We have previously written two articles on our understanding of the commandments regarding clean and unclean. We have since received some questions which we were very interested to find answers for. One of these questions is: How do we make sure we do not come into contact with anything or anyone who is unclean in order to make sure we don’t become unclean? We might, unknowingly, touch a person who is unclean or use public transport and sit on a chair where an unclean person sat. We might, for this reason, always be in an unclean state. The question is, does this really matter? Should we even pursue this?
In order to answer these questions, we will briefly define uncleanness. This will give us understanding as to what can make us unclean. Thereafter, we will study what Y’shua did and taught. Y’shua came not only to redeem us from sin, but also to show us how we are to live. He is our example. When we look to Y’shua as our example, we won’t become caught up in our own interpretation.
We can divide uncleanness into two categories. Uncleanness due to sin and uncleanness due to life or, in other words, spiritual and ritual uncleanness. Here is an excerpt from one of our previous articles on the subject.
We can categorize uncleanness as follows:
Â· Through transgression of the food laws or touching the carcass of an unclean animal (Lev 11)
Â· Through physiological functions or illness (a womanâ€™s monthly cycle, childbirth, seminal emission, illness connected to the reproductive system and leprosy.)
Â· Through contact with an unclean person or object
Â· Through contact with a dead body
Â· Sin, and we know sin is transgression of the law 1 John 3:42
Eating or touching the carcass of an unclean animal will also result in spiritual uncleanness, because doing so is the transgression of a direct commandment not to eat of, or touch such. In other words, when we transgress this or any other commandment, we sin. However, becoming unclean due to menstruation, childbirth, marital relations, death or any related reason is NOT sin. Remember this as we continue.
For a more detailed explanation on this, the cleansing rituals involved, as well as possible reasons for this commandments, please read our article titled: Uncleanness and separationâ€¦are these commandments still for us?
We are all ritually and spiritually unclean
We have also learned that anybody who has ever been in contact with a dead person, will be unclean. You may wonder why? This is because there is no Temple, and no sacrifices. The ashes of a red heifer is required as part of the cleansing ritual to purify a person who was in contact with a dead person. For this reason, purification is impossible. Therefor, each of us are ritually unclean. If there was a Temple, each of us would have to undergo the cleansing ritual for those who have been in contact with a dead person.
We also know from Scripture; that uncleanness is transferable from one person to another, so even though we may not have been in direct contact with a dead person, the uncleanness of another person may be transferred to us. This is the dilemma we now face.
11 â€œThus says YHVH of hosts, â€˜Ask now the priests for a ruling: 12 â€˜If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?â€™ â€ And the priests answered, â€œNo.â€ 13 Then Haggai said, â€œIf one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?â€ And the priests answered, â€œIt will become unclean.â€ 14 Then Haggai said, â€œ â€˜So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,â€™ declares YHVH, â€˜and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.
Furthermore, not one of us can claim that we are living in perfect righteousness. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of YHVH (Rom 3:23.) However, Y’shua took our sin upon himself and cleansed us from all our spiritual uncleanness.
Let us see what we can learn from Y’shua about this. How did He apply the commandments regarding clean and unclean?
What can we learn from Y’shua?
The question is how did Y’shua interpret and keep the commandments regarding clean and unclean? We will now look at some examples from Y’shua’s life to see.
Y’shua cleanses a leper
In Matthew, we read about how Y’shua touched a leper when He cleansed him. This is also described in Luke 5:12-15 and in Mark 1:40-45. In every one of these accouns we read that Y’shua touched the leper.
3 Y’shua stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, â€œI am willing; be cleansed.â€ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
In Leviticus, we find the following commandment:
3 â€˜Or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort his uncleanness may be with which he becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, and then he comes to know it, he will be guilty.
Take note here, this is not a command against touching anything or anybody unclean, it tells us that if we touch anything unclean that we will become unclean. We have seen in the previous article about, clean and unclean Uncleanness and separationâ€¦are these commandments still for us? that we are not commanded not to touch anything or anyone unclean, except when it comes to the carcass of an unclean animal. So, did Y’shua transgress a commandment when He touched this leper? No, however, He did become unclean until evening when He touched him. The next question would be: did Y’shua go into the Temple in this unclean state? To answer this, we would have to look at where He was when this took place. When we study this, we see that Y’shua was in the Galilee when this took place, and that it was a few days travel to Jerusalem. We also know from the previous study, that He would have been cleansed by then, by the passing of time.
Another proof that Y’shua was intend on keeping the commandments was because he said to the leper, after cleansing him, that he must go and show himself to the priest as instructed in Torah (Matt 8:4.) The priest would have done the cleansing ritual as described in the Torah.
This passage shows us that Y’shua considered love more important than ritual purity. He could have just stood there and said a word, and the man would have been healed. However, how much more love did He show when He actually touched this unclean person when He healed him. Y’shua also, was far from the Temple, and if He decided to go up to Jerusalem to the Temple, He would have been ritually clean by then.
Y’shua told a parable of a man who was robbed and injured and left for dead on the side of the road. First, a priest passed him, walking on the other side of the road, then a Levite, who did the same. The third person who passed was a Samaritan, a gentile who went and helped him (Luk 10:30-37.)
Y’shua was teaching a very important lesson here. Let us first see what is taught in Torah, it will give us some more understanding.
We find the following commandment for the priests in Leviticus:
1 Then YHVH said to Moses, â€œSpeak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: â€˜No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people, 2 except for his relatives who are nearest to him, his mother and his father and his son and his daughter and his brother, 3 also for his virgin sister, who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may defile himself.
There is a strong possibility that the Halacha (fences) of the time prescribed that a priest is not to come near a dead body. We know from Scripture that if someone touched a dead person, they will become unclean. This priest and Levite were probably on their way to the Temple and may have thought the man was dead. They did not even bother to find out, but walked on the other side of the road. They did this to prevent him from making them unclean in case he was dead.
These and other Halacha (fences) were later recorded in the Talmud and Mishnah, which is the oral tradition which have been transferred orally from generation to generation. Sotah 44a, in the Babilonian Talmud states that a kohen (priest) may not come within 4 amos (7 inches) of a casket or a hearse carrying a casket.
Another interesting detail is that Y’shua taught that it was a Samaritan who helped the man. The Jews considered the Samaritans, gentiles and unclean. Interesting that Y’shua chose a Samaritan to be the one to help the Jew…
So, what is Y’shua teaching here? Love your neighbor, but not only that, also, love your enemy. Furthermore, with this teaching He showed how wrong it was to make traditions of men (in this case the Halacha of the time)more important than loving or helping people. The priest and Levite would not have become unclean if they walked up to the man to determine if he was still alive. Even if he was dead, they would only be ritually unclean if they touched him. They could have helped him, but chose not to…
Y’shua and the woman at the well
Another such example is Y’shua and the woman at the well (John 4:1-26). She was a Samaritan woman, and Samaritans were considered unclean. Jews would not even talk to them, let alone go into their homes. Y’shua talked to her and stayed with the Samaritans for two days before going further. Here is another example of Him teaching His disciples that people are not to be considered unclean just because they are gentiles. Y’shua always made a clear distinction between what is commanded and what is tradition, and He kept the commandments and taught it too.
The woman washing Y’shua’s feet
The next passage shares the same lesson as the previous. In Luke 7:36-50, we read about how a woman, who was considered a sinner, entered a Pharisee’s house and washed Y’shua’s feet. The Pharisee reckoned that Y’shua could not possibly be a prophet, because He allowed this woman (a sinner) to wash His feet. This proves that the Halacha not to allow “unclean people” which includes sinners, to touch you was already in use at the time. Y’shua once again acted in love and in accordance with the commandments.
Y’shua raises Lazarus from the dead and the woman with the issue of blood
In John 11:38-44, we read about how Y’shua raised Lazarus from the dead. First of all Y’shua asked the people present to remove the stone from the cave. Secondly, He did not enter the cave nor touched Lazarus. He prayed and called out to him to come forth. From this, we see that Y’shua did not touch the body of a dead person. This seems different, doesn’t it? Note here that Bethany, where Lazarus lived, was close to Jerusalem and it was just before the Passover. Do you understand the significance of this?
18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off;
The commandment regarding touching a dead body is as follows:
11 â€˜The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days.
However, before we make any conclusions here, let’s look at another passage. In Luke 8: 49-55, we find the narrative of the daughter of Jairus, whom Y’shua also raised from the dead. This took place in the Galilee. It is also on His way to the house of Jairus that the woman with the issue of blood touched Y’shua’s garment in order to be healed. Y’shua could have been upset, because she was unclean due to her illness (Lev 15:25-30) and could have made Him ritually unclean. However, He was not upset and even commended her on her faith. Was He defiled when she touched Him? Probably not, for we read that she only touched His garment, to be more precise, his Tzit-tzit.
The daughter of Jairus
Anyway, let us continue with the narrative of Jairus’ daughter. When the man said that Jairus’ daughter was dead, Y’shua said that she was only asleep. They laughed, because they knew she was dead. This was not the first time Y’shua said someone was asleep when they were actually dead. He said the same about Lazarus. From this, we see that Y’shua has an eternal, or heavenly, perspective, which is different to ours.
After this, Y’shua took her by the hand and commanded her to arise.
54 He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, â€œChild, arise!â€ 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat.
Here, Y’shua actually touched the body of a dead person and would be unclean for seven days. Was this of any consequence to His seeing that he was in the Galilee, which is a couple of days journey to Jerusalem (between four and eight days depending on walking speed)? Let’s see when Y’shua went up to Jerusalem after this. Y’shua remained in the Galilee area and went up the mount where the transfiguration took place eight days after this.
28 Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
So, was being ritually clean important to Y’shua? When you compare these two accounts where Y’shua raised people from the dead, it seems so. It seems that Y’shua made sure He remained ritually clean when He knew he was going to the Temple.
The young man of Nain
Seeing that we are on the topic of death, let’s look at Luke 7:11-17. In this narrative, we read how Y’shua approached the city gate of Nain, in the Galilee and saw a procession carrying the body of a young man. Y’shua felt compassion for his mother, who was a widow, and raised him from the dead.
14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, â€œYoung man, I say to you, arise!â€
Y’shua touched the coffin, or that in which the young man was carried. It was probably not a coffin as is used today, it might have been a stretcher-like object. Would this cause Y’shua to become ritually unclean? The commandment states that you will become unclean for seven days when you touch the body of a dead person. When an unclean object is touched, in this case the “coffin,” Y’shua may have become ritually unclean until evening.
Why did Y’shua touch the “coffin”? Maybe he wanted to get their attention, by touching it; He caused them to stop.
According to the tradition of the time, Y’shua would probably be considered ritually unclean for seven days, because He came in close proximity to a dead person. However, according to Scripture not. It is important to understand that even if Y’shua did touch a body of a dead person, that He would only be rendered ritually unclean. It is not a transgression of a commandment to touch the body of a dead person. We learn from this that compassion and love for people was always more important to Y’shua than being ritually clean.
Clean hands and defilement
There is another example where Y’shua specifically taught on clean and unclean. It is found in Mark 7:1-23. This passage is about how the Pharisees criticized Y’shua’s disciples for not washing their hands before a meal according to the traditions of the elders. Y’shua shows them that keeping YHVH’s commandments are more important than the traditions held by them. He also teaches on spiritual purity. However, Mark 7:19 is often misunderstood.
Rather, Yeshua is continuing his discussion of spiritual prioritizing (v. 11&N). He teaches that tohar (purity) is not primarily ritual or physical, but spiritual (vv. 14â€“23). On this ground he does not entirely overrule the Pharisaic/rabbinic elaborations of the laws of purity, but he does demote them to subsidiary importance. See Yn 7:22â€“23&N on the halakhic process of assigning ranks to potentially conflicting laws. Yeshua here is making Messianic halakhah. 3
The last part of the verse, “therefor He declared all things clean,” was most probably mistranslated.
Here is an excerpt of the most important point.
There is a debate in Bible translation regarding how katharizÅn panta ta brÅmata should be translated. The majority of modern English versions render it as â€œThus he declared all foods cleanâ€ (NRSV) or something close. Many English versions render this phrase in parenthesis ( ), indicating the opinion of some that this statement may have been added by Mark or a later scribe to clarify Yeshuaâ€™s words. However, there has always been the long-standing minority opinion that â€œpurging all the foodsâ€ is the more accurate translation. Robert A. Guelich remarks, â€œOthers view this as a possible anacoluthon drawing an obvious, if sarcastic, conclusion that the digestive process â€˜cleanses all foods.â€™â€c
In the context of Mark 7, Yeshua says that it is not eating with unwashed hands that makes one unclean, but what goes into a personâ€™s heart. He then finishes His discourse with saying that food, which Biblically does not include pork or shellfish, eaten with unwashed hands does not defile a person: â€œThis is because it does not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and goes out into the wastebowl, purging all the foodsâ€ (Mark 7:19, LITV). That food which is eaten with unwashed or dirty hands is processed by the natural functions of the body and â€œis eliminated, thus purifying all foodsâ€ (NKJV). 4
What have we learned from this study? Y’shua showed us that ritual purity was not above love. He would touch people who would have rendered Him ritually unclean. However, He was careful not to become ritually unclean when He was close to or in Jerusalem in order to be able to go to the Temple in a ritually clean state.Â The reason is in Leviticus 15:31
31 â€œThus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.â€
Y’shua would not go into the Temple in a ritually unclean state, that would be transgressing a commandment.
Y’shua also taught that traditions were not important at all compared to YHVH’s commandments and having compassion and love for others. He taught that we are, first, to love YHVH and second to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is what He lived as well!
He did not teach against or broke any commandments; He could otherwise be labeled a false prophet.
1 â€œIf a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, â€˜Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,â€™ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for YHVH your Elohim is testing you to find out if you love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 â€œYou shall follow YHVH your Elohim and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.
We have previously written on how you can identify a false prophet 7 Signs of a False Prophet and Y’shua does not fit the profile. Instead Y’shua taught that He did not come to abolish the law or the prophets. Here are His words:
17 â€œDo not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 â€œFor truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 â€œWhoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Y’shua lived in obedience to YHVH always; He is a great example to us. Let us do as He has done and not push people away because we don’t want to become ritually unclean. Ritual purity is, at this point in time, of no advantage to us as there is no Temple. However, this does not imply that we are to break any of YHVH’s commandments. To give you a few examples, we are not to eat any unclean food, and we are to abstain from sexual relations during the seven-day Niddah period. These are direct commandments, which are not to be transgressed. Breaking these will not only cause ritual impurity but also spiritual impurity.
We hoped this has answered some of the pondering of your mind on the subject. May YHVH bless you as you do his will!
- All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD and Yâ€™shua for Jesus.
- Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary : a companion volume to the Jewish New Testament (electronic ed., Mk 7:19). Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications.