What The Bible Says About God's Standard Of Purity

This article is part of a sub-series: Should We Obey The Entire Law Of Moses? - What The Old And New Testaments Say, which is about Old Testament laws on morality and tithing, customs like animal sacrifice and the celebration of the Passover Festival, and what the New Testament says about them.
This is Part 11 (of 13) in Section 5: "Should We Obey The Entire Law Of Moses? - What The Old And New Testaments Say".

To read an overview of the way Christians should regard the Law of Moses, visit: Bible Quotations on Whether Christians Should Obey the Law of Moses.

Some parts of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation are very unpleasant. If you become offended by anything, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.

The purpose of the Old Testament seems to have been mainly to try to scare lawless societies into behaving decently, giving up the cruel ways the Bible says they were guilty of. Hence much of the gruesomeness, which is at least in part meant to warn people committing cruel and hurtful actions to change.

2 Timothy chapter 3 (TEV)

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, 17 so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.

These articles on holiness show how the Old Testament Law was full of picture language, external ways of illustrating how God wanted his people to live pure lives. It was symbolism, expressing in external ways what the New Testament expresses as inner truths, meaning guidelines on living.

For instance, the Old Testament ordered that all Jewish males must be circumcised as a sign that they were God's people. The New Testament teaches that the physical act of circumcision is actually worthless as regards turning someone into a person of God, because it's a mere outward thing. The real circumcision is a spiritual thing- a cutting away of old bad behaviours, a change of lifestyle and attitudes so behaviour becomes more pure.

Some of the picture language in the Law of Moses is quite nice. Some, on the other hand, involves commands that seem barbaric. Having strict laws about what was acceptable to do and what was holy and forbidden was apparently a way in which ancient cultures sought to control their communities, at a time when lawlessness was more of a present threat, and when disobedience could have much more drastic effects on people's survival chances. For instance, disobedience to commands related to sexual abstinence before marriage could lead to many babies being born out of wedlock in an age where there was no welfare state to support them, and an inability to support oneself could mean starvation.

There are commands which impose a penalty of death for what would seem trivial offences, like going up to God's altar without washing first. It was harshly symbolic of how important it is to be pure from sin, so far as possible. Disrespect for God's commands on the way to live could have led to anarchy, in an age where means of social control were so much less sophisticated. The harsh punishments in the Law of Moses were to some extent illustrations and warnings for the people of the importance of staying within the law.

Rather than imposing symbolic and sometimes harsh external purity rules, the New Testament, written for people who actually wanted to obey it rather than for a whole society, many of whom would probably have preferred not to, focuses on purity of thought and action, rather than on the picture language of symbolic holiness. This article shows how much of the external ceremony of the Old Testament has its reflection in guidelines about attitudes and behaviour in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, the Bible says:

Exodus chapter 25 (GWT)

1 The Lord said to Moses,

31 "Make a lamp stand out of pure gold. The lamp stand, its base, and its shaft, as well as the flower cups, buds, and petals must be hammered out of one piece of gold. 32 Six branches are to come out of the sides, three branches on one side and three on the other. 33 Each of the six branches coming out of the lamp stand is to have three flower cups shaped like almond blossoms, with buds and petals. 34 The lamp stand itself is to have four flower cups shaped like almond blossoms, with buds and petals. 35 There should be a bud under each of the three pairs of branches coming out of the lamp stand. 36 The buds and branches should also be hammered out of the same piece of pure gold as the lamp stand.

37 "Make seven lamps, and set them on the lamp stand so that they light up [the area] in front of it. 38 The tongs and incense burners must be made of pure gold. 39 Use 75 pounds of pure gold to make the lamp stand and all the utensils. 40 Be sure to make them according to the plans you were shown on the mountain."

Exodus chapter 28 (NLT)

1 "Your brother, Aaron, and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, will be set apart from the common people. They will be my priests and will minister to me. 2 Make special clothing for Aaron to show his separation to God - beautiful garments that will lend dignity to his work.

In the New Testament, the Bible says:

2 Timothy chapter 2 (NLT)

20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

In the Old Testament, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 24 (TEV)

1 The Lord told Moses 2 to give the following orders to the people of Israel: Bring pure olive oil of the finest quality for the lamps in the Tent, so that a light might be kept burning regularly. 3 Each evening Aaron shall light them and keep them burning until morning, there in the Lord's presence outside the curtain in front of the Covenant Box, which is in the Most Holy Place. This regulation is to be observed for all time to come. 4 Aaron shall take care of the lamps on the lampstand of pure gold and must see that they burn regularly in the Lord's presence.

In the New Testament, the Bible says:

Matthew chapter 5 (TEV)

1 Jesus saw the crowds and went up a hill, where he sat down. His disciples gathered around him, 2 and he began to teach them:

14 "You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. 16 In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew chapter 25 (NLT)

1 "The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.

Matthew chapter 25 (GWT)

2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 The foolish bridesmaids took their lamps, but they didn't take any extra oil. 4 The wise bridesmaids, however, took along extra oil for their lamps. 5 Since the groom was late, all the bridesmaids became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 "At midnight someone shouted, 'The groom is here! Come to meet him!' 7 Then all the bridesmaids woke up and got their lamps ready.

8 "The foolish ones said to the wise ones, 'Give us some of your oil. Our lamps are going out.'

9 "But the wise bridesmaids replied, 'We can't do that. There won't be enough for both of us. Go! Find someone to sell you some oil.'

10 "While they were buying oil, the groom arrived. The bridesmaids who were ready went with him into the wedding hall, and the door was shut.

11 "Later the other bridesmaids arrived and said, 'Sir, sir, open the door for us!'

12 "But he answered them, 'I don't even know who you are!'

13 "So stay awake, because you don't know the day or the hour."

In the Old Testament, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 21 (NLT)

1 The LORD said to Moses, "Tell the priests to avoid making themselves ceremonially unclean by touching a dead relative 2 unless it is a close relative - mother or father, son or daughter, brother 3 or virgin sister who was dependent because she had no husband. 4 As a husband among his relatives, he must not defile himself.

5 "The priests must never shave their heads, trim the edges of their beards, or cut their bodies. 6 They must be set apart to God as holy and must never dishonor his name. After all, they are the ones who present the offerings to the LORD by fire, providing God with his food, and they must remain holy.

7 "The priests must not marry women defiled by prostitution or women who have been divorced, for the priests must be set apart to God as holy. 8 You must treat them as holy because they offer up food to your God. You must consider them holy because I, the LORD, am holy, and I make you holy.

In the New Testament, the Bible says to Christians:

Ephesians chapter 5 (NLT)

3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God's people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes - these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world. 6 Don't be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the terrible anger of God comes upon all those who disobey him. 7 Don't participate in the things these people do. 8 For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it! 9 For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, rebuke and expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But when the light shines on them, it becomes clear how evil these things are. 14 And where your light shines, it will expose their evil deeds. This is why it is said, "Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light." 15 So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise.

In Paul's Letter to the Christians in Rome in the New Testament, the Bible says:

Romans chapter 7 (NLT)

5 When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced sinful deeds, resulting in death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, for we died with Christ, and we are no longer captive to its power. Now we can really serve God, not in the old way by obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way, by the Spirit.

In the Old Testament, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 21 (TEV)

1 The LORD commanded Moses to tell the Aaronite priests,

9 If a priest's daughter becomes a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she shall be burned to death.

10 "The High Priest has had the anointing oil poured on his head and has been consecrated to wear the priestly garments, so he must not leave his hair uncombed or tear his clothes to show that he is in mourning. 11 He has been dedicated to me and is not to make himself ritually unclean nor is he to defile my sacred Tent by leaving it and entering a house where there is a dead person, even if it is his own father or mother. 13 He shall marry a virgin, 14 not a widow or a divorced woman or a woman who has been a prostitute. He shall marry only a virgin from his own clan. 15 Otherwise, his children, who ought to be holy, will be ritually unclean. I am the Lord and I have set him apart as the High Priest."

In the New Testament, the Bible says to Christians:

1 Thessalonians chapter 4 (TEV)

2 You know the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 God wants you to be holy and completely free from sexual immorality.

1 Corinthians chapter 6 (GWT)

12 Someone may say, "I'm allowed to do anything," but not everything is helpful. I'm allowed to do anything, but I won't allow anything to gain control over my life. 13 Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food, but God will put an end to both of them. However, the body is not for sexual sin but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 God raised the Lord, and by his power God will also raise us. 15 Don't you realize that your bodies are parts of Christ's body? Should I take the parts of Christ's body and make them parts of a prostitute's body? That's unthinkable! 16 Don't you realize that the person who unites himself with a prostitute becomes one body with her? God says, "The two will be one." 17 However, the person who unites himself with the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
18 Stay away from sexual sins. Other sins that people commit don't affect their bodies the same way sexual sins do. People who sin sexually sin against their own bodies. 19 Don't you know that your body is a temple that belongs to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit, whom you received from God, lives in you. You don't belong to yourselves. 20 You were bought for a price. So bring glory to God in the way you use your body.

1 John chapter 3 (TEV)

2 My dear friends, we are now God's children, but it is not yet clear what we shall become. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in Christ keeps himself pure, just as Christ is pure.

In the books of Moses in the Old Testament, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 22 (TEV)

17 The Lord commanded Moses 18 to give Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel the following regulations.

When any Israelite or any foreigner living in Israel presents a burnt offering, whether as fulfillment of a vow or as a freewill offering, the animal must not have any defects. 19 To be accepted, it must be a male without any defects. 20 If you offer any animal that has any defects, the Lord will not accept it. 21 When anyone presents a fellowship offering to the Lord, whether as fulfillment of a vow or as a freewill offering, the animal must be without any defects if it is to be accepted. 22 Do not offer to the Lord any animal that is blind or crippled or mutilated, or that has a running sore or a skin eruption or scabs. Do not offer any such animals on the altar as a food offering.

Later in the Old Testament, in books that are believed to have been written hundreds of years after the time of Moses, the Bible says that the prophets Micah and Hosea prophesied:

Micah chapter 6 (NLT)

6 What can we bring to the LORD to make up for what we've done? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? 7 Should we offer him thousands of rams and tens of thousands of rivers of olive oil? Would that please the LORD? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for the sins of our souls? Would that make him glad? 8

No, O people, the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires:

to do what is right,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Hosea chapter 6 (NLT)

4 "O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?" asks the LORD. "For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. 6 I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings.

In the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, the Bible says:

Hebrews chapter 12 (TEV)

14 Try to be at peace with everyone, and try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it. 15 Guard against turning back from the grace of God.

In Paul's letter to the Ephesian Christians in the New Testament, the Bible says:

Ephesians chapter 5 (NLT)

25 You husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God's word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. 29 No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. 30 And we are his body.

In the Old Testament, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 21 (TEV)

16 The Lord commanded Moses 17 to tell Aaron, "None of your descendants who has any physical defects may present the food offering to me. This applies for all time to come. 18 No man with any physical defects may make the offering: no one who is blind, lame, disfigured, or deformed; 19 no one with a crippled hand or foot; 20 no one who is a hunchback or a dwarf; no one with any eye or skin disease; and no eunuch. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any physical defects may present the food offering to me. 22 Such a man may eat the food offered to me, both the holy food offering and the very holy food offering, 23 but because he has a physical defect, he shall not come near the sacred curtain or approach the altar. He must not profane these holy things, because I am the Lord and I make them holy."

24 This, then, is what Moses said to Aaron, the sons of Aaron, and to all the people of Israel.

In the New Testament, in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatian christians, he wrote:

Galatians chapter 1 (NLT)

1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group or by human authority. My call is from Jesus Christ himself and from God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.

Galatians chapter 4 (NLT)

12 Dear brothers and sisters, You did not mistreat me when I first preached to you. 13 Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News of Christ. 14 But even though my sickness was revolting to you, you did not reject me and turn me away. No, you took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself. 15 ... In those days, I know you would gladly have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible.

Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians in another of his letters which is in the New Testament:

Colossians chapter 1 (TEV)

21 At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. 22 But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence. 23 You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and must not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:

1 Corinthians chapter 1 (TEV)

6 The message about Christ has become so firmly established in you 7 that you have not failed to receive a single blessing, as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be faultless on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is to be trusted, the God who called you to have fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.

In the Old Testament, the Bible says:

Exodus chapter 19 (GWT)

3 Moses went up the mountain to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, "This is what you must say to the descendants of Jacob. Tell the Israelites, 4 'You have seen for yourselves what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to my mountain. 5 If you carefully obey me and are faithful to the terms of my promise, then out of all the nations you will be my own special possession, even though the whole world is mine. 6 You will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.' These are the words you must speak to the Israelites."

7 So Moses went down and called for the leaders of the people. He repeated to them all the words that the LORD had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together, "We will do everything the LORD has said." So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.

In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, the Bible says:

Acts chapter 20 (NLT)

13 Paul ... 17 ... sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come down to meet him. 18 When they arrived he declared, "You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now 19 I have done the Lord's work humbly - yes, and with tears. 21 I have had one message for Jews and Gentiles alike - the necessity of turning from sin and turning to God, and of faith in our Lord Jesus.

32 "And now I entrust you to God and the word of his grace - his message that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.

The apostle Peter wrote to new Christians in his first letter in the New Testament:

1 Peter chapter 2 (TEV)

1 Rid yourselves, then, of all evil; no more lying or hypocrisy or jealousy or insulting language. 2 Be like newborn babies, always thirsty for the pure spiritual milk, so that by drinking it you may grow up and be saved. 3 As the scripture says, "You have found out for yourselves how kind the Lord is."

1 Peter chapter 2 (NLT)

4 Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God's temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him.

1 Peter chapter 2 (GWT)

5 You come to him as living stones, a spiritual house that is being built into a holy priesthood. So offer spiritual sacrifices that God accepts through Jesus Christ. 6 That is why Scripture says, "I am laying a chosen and precious cornerstone in Zion, and the person who believes in him will never be ashamed." 7 This honor belongs to those who believe. But to those who don't believe: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, 8 a stone that people trip over, a large rock that people find offensive." The people tripped over the word because they refused to believe it. Therefore, this is how they ended up. 9 However, you are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people who belong to God. You were chosen to tell about the excellent qualities of God, who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not God's people, but now you are. Once you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.

11 Dear friends, since you are foreigners and temporary residents [in the world], I'm encouraging you to keep away from the desires of your corrupt nature. These desires constantly attack you. 12 Live decent lives among unbelievers. Then, although they ridicule you as if you were doing wrong while they are watching you do good things, they will praise God on the day he comes to help you.

In the Old Testament, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 22 (TEV)

1 The Lord commanded Moses 2 to tell Aaron and his sons, "You must not bring disgrace on my holy name, so treat with respect the sacred offerings that the people of Israel dedicate to me. I am the Lord. 3 If any of your descendants, while he is ritually unclean, comes near the sacred offerings which the people of Israel have dedicated to me, he can never again serve at the altar. This applies for all time to come. I am the Lord.

4 "None of the descendants of Aaron who has a dreaded skin disease or a discharge may eat any of the sacred offerings until he is ritually clean. Any priest is unclean if he touches anything which is unclean through contact with a corpse or if he has an emission of semen 5 or if he has touched an unclean animal or person. 6 Any priest who becomes unclean remains unclean until evening, and even then he may not eat any of the sacred offerings until he has taken a bath. 7 After the sun sets he is clean, and then he may eat the sacred offerings, which are his food. 8 He shall not eat the meat of any animal that has died a natural death or has been killed by wild animals; it will make him unclean. I am the Lord.

9 "All priests shall observe the regulations that I have given. Otherwise, they will become guilty and die, because they have disobeyed the sacred regulations. I am the Lord and I make them holy.

In the New Testament, the Bible says:

Hebrews chapter 12 (NLT)

14 Try to live in peace with everyone, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.

Hebrews chapter 12 (TEV)

Let no one become like a bitter plant that grows up and causes many troubles with its poison. 16 Let no one become immoral or unspiritual like Esau, who for a single meal sold his rights as the older son. 17 Afterward, you know, he wanted to receive his father's blessing; but he was turned back, because he could not find any way to change what he had done, even though in tears he looked for it.

18 You have not come, as the people of Israel came, to what you can feel, to Mount Sinai with its blazing fire, the darkness and the gloom, the storm, 19 the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of a voice. When the people heard the voice, they begged not to hear another word, 20 because they could not bear the order which said, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death." 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling and afraid!" 22 Instead, you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, with its thousands of angels. 23 You have come to the joyful gathering of God's first-born, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, who is the judge of all people, and to the spirits of good people made perfect. 24 You have come to Jesus, who arranged the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that promises much better things than does the blood of Abel.

25 Be careful, then, and do not refuse to hear him who speaks. Those who refused to hear the one who gave the divine message on earth did not escape. How much less shall we escape, then, if we turn away from the one who speaks from heaven! 26 His voice shook the earth at that time, but now he has promised, "I will once more shake not only the earth but heaven as well." 27 The words "once more" plainly show that the created things will be shaken and removed, so that the things that cannot be shaken will remain. 28 Let us be thankful, then, because we receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Let us be grateful and worship God in a way that will please him, with reverence and awe; 29 because our God is indeed a destroying fire.

The harsh punishments decreed in the Old Testament are an indication of the difficulty of disciplining a wayward theocracy. The differences between the approaches of the Old and New Testaments are a reflection of the different audiences they were written for. The Old Testament was written for a society who needed strict discipline and a sense of the awesomeness of God in order that they remain obedient, and thus that society didn't degenerate into corruption, crime and chaos. The New Testament was written to people who actually wanted to obey God. Thus, the emphasis could be on encouragement and on the beauty of following God rather than on judgment. For more on this, see: Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development.

The next file in this section (Part 12), is entitled: "What The Bible Says About The Identity And Responsibilities of God's Modern Priests".

If you have found parts of the Old Testament or the Book of Revelation offensive, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.

The selections of Bible quotations have been put together by Diana Holbourn.

Throughout this series, wherever the initials TEV appear, they stand for Today's English Version (The Good News Bible).

Other initials: