Updated: Aug 18, 2021
Should I Take the Covid-19 Vaccine?
How should Christians approach the question?
A note up front: This will be a long post, so you may want to read it in pieces. My goal is to provide a word for our church, and others, that will help us to safely navigate the rip-current that is so quickly sweeping many away. I do not presume to offer the only word, nor the final word...only, what I hope is, a helpful, biblical word.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and do not seek to offer medical advice.
In many ways, these are unprecedented days. While our country has faced severe plagues and illnesses throughout its history—some even necessitating a vaccine (polio, smallpox, measles, etc.)—we have never faced a situation where the government has tried to strong-arm the average citizen into taking a vaccine like we are right now. More than that, the issue of the vaccine has been absorbed into the nation's idea of morality with many now thinking it is immoral not to take the vaccine.
It can sometimes feel like we’re just listening to that static white noise on the radio, hoping for something clear to come through...
As of now, we have seen several extraordinary measures taken by the government concerning the vaccine…
In the lead up to the 2020 Presidential election, some of the candidates were very critical of the vaccine for the sole reason that President Trump was receiving credit for its development. In a Vice- Presidential debate, one candidate said that if the vaccine rolled out under Trump she would not take it. Since then, it's worth noting that those same candidates have utterly changed their tune, even taking credit for the vaccine’s development and deployment.
-In my own state, North Carolina, the Government has crossed a number of ethical bounds concerning the vaccine.
In June of 2021, a lottery was announced into which all vaccinated North Carolinians would be entered for a chance of 1 of 4 one million dollar prizes. The lottery is an attempt to incentivize residents to take the vaccine by attaching a chance at a massive cash prize. The ethics of such an incentive are questionable at best, predatory at worst.
On the NC FAQ sheet about the lottery, under the section reading, “How is the State funding the Promotion?” The provided answers reads, “The Prizes are wholly funded by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund.” But this seems to be a political move designed to cover over or misrepresent where that funding is coming from. In reality, the “Coronavirus Relief Fund” states that it is, “$350 billion in emergency funding for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to respond to the COVID-19 emergency and bring back jobs.” To apply $4 million of such funding to a lottery does not naturally or easily fit into the stated purpose of “emergency relief and jobs.”
Additionally, the North Carolina government recently announced that the State would now pay each newly vaccinated individual $100 for taking the shot, and $25 if you drive someone to get the shot.
Most concerningly, it was recently announced that NC State Employees (with some exceptions) would be required to take the Covid-19 vaccine or submit themselves to weekly testing. Private businesses and corporations have also been urged to take the same action. Some institutions, such as Duke Hospitals, UNC Hospitals, and REX Hospitals have done just that, mandating the vaccine for all employees.
But North Carolina is not the only State handing down such extensive measures.
New York City announced that beginning August 16, 2021, it will require proof of vaccination to enjoy things like “restaurants, working out at a gym, and attending a movie or play.” Such a mandate is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
California is requiring vaccination proof or weekly testing for its State teachers.
It’s worth noting that the the government’s all-out push to convince people to vaccinate smacks of ugly irony given their equally all-out defense of abortion on the exact opposite grounds.
-To complicate all of this, many who have already received the full dose of the Covid vaccine are still getting infected. But, it does appear the vaccine is curbing the effects of the virus in those vaccinated.
What's the point of talking about all this?
The point is this: All of this creates an overwhelming, powerful cultural current that leaves the average person feeling overwhelmed, tossed to and fro, and sucked out to sea where we can’t swim. We are left wandering,
Where is something secure to grab onto!?
Who can be trusted?
What should I do?
-The question for Christians is not primarily political, but theological...
How should we think about the Vaccine, and should we take it?
The temptation is to rush in, spitting out whatever we feel most strongly concerning the issue of vaccines. All of us have feelings, one way or the other, about this vaccine. And that is normal. But the Bible says something about our emotions…
Jeremiah 17:9 - “The heart (the emotions) is desperately sick, who can understand it?”
Proverbs 14:17 - “A man of quick temper acts foolishly…”
James 4:1 - “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Is it not this, your passions (emotions; pleasures) are at war within you?”
Jude 16 - Those who reject Christ’s authority are, “...grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires.”
-The Bible is clear about our emotions...they are often misleading and easily influenced by all sorts of things. Emotions are good, God-given gifts. But, our emotions are also broken by sin...and while they are quick to offer the first word in any situation, they ought not offer the final word.
I’ve talked with some Christian friends who think everyone, without question, is obligated to take the vaccine. I’ve talked with others who say they are outright opposed to the vaccine for one reason or another (some are nervous about the timeframe of its production, some about the unknown long-term effects, etc.). And still, I’ve talked with others who are not opposed to the vaccine, but are opposed to being told they must do something. Emotions are high!
-So, when it comes to an issue like the Covid-19 vaccine and the swirling atmosphere of our modern culture, how does a Christian wade through the confusion of emotion, opinion, and culture in order to arrive at truth and wisdom? How does a Christian work through the situation and come to a biblical answer to the question, “Should I take the Covid-19 vaccine?”
The Bible offers us wonderful guidance on how we can work through ethical questions, like this one, without being at the mercy of our emotions.
At its most fundamental level, the question about the vaccine is a moral question.
Should I take it?
Is it wrong not to take it?
Is taking it the right thing to do?
What are the consequences for taking it?
What are the consequences for rejecting it?
These are all moral questions revealing that the discussion of the vaccine is largely located in the realm of ethics.
-Three Aspects of Decision-Making-
The Bible presents us with a three-fold arena in which to make our decisions...decisions about vaccines, and decisions about everything else in life.
1 - What has God said in His Word? (What’s the norm?)
2 - What is the specific situation with which I am faced? (How is this norm working itself out?”)
3 - How am I feeling? (Am I responding rightly or wrongly based on the first two?)
-We can visualize how this works like this…
-The arrow to the right represents how we move through this paradigm...
God’s Word is always where we begin, and His Word is always the most dominant influence.
Next, we assess the situation with which we are faced.
Finally, we let the Word of God make sense of the situation and then bring our feelings in to be evaluated.
Then, having worked through it biblically and thoughtfully, we make our decision.
-In his book, Christian Ethics, Wayne Grudem defines ethics this way, “...any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us about which acts, attitudes, and personal character traits receive God’s approval, and which do not?” (pg. 37).
So, the question before us is, “Should Christians take the Covid-19 vaccine?”
-Working through the Process-
1 - What does the Word of God say about things like Vaccines?
-First, we must acknowledge that nowhere does Scripture utilize the word, “vaccine.” It is a modern word meaning, “a preparation that is administered (as by injection) to stimulate the body's immune response against a specific infectious agent or disease…”
-But, the fact that the word itself does not show up in Scripture does not mean Scripture does not speak to it. This invites us into the process of asking, “How does the Bible speak to this?” (This process is called theology).
Let’s start by considering what God says about His creation of the world.
Genesis 1:1 - “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 1:27 - “So God created man in His Own image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.”
Genesis 1:28 - “And God said to them (mankind), “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”
-A few things to note from these verses:
First, God created all things. Only He existed before creation, and all that exists now finds its origin in Him.
Second, God created mankind and gave them a job. Be fruitful, multiply, subdue the earth. The word “subdue” carries the idea of “one who governs” or “one who oversees and stewards.” God’s creation mandate included the moral responsibility given to humans to take care of the earth by using it to its fullest capacity. “Human life...bears the responsibility under God and is held accountable for the world God has created for humanity to govern, for ‘the earth He has given to man.’ (Ps. 115:16).” (Ken Matthews, New American Commentary, Genesis 1-11:26, Broadman and Holman, 1996, pg. 175).
Howard Vos notes, “As a consequence of the divine image, man was to exercise dominion [control] over all creatures…[Man’s] commission to subdue the earth called forth all his powers of wisdom and energy. Natural obstacles had to be overcome. Mineral wealth had to be discovered and processed.” (Howard Vos, Genesis, Everyman’s Bible Commentary, 1982, pg. 22).
-The point is this: Unlike any other part of creation, God created mankind as special, and that is seen in that only mankind bears the image and likeness of God. And a part of this likeness to God meant exercising control as God does. Not in the same way, to be sure. But Adam and Eve were to manage, cultivate, explore, subdue, create, and innovate using all the things that God has placed within creation.
Out of this subduing we have seen things arise such as farming, housing, clothing, industry, technology, medicine, water, electricity, and vaccines. To be sure, the sinfulness of man leads him to pervert the good things of God’s creation and use them in ways they ought not be used, but this does not take away from the truly good things that have come from man’s management and innovation.
Vaccines, on the whole, are good fruits of man’s exercising his role to subdue the earth. They are advances in medical technology that enhance the life of mankind as a whole. Quoting again from Grudem, “The diseases that are [currently] preventable by a simple series of vaccinations (chicken pox, diphtheria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Hib, HPV, influenza, measles, meningococcal disease, mumps, pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella, shingles, tetanus, and whooping cough) are serious, and sometimes very debilitating, and even potentially fatal diseases that modern medicine has been able to almost entirely eradicate.” (pg. 663).
-So, the first question of the process was, “what does God’s Word say?” The answer applied to vaccines is that they are a generally good thing, a fruit of man’s subduing the earth. Vaccines are part of God’s common grace upon the whole world (Mt. 5:45).
So, the norm is, it is a generally good thing for us to take vaccines when they are available. This is not to say that every vaccine is entirely safe, and 100% effective all the time. But, evaluated on the whole, vaccines are very safe, very effective, and the benefits far, far outweigh the dangers.
2 - What is the current situation?
As we noted in the first section, there is just a bunch of noise and confusion swirling and it can seem hard to know what’s going on, who is reporting the facts and who is reporting an agenda, how dangerous is this thing? Etc.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused our world to stop dead in its tracks, adjust our normal patterns of living in major ways, instilled fear and anxiety in almost all of us, and more.
China lied about the situation from the beginning; we weren’t sure what to think about it as it was unfolding; the WHO was compromised by unethical ties; and the CDC has been unreliable in both its suggestions and its number tracking. The average citizen is left wondering where to run and who to trust?
And into that chaotic reality comes the introduction of a new vaccine which, because of the pressing nature of the Covid crisis, was developed and deployed at, to use former President Trump’s term, “warp speed.”
-After 10, or so, months of development, the Vaccine is rolled out in mass production and the doses begin being administered. 3 major companies are doing most of the work (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson). The federal government is footing the bill. You just have to show up and get your dose(s).
With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, 2 doses are needed and the ethics of these vaccines are clear (meaning, their research and development did not involve unethical measures).
The J & J vaccine did seem to involve some unethical measure (Fetal tissue cell destruction).
The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission put out some helpful work on this issue, in particular.
-As of right now, 29.4% of the world’s population has received at least 1 dose of the vaccine, and 15% is considered fully vaccinated. That equates to 4.32 billion doses in total, with 42.1 million being given daily.
-Ever since the vaccine rolled out, the government, at various levels, has been hailing it as our savior from the virus. They have held it up as our way of “getting back to normal,” of “getting rid of the mask,” and “our only hope to eradicate the disease.”
To summarize, the government is putting too much emphasis on the help and hope the vaccine can offer.
People who are fully vaccinated still contract the virus — which is really no contradiction given the actual science of vaccines. But, it is frustrating to many people because the government has portrayed it as being almost 110% effective in preventing the virus.
But to complicate things, as we noted earlier, the vaccine (as well as other issues like masks, social distancing, and quarantine) has been added to the list of moral behavior.
It was said for some time that the only way to demonstrate your care for your fellow man was to “mask up.”
And now, you have government officials attempting to mandate the vaccine for those under its direct oversight (Federal and State employees).
Mayor Bill DeBlasio of NYC is giving a “No Entry” warning to unvaccinated people, requiring proof of vaccination to enter one of the world’s most popular and influential cities.
Companies are also beginning to mandate vaccination for employees on penalty of joblessness.
-The Current is Getting Stronger-
What a situation for Christians to find themselves in! Many are left wondering: Is the vaccine safe? Should I take it? Do I have a valid religious exemption? What should I do?
Here we move to the third part…
3 - How do I feel? How am I responding?
For almost everyone involved, the whole situation is scary and unnerving. It is a naked reminder of just how not in control we really are.
But how should Christians be responding and feeling?
First, how am I feeling about the Word of God? Am I listening?
God tells us in His Word that He created all things and He oversees all things.
The Bible tells that God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Rom. 8:28).
The Bible tells us that we don’t really see and understand everything clearly right now (1 Cor. 13:12), but we one day will.
The Bible tells us that, because of sin, our bodies get old, get sick, break down, suffer in various ways, and ultimately die (2 Cor. 4-5).
The Bible tells us that before we were ever conceived in our mother’s womb, God already knew us and had already appointed both the day we would be born and the day we would die (Psalm 139:16).
The Bible tells that God knows the most intimate of details about our physical bodies, like the number of hairs on our body (Mt. 10:30).
-The Mark of the Beast!-
-Some have, and will be tempted to view the vaccine as the “mark of the beast” (Rev. 13:16-17).
John writes in Revelation, “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”
There is a temptation to read this and make some direct correlations...John says that those not bearing the mark will be excluded from the marketplace to buy and sell. And, we are certainly seeing some indications that unless you present a vaccine card, you will be excluded from places of business. But, I think there is good reason to say the vaccine is not what John sees in Rev. 13…
-First, John says in vs. 18 that these things, “require wisdom.” And, with Revelation, what John is seeing is prophetic imagery. It requires some humility.
Second, the mark of the beast in Revelation, listening to all of its mentions, points to something that sets a person at odds with God by worshipping a false god/teacher.
Third, we have already established that there is solid grounding for viewing vaccines as a gift of the common grace of God. They come through the innovation of mankind as he studies and explores the good world God has created.
Fourth, we don’t treat other vaccines and medications like this.
Fifth, there is a consensus among modern Christians and Christian leaders alike that the vaccine is a generally good thing, and taking it does not violate any express command of God.
-For these reasons, I think it best to say: The vaccine is not the mark of the beast.
-These Scriptures combine to give us not a small picture of God and His control, but an utterly complete picture of God’s total control of His creation.
So, step one, Christian: Are your feelings about Covid generally lining up with what the Bible tells us about God’s control over the earth...including Covid?
“As Dr. R.C. Sproul has said, “There is no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.” If He cannot control the tiniest bits of the universe, then we cannot trust Him to keep His word. The Lord vowed to bring Abraham’s sons out of Egypt (Gen. 15:12–16), but if Joseph was not the object of his father’s favoritism, his brothers would not have envied him. If they had not envied him, they would not have sold him to the Ishmaelites, Israel would not have gone into Egypt, and God could not have kept His promise to the patriarch (37–50).”
-Second, how do I feel about the vaccine? Is it lining up with Scripture?
We must recognize that generally, vaccines are gifts from God that come through the innovation and subduing of mankind as he manages and stewards the earth. The Covid-19 vaccine, from what we know, must be viewed in the same way.
Are Christians required to take vaccines? The answer to this is No. There is nothing biblically that would mandate that we take any or all vaccines. Vaccination is not an issue of sin or holiness. Vaccination is not a gospel issue.
Should Christians take the vaccine? On the whole, Yes, because vaccines are a generally good fruit of God’s mandate to subdue, cultivate, and manage His earth. But, as we noted, it is not a sin to not take a vaccine. Which means that it is ultimately an issue of conscience and personal conviction.
-What does My Conscience Tell Me?
Ultimately, the answer to the question, “Should I take the covid-19 vaccine?” is an answer of a well-informed conscience.
In Romans 14:20-23, Paul speaks of the inner ministry of the conscience, which is not to be violated.
Some Christians may feel incredibly strongly about taking the vaccine, and that others should as well. And that is fine. But others may have apprehensions, aversions, or outright opposition on some personal grounds. And that, too, is fine if the objection is biblical and not given to a conspiracy theory (which the Bible strictly condemns (Isa. 8). Christians ought to also be careful not to abuse Scripture in trying to find a way out of the vaccine should it be mandated. Religious exemptions are few, and very specific, and most of us do not rigidly follow them.
-We do need to see that the Government has no place in mandating a vaccine. That is an express violation of their role and the authority that God has entrusted to them (Rom. 13).
The government can and should work to develop solutions to diseases, like the Covid Vaccine. The government is well within its rights to strongly encourage people to receive it. But, the point at which a government or business mandates that an individual take something into their body, regardless of their own will or feelings, that is a gross overstep.
-Life in the In-Between
-The problem is that we do not yet live in heaven. In heaven, life and government will be perfect. But, for now, we live in a fallen world broken by sin. And so, Christians, we are often placed in circumstances where less than ideal choices must be made.
Consider Paul’s words from Titus 2:11-13
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…”
We live in the time between Christ’s appearing and the gospel being made known...and the time when Jesus will return and bring all things to a conclusion. Heaven is on the way, but not yet here...
-Perhaps you are facing a vaccine mandate. You must work through it biblically. It is not wrong or sinful to take it in the eyes of God. So, if you do not want to take it, you must make a decision of wisdom and value. Will it cost you something to not take it? A job? Is it worth more to you to keep your job or to avoid taking the vaccine? I think there is some wisdom in keeping your job, but that is ultimately up to you.
-Are you a strong supporter of the vaccine? That is good. Just make sure you are not violating Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 by violating another’s conscience if they feel differently.
-So, Should I take It?
In the end, Christian, we are on the way to heaven. God has created and numbered our days, even before we existed in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). That vaccine will behave in our bodies only how God allows it to behave. We can have confidence in that.
So, make your choice. Make your choice with biblical wisdom, prayer, and heavenly confidence.
-A Final Personal Note-
-I have taken the vaccine (the two-dose Moderna shot). I did so not because I felt especially vulnerable to the virus (I’m fairly young, in good health, and stay active). But, I view vaccines as one of God’s common graces upon the earth. I also took the vaccine as a way of helping others work through the issue. Finally, I took the vaccine in hopes that it might help us get a handle on the pandemic as a whole as we seek to learn life in a Covid world.