Means and meaning of purity.
Purification, purging, cleansing, and similar terms, whose objective is purity, occur hundreds of times in the Bible. Purity is a desirable quality or condition of a good person or thing, without alloy, mixture, or pollution. It may be “pure gold” (
Fire is the normal means for purifying gold, silver, and other metals, which are able to withstand heat while the dross is burnt out. The refining process is frequently used as a symbol of personal cleansing. “I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested” (
Water is the universally prevalent means for material and personal cleansing, and consequently the chief symbol for moral cleansing. Like fire, it was used also in ceremonial cleansing (
Purity of the “whole” man.
Purity of body is essential for good health, and a requisite for acceptance in respectable social circles (see
One of the marks of Mosaic law was meticulous concern for physical cleanliness. It was essential in the camp life of the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings. In the absence of modern medical knowledge of drugs, germs, and anatomy, cleanliness played a dominant role in good health. By it, contamination and spread of disease was checked.
Laws and penalties.
Moses provided laws and penalties governing cleanliness (
Instructions were given for feminine purity: after menstruation (
Leprosy was the most dreaded of all sources of uncleanness. Since there was no known cure for it, victims were expelled from society and required to cry “unclean” if anyone approached. Moses gave elaborate laws and instructions concerning it, including placing the responsibility of diagnosis on the priesthood (
Numerous other things were listed as unclean, along with purification regulations prescribed. The carcasses of reptiles, unclean animals, and any animals that died of themselves, contaminated anyone who touched them. In this case, as in others, water and a ceremonial process were required for purification (
All uncleanness, physical and moral, had religious involvement, and therefore required ritual purification. The repetition of time idioms reflects this: “Sprinkle it [blood] seven times upon him who is to be cleansed of leprosy”...“dwell outside his tent seven days”...“and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the Lord”...“and shut up the house seven days”...(
Moral purification played an important role in Heb. life. The communal life necessary under the administration of Moses and Joshua involved the individual in the social unit. Consequently, the sins of the individual were in essence imputed to his family and even to all Israel, as in the case of Aaron (
Jesus’ criticism of ceremonial purity.
Traditional cleansing by the Jews, however, in Jesus’ time had largely lost its spiritual value in empty ritual. Much of the Mosaic law had been replaced by ceremonial trivia. On this matter, “A discussion arose between John’s disciples and a Jew over purifyting” (
For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze (
On another occasion, the Pharisee host was astonished that Jesus did not wash before dinner.
And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you” (
Traditionally characteristic of the Judeo-Christian religion is inner purity.
F. F. Bruce, Second Thoughts on the(1956), 106; B. W. Anderson, Oxford Annotated Bible, notes (1962), 134-143; E. E. Tilden (ibid.), 1175, 1191, 1248, 1270; W. L. Moore, The Adult Teacher, Southern Baptist Sunday School Series, 68-73.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
pu’-ri-ti: The Bible bears witness to the long struggle over and in man to secure physical, mental, and moral cleanliness. The various forms of purity have relation to each other.
We have a common proverb that "cleanliness is akin to godliness." Cleanliness and aesthetics are certainly nigh neighbors. But cleanliness and ethics do not dwell farther apart. When one realizes that by uncleanness of person or property he may endanger the health or life of family, or even of society about him--as in keeping conditions that develop typhoid fever--he begins to realize that there is, a close tie between cleanliness and morals. "Ought" comes in on the sphere of cleanliness, and then the whole realm of ethics is open. So near are the departments of physical and ethical cleanliness that now if one hears the word "slum" without explanation, he cannot tell whether it relates to filth or sin.
The perception of this relationship is of very ancient date. Though it is Isaiah who says (52:11) "Cleanse yourselves, ye that bear the vessels of Yahweh," and
The ceremonial cleansings called for by the Law had meaning and influence. They were interpretative of something spiritual--were a parable way of illustrating the necessity of purity of heart in order to gain acceptance with God. If in after-days the thing symbolized was forgotten in the symbol, that was owing to "blindness of mind." The darkness was not necessary.
1. The Sex Relation:
But the main subject in respect to which we shall in this article seek light on purity from the Bible will not be hygiene or aesthetics, but morals. When we turn to that department we shall at once realize the fact that the sex relation is the most primitive and comprehensive of all the human relations.
The attitude of the Bible in respect to that relation is unmistakable. From the vision of the Garden of Eden to that of the
Such laws may sometimes seem severe. Doubtless they are primitive and date from the time of nomadism. In primitive conditions, penalties for infraction of law are to be severe and swift. Pioneers the world over and through time, for very self-preservation’s sake, could show little favor or tolerance to lawlessness. Be these laws severe, they show the intense earnestness of a people to have a pure family life in which children born should be genuine to it. These Levitical restrictions upon intermarriage with relatives fit the sense of propriety and right of civilized people, even to this day.
2. The Prophets:
There is no question about the attitude of the prophets on purity. They were in harmony with the Law. They had no tolerance for corrupt morals or manners leading to impurity or suggesting it. An illustration sometimes has the light of the sun in it. What it is that is illustrated is frequently best seen by looking at the illustration itself. The prophets were passionate monotheists. They wanted above all things that Israel should be true to Yahweh and to Him alone. To the prophets, worship of other gods was treason to Yahweh. One prophet after another, and over and over again, illustrates this highest of crimes by infidelity in the marriage relation. That shows in what estimate the family was held. To put any other in the place of Yahweh was "to go a-whoring after other gods," or "to play the harlot." That shows as nothing else could how deep in the heart was sunk regard for pure family life. Infidelity was high treason there, or it never would have furnished language to describe high treason to God.
3. The Proverbs:
4. The So of Songs:
It is pleasant to turn from the tense severity of law, since it must deal largely with crime and sin, to the idealism of poetry. In the Psalms and the Prophets the relation of husband and wife, of bridegroom and bride, of lover and loved are always treated with tenderness and reverence. Here is familiar Scripture (
It is sometimes thought strange that the So of Songs should be in the Scripture Canon. But why should there be such doubt? It is but a more particular elaboration of what is boldly brought to notice in the quotations above. There is no more necessity of reading impurity into it than there is of reading it into the quotations above. The poem is illustrative of an experience as widely known as any in the life of the human race--an experience in which sin is no necessity. One must go out of his way who imputes sin to a single act or thought that comes to expression in the poem. The maiden is guileless and the lover is manly. The poem is said to be erotic. But the eros is idealized. It may be sensuous, but it is not sensual. It is not selfish. The passion of each finds expression in careful thoughtfulness for the other. It does not turn back to itself in coarse brute craving of lust for its own self-indulgence. The refrain of the poem is--
"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem
That ye stir not up, nor awake my love."--
The watchfulness is as tender as that for an infant. Where will the law lay its indictment of sin against such thoughts and feelings? The lovers are under the charm that has been and is to be from everlasting to everlasting with the human race upon the earth.
Christ at His strictest did not set Himself against the charm of love. He said it should be eternally single and true in spirit. The maiden in the song goes forth in the night, in the simplicity of her heart, to find her beloved (
5. Christ and Purity:
Paul has said, "Ye are not under law, but under grace" (
Sometimes it may be thought that there is a look of moral indifference about the way in which Jesus disposed of the woman’s case who was taken in adultery (
The subsequent psychology of a sinner after the words of Scripture leave him is of deepest interest. Psychological action he must have had; what is it? The question arises, Had the prodigal son completed his repentance till he had asked the forgiveness of his mother and his elder brother? What is the subsequent psychology of a sinner as he disappears from our view? We can interpret here by what we know to be the operations of the Holy Spirit in the soul; just as we know a material object that diappears from view is still under the law of gravitation. Few who have thought on this subject have expressed the truth so well as Whittier in "Our Master," or in "John Underhill" in these words:
"And men took note of his gloomy air
The shame in his eye, the halt in his prayer,
The signs of a battle lost within,
The pain of a soul in the coils of sin.
Into the desert alone rode he,
Alone with the Infinite Purity;
And bowing his soul to its tender rebuke,
As Peter did to the Master’s look,
He measured his path with prayer of pain
For peace with God and nature again."
There is a recognition of the burning with fire that is infolded in the word "purity."
Paul is like his Master. He seeks for purity in this relation after marriage as well as before--purity of mind. In
We have only space for a glance at a few departments of action and thought to see what the world has gained in purity from the religion of the Bible. The age of chivalry ought to have a word put to its credit. The knights took the vow of chastity before the tribunals of the church. Take art--compare a Venus and a Madonna. Not only spirituality, but even intellectuality is wanting in a Venus. There is not a suggestion in a Venus that does not inhere in flesh and sense. Of what would she or could she speak if she were to open her mouth? To judge from her. appearance, the utterance would be so "flat, stale and unprofitable" that even the charm of her physical beauty would disappear. In the Madonna you scarce see the physical. If she were to speak, her words would picture the peace and calm joy of a heavenly realm. If her countenance is suggestive of something far away, it is of something far above.
But art is not dead, and spiritual art did not die with the creation of the Madonna. Take Gaudens’ "Puritan." Compare that with an Apollo. Again we have the contrast there is between a Madonna and a Venus. We have the physical and the aesthetic in an Apollo, but there is not a gleam of the intellectual. That Apollo thinks is not indicated, much less what he might be thinking about. There is not the faintest suggestion of the ethical. There is no intent and purpose in him. But in the Puritan there is intent and purpose. He means much. He is ethical. That determined bearing can only come from a spirit alive with the sense of right. When it comes to that, you will warrant that the Puritan carries more physical guns than the Apollo, and that if they were to clinch in a tug of wrestling Apollo would fall underneath. That ethical intent and purpose is masterly. You may look through a whole pantheon of Greek gods and meet not a trace of the force concentrated in the Puritan. He is forceful because right makes might. He is in the majority because he knows Who is with him. He is conscious of power because he has subdued the kingdom within. He has won the greatest of all victories--self-control.