Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
This article is for those who are married (or are hoping to marry in the future) to think on and consider. In the Law, the Lord sets up a rather interesting choice. The Law states,
When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening.
Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches her bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever touches anything she sits on must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, he will be unclean till evening.
If a man lies with her and her monthly flow touches him, he will be unclean for seven days; and any bed he lies on will be unclean (Leviticus 15:19-24).
During her period, a woman becomes ceremonially unclean. Not only is she rendered unclean though, everything she sits/ lays on also becomes unclean. This means that unless the woman or her husband is essentially quarantined during that time, the husband will become unclean as well. What’s a good, Bible-believing, husband to do? Does one kick out their spouse for a week, or risk becoming unclean before God?
Before we figure out how to solve this situation, let’s look at what being unclean actually entails. When preparing this article, I decided that the specifics of uncleanness might be above my head, so I instead tried a quick Google search. This yielded little results. Apparently, most people are really hung up on the food lists (which we already covered in “Why Can’t I Eat That?”.) Alright then…Holy Spirit powers…Activate! Ok, let’s see what I was able to scrounge up with the help of the Holy Spirit. The first effect of being unclean is that you can’t eat the fellowship offering. The Law states,
Meat that touches anything ceremonially unclean must not be eaten; it must be burned up. As for other meat, anyone ceremonially clean may eat it. But if anyone who is unclean eats any meat of the fellowship offering belonging to the Lord, that person must be cut off from his people. If anyone touches something unclean- whether human uncleanness or an unclean animal or any unclean, detestable thing- and then eats any of the meat of the fellowship offering belonging to the Lord, that person must be cut off from his people (Leviticus 7:19-21).
This may not seem like a big deal at first; however, the way the Law talks about the use of the fellowship offering, it is basically painted as the main way to eat meat. If you want to eat meat, you take it to the Temple to get it blessed and then you eat it with your family. There is an exception to this for those who live out in the countryside and want to eat meat but not travel several days to the Temple to do so. Therefore you don’t have to eat meat in the style of a fellowship offering, but if you lived within walking distance of the Temple, it was heavily implied that the fellowship offering was your only way of eating meat. Another effect of being unclean was that you weren’t allowed near the sacrifices of the Temple. We read,
Say to them: “For the generations to come, if any of your descendants is ceremonially unclean and yet comes near the sacred offerings that the Israelites consecrate to the Lord, that person must be cut off from my presence. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 22:3).
This one isn’t too difficult to follow, unless you’re a member of the priesthood. Along those lines comes the third effect of uncleanness,
If a descendant of Aaron has an infectious skin disease or a bodily discharge, he may not eat the sacred offerings until he is cleansed. He will also be unclean if he touches something defiled by a corpse or by anyone who has an emission of semen, or if he touches any crawling thing that makes him unclean, or any person who makes him unclean, or any person who makes him unclean, whatever the uncleanness may be. The one who touches any such thing will be unclean till evening. He must not eat any of the sacred offerings unless he has bathed himself with water. When the sun goes down, he will be clean, and after that he may eat the sacred offerings, for they are his food (Leviticus 22:4-7).
Being unclean kind of sucks for a priest; basically they’re rendered unfit for their duties (most of which involved the sacrifice). This is problematic because all of their food comes from offerings (which are considered holy). However, this only lasted until nightfall, and then it was ok for them to resume everything (including eating). This passage also highlights that it’s really easy to becoming ceremonially unclean (including squishing bugs). Yet another effect of uncleanness comes in Numbers 5:1-4,
The Lord said to Moses, “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” The Israelites did this; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses.
If you’re ceremonially unclean you’re not supposed to even stay at your home. I’m not sure how sending someone outside the camp even translates to modern society. Do such people have to go out of town and into the surrounding townships? Or in a city would it mean having to stay outside of your apartment? I wonder how modern-day Israelites handle this stuff. Anyway, let’s grab one more of these effects from being unclean. According to the Bible, the Passover is to be celebrated in the first month (of the Hebrew calendar) on the fourteenth day. But wait, the Passover is a holy meal, what if you’re unclean on the 14th? God’s got that covered:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they may still celebrate the Lord’s Passover. They are to celebrate it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Numbers 9:9-11).
If you’re unclean during the Passover you can celebrate it a month later- if you’re unclean then too, then I guess you don’t get to hastily eat roast lamb that year. Ok, so what have we learned? It seems that an unclean state is one somewhat separated from God- it’s not exactly sin (though some cases require sacrifice when you come back from outside the camp). Honestly, it’s not well defined. Even how, we’re called to a holy people, set apart for the Lord. For it is written,
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).
So even as Christians, we’re supposed to be doing our best to stay clean.
Alright then, now with some background let’s return to our problem. Should a wife be avoided during her period? Let’s look at the facts: (1) for seven days, everything she touches will also become unclean; (2) theoretically, she’s supposed to be sent “outside the camp” (although what that means for us is unclear); (3) using the same bed as your wife and remaining clean is impossible. Ok, so for seven days a woman on her period is considered unclean, this means that a woman is ceremonially unclean 25% of the time (assuming an average of 4 weeks to each cycle). And the Bible suggests that even during ancient times, husbands and wives were sharing the same bed. For it is written, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). This means that (A) either both the husband and wife will be made unclean 25% of the time, or (B) someone is sleeping on the couch/ floor for a quarter of their married life.
So…what do you do? A woman has no control over her period, as it is a natural body function. Rather, then, her “unclean” state is representative of our separation from God through original sin (something we had no control over). And, just like how a woman is able to continue in her life while on her period, we live life as dead people walking (spiritually speaking, that is) until we’re restored by Christ Jesus. So a woman’s period is another sign that points to our need for Jesus Christ in our lives. However, that doesn’t answer our question. For that, let’s turn to the very beginning of the Bible: Genesis. After creating Adam and the animals, God realized that something was missing and created Eve, the first woman. Thus the first marriage was carried out. The Bible describes it this way:
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called ‘woman,’
For she was taken out of man.”
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:22-24).
According to this, when a man and a woman are joined in holy matrimony they not only become a married couple, but this couple actually becomes one person in the eyes of God. That “become one flesh” is more than a euphemism for sex; it’s a declaration for how a married couple appears before the Lord (and also explains why God gets so freaked out by divorce, as it’s like ripping yourself in half). Therefore, since a married couple is one, they should theoretically act as one. “But wait! What about period time? She’ll make me unclean!” The Lord says in Hosea 6:6, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” Our God puts acts of kindness and mercy over following the Law to the letter (as offerings were established by the Law). Can you imagine what it must have been like to have been married to the “Law above all else” Pharisees? “Oh, my wife’s period has started… ‘GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, WOMAN! And don’t touch anything on the way out, you’re unclean!’” Obviously, this doesn’t really make for a healthy marriage. I think the Law produced a lot of confusing situations like this; which is why for much of his ministry, Jesus had to explain everything. I mean, check this out: Jesus was eating with sinners, these folks were certainly unclean and therefore he shouldn’t have even been associating with them, and he got called out on it. History records,
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Matthew 9:10-11)
Bam Jesus! You just got caught! But Jesus didn’t even bat an eye and quickly explained that he wasn’t in violation of the Law, rather he was fulfilling the heart of God:
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).
Jesus actually used the same Hosea quote we did earlier to justify hanging out with people who were probably not clean. So to be clear, God favors mercy over the Law.
Let’s take a look, then, at how the Bible treats marriage. Jesus taught,
But at the beginning of creation God “made them male and female.” “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate (Mark 10:6-9).
God really does see a married couple as one person, kind of like two trees growing into each other and becoming one. Christ the Lord also noted in this teaching that, because they are one, a husband and wife shouldn’t be separated (that means no kicking your lady out just because it’s that time of the month). Paul also wrote on the topic of marriage. We read from him,
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church- for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:25-31).
This quote just keeps coming back, doesn’t it? But take a look; Paul again says that a husband and wife should basically be considered as one person. So if our Pharisee was throwing his wife out, it’d be the same as throwing himself out (and really if that’s the case, he should go with her). But also take note here that Paul says that a husband should love his wife as Christ loved the church. Jesus’ love for us was a sacrificial love, for he was willing to take on our sins (even though he was without sin) and suffer the punishment meant for us. If husbands are to love their wives as Jesus loved us (and took on our sins), then surely this includes taking on the wives’ ceremonial uncleanness as well. This isn’t a concept that just cropped up in the New Testament after Jesus hit the scene though. Even Solomon realized that marriage is an important relationship; and he advised people to
Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun- all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun (Ecclesiastes 9:9).
Solomon tells us that we should enjoy our spouse every day (not just 75% of the time), because life is too short to be wasting time apart. Marriage is a gift from God, and spouses are to be enjoyed daily. The Bible states, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). Love is a miraculous thing, a holy thing, a Godly thing. In fact, according to the Bible, love trumps all else: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Love is special in God’s eyes. And if the love between a husband and wife is compared to the love the Lord Jesus has for all of us, then truly it is something beyond all else.
So we find that although declarations of cleanliness must happen (for they’re in the Law), a marriage is not to be confined and restricted by laws regarding periods. This article, likewise, should not be confined by a single law, but applied to marriage as a whole. For married couples are called to act, celebrate, and suffer as one.