Women and Uncleanness

28 Oct
from Google Images

from Google Images

Leviticus 15 records the laws regarding the bodily discharges of both men and women.[1] Nevertheless, one may wonder why the loss of bodily fluids would be considered ceremonially unclean. After all, blood, semen and saliva are natural bodily fluids within the body. If, while such fluids are within a person’s body, he or she is not unclean, why should their discharge make that one or someone else who comes into contact with these bodily fluids unclean? How can we make sense of such things within the context of ancient Jewish society?

In a previous study I argued that the very first thing God must do to solve humanities problems is to get men to trust him. The first step cannot be for man to act morally; that must come second after trust, because if mankind won’t trust God, he will not obey God or treat others with the dignity they deserve. When Israel made its covenant with God (Exodus 19:8; 24:3), they were no better off, morally speaking, than any of the other nations. How could they have been, if the ways of the nations were all Israel knew? Therefore, the very first thing Israel had to do was to choose to submit to God—i.e. trust him as their only God. After this, God would be able to teach them how to act differently toward him, one another and toward their neighboring nations. Nevertheless, trust or faith is the beginning of righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

The Mosaic laws concerning clean and unclean were used by God to teach his people how to act—toward him, one another and the strangers within and around them. One of the first things God addressed to put it in its proper moral perspective was women. They weren’t property to be simply used for men’s sexual pleasure. They were to be treated with dignity. They were not to be used as part of religious ritual, as the gentiles did in their fertility cults. Sex within a monogamous relationship (marriage) was the ideal (Genesis 2), but adultery, including temple prostitution, was forbidden.

Leviticus 15 further dignifies the woman in that a male is unclean, if he has a discharge of semen which was apparently due to his adulterous imagination.[2] This chapter then goes into female uncleanness due to a woman’s monthly discharge. During this time, she is not to be used by the male for sexual activity, so sexual restraint is implied, offering the woman further dignity, protection and independence; and these laws have no parallel in the nations of the ancient Near East, showing us that it is the Lord who does this on behalf of the woman. Certainly, complete freedom cannot be offered woman at this point, because such a thing would imply a great degree of moral integrity of the male, which at this early stage was impossible (cf. Matthew 19:8), if human freedom is to have any value. Such moral steps must be taken in segments, but the fact that progress was made under the Mosaic Law shows the effects of God’s work in his relationship with mankind.

The New Testament’s record of Mary’s purification ceremony might be interesting to consider at this point. One might ask: “Why would the Law require a sacrifice for Mary to begin with? What was it about the birth of Jesus that made her ceremonially unclean? Certainly, Jesus wasn’t unclean or impure, so how could his birth cause Mary to become unclean[3] (cf. Leviticus 12:1-4)? A sacrifice was required, because just after Jesus’ birth Mary temporarily did not possess God’s creative power to bring life into the world. At least for a short time, it had become impossible for her to fulfill God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (cf. Genesis 1:28). Mary hadn’t sinned by birthing a child, but by bringing a child into the world she was no longer in sync with God, as that pertains to her power to create life. After Jesus’ birth her flow of blood was renewed, and such a renewal symbolized death rather than life. The fruit of man’s rebellion made its presence realized in the flow of blood from her body. The whole purification ceremony is charged with symbolism, pointing not only to the creation of life but also its destruction due to sin. Clearly, Mary didn’t sin by becoming a mother, but the idea of sin and rebellion is born out in the process of her bringing a newborn into the world and the flow of blood afterward, including the eventual renewal of her monthly cycle in which the loss of blood (Leviticus 17:11) points to the loss of life, i.e. death, the fruit of man’s rebellion and distrust of God.


[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] Some commentaries explain the male discharge as a health consideration (gonorrhea), but I think this is illogical in that the woman’s discharge is treated as a natural bodily issue. Therefore, the male’s issue should be treated as a natural matter as well.

[3] My understanding from this point onward was influenced by an article I read by Chana Weisberg, editor of The Jewish Woman website. The article in question can be found HERE.

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Posted by on October 28, 2015 in apologetics


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