In Part 1, I gave you a picture of what the biblical commandment concerning niddah is in practical terms and why it can be a blessing for couples. Now let’s look more closely at this commandment in terms of the biblical texts that support and explain it in more detail. Clearly, the topic of a woman’s menstrual cycle is not typically discussed in Christian churches in terms of Theology today, let alone considered with regard to the book of Leviticus (18:19) of all books, and what God has commanded regarding this time of “separation” or niddah in Hebrew. Likewise, one might be inclined to ask whether a woman’s menstrual cycle could have anything to do with the idea of keeping the “marriage bed” pure or undefiled? We see the concept of the purity of the “marriage bed” discussed in the book of Hebrews (13:4) of course, but in this context, the primary referent is clearly related to not committing adultery and other forms of fornication. However, there is another issue at hand in terms of physical purity in the area of sexual relations between a husband and wife that also involves the “marriage bed,” impacts family planning, and can effect intimacy as well as provide a framework that can serve to enhance sexual fulfillment for the couple in both physical and spiritual levels of intimacy.
Now it is true that the issue of “ritual purity” in general is in many respects today a moot point since it is only relevant when there is a physical man-made Temple or Tabernacle in existence in Jerusalem, and one would desire to enter there to worship God in the only acceptably prescribed manner He provides to do so in the “present age” (vs. the “age to come”) while man is still in our current “body of death” state (i.e. in a regenerated but still pre-resurrection state in regard to a believer). However, even though there is no Temple, there are still some laws that are not Temple dependent that we need to be aware of that involve physical and ritual purity in the area of sexual relations and in particular the marriage bed.
Leviticus 18:19 states, “Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness (i.e. have sex) during her menstrual נִדָּה (niddah) impurity טֻמְאָה (or literally speaking, her time of separation).”
Most of us understand the issue of spiritual purity (usually referred to as having a pure heart before God), but Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 (see referenced quote below) notes the continued importance of both physical, bodily purity as well as spiritual, internal purity. In particular Paul quotes the issue of not touching physically that which God has declared unclean. Of course this has several different applications, but we will focus on the issue of physical purity in the marriage bed in relationship to Lev 18:19 specifically here and why it is important. Our analysis will serve to connect the theological regulations to the emotional and practical understanding I previously expressed in Part 1 that covered the beauty and major benefits associated with obedience to this commandment.
First, as noted above, in 2 Corinthians 6:16–7:1 Paul states,
“. . . For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17“Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN ἀκάθαρτος [i.e. as in declared unclean by God]; And I will welcome you. 18“And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. 1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse καθαρίζω ourselves from all defilement μολυσμός of flesh σάρξ and spirit πνεῦμα perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” [Emphasis mine]
Thus we see that the concept of “unclean” and defilement of body or flesh and spirit are, according to Paul, very much still relevant and in effect post cross. But it is important to also note that ritual contamination or impurity in and of itself is not “sinful” and should not be viewed as such. Sometimes ritual impurity is simply a normal and necessary part of human existence, as is the case of a woman’s menstruation. While it is true that impurity can result from coming into contact with sin, it can also result from coming into contact with death. While the former should be avoided, the latter is unavoidable. It is part of the human condition and the negative “inheritance” we have from Adam as sons of Adam.
It is also important to recognize that God took the issue of niddah seriously enough that to ignore the commandment (when one has knowledge of it of course) in a “high handed” rebellious manner meant being “cut off” from the people of God.
Leviticus 20:18, “If there is a man who lies with a menstruous woman and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow, and she has exposed the flow of her blood; thus both of them shall be cut off from among their people.”
This does not mean that accidental instances warranted “cutting off” (except temporarily according to the 7 days of niddah) as even the act of intercourse itself could initiate a monthly flow, or a woman’s period could have started without the woman’s knowledge and get discovered as intercourse begins. Such a punishment as “cutting off” was not intended for unintentional acts of neglecting niddah regulations. We must not check our brains at the door when it comes to the Law of God. We must use the Law or more specifically the Instructions (Torah) of God lawfully and wisely. The “cutting off” punishment was intended for those who “intentionally” engaged in “high handed” sin and hopefully causing them to repent. Thus, an accidental incident simply required acknowledgement of repentance and then temporary “cutting off” until they had gone through the process prescribed to rejoin the community which entailed taking a bath and washing any garments or sheets and both parties being considered unclean for 7 days (Lev 15:24) and thus limited from entering the assembly for worship during that period.
So how do we know that the Apostolic Scriptures also support the idea of observing niddah today? First, we know that God’s Word is eternal. But since I know you will want more explanation than that, here’s some additional texts to consider. A general statement that would support the continued application of Lev 18:19 is found in the statement made in Hebrews 13:4 when the author says, “. . . the marriage bed is to be undefiled . . .”
The Louw-Nida Lexicon notes the following definition translated “undefiled” in English in this verse.
53.36 ἀμίαντος, ον: (derivative of μιαίνω ‘to defile,’ 53.34, with the addition of the negative prefix ἀ-) pertaining to not being ritually defiled, with implications of accompanying moral defilement—‘undefiled, untainted.’ θρησκεία καθαρὰ καὶ ἀμίαντος παρὰ τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὕτη ἐστίν ‘this is what God the Father considers to be pure and untainted religion’ Jas 1:27.
(Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 536.)
Likewise, 2 Corinthians 7:1 states, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh (or body) and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Below is the definition of the word defilement in this verse.
3663 μολυσμός (molysmos), οῦ (ou), ὁ (ho): n.masc.; ≡ Str 3436; TDNT 4.737—LN 53.35 defilement, ritual and/or moral contamination (2Co 7:1+)
James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
Paul in Galatians 5 (below) mentions a list of typical “deeds” of the flesh. We see that the Greek word for impurity or uncleanness used here is also used in the LXX (or Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures written before the time of Messiah). Note also, that the term itself can be used in relationship to menstrual impurity. Here are the references.
Galatians 5:19–21, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurityἀκαθαρσία (or uncleanness), sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
ἀκαθαρσία,-ας+ N1F 24-4-16-5-14=63
Lv 5,3 (bis); 7,20.21 (bis); 15,3 (bis)
physical and ritual impurity Lv 7,20.21; menstrual impurity Lv 15,3; moral impurity Wis 2,16; cultic impurity caused by idolatry 1 Mc 13,48
Johan Lust, Erik Eynikel, and Katrin Hauspie, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint : Revised Edition (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: Stuttgart, 2003).
With these general ideas in mind, let’s further look at more specifics related to other texts in Leviticus directly commenting on the commandment regarding niddah.
Leviticus 15:19–33 (NASB95)
19‘When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening.
20‘Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean.
21‘Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.
22‘Whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.
23‘Whether it be on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening.
24‘If a man actually lies with her so that her menstrual impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.
25‘Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean.
26‘Any bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her like her bed at menstruation; and every thing on which she sits shall be unclean, like her uncleanness at that time.
27‘Likewise, whoever touches them shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.
28‘When she becomes clean from her discharge, she shall count off for herself seven days; and afterward she will be clean.
29‘Then on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons and bring them in to the priest, to the doorway of the tent of meeting.
30‘The priest shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement on her behalf before the LORD because of her impure discharge.’
31“Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.”
32This is the law for the one with a discharge, and for the man who has a seminal emission so that he is unclean by it,
33and for the woman who is ill because of menstrual impurity, and for the one who has a discharge, whether a male or a female, or a man who lies with an unclean woman.
Just as we see niddah mentioned with regard to a women’s regular monthly cycle, we also see the niddah rule applicable following child bearing. It is 7 days long for a male child and 14 days for a female. However, oddly enough, the sages note in the Talmud Bavli Tactrate on Niddah (pg. xxxvi), that a woman becomes tahor or clean for her husband and may engage in intercourse after 7 days (after having a boy) and 14 days (after having a girl) even if she is still bleeding post childbirth beyond those 7 or 14 days respectively. The Talmud states, “For the blood she discharges from day 8 to day 40 (in the case of a boy) or from day 15 to day 80 (in the case of a girl) is deemed to be tahor [clean] blood, meaning that it does not render her tamei [unclean].” While this is generally not practiced today by orthodox Jews, it is still considered acceptable according to the sages in their interpretation of Scripture on this issue. Below is the relevant texts concerning childbirth and niddah.
Leviticus 12:2 (NASB95)
2“Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: ‘When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean.
Leviticus 12:5 (NASB95)
5‘But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days.
One additional text I’d like to mention is indirectly related to the topic at hand, because it is not dealing with niddah but a question brought up to Paul as to whether sex itself should be considered “good or evil” and whether it should be “avoided” altogether. The premise behind the question suggests the idea that those who abstain are of more “value” to the kingdom of God, (even one who avoids sex with his wife apparently from the nature of Paul’s response). As hard as it is to believe, they actually asked Paul this question in 1 Cor 7. Paul goes on to address the question as to whether it is better for men to avoid women sexually. Such an idea was likely brought up because of false teachings that began to develop that said “the flesh” was “bad” and later bloomed into what we now call Gnosticism. Non-the-less, the idea of temporary periods of separation by mutual agreement is suggested as appropriate in certain cases of “doing ministry.” Although Paul does not mention niddah directly here, since he is addressing a completely different presupposition and an unrelated context. Never-the-less, the concept regarding sexual fulfillment and temporary abstaining is relevant to our discussion and taught here by Paul.
While this has not been an exhaustive study, it does demonstrate that the Scriptures clearly address the issue of niddah in terms of keeping the marriage bed undefiled or pure in both the Tanakh (OT) and Apostolic Scriptures (NT). If you look at the issue of niddah through the eyes of a loving Father who cares for you, and you step out in faith regarding this commandment, in the end you will find it to be a source of blessing and a method of worshiping God even in regard to your sexual relationship with your spouse. God cares about every single aspect of our lives from the most exciting to the most mundane, and every act can be a sanctified expression of faith and love when done according to God’s Word.