|un-klen'-nes ((niddah) separation, impurity,
('erwath dabhar) unclean thing)
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
The distinctive idea attached to ceremonial uncleanness
among the Hebrews was that it cut a person off for the time from social privileges,
and left his citizenship among Gods people for the while in abeyance. There is
an intense reality in the fact of the divine law taking hold of a man by the ordinary
infirmities of flesh, and setting its stamp, as it were, in the lowest clay of
which he is moulded. The sacredness attached to the human body is parallel to
that which invested the ark of the covenant itself. It is as though Jehovah thereby
would teach men that the "very hairs of their head were all numbered" before him
and that "in his book were all their members written." Thus was inculcated so
to speak a bodily holiness. Nor were the Israelites to be only "separated from
other people," but they were to be "holy to God," ( Leviticus
20:24 , 20:26
) "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." The importance to physical well-being
of the injunctions which required frequent ablution, under whatever special pretexts,
can be but feebly appreciated in our cooler and damper climate. Uncleanness, as
referred to men, may be arranged in three degrees:
|(1) That which defiled merely "until even." and was removed
by bathing and washing the clothes at the end of it; such were all contacts with
(2) That graver sort which defiled for seven days, and was removed by the use
of the "water of separation;" such were all defilements connected with the human
(3) Uncleanness from the morbid perpetual or menstrual state, lasting as long
as that morbid state lasted; and in the case of leprosy lasting often for life.
As the human person was itself the seat of a covenant token, so male and female
had each their ceremonial obligations in proportion to their sexual differences.
There is an emphatic reminder of human weakness in the fact of birth and death-mans
passage alike into and out of his mortal state-- being marked with a stated pollution.
The corpse bequeathed a defilement of seven days to all who handled it, to the
"tent" or chamber of death, and to sundry things within it. Nay, contact with
one slain in the field of battle or with even a human bone or grave, was no less
effectual to pollute than that with a corpse dead by the course of nature. ( Numbers
19:11 - 18
) This shows that the source of pollution lay in the mere fact of death. The duration
of defilement caused by the birth of a female infant being double that due to
a male, extending respectively to eighty and forty days in all, ( Leviticus
12:2 - 5
) may perhaps represent the womans heavier share in the first sin and first curse.
3:16 ; 1
Timothy 2:14 ) Among causes of defilement should be noticed the fact that
the ashes of the red heifer burnt whole which were mixed with water and became
the standing resource for purifying uncleanness in the second degree, themselves
became a source of defilement to all who were clean, even as of purification to
the unclean, and so the water. Somewhat similarly the scapegoat, who bore away
the sins of the people, defiled him who led him into the wilderness, and the bringing
forth aid burning the sacrifice on the Great Day of Atonement had a similar power.
This lightest form of uncleanness was expiated by bathing the body and washing
the clothes. Besides the water of purification made as afore said, men and women,
in their "issues," were, after seven days, reckoned from the cessation of the
disorder, to bring two turtle-doves or young pigeons to be killed by the priests.
All these kinds of uncleanness disqualified for holy functions: as the layman
so affected might not approach the congregation and the sanctuary, so any priest
who incurred defilement must abstain from holy things. ( Leviticus
22:2 - 8
) [LEPROSY] The religion of the persians shows a singularly close correspondence
with the Levitical code.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. In the Old Testament (Hebrew)
Tum'ah, "uncleanness," "defilement," occurs 26 times (Leviticus 7:20 , 21 ; 14:19
; 15:3 , 15 , 26 , 30 , 31, etc.). niddah, "separation," "impurity," occurs in
Leviticus 20:21 ; Ezra 9:11 ; Zechariah 13:1. 'erwah, occurs in Deuteronomy 23:14.
'erwath dabhar, "unclean thing" (Deuteronomy 24:1) is translated "uncleanness"
in the King James Version. The adjective Tame', "defiled," "unclean," occurs 72
times (over half in Leviticus), but is never translated "uncleanness," but always
"unclean." The verb Tame', "to make" or "declare unclean," occurs often. Other
Hebrew verbs "to defile" are ga'al, chalal, chaneph, Tanaph, 'alal, 'anah.
2. In the New Testament
The Greek word for "uncleanness" is akatharsia, which occurs 10 times (Matthew
23:27 ; Romans 1:24 ; 6:19 ; 2 Corinthians 12:21 , etc.). miasmos, "pollution,"
occurs only in 2 Peter 2:10. The adjective akathartos, "unclean," occurs 31 times,
23 times in reference to unclean spirits (Luke once using the expression "unclean
demon," 4:33), 4 times to ceremonial uncleanness (thee by Peter and one by John
the revelator), and 4 times to moral uncleanness (three by Paul and one by John
the revelator). Koinos, "common," "unclean," occurs 8 times in the sense of "unclean"
(Mark 7:2,5 ; Acts 10:14 , 28 ; 11:8 ; Romans 14:14 ; Revelation 21:27). The verb
koinoo, "to defile," occurs 11 times (Matthew 15:11 , 18 , 20 ; Mark 7:15, etc.).
miaino, "to defile," occurs 5 times (John 18:28 ; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 12:15 ;
Jude 1:8). moluno, "to make filthy," occurs 3 times (1 Corinthians 8:7 ; Revelation
3:4 ; 14:4). spiloo, occurs twice (James 3:6 ; Jude 1:23) and phtheiro, "to corrupt,"
occurs 7 times in Greek, once in English Versions of the Bible (1 Corinthians
3. In the Septuagint
Akatharsia, "uncleanness," occurs 59 times in Septuagint (including many instances
in apocryphal books) (1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees, etc.). Akathartos,
"unclean," occurs 134 times in the Septuagint (including one example in 1 Maccabees).
Koinos, "unclean," and koinoo, "to make unclean," occur in Esther, Proverbs, Wisdom,
1, 2, 3 and 4 Maccabees). Miaino, "to defile," occurs over 100 times. Moluno,
"to make filthy," occurs 18 times (both in the Old Testament and in the Apocrypha).
II. POSSIBLE RELATION OF ISRAEL'S LAWS ON UNCLEANNESS WITH THE LAWS OF TABOO AMONG THE NATIONS
W. R. Smith (Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, 152-55) thinks there is
a kinship between Israel's laws of uncleanness and the heathen taboo. Frazer,
in The Golden Bough, shows numerous examples of the taboo among various tribes
and nations which present striking similarity to some of Israel's laws on uncleanness.
But does this diminish our respect for the Old Testament laws on uncleanness?
Might not Yahweh use this natural religious perception of men as to an intrinsic
distinction between clean and unclean in training Israel to a realization of a
higher conception--the real difference between sin and holiness, i.e. between
moral defilement and moral purification? The hand of Yahweh is visible even in
the development of Israel's rudimentary laws on ceremonial uncleanness. They are
not explicable on purely naturalistic grounds, but Yahweh is training a people
to be holy, and so He starts on the lower plane of ceremonial uncleanness and
cleanness (see Leviticus 11:44 as to the purpose of Yahweh in establishing these
laws respecting clean and unclean animals).
III. TEACHING AS TO UNCLEANNESS
1. In the Old Testament
Each term above for uncleanness is used in two senses: (a) to signify ceremonial
uncleanness, which is the most usual significance of the term in the Old Testament;
(b) but, in the Prophets, to emphasize moral, rather than ceremonial, uncleanness.
There are four principal spheres of uncleanness in the Old Testament:
(1) Uncleanness in the Matter of Food.
The law as to clean and unclean beasts is laid down in Leviticus 11:1 - 23. Notice
that the law does not extend to vegetable foods, as does a similar law in the
Egyptian religion. Four kinds of beasts are named as fit for food:
|(a) among quadrupeds, those that both chew the cud and part
(b) among fishes, only those having both fins and scales;
(c) most birds or fowls, except, in the main, birds of prey and those noted for
uncleanness of habits, are permitted;
(d) of insects those that have legs above the feet to leap withal (e.g. the cricket,
the grasshopper, etc.), but those that go on all four, or have many feet, or go
upon the belly (e.g. worms, snakes, lizards, etc.), are forbidden. See, further,
(2) Uncleanness Connected with the Functions of Reproduction (Leviticus 12 and 15).
In Leviticus 15:2 - 18, we find the laws applied to issues of men; in 15:19 ff,
to the issues of women. Not only is the man or woman unclean because of the issue,
whether normal or abnormal, but the bed on which they lie, or whatever or whoever
is touched by them while they are in this state, is unclean. The uncleanness lasts
seven days from the cessation of the issue. To become clean men must wash their
clothes and batheir bodies (though this requirement is not made of women), and
both men and women must offer through the priest a pair of turtle-doves, or two
young pigeons (Leviticus 15). According to Leviticus 13, the woman who conceives
and bears a child is unclean. This uncleanness lasts seven days if the child born
is a male, but 14 days if the child is a female. However, there is a partial uncleanness
of the mother that continues 40 days from the birth of a male, 80 days from the
birth of a female, at the end of which period she is purified by offering a lamb
and a young pigeon (or turtle-dove), or if too poor to offer a lamb she may substitute
one of the birds for the lamb.
(3) Uncleanness Connected with Leprosy.
According to Leviticus 14 and 15, the leper was regarded as under the stroke of
God, and so was deemed unclean. The leper (so adjudged by the priest) must separate
himself from others, with torn clothes, disheveled hair, and crying with covered
lips, "Unclean! Unclean!" That is, he was regarded as a dead man, and therefore
unclean and so must live secluded from others. See, further, LEPER, LEPROSY.
(4) Uncleanness Associated with Death.
According to Leviticus 15:24 - 40, anyone who touched a dead beast, whether unclean
or clean, was rendered unclean. According to Numbers 19:11 - 22, anyone touching
the corpse of a human being is unclean. Likewise, everyone in the tent, or who
enters the tent, where lies a dead man, is unclean seven days. Even the open vessels
in the tent with a dead person are unclean seven days. Whoever, furthermore, touched
a dead man's bone or grave was unclean seven days. Purification, in all these
cases of uncleanness as related to death, was secured by sprinkling the ashes
of a red heifer with living water upon the unclean person, or object, on the 3rd
and 7th days. See PURIFICATION.
2. In the Apocrypha
In Tobit 3:7-9; 6:13,14; 7:11; 8:1-3; 1 Macc 1:41-53, and in other books, we find
the same laws on uncleanness recognized by the descendants of Abraham. It was
regarded as abominable to sacrifice other animals (swine for instance) than those
prescribed by Yahweh. There is a growing sense in Israel during this period, that
all customs and all conduct of the heathen are unclean. Witness the resistance
of the loyal Jews to the demands of Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Macc 1; 2; 6; 7). The
sense of ceremonial uncleanness was still a conspicuous element in the religious
consciousness of the Jews in the inter-Biblical period. But the training of God
in ceremonial purification and in the moral and spiritual teachings of the prophets
had prepared the way for an advance in moral cleanness (both in thought and in
3. In the New Testament
By the days of Jesus the scribes and rabbis had wrought out a most cumbrous system
of ceremonial uncleanness and purification. Nor did they claim that all their
teachings on this subject were found in the Old Testament. See TRADITION. This
is fitly illustrated in the New Testament in the washing of hands. See UNWASHEN.
When the Mishna (the collection of rabbinic teachings) was produced, the largest
book was devoted to the laws of purification, 30 chapters being used to describe
the purification of vessels alone.
See John 2:1-11, and note how the Jews had six stone waterpots for purification
at the wedding in Cana. See John 3:25 as to the controversy on purification between
John's disciples and the Jews. This question of cleanness and uncleanness was
a tremendous issue with every Jew. He must keep himself ceremonially clean if
he would be righteous and win the approval of God.
Jesus utterly disregarded for Himself these laws of purification, though He orders
the cleansed leper to return to the priest and secure his certificate of cleansing.
He did not wash His hands before eating, and His disciples followed His example.
Therefore, the Pharisees challenged Him to give an account of His course and that
of His disciples (Matthew 15:3-20 = Mark 7:6-23). Jesus then enunciated the great
principle that there is no ceremonial, but only moral and spiritual, uncleanness.
Not what goes into a man from hands that touch unclean things defiles the man,
but the things that come out of his heart, evil thoughts, hatred, adultery, murder,
etc., these defile the man.
Paul likewise regarded nothing as unclean of itself (Romans 14:14 , 20 ; Titus
1:15), yet no man should violate the scruples of his own conscience or that of
his brother (and thus put a stumblingblock in his way). Love, not ceremonialism
is the supreme law of the Christian. Paul, in submitting to the vow of purification
in Jerusalem, set an example of this principle (Acts 21:26).
See also CRIMES; PUNISHMENTS.
W. R. Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (especially pp. 152-55, on
taboo, and pp. 455, 456, on the uncleanness of sexual intercourse); Frazer, The
Golden Bough (examples of taboo and similar laws and customs among various nations);
Frazer, article "Taboo" in Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition; Benzinger, Hebrew
Archaeology; Nowack, Hebrew Archaeology; Kellogg, commentary on "Leviticus" (Expositor's
Bible); Kalisch, Leviticus; Dillmann-Ryssel, Leviticus; Schultz, Dillmann, Smend,
Marti, Davidson, in their Old Testament Theologies, give useful hints on this
subject; article "Casuistry" (Hebrew) in ERE, III, is valuable.
Charles B. Williams
akatharsia, akathartos, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, ceremonial, define, food, moral, uncleanness