The Laws of Clean and Unclean

This is a difficult and controversial topic for many people. We know that laws pertaining to the sacrificial system, the priesthood, and the earthly tabernacle have been fulfilled. The question is, are the clean and unclean laws to be included among those that have been fulfilled? A verse that is often used to support this belief is Romans 14:14;

“I know, and am persuaded by the Master Yeshua, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteems any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”

Poor translation and poor exegesis can lead one to believe that the unclean law has been fulfilled. The word translated “unclean” is properly translated “common” as the margin of most Bibles show. “Common” refers to something that was originally clean but for some reason became defiled such as a lamb that “died of itself.” Also, the context of Romans 14 refers to eating meats, which a weak brother would consider common, as opposed to vegetarianism.

To understand the truth of this matter concerning clean and unclean laws we must first understand why Yahweh gave those laws to Israel.

Leviticus 15:31 states, “Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle that is among them.”

A superficial reading of this verse may lead one to believe that, since there is no longer an earthly tabernacle to defile, there is no longer a need for people to know when they are unclean. Why did the tabernacle need to be kept undefiled? Because Almighty Yahweh dwelt there. The tabernacle was holy because of Yahweh’s presence. In fact, the section that housed the Ark of the Covenant ( which Yahweh’s presence sat upon ) was called the “Most Holy Place” as opposed to the outer room that was only designated the “Holy Place.” The tabernacle, without Yahweh’s presence, was merely a tent like any other tent. The ground next to the burning bush was just like any other ground until Yahweh’s presence made it holy. It became dirt and stones that needed to be respected by removing one’s sandals.

Yahweh no longer dwells among His people in an earthly tabernacle. Instead, He chooses to dwell within His people and their bodies are His temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16,17 says, “Know you not that you are the temple of [Yahweh], and that the Spirit of [Yahweh] dwells in you? If any man defile the temple of [Yahweh], him shall [Yahweh] destroy; for the temple of [Yahweh] is holy, which temple you are.”

Now the question is, how can someone defile the temple of Yahweh or their own body? 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 teaches us that we are to glorify Yahweh in our bodies and that one way to diminish that glory, defile our bodies, and make them unclean is by being joined to a prostitute. This same admonition was given to the priests, the sons of Aaron, in Leviticus 21:6,7. Are we not a “Royal Priesthood” and a “Holy Nation” (1 Peter 2:9)? Just as the sons of Aaron would become defiled by being joined to a prostitute, so would a believer today. In fact, there are several commandments given by Yahweh to the priests concerning ways that they would become defiled, all of which His Royal Priesthood must continue to obey.

When something holy (such as a believer) comes in contact with something unclean (such as a dead body) it becomes defiled. Therefore, having a full knowledge of what is unclean is the first step in preventing oneself from being defiled. The Messiah made it clear that dead bodies of men and the contents of graves are unclean (Matthew 23:27) so, in agreement with Leviticus 21:1, Numbers 9:10, and Numbers 19:11, we should not touch dead bodies. If we do touch a dead body within seven days of Passover we must not observe that day until the following month.

One might ask how such a person is made clean again. Does he have to be sprinkled with the ashes of a red heifer, etc., as in Numbers 19? Hebrews 9:13,14 make it clear that Yeshua’s blood cleanses the unclean. He replaces the heifer. However, just as we don’t do away with the Feast days because Yeshua replaced the sacrifices on those days, we shouldn’t go around touching dead bodies because Yeshua replaced the red heifer.

Leviticus 17:15,16 and Deuteronomy 14:21 teach us that a believer should not eat an animal that died of itself or was killed by another animal. If he does so, he becomes unclean until sundown. In this instance the health concerns are obvious. The possibility of eating diseased flesh or flesh with blood is very great. Certainly the command to abstain from eating blood is still in force for believers today (Leviticus 17:10, Acts 15:20). But what about the washing of the clothes and flesh after eating such an animal? Leviticus 17:16 suggests that the washing is for removing the iniquity or sin that resulted from breaking Yahweh’s law. This type of washing for purification from sin is addressed in Hebrews 9:6-14. Verse 10 speaks of “diverse washings” to purify the flesh however, verse 14 teaches us that the blood of Messiah accomplishes that cleansing far better than water can. Does this mean we no longer have to wash ourselves if we touch a dead body, or have a nocturnal emission, or if women are menstruating? Of course not. It means that we don’t have to concern ourselves with washings that were symbolic of washing away our sins. The word for “washings” in Hebrews 9:10 is “baptismos” which is the same word for baptism or immersion. When we are immersed in water and into Yeshua’s death and resurrection we are made spiritually clean.

Compare the uncleanness resulting from Leviticus 17:15 with that resulting from Leviticus 15:16-18 and Deuteronomy 23:9-14. The uncleanness spoken of here is not the result of sin or disobedience to Yahweh’s laws, but it is an inherent uncleanness within human semen and excretion that is revolting to Yahweh. It may not be revolting to us and we may not understand why it would turn Yahweh away but the fact is it does turn Him away and it should be washed if it defiles us. One type of uncleanness results from sin and another type results from touching something inherently unclean in Yahweh’s sight. One no longer needs to be washed with water and the other must still be cleansed with water.

Perhaps the most revolting uncleanness in Yahweh’s sight is that pertaining to a menstruous woman. Ezekiel 18:5 and 36:17 give us an idea of Yahweh’s feelings toward this. In fact, to have sexual relations with a menstruous woman meant death for both parties (Lev.20:18). Yahweh caused Israel to be extremely careful concerning things having to do with blood. A menstruous woman was considered unclean to touch and anything she lied or sat upon was rendered unclean. If anyone were to touch that which was rendered unclean by her also became unclean (Leviticus 15:19-24). This uncleanness was not the result of willful or ignorant sin and therefore did not require a washing for the cleansing of sin.

Further along in that chapter it deals with a woman who was bleeding outside of her appointed seven days of menstruation. She would continually be unclean until her bleeding stopped and even then she would be unclean for seven more days. Notice that after the seventh day since her bleeding stopped she became clean. The offerings in verses 29 and 30, therefore, were not for cleansing the uncleanness since the woman was declared clean prior to her offerings. An atonement no longer needs to be made for such a woman, however, she is still unclean and should not be touched until her days of separation are complete.

Different circumstances exist in Leviticus 12 concerning childbirth. A woman is unclean 40 days for a male child and 80 days for a female child. Many medical books suggest that a woman should not have sexual relations until six weeks after birth. There are undoubtedly health concerns involved in this commandment and a wise man will heed it. As far as the offerings are concerned, they have been fulfilled in Yeshua. The woman becomes clean by fulfilling the days of her purifying whether it be 40 or 80.

Yahweh required complete purity of the Israelites and did not allow them to come before Him when defiled out of respect for His holiness. We should bear in mind that Yahweh was teaching His people to live in His presence as priests devoted to His service (Exodus 19:6) and that these rules for personal cleanliness and purity are not too difficult or burdensome even for His priests today.

2 Corinthians 12:21 informs us that many Corinthians were guilty of “uncleanness” and so the Apostle Paul exhorts them in 2 Corinthians 7:1 to “cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of [Yahweh].”

A similar exhortation was made to the Ephesians in chapter 5, vss. 3-5, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Messiah and of [Yahweh].” (See also Revelation 21:8,27;22:11).

Uncleanness is also included among the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19. Therefore, it is clear that believers are to maintain a high level of physical, moral and spiritual cleanness. However, we should place greater emphasis on spiritual cleanness in light of what Yeshua said in Mark 7:15;

“There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.”

Based on the context in which that was said, we understand it to mean food eaten with dirty hands does not defile a man. Eating unclean food would most assuredly defile a man. To say this verse means it is impossible to be defiled from external sources is without grounds based on 1 Corinthians 3:16,17 and 6:15-19.

Placing greater emphasis on spiritual cleanness, however, does not mean we should place little or no emphasis on physical cleanness. Abstaining from unclean foods, from touching dead bodies, and from having sexual relations with a menstruating woman are all ways of maintaining physical cleanness. And since Yahweh’s ways are above man’s ways we should not seek to spiritualize these things away, but instead, obey and touch not the unclean thing.

Ezekiel 44:23 is included among verses that may apply to the millennial kingdom. Then Yahweh’s priests (true believers today) will be able to discern between unclean and clean. So let us all follow the scriptural admonition found in Yahweh’s holy law, “put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean,” (Leviticus 10:10). And let us have a heart like Daniel of whom it is written, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself . . .”

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