CLEAN. Various terms are employed to express the meaning of cleanness. Mosaic law puts a special emphasis upon ritual cleanness but the moral aspect is equally present. The terminology is less important than the context (טָהֵר, H3197, in
The OT concept of clean
In primitive societies
generally the concept of tabu is a determinative factor. Tabu is a word of Polynesian origin and means “forbidden” or “excluded” (tambu, tapu). A related concept is mana, which though supernatural, expresses the more friendly powers behind the universe. In order to cope with persons or objects under tabu, incantations and rites are performed. In this manner primitive man tried to cope with intruding spirits and neutralize their effect. J. G. Frazer maintains that in primitive society the distinction between holy and common was yet unknown. The numinous forces were beyond good and evil. Therefore all unseen powers constituted a threat which could be dealt with only by the application of magic.
The question has been raised by rationalist writers whether Levitical concepts of clean and unclean are only variations of the primitive notion of tabu. In this connection the following observations are pertinent:
Levitical purity is always related to Yahweh who is never conceived as a merely numinous force.
It aims at uncompromising and complete separation from idol worship (cf.
Cultic cleanness derives from a sense of God’s holy Presence (cf.
The Levitical requirements are never far removed from the demand of moral rectitude (cf.
Clean and unclean.
“Clean” and “unclean” are terms seldom related to mere questions of hygiene, but are mainly religious concepts. As such the principle of “cleanness” affects almost every aspect of life, for the dichotomy between spiritual and material is foreign to the Bible, esp. to the OT. For this reason a distinction between Levitical cleanness and moral rectitude is scarcely to be found in the Mosaic law. The Bible moves in a totally religious culture which covers every aspect of life.
In the Code of Holiness (
Leprosy was regarded as a most serious cause of pollution not only because of the physical deadliness of the disease itself, but also because it was considered a mark of divine disfavor. For this reason the purificatory rites required additional sin and burnt offerings (
Levitical impurity could also be contracted from one’s own person as in the case of nocturnal emission of semen (
Uncleanness in a more numinous sense was contracted by contact with hallowed things such as the ashes of the red heifer, and therefore it required purificatory rites (
b. Animals. The distinction between clean and unclean animals is a very ancient one. Some writers maintain that originally the prohibition of certain animals for human consumption was connected with the practice of totemism. In the Mosaic code itself, it is quite clear that the prohibition was chiefly connected with the avoidance of idolatrous practices. It is known that some animals were regarded in pagan circles as sacred: fish, for example, was tabu in Egypt and Syria; pigs were considered holy animals in Crete and Babylon. This was esp. the case in the Eleusinian mysteries and the worship of Demeter in ancient Greece. To the blood of pigs was ascribed purificatory potency (cf. G. E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries , 249). Hence the Levitical code lays down the rule: “you shall not walk in the customs of the nation which I am casting out before you” (
The differentiation between clean and unclean animals, i.e. between those allowed for consumption and those prohibited was established in the Pentateuch on the following principles:
1. Hygienic considerations. All scavengers and birds of prey were prohibited, since they fed upon rotting carrion.
2. Animals in pagan cults. Animals used in pagan cults or associated with witchcraft were automatically excluded such as swine, dogs, mice, serpents, hares, insects like beetles, etc.
3. Animals which evoked repulsion. These animals are sometimes described as “swarming creatures” (
4. Local or ethnic custom. This was another factor: exotic or unknown animals were felt to be strange and therefore unclean.
The law lays down rules for distinguishing between allowed and disallowed animals: whatever has a cloven hoof and chews the cud may be eaten (
In some way these prohibitions were connected to the command against the eating of blood (cf.
c. Objects. The qualities of cleanness and uncleanness applied to objects as well as to persons and animals. Objects might contract uncleanness by contact with an unclean source, whether man or beast. In the case of leprosy, houses and walls seemed to be credited with the disease on their own accord (cf.
A person Levitically unclean transmitted his condition to everything he touched: seat, bed, saddle, garments, earthen vessels, etc. Anyone touching these objects acquired uncleanness to a secondary degree. First degree uncleanness required purificatory rites lasting seven days (
Cultic objects were also liable to uncleanness and required cleansing. Atonement was to be made for the holy place (
The distinction between holy and profane, clean and unclean (
Adultery is regarded as defilement (
The OT equates purity with uprightness: “even a child makes himself known by his acts, whether what he does is pure (זַכְ, H2341) and righteous” (יָשָׁר, H3838) (
The priestly cultus evolved a complicated system of purificatory rites. The Law makes careful provision for every form of pollution both cultic and moral. It is based upon the principle that uncleanness is the cause of separation from God who is holy. To remove the offense and restore the relationship expiatory rites are prescribed. These rites take the form of cathartic ceremonies:
b. Sacrificial blood. The purpose of the cult was to provide expiation. This required the shedding of sacrificial blood (cf.
c. Ashes. To the ashes of the sacrificial victim were ascribed purging properties (
d. Cedarwood. Together with scarlet (possibly a scarlet thread used as an apotropaic remedy, cf. Shabb 9:3; Yoma 4:2) and hyssop, cedarwood was prescribed as a means of purification (
e. Fire. The most radical means of purification was by means of fire. Metal vessels were purged in this way (
In extreme cases of moral lapse such as incest, punishment of persons was by burning (
Idols were to be destroyed by burning. This Moses did with the golden calf in the wilderness (
The NT concepts of clean
Another term which occurs in the NT is ἁγνισμός, G50. In the Levitical sense it occurs in connection with the Nazirite vow (
It is noteworthy that Paul avoids the term καθαρίσμός, which carries Levitical overtones and substitutes ἁγιασμός, G40, which connotes sanctification through faith in Jesus Christ (cf.
Clean and unclean according to the teaching of Jesus.
In the controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees the question of ceremonial cleanness is an important issue. The sixth division of the Mishnah deals with matters of ṭohoroth (lit. “cleannesses”—used euphemistically, for its concern is with every possible aspect of Levitical uncleanness; cf. H. Danby, The Mishnah , 714, n. 3). It defines in great detail the circumstances causing ceremonial impurity. One tractate is devoted to matters concerning the washing of hands, another is concerned with vessels, etc. The material illuminates the underlying issues between Jesus and His opponents. An example: A seller of pots has to leave his ware unattended in the market place. On the assumption that someone Levitically unclean touched his goods in his absence, the outside of all his pots are to be treated as unclean (Ṭohoroth 7:1). Again, objects of wood, leather, bone or glass do not contract uncleanness, provided these cannot be made into receptacles but the smallest sherd, if large enough to stand by itself without support, contracts uncleanness (Kelim 2:1f.). Uncleanness can be contracted by victuals, liquids, vessels and persons. Not only Gentiles, but Jews who neglect strict Pharisaic rules, convey uncleanness (cf. Tohoroth 4:5; 7:1f., 4f.; 8:1-3). Uncleanness can be conveyed by chain reaction several times removed from the original source (
Such concern for the letter of the law inevitably led to the neglect of “weightier matters” (
The outward aspect of Levitical purity is changed by Jesus into an inward condition of the heart which comes about as a result of μετάνοια, G3567, (
Clean and unclean according to the teaching of the apostles.
The change of direction from the outward to the inward found in the gospels, dominates the rest of the NT.
The Levitical use of water.
This is retained in the rite of baptism. But baptism signifies now not the removal of physical uncleanness but a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (
This blood is transferred from the altar to the cross; from the sacrificial animal to the Messiah (
Clean, as in the OT, carries the meaning of holy or sanctified.
In marriage, the believing partner sanctifies the unbelieving, therefore their children are not unclean (ἀκάθαρτα) but holy (ἅγνια
At the same time it is his duty to keep himself pure (
In all these cases purity is an inward state and is both a gift and a demand.
G. F. Oehler, Theology of the OT (1883), 319ff.; C. G. Montefiore, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (1892), 447ff., 501; J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, Pt. II, Taboo (1911), ch. V; J. Döller, Die Reinheitsund Speisegesetze des ATs in religionsgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung (1917); Lucian (Loeb Lib., vol. IV) The Goddesse of Surrye (Eng. by A. M. Harmon); W. Eichrodt, Theology of OT, I (1960); TWNT, III s.v.; INT (July, 1963), 280ff.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Rendering four Hebrew roots: bar, etc., "purify," "select," "make shining"; zakh, etc., "bright," "clean" "pure"; naqi, "free from," "exempt"; Taher, "clean," "pure," "empty," "bright" (?) the principal root, rendered "clean" 80 times (the); occurring in all its forms in various renderings about 200 times; also one Greek root, katharos, etc., akin to castus, "chaste," "free from admixture or adhesion of anything that soils, adulterates, corrupts" (Thayer’s Lexicon). The physical, ritual, ethical, spiritual, figurative uses continually overlap, especially the last four.
The physical use is infrequent: "Wash .... with snow water, and make my hands never so clean" (zakhakh,
3. Ethical or Spiritual:
See also UNCLEANNESS; PURIFICATION; DEFILEMENT.
Clean.--Adverb (in one case adjective): "utterly," "wholly"; usually rendering an intensive use of the Hebrew verb as
Philip Wendell Crannell