Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

22 Oct
from Google Images

from Google Images

I have heard the phrase cleanliness is next to godliness from the earliest days of my youth. I imagine nearly everyone who grew up with me in America during the latter half of the 20th century had heard the phrase at one time or another, but what does a clean body have to do with godly behavior. Can’t someone who is sweaty and dirty act godly? Are good deeds or is a good, kind word somehow tainted, if one’s body hasn’t been bathed? While it is true that this phrase cannot be found in the Bible, it stands closer to its context than one might at first imagine![1]

Speaking of one of the odd texts in Judges of the Old Testament, Richard Dawkins writes:

Yes, you read correctly. Look it up in Judges 19: 29. Let’s charitably put it down again to the ubiquitous weirdness of the Bible.[2] (emphasis mine)

“Ubiquitous (or ever-present) weirdness of the Bible”—this is how Scripture is understood by Christianity’s modern critics. The book out of which we derive not only the history of our beginning but also the history of God’s interaction with mankind is permeated with eccentricity and improbable stories, according to the new atheists. One has to wonder if their reading of the Bible is totally without depth, and is it deliberately so?

What does the Bible mean by clean anyway? If an unclean animal was bathed, it would remain unclean. Therefore, Scripture does not necessarily mean the thing is ‘dirty’ by saying it is unclean. All carnivores are unclean, whether they are scavengers or predators. It is because they deal in death, and death is unclean. Death is as far away from life as one can get. To be or to become unclean puts one closer to death than to life. Although the Bible has fixed symbols of cleanliness and uncleanliness in the animal kingdom, ultimately it is a state of the heart as it pertains to man. Consider the figure below:

LIFE_____Holy__←→ __________Clean_______←→______Unclean_________DEATH

The heart that is holy (or set apart to God) is always close to the life of God and the heart that is unclean is always close to death. However, whatever is clean or holy is able to broaden its territory (of the heart) by usurping that which is unclean by changing one’s heart toward life. In the same manner whatever is unclean and death can broaden its territory by usurping what is clean, making it (i.e. one’s heart) unclean. The condition of one’s heart is a determining factor as to whether or not one has life (cf. Ephesians 2:1-6).

Ritual uncleanness was a fact of life in ancient Israel. One could hardly avoid it due to one’s participation in childbirth, male and female ‘issues’, contact with the dead (war, funerals etc.) and sinful acts. God wasn’t demanding perfection, but he was showing us how hopeless man is in his rebellious state. We needed to consciously and deliberately make choices that would broaden our hearts toward God. Ultimately, however, this can only be done through Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:8-15), which implies the “ubiquitous weirdness” of the Bible is really a matter of one’s worldview. Anyone who cannot see how the Old Testament admitted to its imperfection (cf. Deuteronomy 5:29) and pointed to a better covenant in Christ (Deuteronomy 18:15; cf. Jeremiah 31:31-32), is fated to read its pages with unclean eyes.


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[2] Dr. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Ealing, Bantam Press, 2006), page 241.

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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in apologetics


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