What does the Bible say about face covering or mask wearing?
The Bible obviously says nothing about modern face coverings explicitly, but we know from credible theology that adapting to cultural norms is an important part of Christian ministry.
As long as our environment’s cultural norms do not involve sinful behavior (Romans 12:2, New International Version), adapting to the cultural norms of our environment actually has the power to better communicate the gospel message to those around us.
This fact then raises two questions. Is face covering a sin? And if not, how can face covering affect our ministry according to the Bible?
1. Is face covering a sin?
First, the best way to decipher whether or not something is a sin is to look to the Bible and Jesus’s lifestyle for direction.
So, let’s do that.
Of course, we can’t put words into God’s mouth. There’s no way to know with 100% certainty that Jesus would or would not wear a face covering because Jesus is no longer alive on Earth in his human state.
However, we do know that Jesus wore clothes.
He was wrapped in “swaddling cloths” as a baby (Luke 2:12, English Standard Version). He healed people as they touched “his cloak” (Matthew 9:20-22, New International Version). When he was being crucified, the soldiers “took his clothes” (John 19:23, New International Version).
The Bible’s account of Jesus wearing clothes just like everyone else is extensive. Plus, we believe that Jesus was sinless. If Jesus wore clothes, wearing clothes is not sinful.
This probably seems obvious. We know that wearing clothes is not a sin. We should definitely wear clothes.
But, clothing didn’t enter the world until Adam and Eve sinned. Only after Adam and Eve sinned did they feel any sort of shame about being naked (Genesis 3, New International Version).
Jesus, unlike Adam and Eve, couldn’t have ever felt self-induced shame due to his sinlessness; therefore, Jesus couldn’t have worn clothes because he felt ashamed of his body. Yet, he still wore clothes.
2. How can face covering affect our ministry for the better?
Why, then, did Jesus wear clothes? Was Jesus perpetuating shame by wearing a traditional carpenter’s tunic? And what does this have to do with face covering?
Jesus wore clothes because clothing was the cultural norm. No, Jesus was not (and could not have been) perpetuating shame, fear or any other negative emotion.
Jesus knew that if he walked around preaching naked, he would have zero credibility among his cultural audience. Nobody would have respected him. Nobody would have believed his preaching.
In other words, he contextualized how he communicated his religious teachings in a way that would be better accepted by the culture of the time (clothed). In Christian missiology, contextualization, as the word implies, refers to sharing the gospel in a way that is meaningful, relatable, relevant and understandable to our target audience.
We can all agree that in order for others to truly accept the message of Christianity, they need to truly understand it in a way that is directly applicable to their own life.
While there is no possible way to know with 100% certainty that Jesus would have worn a face covering, or a pandemic mask or, frankly, any other cultural-norm article of clothing, we do know with 100% certainty that contextualizing our ministry is biblical.
So, if wearing a face covering or mask in public is a current cultural norm, we ought to adapt to it. Otherwise, we risk the good news of salvation being misinterpreted, undesirable and ultimately falsified for the people within our culture.
Learn more about traveling during the COVID-19 crisis from a pilot daughter’s perspective here.