judgment for his sin.

Therefore, we find that the Lord, at times, uses sickness, disease and death as a means of judgment.

Sickness Can Have Positive Benefits

We should not assume that sickness is always negative. There can be positive benefits derived from sickness. The psalmist wrote.

I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word (Psalm 119:67 NLT).

The discipline of the Lord, through sickness, can cause us to change our habits and thus follow the Lord more closely.

The psalmist also wrote about the benefits of suffering. He put it this way.

It was good for me to suffer, so that I might learn your statutes (Psalm 119:71 NET).

There can be actual benefits from suffering. This being the case, we should not always complain when we suffer. Instead, we should look for something positive to come out of it.

Sickness Can Have a Satanic Origin

There are instances where sickness can originate with the devil. We find this from a statement from Jesus when He healed an infirmed woman.

And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:11-16 RSV).

According to Jesus Satan had bound this woman for eighteen years. When He healed her, the Lord released her from Satan’s grip. Therefore it is possible that some sicknesses may be satanic in origin.

In sum, there are a number of reasons as to why people get sick. Therefore, we cannot assume that each time a person is sick there is only one cause for their sickness. Indeed, there are many possibilities as to why they are ill.

Summary – Question 16
According to the Bible, Why Do People Get Sick?

The Bible is the ultimate authority on all matters of belief and practice. Indeed, there is no higher authority. Whatever it says on any topic is the final word on the matter. This being the case, we need to know what it has to say about the questions as to why people get sick. What does it have to tell us about this very important subject?

First, it admits that sickness is a reality. Indeed, there is no denying its existence. Sickness is real and it will continue to be real as long as we are in these bodies. Scripture consistently teaches this from beginning to end.

The Bible also tells us where sickness originated. It came from the original sin of the first couple, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden. Sickness, dying, and death were the results of their sin. They were warned that this would take place.

We also discover that sickness may have either natural or supernatural causes. Natural causes for sickness include not obeying the laws which God has given concerning health. There are also times when God sent sickness, disease and death as a divine judgment.

Consequently we should not assume that the reasons for our sicknesses are in every case supernatural or in every instance natural. It may be one or the other.

However, the Bible does not say that sickness is sin. Sickness, however, can be the result of sin yet sickness itself is not sin. Indeed, no one was ever told to ask for forgiveness for being sick. We do not confess our illnesses!

Scripture also says that sickness can result from overwork. This is why the Lord set aside one day of rest each week for the people of Israel. In other words, they were not to be constantly working.

In fact, as we look at the Old Testament, we find that the Lord provided the means for physical exercise for His people as well as the much needed rest from their physical activities. Among other things, these regulations which He instituted would be an aid for the overall health of the people. Indeed, exercise and rest are both essential for good health.

There is also the possibility that people can become sick through overwork in the Christian ministry. This is another reason why rest is necessary.

The Bible does say that sickness can have some positive benefits. Indeed, it makes us realize our need for total reliance on the Lord. Consequently, we should not always look upon illness and infirmity as something which is negative. Finally, there is the possibility that some illnesses can have a satanic origin. This is something else which we must be aware of. However, this is only one of many possible origins for sickness and infirmity.

This briefly sums up what the Bible says about where sickness originated and why human beings may become sick. It is important that we have the biblical perspective on the matter. This will allow us better deal with the subject of sickness and disease whenever they occur.

What about Verses That Seem to Promise Healing? ← Prior Section
Should a Person Who Is Sick Seek Supernatural Healing? Next Section →
BLB Searches
Search the Bible

Advanced Options

Other Searches

Multi-Verse Retrieval

Daily Devotionals

Blue Letter Bible offers several daily devotional readings in order to help you refocus on Christ and the Gospel of His peace and righteousness.

Daily Bible Reading Plans

Recognizing the value of consistent reflection upon the Word of God in order to refocus one's mind and heart upon Christ and His Gospel of peace, we provide several reading plans designed to cover the entire Bible in a year.

One-Year Plans

Two-Year Plan


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.