Was Jesus made unclean by touching lepers?

Discussion in 'The Gospels & Acts' started by JTB.SDG, Mar 8, 2019.

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  1. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm preaching on Luke 5:12-16 this Sunday night and came across an unexpected note in the ESV study bible; it says on verse 13: “Jesus is not made unclean by touching the leper. Instead, the leper is cleansed by Jesus' touch.”

    I always thought it was both/and? In light of Leviticus 14:5-6; the whole of chapter 15, and 22:5-6, can it be a tenable position that Jesus was NOT made unclean by touching the leper? Am I missing something? It seems to me it's a wonderful picture of the truth that to make us clean, Jesus took the sin disease upon himself.
  2. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Do you mean ceremonially unclean?
  3. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    To use this picture of Jesus taking on our sin disease and the contrary idea that Jesus did not become unclean is a space and time issue. Jesus became unclean in the sense that he bore our sins actually when on Calvary in the time between the sixth and ninth hour, when darkness fell on the land, and he called out in lonely desperation. This would be when the great exchange took place.:2cents:
  4. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes, I mean ceremonially unclean. Did He not become ceremonially unclean when He touched a leper?
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    technically yes, but since he is the source of cleansing it didn't matter. Unclean doesn't always mean sin. Sexual intercourse between married people made them ceremonially unclean, but they didn't sin (pace gnostic tendencies in the early church).
  6. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    I get your point now. Does seem like he would have been ceremonially unclean.
  7. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm assuming that's what the ESV note meant, that Jesus did NOT become ceremonially unclean. It seems to me that He did. Just trying to figure out if I'm missing something or if there were two different lines of thought on that.
  8. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes, I agree Jacob. I'm not wrestling with that point particularly, I don't see any problem with Jesus becoming ceremonially unclean yet without sin; but it does seem to me that He does become ceremonially unclean by touching the leper.
  9. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    There aren't any texts that I know that directly bear on this. Here's my (rather tentative) take: ceremonial uncleanness is not sin but it does debar someone from the presence of the living God: contact with the realm of death renders them unfit to appear before the one who is life. Yet Jesus is not debarred from God's presence (except when he takes on our sin at the cross). Rather, he is himself the source of life and so uncleanness has no power to stain him as it does us. Rather his life overpowers the symbolic "death" of leprosy. The surprising thing is not that he is not defiled by the contact but that the lepers aren't killed by the touch of the Holy One.

    In the larger scheme of things, Jesus takes all of our "death" - including sin and ceremonial uncleanness - onto himself on the cross, on our behalf, much like all those clean people who were involved in preparing the sacrifice of the red heifer in Numbers 19 are made unclean in order that through their labors many other unclean people might be made clean.
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  10. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Calvin: "Christ possesses such purity as to repel all filth and defilement, he does not, by touching, either pollute himself with leprosy, or become a transgressor of the law." However in the eyes of men he would have been unclean, technically, and more to your point. I think?
  11. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Woah there! I know where you are going and others who agree with what you are saying (so I'm not just talking to Jacob here), but that is very dangerous. If Jesus technically was ceremonially unclean then He sinned! We know of course that Christ is completely without sin.

    We aren't trying to find the balance of something here, if that's the goal. Technically as Scripture says, "He was tempted in every way, yet without sin."

    Therefore, technically Christ was not ceremonially unclean by touching the leper according to Scripture. He, being the God-man, immediately upon touching the leper made the leper (once-leper) clean. It was Christ's choice to touch the man. If it would technically make him unclean, that decision would be sinful too. It was not. Jesus did not move away from the unclean man as all under the ceremonial law would do, because He is the God-man He went toward the man to make him clean. That's the lesson for us, that if believe in faith that Christ can heal us and ask Him for it, He will come towards us and do so. That's what Matthew Henry teaches.

    Now that I see Calvin's quote by Bill, that's exactly where all of us should be on this.
  12. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Jon, you always come up with great stuff. I love PB. I think I'm an addict!
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  13. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    I appreciate what you're wanting to guard against, but as I see it, ceremonial
    uncleanliness wasn't properly sin; it was a picture of sin.

    And how would you interpret those passages from Leviticus? Seem pretty clear to me, but maybe I'm missing something. Please help me understand how you would read and interpret those texts.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2019
  14. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    If I may,
    The failure to distinguish between sin and the effect of sin: corruption and death, is to err along with the Pharisees and all the others who looked down upon possibly the majority of Jews whose very livelihoods made them unclean, more often than not. E.g. shepherds, tanners, women...

    Ceremonial uncleanness is (as Dr.Duguid helpfully noted already) a picture of corruption and death. Are corruption and death tied inextricably to sin? Yes, of course. But sin leads to death; it is not death itself, although one may make a different and honest rhetorical and theologically refined statement by speaking in that way.

    100% cleanness, all the time, every day, all day, was not typical of an ancient Israelite. Corruption came from all sides. Some was completely unavoidable. If we say uncleanness was a picture of sin, rather than its effect; the natural conclusion is some sins are unavoidable, even necessary.

    Those who were "untouchable" in Israel deserved pity, not scorn or disgust. They were very visible and exemplars of the worst cases. The reality was that inside all the Israelites was the sin that brought death. ALL of them were carriers of the disease; but some were (sadly) more obviously contagious. They were the polar opposite picture from the priests.

    The issue of uncleanness in Israelite life was that it was difficult to maintain, generally speaking, and that by design. The priestly class was set apart to an extra level of ceremonial purity, the high priest even more so. Their temple service was not going to bring them into ordinary (certainly not extraordinary) corruption, but rather insulated them. If someone was affected by uncleanness from this class, it was very important that he be brought back to an estate of usefulness as soon as possible.

    The ordinary Israelite, if he was unclean, also could not participate in the regular religious life of ceremony. He had to purge the effect of sin, that death and corruption away, so as to appear before the Lord in a purified state. To look at him as clean was to approve of him, outwardly speaking. No detectable taint.

    As for the Lord, he maintained his ceremonial purity as far as an ordinary Israelite would, and possibly better than most, since he was not actively engaged in occupations that made it more likely, he was not married, etc. He was clean for us, that is for others around him. He would no doubt have used the legal ceremonies to purify himself for the sake of those who observed him, both as an example and as someone they hoped to catch in "defiance" of the law.

    But Jesus proved that if he wished, he could not only touch an "untouchable," but that his touch contracted nothing contagious. That it did not was demonstrable in the contrary effect: the elimination of the disease. His virtue "flowed out" (as when the unclean woman touched him). It was impossible for death to have any intrinsic power over Jesus. Therefore, in his unique case it was actually unnecessary for him to treat the symptoms (effects) of sin, since he had none. But he kept the feasts and other rites for the sake of the law's integrity, and for the nation.
  15. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    I don't think that we can say for Jesus to be ceremonially unclean makes Him a sinner.

    When one touched a leper without the power to heal, the leper's plight contaminated. In contrast, Jesus had the power to heal. The fruit of the miracle in many ways made the leper ceremonially clean through which he would be able to show himself to the priest and be pronounced as such in due process. In other words, such contact that previously made unclean demonstrated the power of sin, contrasted to contact with Christ who had power over sin.

    I think the miracle demonstrated that Christ had the power to reverse the picture of the curse showing that He was the One who could not only reverse the picture but the substance.
  16. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    When a married couple had sex, did they sin?

    Did a woman sin when she had her period?
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2019
  17. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    Keep in mind that those passages in Leviticus are referring to ordinary, mortal human beings. Jesus, being also God, doesn't fit that category.
  18. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    Christ did not any more sin in becoming unclean by touching a leper than he did in taking the sins of the world upon himself. I would tend to think that a double imputation, of Christ's cleanness to the leper and the leper's uncleanness to Christ, is the natural reading. in my opinion to say the law applies differently to Christ comes with a lot of theological problems.
  19. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Did Jesus need to be baptized by John "for repentance and the forgiveness of sins," or "to fulfill all righteousness?" For, as John knew, he was the one needing baptism by Jesus, and not the other way around. The point is: the two reasons are not the same, and the law did not apply to Christ in the same way.

    In Mt.17:24-27, Jesus clearly applies a different standard to himself (as a son) than to other Israelites (he compares to strangers). He reasons in v27 that he will follow the law as it applied to the general population, "lest we offend them," and not because he recognizes a single standard that also applies to him.
  20. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    I would tend to agree with this. Jesus was (and is) fully God but also fully man.

    By this logic of: It would have made others ceremonially unclean, but not Jesus, couldn't you say: Jesus could have given in to the temptation to worship before Satan, but since He was the Son of God it wouldn't be/couldn't really be sin?

    Anyway, the main point was to edify. Maybe saying something akin to: "It seems that when Jesus did this, it even made him ceremonially unclean" would be a pretty safe thing. And to draw the comparison of a picture of what he would do on the cross when to bring us cleansing He himself took on our sin (by imputation).
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2019
  21. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    My bad Rev. Buchanan, I should have been more precise in my language. What I mean is that the idea of the law applying to Christ differently in the sense of him being exempt from its requirements where other Israelites were not comes with theological problems. The problems I have in mind are the following:
    1. Christ cannot be said to be truly man if he is exemptable from the moral law.
    2. Christ cannot be said to have fulfilled the moral/natural law on our behalf if at any point he was exempt from it.
    And I'm less sure of this one, but I'll put it out there for the sake of discussion:
    3. Christ cannot be said to fulfill the ceremonial law if he was not subject to it.

    I hope that with this clarification, it is clear that the statement of Christ to John the Baptist does not contradict my intended meaning.
    Regarding the second passage you quote, I think you raise a reasonable objection and I'm still ruminating on the implications of this passage.
  22. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Wasn't Jesus statement to John "for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness", related to this event being his cleansing for his entrance into the priesthood? Wasn't this an anointing ceremony?
  23. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    I see it as a normal New Covenant baptism based on what I've read from Beza and John Brown of Haddington on the subject, in which case it would be the cleansing for the priesthood in the same way as baptism is ordinarily a sacrament of washing for entrance into the priesthood of believers.
  24. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    1. The moral law is not the law-division being discussed, but the ceremonial--in particular, the matter of ceremonial cleanness.

    2. Christ did fulfill the moral law, which is the law we confess he was subject to, per WCF 19:1-2.

    3. I would argue that
    a) Christ was not subject to the ceremonial law, not at all in the same way as the ordinary Israelite, but
    b) ordinarily subjected himself to it's ordinances in the course of his earthly ministry for the good of the public.

    He was subject to it in all outward respects, so long as he waited on his entry into his mediatorial office. In the same way he was "subject to" his parents, Lk.2:51. In my judgment, the vv already adduced amply demonstrate that he did not view his office as being reduced under the very things over which his office made him, to order and establish (or amend or abolish). See also Jn.7:8-10.

    He was not subject to the ceremonies in order to fulfill them, because he is greater than Moses. Moses works for Jesus, and not the other way around. All the ceremonies were serving him; he did not serve the ceremonies. Obedience to the ceremonies was the way in which his subjects served him especially before his arrival, but also in his presence until he made adjustments to them. Jesus is free to change the ceremonies, as he did in fact do during the conduct of his ministry, Mk.7:19. No one having such power as that can be said to be under such things.

    Further instances include: Jesus exempting his disciples from any condemnation respecting even the manner in which the Sabbath was observed (not the 4th commandment per se) on the basis of his own authorization, Mk.2:23-28; by which he asserts his superior right over that of the scribes, Pharisees, the Sanhedrin; and even the Levitical priesthood.
  25. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm sure you're aware that many reliable commentators view this as an act of necessity and therefore believe that it didn't in principle violate any rules of the Sabbath, and that moreover, any believer an identical circumstance could have taken the same course of action of gleaning wheat on the Sabbath day, and that many reliable commentators view Mark 7:18-19 as an explication of the law of Moses and not constituting any actual change.
    I suspect underlying differences on covenant theology and differing views on the mediatorial office/roles of Christ contribute to our differing views on the relationship of Christ to the ceremonial law.
  26. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Speaking of the authority of the scribes, Pharisees, Sanhedrin, and priests, I had in mind this text:

    Mt.23:1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do."​

    In other words, Jesus affirms it did fall within the realm of the OC sphere of authority for admitted leadership to police the manner in which Israel was instructed in how to conform to the Law, e.g. of the Sabbath.

    Jesus' authority was superior to theirs, by virtue of his office--an office which these same also denied he held. Yet, the Son of Man is the Lord even of the Sabbath. So, what he frees men from, they are free. Not simply or only because he was recovering a proper Sabbath regard.

    That the disciples might have regarded their hunger as a sufficient "need," and so justified themselves (and been vindicated by Christ) is beside the point that Jesus makes in the text as to HIM justifying himself (and them) in this thing. Mt.12:5-6 go further, in explicating the teaching.

    "5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple."​

    It is not simply that the priests are blameless because they are leading in worship. The argument that we may/must do the worship-work of the Sabbath is fine and sound, but that is not the reasoning tack Jesus takes, particularly as it applies to him.

    The use of the word βεβηλοῦσιν (profane) turns the argument into an a fortiori. Those priests who are δοῦλοι to the Temple regs profane the Sabbath (this is not merely teaching rhetoric/hyperbole); yet they are blameless. Servants to the Temple are not greater than the Temple, nor the Sabbath.

    Ergo, if the Son were to upend every regulation of the Sabbath and Temple, or even change the day on which the Sabbath was observed--a maximally significant profanation--he would be guiltless. Because he's the Son of Man, and he's greater than the Temple. If you are greater than, then you are not subject to.

    Christ is not merely Lord of these things after he has risen from the dead, or ascended to heaven. He is Lord of those things when he declares them so. When he chooses to institute his changes or adjustments is a matter of his wisdom, not his finally having the freedom to do as he likes.

    [As to possible differences on the subjects of CT or Christ's office, I have no idea. The above are textual and exegetical arguments, which (so far as I see) do not disturb CT, and robustly defend the Office.]
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  27. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Is there significance, relating to the ceremonial law, that Jesus was of a different order of priests? Does his order change the ceremony? Heb. 7:27-28 and Heb. 8
  28. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Amen! What a glorious truth, that Jesus took our sin and uncleanness upon himself to make us clean! Very biblical indeed.

    But, as has been pointed out, to take that point from this particular passage/incident is probably a wrong reading. Great point, wrong place to get it. Happens all the time.
  29. terry43

    terry43 Puritan Board Freshman

    Just one question on this.. Did not Jesus have to keep ALL the Levitical law perfectly ? Would that not include the ceremonial law as well??
  30. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I think that's one side's contention here; but I would not agree. At least, I don't believe Jesus had the same duty to keep those regulations as someone who was not the Christ would. I do believe that he did keep them, invariably, especially as he was trained in them as a child, and would have internalized much of the Jewish "yoke" in his natural constitution. He kept them, unless he had a wisdom purpose in changing them, and overturning them.

    As a child, then as a man until his ministry as Christ was inaugurated at his baptism, he existed under natural pedagogues. He was as a "king under age," and so had a certain wise regard for the rules of the people. Those rules had as their purpose exhibiting the people's hope in the One coming to fulfill all that those ceremonies proclaimed. Fulfilling them is not "doing them all perfectly," but rather is living out their meaning in fullness and perfection. Jesus doesn't have to KEEP the Passover, as much as he is destined to BE the Passover.

    Jesus is OVER all those ceremonies. He is NOT--and I mean particularly as the inaugurated Christ--UNDER them. This is Calvin's meaning when he says that Christ instituted changes to the Sabbath, as one who was greater than the Temple and Lord of the Sabbath. Did Jesus dutifully attend Passovers, from the time he was 13yrs old? Yes, as one who lived out the 5th commandment, he did. But was he subject to those rules in the same way that others were, who needed HIM to BE their Passover Lamb? No, not at all.

    Jesus did not flout the mores of the Jewish nation. He, after all, gave the Jews the Law on Mt.Sinai (as the Word, the Revealing God). He it was who made these rules and gave them to Israel to teach them of his coming and his real WORK on their behalf. Again, for an ordinary citizen of Israel to obey in these things was an exhibit of the hope he had in the Messiah on his way. Is Jesus hoping in his own saving work, that he will show Himself submissive to Himself when He arrives? That's actually quite incoherent.

    So, Jesus wisely kept the ceremonial law to a reasonable--even a high--degree even after he was inaugurated into his ministry. But we have to recognize why he kept it so. It was not because he needed such excellence to prove anything. Nor to exemplify it. That would be tantamount to saying that he was UNDER, and NOT OVER it. He did it to fulfill all righteousness. He did it because he was not a revolutionary, intent on a tumultuous overturning of the old order. He did it for love of the people who would see in him something more than just a dutiful servant of Moses, but he whom Moses served.

    And, he was not above resetting, repurposing, and even rejecting all ceremonies that no longer had any ongoing function of predicting his arrival and work. He did so on occasion because it was in his judicious interest to do it.
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