Disability as Punishment for Sin and Disability Rights

Salvete, omnes!

In both the Old and the New Testaments, disability seems very often (though, of course, not always) to be connected with God’s punishment for sin.

In Leviticus, we are told that both a guilt and a sin offering is to be offered by the one cleansed of leprosy.

When Jesus heals the paralytic let down to Him, He first states that that man’s sins are forgiven and only then tells him to get up and walk.

The Pharisees, indicating their belief that sin of some kind (either of parents or of self) caused a man to be born blind from birth, ask Jesus who sinned.

When Jesus in the Gospel of John heals a crippled man who has been trying to get into a pool disturbed often by a healing angle, our Savior says, after healing the man, that he should no longer sin, lest something worse happen to him.

All ofthese cases could and, indeed, have been argued to be instances to prove that disability, at least in some, perhaps in many, cases is God’s punishment for sin of some kind.

So, then, when are we to tell when disability is or is not as a result of sin? When are we to attribute disability to merely natural causes and when to either direct intervention of God or providential intervention (say, through genetics)?

How often is disability as a result of sin? Is it only very rarely, sometimes, very often? If Scripture is any indication, it appears that that such was very frequent.

What, then, of disability rights? After all, the movement is predicated on the idea that, since disabled people have been disabled by no fault of theirs or of anyone else’s, they deserve the same rights as anyone else. If the sin of someone, whether tof the individual or someone else, is responsible for disability, at least in those cases, should not the persons afflicted not be subject to the notion of disability rights or even of the help afforded by things connected with the movement?

And, if disabi8lity is caused often because of sin, for what sin(s) is it caused? This seems very much undetermined, though I have read commentaries that state that early Jewish scholars assigned the specific affiction of leprosy to very particular sins. However, I do not know how common such assignation was. Even so, today, certainly, there seems to be no clear-cut assignation of this disability with that sin and, even so, it appears that, even if we do this, not all people who commit Sin A are either directly or indirectly impacted by Disability B. If this is the case, what would be the reason, at least today, for God disabling someone if the person disabled or others really have no idea eiter for what they are being punished or if they are even being punished at all. Might we, then, not argue that, at least today, disability is no longer used as a form of punishemtn, so, then, the disability rights movement could always be applied to all people with disabilities?

What is the Church’s teaching on all this? As I understand it, there has yet (amazingly!) to be a coherent “theology of disability”, but at least what are the teachings that do exist on these matters? Also, what are you guys’ understanding/opinions on all this? Your help on these matters will be much appreciated as I am a disabled person myself who is very much involved in the disability rights movement and am a bit distressed by the notions I have just described, both for myself and for others.


This is where you err.

All people are of equal dignity. Attributes are irrelevant. Every person has equal dignity before God and should have equal dignity before man. Our rights flow from our humanity, not from our ability.

It doesn’t matter if someone is disabled through their own fault (i.e. someone who lit a fire crackers while drunk and blew their own hand off) or if they are born with a disability (i.e. down’s syndrome) both of these people are equal in dignity and have the same rights as anyone else.

As to the connection between sin and disability, I suggest you shift your thinking from personal sin to original sin. Therein lies your answer.

The Church has indeed spoken to this:


I can honestly compete, or at least I think I can, with St. Paul as the chief of sinners. There really is no commandment I have not broken or sin I have not committed. I am also 100% disabled. I did almost 15 years in the Marine Corps when I was retired for my combat injuries.

However when I think about this subject I tend to think of it as Jesus saw their disabilities and was moved by compassion for them so He healed them. He healed them on the inside and on the outside and it was because of their faith that He healed them, and it was also because of their faith that their sins were forgiven.

Have some people in the New and Old Testament been struck down or disabled or given a disease because of their sins? The answer is absolutely yes! Does this happen most of the time? Is this how God punishes the sinners? Can we tell who has sinned and who is righteous by their physical or mental sicknesses, I think the answer is a resounding no…

People who are disabled cannot be deprived of their civil rights in getting disability benefits. The Department of Economic Security cannot deny Social Security on the basis of whether the disability was caused by sinful behavior. That would never fly.

Government cannot tell someone they sinned.

OP, you are applying an ancient mindset to things again.
CONTEXT is everything. You cannot take certain things literally without understanding the historical element of the culture. People in many cultures of ages past thought disability was a punishment. We now know that is not true, and the Gospel doesn’t advance it either.
Christ DID use the opportunity to teach via the people who needed “healing”.
We all need “healing”.

I think the most important Gospel passage to bear in mind about this is Luke 13:1–5.

Yes, there is a general sense in which physical suffering and disability is a consequence of the Fall (i.e. sin). But Jesus clearly disputes the idea that those who suffer are greater sinners than the rest.

Yes and no, both/and. The opposite idea is going on in the OT as well… See Psalm 73: “Their bodies are sound and sleek,” etc. Or Job. Or recall the death of Abel. The examples are numerous.

On the other hand, think of St. Paul’s explanation for the illness among the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:30)… They were sinning. Consider Christ’s promised sign for the first disciples, that no deadly drink would harm them, they would pick up snakes, etc.

God’s judgment is inscrutable here.

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