Was Jesus made unclean by touching lepers?

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

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  1. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

  2. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore


    I logged into this thread because my wife was considering getting on PuritanBoard. I opened this thread as an example of the superiority of PuritanBoard over Facebook with its slower but deeper and wonderfully more edifying discussion.

    And what do we see? A cat meme! Too funny!
  3. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

    PB > FB
  4. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Yeah. I think I am a hypocrite. This is my Social Media addiction.
  5. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    Joshua even bathed for this thread @Harley
  6. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Jack, and others, very much appreciate your engagement and thoughts. I think on this one though, I guess I'll have to respectfully agree to disagree. The passages I cited earlier (from Leviticus) make it clear that for any man to touch another man with leprosy makes him ceremonially unclean. I don't think Jesus is somehow exempted because He is the Son of God, in a similar way that I wouldn't see Him exempted from getting hungry or tired because He is the Son of God. Since He is fully God but also fully man. And I don't see any other passages in Scripture that would lead me to come to the conclusion that Jesus was any different in this respect; IE, that being the Son of God made Him automatically immune from becoming ceremonially unclean.

    Also, if the healings/cleansings are indeed a picture of Christ's saving work, it makes a lot of sense to me that Jesus voluntarily subjected himself to become ceremonially unclean by touching the leper, as a picture of the truth that to save us, He himself bore our sins. Also, in Matthew 8:17, Jesus' healings are said to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4, that "He himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases." Seems to me the same principle would apply to those He touched who were ceremonially unclean. Again, I don't see being ceremonially unclean as inherently something as sinful; if I did I would think otherwise about this. I see it as again, being a picture of sin. I know Ryken takes another view, but Bock takes this view (see his Volume 1 on Luke, pp464-65; he mentions it twice). So it seems to me both views are tenable. I hold this view loosely and, who knows, maybe I'll become convinced otherwise at a later time, but just for clarity sake wanted to let y'all know where I ended up coming down on it. Thanks again for all the helpful feedback.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
  7. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    It seems that there is a somewhat unhelpful separation in this thread between Christ's relationship to the ceremonial law as completely separate from the moral law. The opposite is also true. Let me try to explain.

    One camp is inferring that to be ceremonially unclean is the same as morally unclean. This makes natural functions of the body separate from the will sinful, such as a woman menstruating or having a baby. Indeed, Mary was unclean after Jesus' birth while she nursed Him. Since actual sin necessitates the will, ceremonial uncleanness does not itself necessitate the breach of a moral code unless we make our argument from the guilt of sin (original sin, which didn't apply to Christ anyway).

    On the flip side, for Jesus not to follow the ceremonial law would be a breach of the moral law, specifically breaking the fifth commandment since God laid this on His people. For Him to fulfill all righteousness, He must have kept the 5C perfectly.

    Finally, I believe His disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath would not have been a breach of either the moral or ceremonial law, but the tradition of the Pharisees.

  8. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Does this stipulation (in your judgment) apply to Jesus once he has entered into his role as Christ? Once he is the publicly revealed Lord of the Sabbath, and greater than the Temple?

    It is important to think this through. At some discernible level, Jesus Christ must demonstrate that not only is he above the directions of the lesser, temporal authorities who must bow their knee to him, and whose legal powers are subject to his review; he also needs to demonstrate that MOSES bows the knee to him.

    Because Moses is not responsible for promulgating (mediating) the moral law--not only does it precede Sinai, it is the literal Voice of God from the mountain top that thunders those ten words--we may therefore say that Jesus' constant and unfailing obedience to it as a man never once deviated (even if it had different expressions according to his ages and stations). He did not obey the moral law strictly as it was found in the Sinai-code; but as it was the moral law, and part of the Sinai-code.

    So, Moses continues to rule Israel for fifteen centuries, through the Law, particularly the judicial and ceremonial laws of the nation. Jesus dutifully (in conformity to the 5C), and also wisely (and more the latter than the former as time went on) followed the judicial and ceremonial law from childhood until he was 30yrs of age, at the very least. But to be clear: he does not do this for the same reason that every other man subject to it does it.

    As a man, Jesus was subject to the moral law that binds all mankind--Jews and Gentiles alike. As a Jew, and a man under age, Jesus was subject to the judicial and ceremonial law, as the heir "does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all," Gal.4:1. But something happens when Jesus takes up his Anointed role. He takes on his title of Master, and Moses bends the knee.

    We see Jesus as Christ participating in the religious life of the Jews. Jesus did not casually toss Moses aside, once he took on his Lordship. But, if you argue that the Lord Jesus dutifully followed all the ceremonies just an ordinary Jew subject to Moses would, then the "Lord" is not the Lord; but Moses is Lord.

    A child who is emancipated is not bound to every dictate of his parents, as he once was. Jesus did not obey his mother on more than one occasion recorded in the Gospels, Mt.12:46-50; Jn.2:4. Why? Because his mother was required to bow her knee to Jesus, as was his (great-grand)father David, Ps.110:1 & Mt.22:41-46.

    The Lord Jesus Christ, before he took his titles, did what was required of him for our sake by complying and conforming to the judicial and ceremonial law. He kept all that for us, Gal.4:4-5, not merely in the simple sense of the 10C, but as a Jew with all the extra duties of a Jew. If "fulfill all righteousness" does imply that Jesus obeyed (not simply embodied) in every conceivable way the Jewish ceremonies, then he did all he had to do for our sake prior to his baptism/anointing.

    But Jesus as Lord and Christ has the prerogatives of a Lord! Even the LORD, so great is his authority! He began to demonstrate that authority immediately. He did not curry favor with the present crop of Jewish leaders, and gather a coalition of powerful political partners. No, he put those cats in their place; they saw what was coming (he would take away their place) and didn't like it, Jn.11:48. He chose his own fresh set of ministers, a whole new cabinet for a whole new order.

    He did abolish the traditions of the Pharisees. He did return the Sabbath to the people for their delight, as opposed to their chore. That was the moral law restored to its glory. But he did not owe them their taxes, even according to the Law. He did not owe a single sacrifice (even as a child or a young man). The Day of Atonement did absolutely nothing to restore his relationship with his Father; it was never in any danger. He had no native corruption of body or soul.

    Jesus as Lord makes laws for others; he does not conform to a "higher" law. The moral law was in fact a mirror of his own (human) soul, unsullied, unfallen, like Adam before catastrophe. The moral law was the very constitution of the Man, Christ Jesus; and He no more would violate it than God would deny His own (divine) nature. Moses' law is something else, something lesser that the office of Christ.

    It is no slight matter, this of which I'm calling for our reasoning together. Whatever we need of Jesus' obedience under the ceremonies and judicials of Judaism, we have from his days without title--30yrs at least. But when Jesus takes his titles, he is no more subject to Moses than a child is subject to his parents when he is 30yrs old, and master of his own household.
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  9. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior


    I think we are mostly in agreement. Certainly His anointing came with the responsibility to undue Moses' law as you rightfully state. This was His prerogative as Lord.

    Here is where I'm a little hung up-- perhaps it's only my own lack of understanding.

    1. The ceremonies were not formally abrogated until the veil in the temple was torn, if I'm not mistaken. Therefore, the ceremonial law was still to some degree in effect.

    2. Prior to His baptism, He would have been under the ceremonial law, being willfully submitted in obedience to the moral law which calls for obedience to authority. He was not at this time exercising Lordship in abrogating the ceremonial law. Since it was still in effect, He would have submitted until the proper time.

    3. His proximity to Mary as a baby would have rendered Him ceremonially unclean for forty or so days (Lev. 12). Am I misunderstand the passage?

    Some conclusions: it would seem Jesus was not immuned from ceremonial uncleanness at all points in His life. He obeyed to fulfill all righteousness, not because He was not Lord.

    Again, I still don't think that touching the leper would have made Him unclean, in part because He was starting the process of undoing Moses, partly because the leper was no longer a leper when He touched him.
  10. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    This is fairly well put. However, we need to distinguish between what is functionally the case in the person of the Lord Jesus, and what is formally the case in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus.

    I indicated above how Jesus does not take out his red pen, and begin wholesale revisions and cancellations of Jewish law and culture. This is aptly reflected in his own words, "I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill," Mt.5:17. He said this (presumably) in response to the accusation (real or theoretical) that he was a revolutionary. There would not one jot or tittle of the Law be moved until all was accomplished, v18. Christ Jesus has no desire to destabilize the social context supporting his atoning work, or distract from the very text through which he is to be recognized by the people by unwise, injudicious cancellations.

    But none of that waiting for the time of his rending of the veil implies that he sees himself as continuing bound under the authority of his own steward, Moses, when once he has been baptized. When Jesus follows the protocol that has been in place for long ages, he does not do it because he lacks the freedom to change it; or because he fears facing his own rebellion from those who love it more than they love him. Some kings don't want to risk losing their thrones (and heads) for contravening an order that is greater than themselves; but those rules do not apply to the King of kings.

    Christ during his earthly ministry makes no judgments respecting temporal things (e.g. Lk.12:14), but constrains himself to judgments respecting that moral law, the violation of which has made his saving work a necessity for his people; the keeping of which is required for citizenship in his kingdom (Mt.5:19). He leaves even his own disciples under the restraint both of Jewish rule and Roman rule, other than when he authorizes them to act or speak in his name, and such work would require them to dictate his will to otherwise higher-authority (to themselves).

    But the Lord has his own recognizance, which he may impose or release on himself--and no other person living or dead has that. Who taught Moses the ceremonies of the Old Covenant? The LORD, who is identifiable with God the Son. He did not give them as though they were exhibits of the eternal Verity, a reflection of divine perfection and order; which then, he would most naturally and easily adhere to no less than he did the moral law--a kind of reflex action. Rather, as a man he learned that obedience, as he also learned suffering (Heb.5:8); which was also important for his being a merciful and faithful high priest, Heb.2:17. By contrast, his moral obedience was reflexive.

    There is no law, no court to which King Jesus may be properly remanded. His word is law. The court which judged him, and condemned him, had no legitimate authority to do so, Lk.22:67-68. And he told them as much, promising to return and hold them all in contempt, Mt.26:64. What was the issue they finally settled on, as the basis of their charge? That he claimed to be greater than the Temple, Mt.26:61. Every last Israelite was subject to the Temple, that was just a "given;" even the high priest was a servant. But Jesus said otherwise about himself.

    I don't ascertain the connection of this point (3) to those above. Would the baby Jesus be considered "unclean" at certain times, places, or conditions? Definitely, from an observer's standpoint. He would be outside the covenant community if he was not circumcised, and considered unclean on that account. Not that his actual condition would have been so, since he was sinless--not even conceived in sin. But he would have been considered so, and quite reasonably.

    And indeed, from contacting his mother in her impurity he would also have been considered unclean (but not so much as to lose his distinction as a "clean Israelite" due to his circumcision). But then, all Jewish children would be assumed to be not-clean-enough to join the rituals of the people; because to assume otherwise would be unsafe for both them and the community.

    So, there is no reason to think that because Jesus was incorruptible (and thus internally and uniquely in a state that outward cleanness was meant to idealize for everyone else) that he would be regarded any differently from other children. Formally speaking: just as circumcision indicated his formal purification, Jesus' contact with his ceremonially impure mother indicated a formal impurity on that account. We could argue (not that I recommend it) that invisibly, his incorruptible quality somehow transmitted to her a true state of cleanness--but not before the eyes of men. And so, she went to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifices for purification, Lk.2:22-24.

    Prior to his presentation at the Jordan for baptism, Jesus was incognito. He did not miraculously heal his mother of her parturition bloody-impurity. Jesus operated under all the rules of purification (such as circumcision) that any ordinary Israelite did for centuries before his birth. In formal sense, he would be regarded as clean or unclean by those rules and expectations. He would keep himself pure as needed for participation in the religious rites of the people. To do otherwise would be scandalous. And we know he was an observant Jew; so he maintained the ceremonies. He even maintained them, so far as was prudent, after he was baptized.

    But his inherent cleanness flowed from him once he was invested in office. This is evident in all his healings, not just of the lepers. Those were just the most blatant. The healing of the woman who had the 7yrs flow of blood is another obvious instance where her uncleanness did not attach to him. "Virtue flowed" from Jesus, and changed her. Her healing is the refutation of any charge that her defilement flowed to him, or had any negative effect on him. This is proof that Jesus is different from anyone else--not in virtue of his humanity, for that must be exactly like ours. But where ordinary men do not repel contamination, but must always be purging the stains of their appearance (though their inward constitution remains evil), Jesus does not have such attraction.

    Perhaps here, I might offer a concession to those who appreciate the "double imputation" motif. If Jesus takes the leper's uncleanness, and adopts it as if it did flow to him; but not by some LAW of attraction, not by some demand of Moses or of nature--if we say that Jesus took the lameness and the blindness and the fits and the leprosy, all of that and more; and in some manner stored "all our diseases" (Ps.103:3) and "bore all our sicknesses" (Is.53:4) literally to his account; then yes, you might say he did relieve the leper and the bloody-woman of their taints and hold on to them. However, the fact that the leprosy and the lameness etc. did not appear on him and visibly corrupt him, is the very lack of evidence of that corruption which it is the task of ceremonial uncleanness to bring out into the open (so it might be visibly dealt with).

    Healing for Jesus isn't a "trade off," in that sense. The Great Physician didn't have to "pay a price" (as in some magical traditions) in his own body for granting wholeness to someone else. He simply banished the evil, as he banished demons. He did not become possessed by Satan when he relieved the possessed of their oppressors. There is a deferred aspect to our Savior's taking on the wrath of God against our sins, when they are laded on him as the Lamb of God. That takes place in the lead-up to the crucifixion, perhaps in the context of Jn.12:27-28; certainly by the night of Gethsemane, and obviously on the cross. That is when the account is emptied, and the Christ suffers outcast for uncleanness in our place.
  11. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Westminster tells us that the ceremonial law contains "typical ordinances … prefiguring Christ." If this is the case, what approach to the ceremonial law would we expect to see from the Christ when he is revealed? Would he be keeping that law to demonstrate his righteousness? Or would he be interacting with that law in ways that show he is its fulfillment? I'd expect more of the latter.

    And what do you know? The gospel accounts seem to agree. Already at age twelve, Jesus has an awareness that his relationship to the temple will be about a unique form of service in his Father's house. By John 2:19, he is speaking of the temple in ways that cause some hearers to think he is disrespecting its rites. In John 7:37, he attends a feast but proclaims that it is about him, which would not be the proper way to keep the feast unless Christ-as-fulfillment is the right way to see that law. And when he officiates Passover on the night he is betrayed, he fails to follow Moses' formula again—unless Moses was speaking of him.

    Now, what if he touches a man with leprosy? It should not surprise us that he chooses to interact with the ceremonial law this way. But is he keeping that law or breaking it? Because of who he is, that's the wrong question! Once again, he is fulfilling it. He is the purpose and the full glory of the ceremonial law, not its servant.
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  12. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Tim, just to throw in my two cents as well on this particular comment, I don't believe or affirm that Jesus broke any commandment in the ceremonial law (or that He didn't follow it). The ceremonial law commanded Jews to not eat certain foods. It never commanded Jews to not touch lepers. It just stated that when they did so, they became ceremonially unclean.
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