Troublesome Topic: Don’t Touch the Impure

There Is a Difference Between the Pure and the Impure

It seems so basic. Of course there is a difference between something that is pure and something that is not pure. And yet many people in our culture don’t understand that purity even exist. God gave this teaching to the children of Israel because it was important for them to know there was a difference between the pure and the impure. We need this understanding today quite possibly more than ever before.

Since God is a holy God, He cannot accept the impure

It would be a violation of God’s character for Him to say, “Alright, it’s not a big deal. Don’t worry about that right and wrong stuff.” The Law is full of instances where God said there will be punishment for impurity, for God does not accept impurity. He communicated this teaching using the words “clean” and “unclean.”

Don’t Touch the Impure

Associating with the impure makes us impure, but holiness comes from God

These two points were behind several of the conditions which forbade them from touching things that were impure, such as dead animals.

Leviticus 11:24


Whoever touches the carcass of any of them will be unclean until evening


Whoever touches the dead body of any of these animals must temporarily be placed in the kind of isolation that separates the dead from the living; it will last until evening.

If it’s been a while since you read Leviticus, you may have forgotten a few of its many details. For instance, if a dead animal fell into a clay pot, the pot and its contents were considered unclean. Its contents should be discarded, and the pot broken (Lev. 11:33).

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If a cooking oven was contaminated by some animal crawling into or on it and deciding that would be a good place to breathe its last breath, the oven was thus contaminated and had to be broken to bits (Lev. 11:35).

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In this way the people of Israel would come to realize that they could not associate with the impure because they too would become impure by their association or participation.

In real life they had to constantly be vigilant against impurities so as to not become impure by getting too close to something impure. They had to be careful to close up the oven when they were not using it to prevent animals from thinking it was a nice place for a home. They had to cover the clay water jar so nothing would fall into it. Likewise, in the spiritual realm they had to be constantly on the alert for anything that might contaminate the mind or the heart—and don’t we have plenty of that surrounding us today? We must recognize that contamination and impurity can assault us from any number of sources,

in a multitude of ways and a variety of times and settings, therefore our level of vigilance must be kept very high.

The issue of association may still be a bit fuzzy, so here is a simple illustration. Suppose I leaned up against a muddy or dusty school bus. My shirt sleeve would become dirty simply by my having leaned against something that was dirty. I got too close. I did not intend to get dirty. I just got too close. That is contamination by association. But if I wanted to get my shirt sleeve clean, could I lean up against a clean bus and thus have the impurities removed from my sleeve? Obviously not.

In chapter 2 verses 12-13 of his prophetic book, Haggai gave the following explanation in the form of some questions he asked to some priests:

Haggai 2:12


“If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with that fold he touches it to bread or stew or wine or oil or any food, will it become holy?”  And the priests answered and said, “No.”


“If a man carries in his pocket meat that has been consecrated in a sacrifice, and with that pocket brushes his garment against bread or stew or wine or oil or any type of food, will that food become consecrated?” In response the priests said, “No.”

Haggai 2:13


Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean because of a person

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touches any of these, will it become unclean? The priests answered and said, “It will be unclean.”


Then Haggai said, “If one who is in isolation because of a [dead] body

touches any of these types of food, will the food be cast aside as inedible?” The priests responded by saying, “Yes, It will be cast aside as inedible.”

While we can become contaminated from the outside by getting too closely involved with something or someone that does not please God, we cannot become pure except by an act of God which transforms our inner being. So how does this affect us, and how are we to view our relationships with others? Let’s think together about the person with an alcoholic in their life. It could be a young person with an alcoholic father, or someone whose spouse is addicted to alcohol. The Bible makes clear that trying to escape from

problems through “hitting the bottle” does not please God, so we can consider it an impurity. Does a person also become impure just by living in close proximity with an alcoholic? No. What is the meaning of “associate” in this case? The message of those covenant conditions which addressed association, applied to the example of an alcoholic family member, implied a type of participation in the impurity. Hiding from life inside a bottle does not contaminate others in the house in a spiritual sense, until the child starts to follow Dad’s example.

For the same reason that parents are concerned about the kind of friends their teens have, God gave instructions regarding who and what His people were to associate with. We are not to participate in, or condone wrongdoing, but learn to love the sinner as a person who is loved by God. In order for us to be a light in the darkness He wants us to have relationships with people who are living an impure life, without being drawn into the impure lifestyle ourselves.

Another lesson for us is that we should be very careful about what goes into our minds by way of our eyes and ears. Through television, videos, and radio, or through magazines and books which seem largely innocent, a multitudinous amount of impurity has entered our very homes. Not everything that comes from those sources into your living room or bedroom is impure, but much of it is. Upon absorbing that into our minds, our minds become impure. It is thus possible to live in a constantly impure state of mind before our God, simply by not repenting of what we have visually ingested, and not changing our viewing habits. God help us!! You think the Israelites found it tough to be constantly vigilant? Probably so, but I think the dead spider in the clay water pot was an easier call than the decisions we must make every day as Christians in a modern era. The problem is that we have largely stopped making decisions based on issues of purity and impurity; we have gotten so accustomed to it being all around us that we have forgotten one of God’s bedrock truths: Association with the impure makes us impure, while holiness of life and heart come only from the Lord.


1: Lev 11:33

“And any earthen vessel into which any of them falls, all the contents of it shall be unclean, and you shall break it.” This would be defilement that comes from association with death. And it can be called “isolation” because it was removed from use.

2: Lev 11:35

"And everything on which any such carcass falls shall be unclean; if it is a portable fire-pot or a cooking surface with two supports, it must be broken; they are unclean and you shall consider them unclean.” This would also be defilement that comes from association with death.


What I have rendered in the translation as “person” and in the paraphrase as “[dead] body” interestingly comes from the Hebrew word for “life, or breathing soul”! Living things in this world have bodies in which they reside, so touching a living being means to touch their body. But touching the body of a normal (clean) person does not cause contamination. It can be assumed that the body is dead if it consistently causes contamination. The expression of this concept was so common and well understood that they did not need to say “dead body,” they only had to say “person” and the listener or reader knew that they were talking about a person’s dead body because that is the kind of body that would obviously cause one to be unclean.

This expression is based on a few statements in the Law where the word “breathing soul” is used for  a person’s body, and sometimes a person’s dead body. Most of the uses of this word are straight forward and positive; here I will give you some exceptions that mean “dead body.” In Numbers 19:13 it is made clear by using the adjective “dead” with the word “person or living breathing soul” (thus the word “dead” and the word “living” appear side by side); Numbers 9:6 & 7 uses the phrase “person adam” which can be rendered “a human person,” but it means “a dead body;” Numbers 5:2 and 9:10 use the simplified version “due to a person” or “due to a living breathing soul.” All of these verses use the same key word found in Haggai 2:13 which has the primary meaning of “life, breathing soul,” but in each case it is referring to a dead body. Some of these use an adjective to explain it and others leave out all descriptive words. The Law explained many times and in various ways the need to not touch dead things. Therefore, these statements were clear to the ancient Israelites, even when the only thing in the text was the word meaning “life or breathing soul, i.e. a person.”

This is a good picture of what translators of the Bible often face. There are many assumptions that need to be made and many instances in which the intended meaning is not at all what the words themselves seem to communicate. Actually, all languages do that, but the written form of some languages is more straight-forward while others are more free and open, requiring more adaptation by a translator.