Cleanliness in Old Testament – unclean foods, ejaculation and menstruation

Among evangelical churches, the topic of holiness is emphasized quite a lot. We are warned against backsliding, to check ourselves whether we have any hidden sins in our life, and whether we continue our daily meditation and prayer to the Lord.

As good as it is, I find that there is a topic that almost never mentioned but also very important in Old Testament. Yes, it is cleanliness. If holiness is about purity of our spirit, cleanliness is about purity of our body. And since human is both physical and spiritual being, I think it it is reasonable to think that God wants us to be both spiritually and physically clean to have healthy life.

In Old Testament, there are many instances which showed importance of cleanliness. When Moses encountered God in burning bush, he was told to remove his sandals, for the place where he was standing is ‘holy ground’ (Exodus 3: 5). God promised that various diseases which was found in Egypt will not touch Israelites if they obey His law (Exodus 15: 26). Hence, we can deduce that God concern about our cleanliness in addition of our holiness.

I collected some verses from Bible, especially from Leviticus, to give you some insights about cleanliness rule. I found that these laws in Old Testament is helpful for our well-being although I don’t believe it is a sin when we don’t observe it. I believe that we are saved by grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ and not Torah. However, I also believe that we should at least try to follow Torah (Other than its sacrificial offerings) as detail as we can to make us more healthy and peaceful.

All details for these laws can be found on Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I will focus only on two things: Unclean foods and body fluids

1. Unclean foods

I showed those 3 images because they are my favorite foods (T_T) which are among foods that are forbidden in Leviticus. I just wished that somehow those foods somehow can magically clean but apparently that will not be the case.

I sincerely believe that we need to be abstain from certain foods mentioned in Torah if we want to live healthier  life. I say this because among world religions, Christianity is the most liberal in respect to dietary regulation. Muslims restrict themselves not to eat pork. Hindus and Taoists are abstain from beef. Significant numbers of Buddhists are vegetarians. Jews, of course have their Old Testament dietary law. But Christians are restricted from…..none.

Anyhow, here are the list of some forbidden popular food in Torah:

  • Rabbit (Leviticus 11: 6)
  • Pork (Leviticus 11: 7)
  • Eel, stingray, and catfish (Leviticus 11: 9, fishes with no fins and scales)
  • Prawn, mussel, oyster, scallop, crab (Leviticus 11: 10, non-fish swarming sea creatures)
  • Bat (Leviticus 11: 13)
  • Dogs and cats (Leviticus 11: 3, they don’t have split hoof. Sorry for Koreans!)
  • Snakes (Leviticus 11: 41-42)

So it reduces my options to mainly chicken, duck, beef and normal fishes…

2. Body fluids

Note: This topic is a bit sensitive, so please bear with me.

In Leviticus 15, God gave instructions to handle body fluids. If a man has ejaculation, anything he touches including bed, seat, claypot, wooden articles and other people become unclean. The man himself needs to take a bath to cleanse his body from impurity and he also need to make sacrifice of doves or pigeons. The same with women.

Considering that semen and blood is unclean and has potential to bring sexually transmitted disease, I think the rule has some good points. But there is one thing that bother me about this rule: We need to make sin offering to atone for uncleanliness caused by bodily discharge.

Why should we make sin offering for bodily discharge? As if those things can be controlled. The closest reason I can make is because semen and blood discharged containing potential for soul (if the sperm meets ovum). Hence, by discharging those body fluids through non-sexual mean, we actually ‘waste’ pre-form of life.

More interesting question (especially for men) is whether masturbation is sin. This question is not much popular in church due to perception that talking about sex should be done in private but actually most men want to know.

The argument that masturbation is sin typically drawing Bible verses from Genesis 38: 6-10 (The event in which God struck Onan to death after he spilled his semen because do not want to help to produce offspring for his brother) and Matthew 5: 27-28 (Lord Jesus told his audience that anyone looks at  woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her).

However, I don’t think that those two verses is good argument. If the people that made argument from first verse (Genesis 38: 6-10) is consistent, then they may as well ban sexual intercourse for non-creation purpose. That’s how the context said anyway. But then how to explain all sexual depictions in Song of Solomon? It seems that this book depicted erotic sexual acts as pure enjoyment. Of course, you have all ‘expert’ theologians tell you that Songs of Solomon is just allegory between groom, which is God and his bride (church) regardless God was almost never mentioned in this book and mentioned not as groom. I will stick with most literal and straight forward interpretation. That is, sexual intercourse for pure enjoyment is acceptable.

The second argument is stronger. Initially, I must admit that I have a reservation for women because of this verse (Matthew 5: 27-28). Initially, during my childhood, I assume this verse means that I cannot be attracted by woman physical beauty and any attraction that I feel is sin.

Furthermore, some people argued that since masturbation usually involves imagining having intercourse with a woman or attraction with woman beauty, then it is definitely adultery according to this verse. But here, I think these people are misguided because combination of loose definition and lack of consideration for other Bible verses.

First of all, what is adultery anyway? You can only commit adultery if one party already married. If the word of Lord Jesus’ is applicable to all women, married or not, then the following verse in Old Testament will not make sense:

Deuteronomy 21: 10-11 When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD you God delivers them into your hands and you talk captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.

Here, the verse clearly stated that it is acceptable to be attracted by a beautiful woman and to take her as our wife. If we want to take general context, usually captive women in a war have lost their husbands because their husbands died in battle. In other words, they have no husband. I will take that means it is acceptable to be attracted to beautiful woman if she is single. So, the argument that masturbation is sin because it involves attraction to woman physical beauty is not valid.

The second point of the argument is the sexual act is only acceptable within marriage and it is a sin to imagine we have a sexual intercourse even with a single woman. Well then, they have yet to prove the point…Although based on Old Testament, prostitution is definitely a sin (Leviticus 19: 29) but there is no explicit restriction on pre-marital sex…in other words, sexual intercourse outside marriage is not necessarily sin.

The closest verse we can get about pre-marital sex is Deuteronomy 22: 28. The verse told us that other than paying fifty shekels (for having sexual relation with daughter without her father permission) there is no penalty for having sexual relation for the girl with the condition that the man will marry that girl afterward (otherwise it will result in promiscuity and it is a sin).

Having said those things, I think very frequent masturbation is not good for us. Based on cleanliness law in Leviticus, it seems that spilling of semen is not something that is  encouraged because of uncleanliness. However, I think masturbation act itself, if it is done without imagining married woman (which is the same as adultery), is not a sin.

I am starting to apply some dietary restriction in Torah and…try to make myself cleaner…

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About edwin2026

I am currently Indonesian expatriate working in Singapore, graduated from Nanyang Technological University with major in Computer Science in 2009. I am also working as software engineer, developing and maintaining systems for Singapore civil service. I write this blog to share to readers about my life principle on various aspects, like religion, politics, business, relationship, and technology. I am interested in alternative worldviews because I found that many things taught to us by establishments are not true and harmful. My dream is to become self-sufficient in food and energy. Hopefully, someday I can have my own fruit garden and my own power plant and able to sell my electricity to power company. I hope readers enjoy my blog.
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3 Responses to Cleanliness in Old Testament – unclean foods, ejaculation and menstruation

  1. reader says:

    A little correction regarding body fluids:

    Leviticus 15 talked about 4 different topics:
    1. Men with unusual bodily discharge (v2-15)
    2. Men with emission of semen (v16-18)
    3. Women with regular flow of blood (v19-24)
    4. Women with flow of blood after/outside her regular period (v25-30)

    Not all of the categories above require sin offering, For men who discharged semen or women having their period, they are only considered as unclean until the evening/for seven days, but no sin offering is needed.

    I think you took the wrong conclusion that all body fluid discharge require sin offering/sinful and it might have something to do about wasting semen/blood through non-sexual means. For me, the passage only governs the physical cleanliness of the Israelite, just as you first concluded that semen and blood might carry disease. For those with unusual bodily discharge/irregular flow of blood, this might be a sign of a sexually-transmitted-disease, hence the stricter rule regarding the issue (seven days after the discharge stopped), and the need of the sin offering.

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