Leviticus 21:3

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Puritan Board Freshman
"Or his virgin sister(who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may make himself unclean)" - Leviticus 21:3 ESV

I'm having trouble interpreting this passage. What does it mean? So if the virgin sister is not married(has not leave and cleave) does that mean she has to help his priestly brother to administer the funeral rites?? Or the priest himself is the one who's administering it, therefore making himself unclean?
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Puritan Board Graduate
First, welcome to Puritan Board!

Second, I think I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what your question is. Would you mind being a little more detailed?

Jeri Tanner

Staff member
Welcome to the PB ReformandaJovian! Please fix your signature per PB rules, you can follow the link below.


Puritan Board Graduate
Hi I've edited the question. I'm sorry for the confusion.
No apology necessary! Thank you for editing. I think I understand now.

I think the personal pronouns in this passage (particularly "he/him/his") might be what is confusing. I had to read the passage in several different translations before I began to understand what I think is going on. I think the Lord is simply saying that a priest may not make himself unclean by touching a dead body. However, the priest may make himself unclean if the dead body is a close relative of his who has died—such as a "mother or father, son or daughter, brother, or his virgin sister." The reason it says virgin sister is because, as the text says, she "depends on him because she has no husband." In other words, who else would see to her proper burial? Of course, I believe this would be a last resort, in the case that such a sister has no other family members, such as another brother or her father, to care for her body. Therefore, due to such a necessity, the priest must in this way care for her sister (or anyone else in his immediate family who needs such care).


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
It helps to have some context:
21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘None shall defile himself for the dead among his people, 2 except for his relatives who are nearest to him: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother; 3 also his virgin sister who is near to him, who has had no husband, for her he may defile himself. 4 Otherwise he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.

I'm going to bullet-point these things, in order to shorten the explanation.

1) Leviticus as a book is focused on the priesthood, so (while there are many things that are general to Israel) the differences between priests and people are also significant.

2) This passage is to the priests in particular.

3) The priest had to be clean, as much as possible, all the time. Why? Because, uncleanness rendered him unfit for his duties. (think of Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan). The priest was not clean only for himself, but for the many people who came to benefit from Israel's only legitimate altar.

4) This passage prohibits the priest from participation in general mourning. More particularly, it prohibits all touching of a dead body, apart from the closest immediate family. The (unmarried) sister over whom he most likely had some duty to care was regarded as within the scope of the allowance.
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