a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

Purification of Women after Childbirth


The L ord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel, saying:

If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. 3On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed. 5If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; her time of blood purification shall be sixty-six days.

6 When the days of her purification are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. 7He shall offer it before the L ord, and make atonement on her behalf; then she shall be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, male or female. 8If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean.

2. If a woman have conceived seed. This ceremony had reference to two points; for, first, the Jews were reminded by it of the common corruption of our nature; and secondly, the remedy of the evil was set before them. There is little difficulty in understanding why a woman who has conceived and given birth to a child, should be pronounced unclean; viz., because the whole race of Adam is polluted and defiled, so that the woman already contracts uncleanness from the offspring which she bears in the womb, and is further contaminated by giving it birth. Hence it appears how foul and disgusting in God’s sight is our condition, since at our birth, and even before it, we infect our mothers. It has been almost universally, but very absurdly, considered that nothing is here condemned but libidinous intercourse between male and female; whereas the purification is not required except there be offspring; and to this the word תזריע, thazriang, refers, which can only be properly translated by insemination, and therefore it must be carefully observed that impurity in intercourse is not generally condemned here, but in generation. For the cohabitation of man and woman in itself, without reference to offspring, is a matter of shame and indecency; but here the procreation of children, which should remove this indecency, is accounted the cause of pollution, because the whole race of Adam is full of contagion. Hence the error of Pelagius341341     Une heretique ancien nomme Pelage. — Fr. is clearly refuted, who denied that the sin of Adam was propagated among his descendants, and pretended that we contracted sin from our parents not by origin, but by imitation. For the mother would not be unclean if the children were pure and free from all defilement. Therefore God would by this rite teach His ancient, people that all men are born accursed, and bring into the world with them an hereditary corruption which pollutes their very mothers. If any object that holy matrimony is thus brought into disgrace and disrepute, the reply is easy, that if the marriage couch is free from stain, it is due to the indulgence of God. When therefore the husband and wife procreate children in lawful wedlock, it is not to be considered simply permitted, as if the generation were altogether without impurity, but by special privilege and indulgence; because the sanctity of marriage covers what otherwise might be imputed to blame, and purifies the very defilements of our guilty nature. Whence it is plain that marriage, through which the procreation of children becomes lawful, has nothing disgraceful about it. Yet it does not follow that the children who are thus engendered are holy and free from stain; for those who are born to unbelievers, remain under the guilt of the curse; and those who owe their birth to believers, are delivered from the common perdition by supernatural grace, and special adoption. And this God desired openly and distinctly to testify, by requiring a sacrifice for their purification. For although Moses seems only to speak of the mother, St. Luke,342342     The allusion is, I suppose, to Luke 2:23. his faithful interpreter, includes also the infant. If it be asked whether circumcision would not suffice to remove the stain of corrupt nature, I reply that hence it more clearly appears how great is our impurity, since God was not content with one symbol for its expurgation, but in order that He might exercise His people in continual meditation upon it, added another subsidiary sign, and did this especially because He knew how profound is men’s hypocrisy, with what self-complacency they flatter themselves in vice, how difficult it is to humble their pride, and, when they are forced to acknowledge their miseries, how easily forgetfulness creeps over them. Wherefore, when circumcision is expressly mentioned here, I presume it is by anticipation, lest the Israelites should object that circumcision was given them for the very purpose of altogether removing the curse; and therefore God signifies that, although circumcision should precede it, still the purification which He here enjoins would not be superfluous. The foolish comments of the Rabbins on this passage respecting seed, are both ridiculous in themselves, and unfitted by their filthiness for modest ears; since, as we have said, the simple intention of Moses was that the woman should undergo purification, if offspring should follow her intercourse. Now, since the Son of God, although He was not only pure, but purity itself, still was the representative of the human race, He subjected himself to the Law; and (as Paul teaches) submitted Himself to the Law, “to redeem them that were under the Law.” (Galatians 3:13, and 4:5.) And, by this His voluntary submission to it, He abrogated the old rite; so that it is not now necessary to bring infants to the visible tabernacle with the sacrifices, but all purity is to be sought in Himself.

4. And she shall then continue. The uncleanness of seven days in the case of a male, and fourteen days for a female, has reference to the hemorrhage, as we shall also see elsewhere of the menstrual discharge. For the remainder of the time she is forbidden to take part in religious services, and to approach the sanctuary, (by which word the court is here meant,) and thus is accounted unholy, not only that she should herself lament her condition, but that her husband also, admonished by the sight, should learn to abhor and detest original sin. For this was a serious exhortation to repentance, when they acknowledged that they were contaminated in their offspring, wherein otherwise God’s blessing manifests itself. The question now arises, why the time of purification is double for a female child? Some ascribe this to a natural cause, viz., because the hemorrhage is then of longer continuance; and in truth it was a part of chastity and continence, that husbands should not then come near their wives. But inasmuch as the object of this ceremony was different, viz., as an indication of the curse on the whole human race, we must look more attentively in this direction. I know not whether the view is sound which some take, that the mother is more defiled by female offspring, because there is more disposition to vice in this sex. Perhaps, it is more probable, as some think, that it was because the woman was the beginning of the rebellion, when, being deceived by the serpent, she destroyed her husband with her, and drew her posterity into the same ruin. But it seems more correct to me that the punishment in regard to males was lightened and diminished by circumcision. For although in that symbol God consecrated both sexes, yet He honored males with special favor, by engraving His covenant on their flesh.

Wherefore, also, He expressly mentions their circumcision, whereby a dignity was imparted to them, which rendered them superior to females. At the end of the chapter; regard is had to the poor, lest, being burdened by too great an expense, they might be rendered less ready to obey the Law: whence we gather that God has no care for outward pomp and wealth, since the humble sacrifice of the poor, according to the measure of their poverty, is no less grateful to Him than the more valuable one of the rich.

43 Ye shall not make yourselves abominable. He does not invite them to take care of their health, nor warn them of the danger of contracting’ diseases, but bids them beware of defiling themselves. And a clearer explanation is subjoined, “For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves; for I am holy.” Lest they should imagine that the main part of religion was contained in external ceremonies, they were to consider the nature of God; for, inasmuch as He is a Spirit, He would be worshipped only spiritually. Thus holiness is only connected instrumentally with the distinction of meats; since their abstinence had no other object than that they should consecrate themselves to God. Therefore the superstition of the Jews was inexcusable, when they satisfied themselves with trifling observances; 4747     “Quand ils se sont arrestez a l’observation une et simple de choses frivoles; comme si quelqu’un apprenoit 1’ a, b, c, et qu’il ne luy chalust puis apres d’accoupler les lettres pour lire;” when they stopped at the bare and simple observation of frivolous things; as if one should learn the a, b, c, and cared not afterwards to join the letters together so as to read.—Fr. as if one should learn the letters of the alphabet without applying them to their use, and reading what is written. From their example we perceive how eagerly men lay hold of everything they can to sustain them in their hypocrisy, for they not only wrested to their earthly notions the things which were profitable in the pursuit of true integrity of heart; but, not content, with this, they heaped to themselves many supererogatory rites; 4848     Addition in Fr., “Comme si la religion eust este enclose en choses de neant;” as if religion had been comprised in things of nought. hence the water of expiation, or lustration always in use, even when they were unconscious of any pollution: hence their anxious labor in washing cups and platters, that it might readily appear how constantly the perversity of man abuses what God has appointed for the best of reasons.

VIEWNAME is study