Vaccination, the Divine Image, and the Creation Mandate

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

One aspect of God’s having created us in his image is that we are capable not only of knowing truths about the world but also truths about ourselves. We can know, for instance, that human testimony is only significantly reliable when there are multiple witnesses (see Deut. 19:16; 2 Cor. 13:1), that bearing false witness is an abomination (see Prov. 6:16-19), that a true witness gives honest evidence (see Prov. 12:17), and that “a truthful witness saves lives” (Prov. 14:25). We also know that only untrained, overly credulous people believe everything and that the prudent give thought to their steps (see Prov. 14:15). We have an obligation, in other words, to discover truths that should guide us regarding what we should believe (see Prov. 26:22-25; 1 John 4:1). The discovery of reliable methods for discovering medical truths is one step towards fulfilling that obligation, no matter whether the search for those methods is the result of conscious obedience to the creation mandate or not.

Mark Talbot, The Bible and COVID Vaccines

Mark Talbot argues that scientific discovery, the advancement of medicine, and the development and deployment of vaccinations flow naturally from ideas that are found in the early words of Genesis, particularly God’s command in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

As seen in the block quotation above, Talbot believes the human capacity for knowledge and for discovery of truth is grounded in what it means to be created in the divine image. Talbot believes medical advances, and the methods by which discoveries are made making those advances possible, are the result of common grace, evidenced by his claim that “conscience obedience to the creation mandate” matters not. He writes, “Virtually any human being, simply by being made in God’s image, may serve as one of God’s providential instruments to discover some feature of his creation that conveys the health and healing that, ultimately, comes only as a gift from him. The COVID vaccine is, I think, one of those gifts.”

Talbot’s article drives toward answering the question, “So should Christians take this vaccine? I think so.” The development of COVID vaccines and their effectiveness in mitigating the disease is a sign, for Talbot, of God working through human beings to alleviate suffering. Talbot draws a parallel to smallpox, noting that many of us who are alive today are likely here because of advances in medicine that prevented a very significant percentage of deaths. Talbot admits that the COVID vaccines, like the inoculation against smallpox, do pose a risk to those who receive them. But, nevertheless, Talbot argues that the positive benefit outweighs that risk.

This article does leave a couple of ethical questions unaddressed, including concern as to the kind of research methods used in the advancement of medical science are permissible and whether or not certain methodologies (such as experimentation on animals, human stem cells, and like matters) should or should not be verboten, especially in light of the fact that Talbot’s argument does, in part, appear to be utilitarian. Furthermore, by citing the example of Washington’s inoculation of the Continental Army against smallpox, Talbot appears to endorse vaccine mandates.

Our existence is ethically complex. I received the vaccine, and I am thankful to be living today, when the advancement of medicine has made so many good and wonderful things possible. What a time to be alive! But as a Christian , I continue to discern good from evil with regard to not only what we can achieve through medicine, but how we make those discoveries and advances. I lean towards emphasis on personal responsibility, freedom, and conscience rights, and so I do have some concerns about the public health policy that could be inferred from Talbot’s article; I think persuasion is better than coercion.

I doubt the majority of persons, even among Christians, who received a COVID vaccination gave more than a passing thought to the theological underpinnings and biblical justifications for the advancement of medicine and the grounds upon which we might choose to inject a foreign substance into the body in the hope we are protected from a contagion. But there you have it. It is possible, and necessary, to think about such questions biblically and theologically and to test whether or not such decisions are wise, good, and in keeping with righteousness.