Clean and unclean

The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” (Acts 10:15, CEB)

He said to them, “You all realize that it is forbidden for a Jew to associate or visit with outsiders. However, God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28, CEB)

Acts 10 is one of the chapters of the Bible that sticks with me. I find myself reading it again and again. Together with Mark 7, it gets at the New Testament reading (revisions?) of the Torah regarding the clean and unclean.

Peter is shown by God that no food is unclean. He immediately expands this insight to declare that no person is unclean. The people of God are not tainted by mere contact with outsiders. God is the God of all. Status is not a reason to disassociate from others.

At the same time, though, the NT church did still prohibit forms of moral pollution. Eating the blood of an animal (a prohibition we have long since dropped) and various forms of sexual immorality are singled out by the Acts 15 council. Jesus in Mark 7 teaches that we can still be defiled by what comes out of our heart, including “sexual sins, thefts, murders, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness.”

These acts coming out of the heart make us unclean and require forgiveness, not just from the person we’ve wronged in each act. But the good news is that such forgiveness is at hand for those who earnestly seek it.

These are my non-systematic and unorganized thoughts. I think they have some impact on the hot-button conversations of our day, but I’m really more interested in understanding them as general teachings of the church.

A couple of tentative conclusions I draw:

  • The default position of the church is toward hospitality to every creature of God
  • It is our actions not our status that make us unclean in the sight of God
  • Even our actions cannot permanently stain us
  • It is the intentions of the heart that matter most in our actions

I’m not sure I could defend these if pressed, but they are the best I can do at the moment.

How do you read Acts 10 and Mark 7?

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5 thoughts on “Clean and unclean

  1. You know how to pick the stories!
    There is much to see in all the scripture you quote.
    All the passages you site reflect a reaction from Christ that is unexpected.
    The second story found in Mark 7 is interesting.
    The story of the gentile woman and Christs reaction to her intitially IS the expected reaction of a Jewish Rabbi.His final comment to her is not.

    Take into account:
    Middle Eastern men don’t run. It is a sign of weakness.
    Persons of nobility or wealth are given way to the front of the crowd.
    The meaning of filth or unclean was greatly expanded by the Jewish Teachers and Holy Men over time. Their definition was not how God defined filth and unclean.

    Jesus said:
    8 For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”
    9 Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition.
    13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”Mark 7

    Here Jesus uphold God law as good and explains why their application of Gods Law is wrong. Jesus is specific. It is their tradition they hold dear, not Gods law.

    One story in Acts listed points out the same mis-application of the law Peter had (past tense) bound himself to.

    However, God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28, CEB)

    That statement is perfectly correct. There are 2 positions ..Lost…saved.
    The saved would of course be considered clean in Gods eyes. He has declared them to be so.
    The unsaved the church is not to judge. They are for God to judge so it stand to reason we are not to call them impure or unclean. That is for God to judge.
    Falls perfectly in line with scripture.

    Peter also says:
    19 “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. 21 For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”

    Are turning but not yet there.
    All the practices listed above in Peter’s ruling where immoral and/or assocaited with
    cult practice and the worship of “other gods”.

    I would have at one time agreed with your conclusions and have most likely said the same thing at some time.
    I would not agree today because I have seen and heard how those conclusions can be misused to support the unsupportable found in scripture.

      • First I want t say I have read many of your posts and believe you to be sincere in your study so…the following is not criticism. I write what I do many times without including my conclusions so the reader will be inspired to read and think about what they have read and the conclusions they have drawn. In other words I hope we critique ourselves.

        Is it our actions that defile? Depends on what those actions are.

        Luke 7 begins with the Centurion and we are told Jesus did not go into his home. Had Jesus done so he would have been deemed unclean and we know that by Acts 10:27.
        Many of the actions Jesus did led the Jews, Scribes and Pharisees to believe Christ made himself unclean. Jesus was viewed by many as defiling himself by those He ate with, touched, healed and walked with.
        Luke 7 is filled with them.
        “he went up and touched the bier”. The brier holding the dead would have made Jesus “unclean” in the eyes of the Jew.
        The touching of the hem of Jesus’s garment by the woman with an issue of blood would have led the Jews, Scribes and Pharisees to declare Christ unclean.
        These “actions” by Christ did not defile or render him unclean as the Jews of his day believed.

        In Mark 7 and Matthew we are told there are certain “actions” that defile:

        18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.
        19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
        20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

        Even our actions cannot permanently stain us?
        Is that statement true if there is no repentance?
        Is that statement true of all calling themselves Christian?

        It is the intentions of the heart that matter most in our actions?
        I have said the same thing but in today’s world and in the church I would never use that line and here is why.
        Is it a good intention to love?
        Doesn’t the Bible teach love covers many sins?
        What if that love is directed in in the wrong place or leads to unholy union or unholy acts?
        Love as understood and used today is a cover for a number of sin acts scripture calls anything but good.
        Understand where I am going?

        • I believe I follow you. Yes, the word “love” is used today in ways that do not reflect the biblical meaning of the word. Recovering our vocabulary is part of our task.

  2. Now that I think about the topic, Luke 10 may be a better story to use to explain the misuse of clean vs unclean.
    The story goes:

    30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coinse and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

    36“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

    37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

    Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

    The priest. Where was he comming from or going to?
    Chances are the Temple.
    If the priest touched the man he would have been unclean by tradition and custom.
    Jesus teaches that is all wrong. The thinking is wrong. What the priest did was wrong.
    The priest’s concerned with physical cleanliness and defilement would do the ungodly thing and walk by.
    The same lesson is taught when Christ is accused of breaking the sabbath.

    And notice it was “The expert in the law” who replied correctly.

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