Of Ritual Purity and Impurity   1 comment


Above:   The Tabernacle

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation.

Keep us safe from all that may hurt us,

that, whole and well in body and spirit,

we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us to do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50


The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 14:33-53 (Thursday)

Numbers 4:34-5:4 (Friday)

Psalm 111 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 1:13-18 (Thursday)

2 Timothy 2:1-7 (Friday)



I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

–Psalm 111:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Merely approaching the place of worship is impossible for some people in Numbers 5.  The precincts of the Tabernacle are to be ritually pure, excluding

anyone with an eruption or a discharge and anyone defiled by a corpse.

–Verse 2a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This rule reflects the fear of ritual impurity as a contagion, albeit a temporary one.  A build up of ritual impurity would, the prevailing voice of Numbers 5:2a feared, endangered the Presence of God in the community.  That contagion even spread to walls affected by mildew or rot (Leviticus 14:33-53).  In Numbers 5, however, the carriers of ritual impurity were those with skin diseases, sexual discharges, and those defiled by a corpse.

When I consider healing stories in the Bible, especially those involving Jesus, the first criterion of ritual impurity is frequently germane; the second criterion is relevant at least once.  The healing of the afflicted person is in part a restoration of him or her to wholeness, community, and centers of worship.

I, as a Gentile, seldom think about ritual purity or purity in general, except in negative terms.  The self-proclaimed theologically pure seem always to define people of my perspective as impure, after all.  And, when I think deeply about ritual purity, I find that the concept offends me.  Why, for example, should a gynecological or dermatological condition render one ritually impure?  I know that the purpose of the ritual purity system in the Torah is to separate human matters of sex and death from the experience of encountering God.  To restate that, the purpose of the Biblical ritual purity system is to heighten one’s God-like state temporarily, therefore making one temporarily eligible to enter the Presence of God in the designated place of worship.  Yet what about the spiritual anguish of the good people among the ritually impure?

As much as I approve of the practice of approaching God with full reverence (including in one’s attire at worship) and therefore appreciate the sense of awe with which the Law of Moses treats the Tabernacle, I also detect an exclusionary tone.  That bothers me, for the grounds for exclusion seem to be biological and medical, not moral.  They seem immoral to me, therefore.  I have none of the conditions which might render me ritually impure, but I am nevertheless always ineligible to enter the Presence of God in worship, except by grace.  I, as a Christian, understand this grace to have much to do with Jesus of Nazareth.  That is a sound teaching.





Adapted from this post:



One response to “Of Ritual Purity and Impurity

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  1. Pingback: Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 23, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary) | ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS

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