How to Understand the New Testament-Part 16

We are going to touch on a very important subject found in the New Testament, and that is the subject of “clean and unclean, the holy and the profane” and get into a few issues here. Ritual uncleanliness was a very important issue in the first century. The underlying principles behind ritual uncleanliness was that a person who contracted an uncleanliness was prohibited from going to the Temple, interacting with the priests or touching holy things. Because there is not a Temple or priesthood today, these laws are suspended and don’t much apply right now. That does not mean that we can’t learn about these laws and how they affected people in the New Testament, while a Temple stood. These laws will be in force again when Yeshua returns and constructs the Messianic Temple found in Ezek 40-48. Ezek 44.23 says, “Moreover, they (the priests) shall teach my people the difference between the holy (that which is set apart) and the profane (that which is common), and cause them to discern between the unclean (tamai) and the clean (tahor).” This verse applies to the future, but it was what the priests were to do in the first century while the Temple stood. The primary source for learning about this subject will be the 12 tractates in the section “Taharot” in the Mishnah. This is a lengthy subject and virtually unknown outside of Orthodox Judaism today. We are not going to try and interpret spiritual meanings to what we are discussing, but use this knowledge as a building block to understanding the New Testament. We have to do the basics and do our homework. There were certain levels of purity in the first century. The land of Israel is the most sanctified because korbanot (offerings) done in the Temple can only come from there, like the Omer and the Sheva Minim (the seven species found in Deut 8.8 for instance). Cities surrounded by a wall are more sanctified than a those that were not. Lepers were sent out of walled cities, and the dead must be brought out. An example of the latter occurred during the siege of Jerusalem with the Romans. Yochanon Ben Zakkai was brought out of Jerusalem because the Zealots would not let anyone out during the siege. So, he acted like he was dead and the Zealots let him leave and he was brought out. Ben Zakkai was Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin and wanted to negotiate with the Romans before it was too late. He sent people out to say he was dead, and they would bury the dead the same day. So, he was put in a coffin and let out of the city. He approached Vespasian, the man who would become emperor leading the siege, and told him that the Romans would eventually destroy the city and the Temple. Vespasian was impressed with Yochanon and gave him three “wishes.” He gave Yochanon the town of Yavneh and its sages, the descendants of Rav Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher. He also granted him the request that a physician be given to Rabbi Tzadok who had been fasting for 40 years to save Jerusalem from destruction. Many believe Rabbi Tzadok was a believer in Yeshua, and fasted from the time of Yeshua’s predictions about the fall of the nation in 30 A.D. Next, Jerusalem was more holy than any other city in the land. Within the walls of Jerusalem was more holy than outside the walls, and the Temple Mount was more than in the city. The common area in the courts of the Temple was next in holiness, then the courts of Israel. Then there was the court of the Priests, followed by the Holy Place and lastly, the Holy of Holies. The purity laws are found in Leviticus chapters 11- through 17, and Num 19. There are three main area’s of clean and unclean. There is Tzara’at, or leprosy, which could be upon a person, a house or clothing. What many consider leprosy is not the tzara’at of the Scriptures. When you see biblical movies, they show what is known as Hansen’s Disease, but that was not what biblical “leprosy” was. Tzara’at was inflicted by God on a person, house or clothing for various reasons, but the one most referred to is Lashon Hara, or “an evil tongue.” The next category was bodily fluids, and the last was corpse uncleanliness. All of these have ceremonies associated with them. You could be unclean till sundown, and a mikvah was the only thing required. Or, you could be unclean for seven days, depending on what happened. Either way, you were prohibited from having any contact with the Temple, set apart things or the priests. Clean and unclean should be understood in a ritual sense only, and has nothing to do with being hygienically clean or given for health reasons. In the Hertz Pentatuech and Haftorahs, p 459, it says, “It is to be noted that most laws of purity and impurity apply only in reference to the Sanctuary and the holy objects connected with it. They did not apply in ordinary life, or to persons who did not intend to enter the Sanctuary.” So, these laws do not apply today, but they did in the New Testament because there was a functioning Temple, priesthood and holy things, and that is why we should be familiar with them. If one was unclean he could not enter the Temple, interact with the priests or touch holy objects. The Scriptures have much to say about this subject and a basic understanding of these laws will clarify many verses. Again, the New Testament had many things to say about the “halakah” (the way to walk before God) on this subject because the Temple stood, there was a functioning priesthood and there were holy things (see Mark 5.21-43; Mark 7.1-23; Luke 10.30-37; Luke 17.11-19; Matt 8.8; John 9.1-7). Now, being unclean was not a sin. For instance, lepers were touched, women were unclean in childbirth, you were unclean after sexual relations, when ministering to the dead, menstruation, chronic discharges and touching dead, unclean creatures. Man is the only living being that can become unclean ritually. The highest from of uncleanliness is called “corpse uncleanliness.” This required a ceremony involving the ashes of Parah Adumah, or Red Heifer. There can be no future Temple, priesthood or holy things without these ashes. This is a very important eschatological issue. The Scriptures prescribe certain rituals that will move a person from an unclean state to a clean state (remember, clean and unclean have nothing to do with the physical, it is ritual, involving contact with the Temple). Common to all rituals, the time factor is important. Some only require a tevilah (immersion) in a mikvah (bath) and waiting till the sun goes down. These were called a “Tevel Yom.” Seven days were required for the “greater degree” of uncleanliness, like childbirth and corpse uncleanliness. Also, a leper required this time period, depending on when the blemish disappeared. Sometimes, a korban (offering) was required. Vessels can be unclean, and to made pure again sometimes they can be immersed, but destroyed if they cant be. Some can be “kashered” which is done by boiling or heating. This includes stoves and ovens. Cisterns and pools cannot be made unclean. On Yom Kippur, the central rituals involve purity and cleansing, not only for the High Priest but the Temple itself. This also has a very eschatological aspect to it (Isa 52; Ezek 36). There are many references to the purity laws in the Scriptures, that is why a basic understanding of them is necessary. Let’s look at the Parah Adumah, or the Red Heifer. This heifer is killed and burned, and the ashes were mixed with living water and sprinkled on people or things defiled by a corpse. In the word “adumah” we see that the part “adum” is related to “Adam” which means “blood of God.” This is not a korban (an offering) but the heifer is slaughtered. This slaughter took place on the Mount of Olives, where a special place was set. It was directly across from the Holy of Holies. There was a bridge constructed across the Kidron Valley, connecting the Temple to the site of the Mount of Olives. Once the heifer was burned, its ashes were kept outside the gate to the Court of the Women and on the Mount of Olives where they slaughtered it. The Jewish religious authorities believe they have found the exact spot where this took place, directly across from the Dome of the Rock. This is a very important find, because any future Temple building will need to be directly across from this site on the Mount of Olives. Now, we are going to clarify a few things. The old ashes from the previous red heifers will not be needed to build the coming Temple. There are some who believe this to be true, and one man made a living on searching for them, but to no avail. When the time comes, there will be a red heifer available. The idea that a red heifer has to be perfect simply means that it could not have any broken bones, cuts or scars. Lately, some heifers have been disqualified because it had “off color” hairs. That is not biblical, and this idea comes from the Rabbinical Oral tradition. In Num 19.2 it says that this heifer is to be “unblemished” which is # 8549 in the Strong’s and it means “no defect, entirely whole.” It also says it is to be without “defect” which is # 4140 in the Strong’s and it means “not injured.” There is no biblical requirement for the heifer to be at least three years old either. So, we could have a red heifer qualified biblically as long as it has no limbs missing, cuts, scars or deformity. It also cannot have carried a “yoke” of any kind. However, it is highly improbable that the Rabbinical Jews involved in building and putting up the coming Temple will follow only the Torah. They haven’t done that in over 2000 years! They will include the Oral Law on this involving the Red Heifer, but they don’t have to. Again, the purity laws do not apply today because there is no Temple, priesthood or holy things. We know of many believers in Yeshua who follow the Rabbi’s on this subject and try to follow all these laws, but their efforts are futile. There is no way to become clean because we are all unclean, ritually speaking. No matter what effort you put into following these things, you cannot be ritually clean. And there is no reason to be because you are not going to the Temple, interacting with the priesthood or going to touch things that are holy there. However, when you read the New Testament and you come across the issue of clean and unclean, you must remember that a Temple, a priesthood and the holy things were still functioning. In order to go to the Temple, you had to be in a ritually clean state, and that was important to the people. But that is why it is an issue in the New Testament. Since the destruction of the Temple, this is no longer an issue because there is no Temple to get ritually clean for. There is one major concept that you need to keep in mind. When you read a commandment, you have to ask yourself who does it apply to. For instance, many commands did not apply if you lived outside the land of Israel, or if you were not going to the Mishkan or Temple. Some did not apply if you were not a king, or a priest. Some did not apply if you were a woman, or a man. Some applied only to the Jewish people and not to a believing non-Jew. You have to read the Scriptures to see who it applied to and who it did not apply to. In this case, the Purity Laws concerning the clean and unclean do not apply today because there is no Temple, priesthood or holy things, but they are important to understand in order to understand what is going on in the New Testament. In Part 17, we are going to continue with bringing out more concepts and issues that help you understand the New Testament.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Understanding the New Testament

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