Ritual Purity in the New Covenant

Some may wonder if Christians are supposed to be eating kosher, and following rules about bodily fluids and circumcision. Ritual purity laws are not like moral purity since they don’t involve behavior, and therefore breaking them is not punishable by execution. These laws were designed to set the Israelites apart, and they were never given to Gentiles. Paul had also to say about not enforcing these laws in the OT, and even Jesus said some things. Let’s take a deeper look at why they existed in the first place if new covenant Gentiles don’t have to follow them. What were they pointing to?

Leviticus can be divided into 8 sections, the first 7 are the specific details of the law and the 8th declares the terms and conditions of keeping faithful to the covenant. The 7 sections of Leviticus: Sacrificing Rituals (Lev 1-7), Priestly Ordainment (8-10), Ritual Purity laws (11-15), The Day of Atonement (16-17), Moral Purity Laws (18-20), Priestly Consecration (21-22), Festivals, Feast, and Sabbaths (Lev 23-25), and Terms and Conditions (Chapters 26-27).

The Messianic Covenant that was made available through Jesus the Messiah connects Jews and Gentiles into one Covenant. The Sinaitic Covenant did not go away but was simply fulfilled in specific ways. The ritual purity laws, the priestly system, the sacrificial system, and the holy days are all fulfilled in Jesus in one way or another and this is mostly explained in the book of Hebrews. The Moral laws (murder, adultery, etc) were established before the covenant on Sinai with Moses, so those applied to everyone not just Jews. It is only the moral laws that apply to us today in the new covenant. This is until the resurrection and judgment day when believers get the new bodies that will be sin-free.

In the old covenant, a person could not come before God’s presence at the Temple or Tabernacle if they were unclean which included people who had skin diseases (like leprosy), or touched the carcass of an unclean animal or human. This also applied to contact with sexual fluids via intercourse, menstruation, or seminal emission made a person unclean until the next evening (in the case of sex and semen), or for the whole week (in the case of menstrual fluid). These kinds of laws do not apply in the new covenant since believers’ bodies are the new temple. A believer’s body is a new temple because God’s presence resides inside, this presence is what we refer to as the Holy Spirit. In other words, God’s presence is no longer in a Temple/Tabernacle building in Jerusalem, instead, Christians are in the temple now. It wouldn’t make much sense for these laws to apply now, because that would mean the Holy Spirit would have to leave if a Christian had sex with their spouse, was menstruating, or touched a dead body. This is not true and the Holy Spirit is always with those who follow Christ.

In the new covenant, we don’t need to be in a clean state (ritually pure) to interact with God’s presence anymore. We have God’s spirit inside of us because we were made pure by the sacrifice of Jesus, making us the new Temple rather than having to build another one (1 Cor 6:19-20, & 2 Cor 6:15-18). God’s presence previously required ritually purity just to come to the Tabernacle/Temple, but now he can be inside of us now as if we are the Temple because of what Jesus did. Jesus’s blood has made our hearts pure and cleaned our bodies as if they were washed pure water (Heb 10:22). Blood and water in the old testament were how the Israelites were purified in the old covenant. The blood of sin-offering for both the high priest and the community each is sprinkled on the inner curtain of the Most Holy place and the Ark itself (Lev 4:3-21), purifying Israel spiritually. Being bathed in or sprinkled with water is how they got pure physically (Lev ch. 13-15, Num 19: 17-19, Deut 23:10-11). So Hebrews 10:22 is saying Christ’s blood functions like water so pure that it permanently solves ritual impurity. Interestingly, the water that Jesus turned into wine at the wedding in Cana, was for ritual purity washing (John 2:6), and wine represents Jesus’ blood in communion (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 12:25). Also, notice that blood and water came out of Jesus’ side when the soldier pierced him with the lance in John 19:33-37. Normally if a person touches an unclean person or anything that person has sat on or laid on they become unclean themselves until the evening (Lev ch. 15). In contrast, Jesus himself was perpetually pure because he could touch lepers (Matt 8:1-4) and hemorrhaging women (Matt 9:19-22) and make them clean instead of becoming unclean. His death put us in that state so that we could receive God’s spirit like Jesus did when he was baptized (Mark 3:13-17), thus fulfilling the requirements of ritual purity laws.

Furthermore, according to Leviticus 14, when someone is cured of a skin disease they must show themselves to the priest and go through both a process of purification (Lev 14:1-9) and reconciliation (Lev 14:10-32) because skin diseases (like leprosy) were caused by sin. For purification, the priest will examine them outside the camp (because they were quarantined) and then gather two birds (pigeons or doves), a hyssop branch, a cedar stick, and scarlet yarn. They will tie the cedar stick and hyssop branch together with the scarlet yarn, then sacrifice one bird and drain its blood into a clay pot filled with water. Then they will tie the living bird to the hyssop stick utility and dip it into the blood and water mix, and shake the bird and stick combo at the person sprinkling them with blood. Then the priest will let the live bird go, and the person will shave (all of their hair), bathe, and wash their clothes. This cleanses the person so they can return to the community, however, they cannot enter their house/tent for a week. There are two birds, one is sacrificed and one is set free, this points to Jesus because his sacrifice sets us free (John 8:36). Notice the live bird is covered in the blood of the dead bird, I believe this points to new covenant believers being “covered in the blood” of Jesus. This concept is similar to what happens with the scapegoat in the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) holiday in Leviticus 16, but without the blood covering. One goat is slaughtered as a sin offering and the other is set free in the wilderness. For Yom Kippur, both the sin and burnt offerings blood were sprinkled on the Ark and gold incense altar seven times each for both. Lastly, we can see in 1 John 5:1-13 says that the water and blood work together as witnesses of Jesus being the messiah along with the Holy Spirit (some translations also add the Father, the Word to the Holy Spirit). He purifies us ritually like water, and spiritually with his blood like the sacrifices, and this put us in a state where our bodies could function as new temples of God, holding God’s Holy Spirit on the inside. Therefore since the water and blood are the mechanisms that make it possible for humans to receive God’s spirit, the presence of God’s spirit in his people is proof that what Jesus did worked and that he was God’s son, the messiah.

Continuing with Leviticus 14, seven days after being purified, the former quarantined person must bathe and shave and wash their clothes again, and then they will gather three animals to sacrifice on the eighth day. They must bring two male lambs and a female lamb (a year old) if they can afford it, or one lamb and two birds if they are poor. One animal is for the burnt offering (lamb or bird), one for a sin offering (lamb or bird), and one for a guilt offering (a male lamb). Along with that comes a grain offering of six quarts of flour mixed with olive oil, and a cup of olive oil. The priest will apply the blood of the guilt offering to the right ear, thumb, and big toe of the person and then mix it with the olive oil and sprinkle the blood before the Tabernacle/Temple seven times. Then they will take the blood and oil mix and apply it to the right ear, thumb, and big toe of the person and then sacrifice and offer the sin and burnt offering along with the grain offering and that person will be reconciled to God. Jesus’ blood cleanses and reconciles us to God by pardoning our sins so that God’s presence (the holy spirit) can inhabit our bodies as he did the Tabernacle/Temple.

Lastly, concerning kosher food laws, Jesus said what we eat does not defile us (Matt 15:10-20). This alludes to a larger lesson concerning Gentiles getting saved that God picks up with Peter in Acts ch. 10-11. In Romans 14, Colossians 2, and 1 Corinthians ch. 8-10 Paul confirms that these laws don’t apply to Gentiles anyway much like the laws concerning circumcision and holidays and are to be followed if a person’s conscience is moved to do so, but they are not required for salvation. Unlike the moral laws, these rules were never given to Gentiles but only to Israel. Clean and unclean meats are categorized in Genesis 7-9 for Noah’s Ark, but in Gen 9:3-4 God said humans can eat any meat as long as they drain the blood. Lastly, in Deut 14:21 God said that while the Israelites couldn’t eat unclean animals they were allowed to give/sell them to foreigners living among them and outsiders (Gentiles). Therefore only the Israelites who were under the Sinaitic covenant had to follow these dietary rules. This doesn’t mean it isn’t beneficial to restrict one’s diet to clean animals, but it is not required to be counted as righteous.