The Pursuit of Holiness (Leviticus) - Lesson 7

By Glen Pemberton

Lev 11-15

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student will be able to define (in general) the purpose of the purity laws in Leviticus 11-15.
  2. The student will discuss the significance of the purity laws forChristian life.
  3. The student will once again be challenged with the idea thatGod intensely desires to live in a daily relationship with his people - and that we, as his people, must live our lives in such a way as to receive his presence.


  1. A Bible for each Student.
  2. A chalk board or marker board.
  3. Copies of Student Handout #7 ("The Clean and the Unclean")


The dietary legislation and the entire system of clean and unclean (pure and impure) are somewhat bewildering to most contemporary Christians. This lesson strives to help the student understand, appreciate, and see the relevance of the basic intentions behind the system. Once again, these laws stem from God's desire to live with his people - despite their humanness. For God to live with them, certain practices must be put in place to control their uncleanness and keep it from polluting the holy tent and forcing God to leave or kill his people. The purity laws, then, stem from God's grace and passion for his people. Their obedience is a response of gratitude and desire to live with God. After these ideas are established, this lesson will briefly survey the purpose and content of Lev 11-15 and then consider various specific rationales for the dietary laws (e.g., hygienic, ethical). The lesson will conclude with a brief glance at the symbolic view advocated by Mary Douglas (and many modern scholars) and how this interpretation makes excellent sense of both OT andNT texts.

Special Note to the Teacher:

This lesson, unlike previous lessons, has integrated the Applications into the Learning Experiences rather than presenting these last in the outline. My purpose for this move is to keep the student actively engaged in material that may seem irrelevant. In other words, if we wait to the end to introduce applications we may well lose the student before we get there.This is true of all Bible classes, but especially here (I again encourage the teacher always to integrate the applications into the main body of the lesson). One warning: because the applications are integrated into the lesson, the body of the lesson itself is much longer than usual. Be sure to discuss the relevance (application) of the material as the class proceeds,but be careful to monitor your time so as to complete the lesson.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Welcome visitors and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Spend time taking prayer requests and leading the class in prayer.

Learning Experiences

  1. Review and set the stage for today's study.
    1. We have completed our study of the first two major texts inLeviticus:
      1. Lev 1-7: Instruction for sacrifice
      2. Lev 8-10: Institution of the priesthood
    2. At the end of our text last week, the Lord emphasized to Aaron and his sons two of their key roles as priests. Read Lev10:10-11.
      1. Q. What were two tasks assigned to the priests? A. Distinguish the holy and the common (clean and unclean) and teach the people the Lord's commands.
      2. The rest of the book of Leviticus corresponds to these two demands.
        1. Lev 11-15 pertains to the distinction between the holy and common (clean and unclean).
        2. Lev 17-26 instructs the reader about how to live a holy life.
        3. Special Note: Lev 16 (the day of atonement)stands apart from both of these sections, yet unites these and the other parts of Leviticus by its focus on atonement and repentance.
    3. Our focus today is on the first of these texts ? Lev 11-15, the distinction between the holy and common, the clean and unclean.Special Note to the Teacher: Many contemporary Christians have a strong bias against the relevance of this section ofLeviticus, e.g., "who cares about Israel's ancient purity laws." Most likely, it will not take long for such bias to surface in class. Thus, it is important to acknowledge such feelings and reassure the students of the profitable direction of the class today.
      1. To begin, there are clear statements in the NewTestament that repeal the purity laws of Lev 11-15.
        1. Read Mark 7:14-23. Look again at the end of verse 19 ? "Thus he declare d all foods clean"
        2. Review the story of Peter's vision in Acts 10:9-
  2. Read Peter's conclusion in Acts 10:27-28. Q.What is Peter's conclusion? A. There is no longer clean/unclean. 3. We will return to these and other texts a little later. 2. For now, in view of these texts, it would seem to be a waste of time to study the purity laws of Lev 11-15.
    1. But, recalling the words of Paul in II Tim 3:16-17 ("All scripture is inspired and useful for teaching?), I want to challenge us to take a second look at this text in Leviticus.
      1. We are not going to try to figure out all the details, or any of the details.
      2. But we are going to try to understand the larger movements of the text, the rationale for these laws, and the enduring relevance this does have for us!
      3. I believe we will see that the principles in this ancient text do have important application for modernChristians.
  3. Let's begin with a brief overview of the purpose and contents of Lev 11-15
    1. Turn to Lev 15. Q. First, in general terms, why all this concern with uncleanness? A. Read Lev 15:31.
      1. Q. Why is God concerned about their uncleanness? A.Because their uncleanness threatens to pollute God's tent and thus threatens their very lives!
      2. Consequently, these laws stem from God's intense desire to live with his people (Exod 25:8) and the fact that they are people ? human, not divine.
      3. Certain features of their humanity must be contained ?features that most distinguish (or differentiate) the human from the divine (e.g., sexuality and disease).
    2. There are five clear textual units in Lev 11-15, each with an introductory statement ("The Lord spoke to?") and a conclusion("This is the law for?").Note to the Teacher: Review and summarize the contents of these chapters as quickly as possible. Please, however, do take the time to read the key verses so the students can see the basic outline and content for themselves.
      1. Section 1: Chap. 11 (WKSH - Clean and unclean animals)
        1. Introduction: Read Lev 11:1-2a
        2. Conclusion: Read Lev 11:46-47
        3. Summary: This chapter, then, contains instruction regarding clean and unclean animals, the animals that may and may not be eaten.
      2. Section 2: Chap. 12 (WKSH - Purification afterChildbirth)
        1. Introduction: Read Lev 12:1-2a
        2. Conclusion: Read Lev 12:7b ("This is the law for her who bears a child, male or female")
        3. Summary: This text pertains to the purification of a woman from childbirth.
      3. Section 3: Chap. 13 (WKSH - Diagnosis of Leprosy)
        1. Introduction:Read Lev 13:1
        2. Conclusion: Read Lev 13:59
        3. Summary: This chapter includes regulations for the diagnosis and segregation (or non segregation)of persons with skin diseases and objects (such as clothing) that have some type of growth or discoloration.
        4. Just for Fun: Read Lev 13:40f. Those of you who are bald are clean. You are bald, but clean!Note to the Teacher: The term "leprosy" here and in the next chapter clearly has a broad range of meaning, from infectious skin diseases of all types (not just "leprosy")to destructive molds in a house.
      4. Section 4: Chap. 14 (WKSH ? Purification afterLeprosy)
        1. Introduction: Read Lev 14:1-2
        2. Conclusion:Read Lev 14:54-55
        3. Summary: After the diagnosis of "leprosy" in chap. 13, this chapter provides procedures for purification from leprosy.
        4. The rationale (or purpose) of these last two chapters (13-14) seems reasonably clear. God cares about the health of his people!
          1. God provides a way for diagnosis or identification of contagious skin diseases or destructive growths in any object (including houses).
          2. God sets out procedures to insure that the disease does not spread to other persons or objects.
          3. Note: The rituals outlined in these chapters are not curative or medicinal, but only preventative of further spread.
      5. Section 5: Chap. 15 (WKSH - Bodily Discharges)
        1. Introduction - Read Lev 15:1-2a
        2. Conclusion - Read Lev 15:32-33
        3. Summary: This chapter gives specific instructions for men and women regarding emissions from their sexual members (e.g., normal emissions - semen, a woman's monthly period, and abnormal emissions associated with disease).
  4. How do we explain these laws? What is really going on here? Is there anything for us in all this?
    1. First, restate and expand some thoughts already introduced.
      1. No matter how strange or inexplicable the instructions may be, they all derive from God's intense desire to live with his people (Exod 25:8; Lev 15:31). (WKSH ?Purity Laws stem from God's intense desire to live with his people) Thus,
        1. The purity laws are a provision of God's grace and favor.
        2. Israel's obedience of these laws is out of gratitude and desire for God's continuing presence.
        3. Q. Can you think of any practice of the early church that might seem strange to outsiders and that derives from God's intense desire to live with his people? A. (Several possible answers, although none are perfect parallels.)
          1. Sexual Purity - different from world (Eph5:1-3)
          2. Rituals such as baptism and the Lord's Supper
      2. God cares about the health and physical well being of his people. (WKSH - The Purity Laws demonstrateGod's concern for his people's well-being) Some of these laws display at least some concern for the prevention and control of dangerous diseases.
        1. Q. Again, can you think of any similar concerns in the NT? A. (Several possible answers)
          1. In I Tim 5:23, Paul urges Timothy to drink a little wine for the sake of his stomach and frequent ailments.
          2. In I Cor 11:30, Paul claims that the cause of some weakness, illness and death in the church at Corinth is due to their abuse of theLord's Supper.
          3. James (5:14) tells those who are ill to call on the elders of the church for prayer and anointing.
        2. Although the specifics certainly differ, the idea is the same in the NT: God cares about the health and well being of his people. God cares about the whole individual - not just the spirit or the body (a split that is not biblically based).
      3. If nothing else, the purity laws also reminded Israel of her identity and position in her relationship to God.
        1. Much of what makes a person unclean in Lev 12and 15 is a normal part of human life, e.g., sexual intercourse, childbirth.
          1. These aspects of life have nothing to do with sin!
          2. Rather, these parts of life:
            1. are intimately connected to our status as created beings, our humanness, our"fleshly" status.
            2. most distinguish us from the divine. God is not a sexual or physical being (John4:24).
        2. Consequently, the purity laws reminded theIsraelites that they were, in fact, human and God was something other - holy, divine. (WKSH ? ThePurity Laws stress that a proper relationship toGod demands our recognition of our humanity)
        3. Q. Do you think this is important for the church?Why or why not? A. Allow time for discussion. Stress that it is vital that we recognize and respect the difference between God and us in order to live in the presence of God. If time permits, the teacher might read and discuss I Cor 15:35-49 (our change from perishable to imperishable nature in the resurrection).
        4. Q. What might a person do who forgets the difference between the human and the divine?
          1. Pride: We think more highly of ourselves than we should.
          2. Irreverence: Failure to respect the holiness of God.
    2. Second, various reasons for the dietary laws have been suggested. Note to the Teacher: Summarize these possibilities as quickly as possible. A key word has been supplied for each proposal [in brackets]. If time allows, you might summarize each position and ask the class for its strengths and weaknesses.
      1. [Arbitrary] The laws are arbitrary. (WKSH - Arbitrary) In other words, there is no logical reason for these dietary regulations. The legislation is a matter of faith and obedience.
        1. Support: The rationale for the instructions does seem ambiguous at times.
        2. Problem: Elsewhere God stresses that his commands are not arbitrary, but for his people's wellbeing (Deut 5:33; 6:3).
      2. [Ethical] The laws are intended to curb the human instinct toward violence. (WKSH ? Ethical)
        1. Support: This was an early Jewish interpretation.Perhaps the limitation of what animals may be slaughtered could curb human violence, but?
        2. Problem: it is difficult to see how this works.
      3. [Theological] The dietary laws ban animals associated with pagan religions. (WKSH - Theological) Thus,these laws attempt to remove any pagan religious practice from Israel.
        1. Support: Some of these animals were in fact associated with the worship of other gods.
        2. Problem: Many of the clean animals were also associated with pagan religions (e.g., the bull and Baal).
      4. [Aesthetic] Unclean animals are those that are repulsive to look at; clean animals are more attractive. (WKSH -Aesthetic) The determination of clean and unclean is determined by cultural preferences.
        1. Support: Perhaps, a camel is not very attractive.
        2. Problem: Some clean animals are more repulsive than the unclean (e.g., crickets [Lev 11:22])
      5. [Hygienic] The distinction between clean and unclean is based on which animals are more likely to carry disease or make a person ill. (WKSH - Hygienic)
        1. Support: At least some of the instructions correspond with modern wisdom (e.g., isolation of contagious diseases).
        2. Problems:
          1. There is no hint in the OT that ancientIsrael understood the laws in this way.
          2. Some clean animals are more questionable on hygienic grounds than unclean animals. Further, if the rationale is the health of the person, why is there no legislation about poisonous plants?
          3. Sometimes our assumptions are faulty.We assume that pigs were banned due to the danger of trichinosis. However, among free-range pigs trichinosis is rare.
          4. If the concern was health, why does Jesus declare all foods clean (Mk 7:19), especially when cooking and other hygienic practices had not advanced far by his time?
      6. Summary: Some of these proposals have more validity than others. Nonetheless, none of these appear to fully resolve the question.
    3. Another possible rationale for the dietary laws: Symbolic ofIsrael's place in the world.
      1. The determination of which animals were clean and unclean was largely based on the cultural outlook of ancient Israel (probably whether the animal conformed to a pure type of its class as a land, water or air animal;those that crossed boundaries were unclean). Example:A Lobster is unclean because it crosses over boundaries? it walks like a land creature but lives in the water.
      2. The dietary code was symbolic of Israel's position in the world as God's specially chosen people. (WKSH - are Symbolic of and intimately associated with Israel's role as God's chosen people) In other words, the code was a daily reminder of their chosen position and special relationship to God.
        1. Some foods were unclean = the Gentile nations.
        2. Some foods were clean, edible = the nation ofIsrael.
        3. Only a few persons and foods were acceptable as sacrifices = animals without defect and priests.
      3. In other words, the dietary code was intimately associated with Israel's special identity as the chosen people of God. Not unlike the Lord's supper, their food reminded them of God's special call. They must live appropriately to sphere into which they have been called? the holy, the presence of God.
      4. Does this interpretation have any biblical support? Yes!And what's more, it helps us make sense of some difficult NT passages.
        1. Turn to Acts 10
          1. Earlier, we mentioned Peter's rooftop vision in Acts 10. A large sheet with all types of animals was lowered and the Lord told Peter to kill and eat. Peter responded by saying "I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean"(10:14).
          2. Reread Acts 10:28
            1. Q. When did God teach Peter not to call any person unclean? A. He never mentioned people in the vision! Thus,when God told Peter to eat the unclean food it was a message about people!
            2. Q. What was the connection between the food and the distinction between Jew and Gentile? A. Evidently, Peter saw the dietary code as symbolic of the world and the difference between Jew (clean) and Gentile (unclean).
        2. Turn to Mark 7
          1. Earlier, we read how Jesus declared all foods clean (v. 19b).
          2. Jesus stressed that what was inside a person made them clean or unclean, not externals.
          3. Notice, that in the very next story ? Jesus is associating with a Gentile woman of Syrophonecia! Again, the food laws are closely associated with the identify of God's people in the world.


The Applications have been integrated into the LearningExperiences. The following is provided as a summary of the primary points of made there:

  1. The purity system stemmed from God's intense desire to live with his people. God's has the same intense desire today - to have an intimate relationship with his people. Those who desire close fellowship with God will respond to his commands with grateful obedience.
  2. God is concerned about the health and physical welfare of his people.
  3. In our desire to be holy - to be like God, we must remember that we are not gods, but humans. A proper awareness of one's humanity is necessary for a proper relationship with God.
  4. Israel's dietary code was intimately associated with Israel's place as God's chosen people. The repealing of the code,therefore, also denoted that the distinction between Jew and Gentile no longer held.
    1. As God's people, Israel's lifestyle was to be different from surrounding peoples.
    2. As God's people today, our lifestyle should also distinguish us from unbelievers (Read II Cor 6:14-18)


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