Lesson 3

Primary texts: Gen. 17:12, Lev. 11:1-47  (Compare Dt. 14), Acts 10:9-14, Luke 1:57-59 Luke 2:21-24,  Jn. 7:22, Phil. 3:2-6

In this lesson, we will begin to consider some of the regulations concerning "uncleanness."

Medical explanations have been offered, and indeed, sometimes seem obvious, for some of the regulations found in the Law of Moses. Especially is the true in regard to rules concerning bodily emissions, leprosy, and corpses.

On the other hand, consider the following explanation of the purpose of these rules:

In the decomposition which follows death, the effect of sin, of which death is the wages, is made manifest in the body. Decomposition, as the embodiment of the unholy nature of sin, is uncleanness κατ' ἐξοχήν; and this the Israelite, who was called to sanctification in fellowship with God, was to avoid and abhor. Hence the human corpse produced the greatest amount of defilement; so great, in fact, that to remove it a sprinkling water was necessary, which had been strengthened by the ashes of a sin-offering into a kind of sacred alkali. Next to the corpse, there came on the one hand leprosy, that bodily image of death which produced all the symptoms of decomposition even in the living body, and on the other hand the offensive secretions from the organs of generation, which resemble the putrid secretions that are the signs in the corpse of the internal dissolution of the bodily organs and the commencement of decomposition. From the fact that the impurities, for which special rites of purification were enjoined, are restricted to these three forms of manifestation in the human body, it is very evident that the laws of purification laid down in the O. T. were not regulations for the promotion of cleanliness or of good morals and decency, that is to say, were not police regulations for the protection of the life of the body from contagious diseases and other things injurious to health; but that their simple object was "to impress upon the mind a deep horror of everything that is and is called death in the creature, and thereby to foster an utter abhorrence of everything that is or is called sin, and also, to the constant humiliation of fallen man, to remind him in all the leading processes of the natural lifegeneration, birth, eating, disease, deathhow everything, even his own bodily nature, lies under the curse of sin (Gen. iii. 14-19), that so the law might become a 'schoolmaster to bring unto Christ,' and awaken and sustain the longing for a Redeemer from the curse which had fallen upon his body also (see Gal. iii. 24, Rom. vii. 24, viii. 19 sqq. ; Phil. iii. 21)." Leyrer. [Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1, The Pentateuch, p. 374f]

In the end, we may not be able to know all that God had in mind in specifying the rules concerning uncleanness and purification. The one thing we can be sure of is that God meant to distinguish his people from others by means of these rules. So for example, in Lev. 11:44-45, what reason is given for the rules concerning clean and unclean creatures?

Again, in Dt. 14:21, what is the reason given, and what exception is mentioned as if to underscore the point?


Peter's Vision, Acts 10:9-14

9On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13A voice came to him, "Get up, Peter, kill and eat!" 14But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean."

Based on Lev. 11:1-47  and Dt. 14:1-21, answer the following questions:

  1. The animals that were acceptable for food had to meet the following criteria:
  2. divide the ___________  (and/or)  chew the ___________
  3. Give an example of an animal that divides the hoof but does not chew the cud.
  4. Give an example of an animal  that is said to chew the cud but does not divide the hoof.
  5. For each of the following, identify it as clean or unclean.

    horse clam centipede
    dog shrimp goat
    bear mouse sheep
    gazelle lizard cow
    trout locust cat
    catfish grasshopper pig

  6. In all cases, touching the carcass of the unclean rendered a person unclean for how long?
  7. For each of the following passages, explain how it bears on the question of eating meats today that were considered unclean in the OT. Also, indicate how strongly you think one can argue the point from each passage. In other words, if the passage is conclusive with respect to our being able to eat what was unclean to the Jews, say so; but if you see some reason that the passage might not be conclusive, explain.


  8. Where is the first mention of clean and unclean animals in the Bible?



Phil. 3:2-6

 2Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

Luke 1:57-59

57Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her. 59And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father.

John 7:22

22"For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man.

  1. Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath day (Jn. 5:1ff, and for this reason, the Jews were seeking to kill him (Jn. 5:18, 7:19). Jesus' points out that they themselves might circumcise a man on the Sabbath day. Under what circumstances would they in fact have been compelled to circumcise someone on the Sabbath day? (Lev. 12:3).
  2. There is some speculation as to a possible health reason for choosing the 8th day for circumcision. See if you can find out about that.
  3. What did Jesus mean when he said, "not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers"? When did circumcision begin and to whom did God first give instruction concerning circumcision?


Luke 2:21-24
   21And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
22And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."

  1. In Lev. 12:1-4, there is an explanation of the practical restrictions of uncleanness. What could a woman not do during the period of her uncleanness after childbirth?
  2. What difference in the period of uncleanness was based on the gender of the child that was born?
  3. What two kinds of offerings were required according to Lev. 12:6? (I'm not asking for the kinds of animals offered, but for the category of offerings.) Did Mary make both of these offerings?
  4. What does the offering that is mentioned in Luke 2:24 tell us about Joseph and Mary's financial status?