What is the whole “Clean and Unclean” thing about?
The Law can be divided into three portions; that pertaining to the relationship between man or mankind and the Lord, that pertaining to the relationship between man and his fellow man, and that pertaining to the relationship between man or mankind and the rest of the Lord’s creation. “Clean and Unclean” refers to the Law(s) pertaining to our relationship with the rest of the Lord’s creation.
The Law deals with reconciliation. As per the divisions mentioned above, this reconciliation is not simply between man and the Lord, but between man and his fellow man, and between man and the rest of the Lord’s creation. When the Lord first created the heavens and the earth and all that were in them, these three relationships were in a harmony as perfect as the creation itself. Reconciliation is about the restoration of the creation of the Lord and the relationships between the Lord, mankind and the rest of the Lord’s creation. Just as the Law of transgression and sacrifice pertains to the relationship between mankind and the Lord, the Law regarding clean and unclean pertains to the relationship between mankind and the rest of the Lord’s creation.
Before the foolishness of Adam and Eve, the Lord was in authority over and fellowship with mankind, mankind was in fellowship with the Lord, fellowship with his fellow man, and had dominion in a position of stewardship over the rest of creation while creation provided all of the physical need of mankind. When mankind stepped out from under the authority of the Lord through his violation of the dominion over and stewardship of creation, the Lord cursed his creation to remove creation from its position of providing for mankind which would have then been inappropriate considering mankind’s failure in stewardship. This is where we are today: mankind in general is not in fellowship with the Lord, or keeping up with his duty as steward over creation, and creation no longer provides for mankind with mankind instead only being able to eat bread “with the sweat of his face”. This is the underlying reason for the providence of the Lord which pertains to his people; creation will no longer provide for mankind until this heaven and earth have passed away (to be replaced with a new heaven and earth, without the curse), so the Lord himself provides for those who have been reconciled to him and placed back in their proper position of fellowship with the Lord, fellowship with other people of the Lord, and stewardship over that portion of creation wherein they dwell.
Adherence to the Law allows us to live our lives as closely as possible within this world to the way that they were meant to be lived thereby affording us the opportunity to live life to its fullest; having an amicable and beneficial relationship with the Lord and our fellow man, and reaping the full benefits of stewardship over the rest of the Lord’s creation.
Now that the stage is set, we can return to clean and unclean. Just as other portions of the Law guide us in living our lives as the Lord intended them to be lived in regards to our relationship with the Lord and our fellow man, the Law pertaining to clean and unclean guides us, as much as is possible in this cursed, or “fallen”, world, in living our lives and maintaining our relationship with his creation as was intended from the beginning. It is about being “in” this world, but not “of” this world. While all of creation, including our own bodies, is in a fallen state and subject to death, disease and decay, the Law regarding clean and unclean guides us in not partaking of that death, disease and decay more than is needful. Before the “fall” (I use quotes because mankind did not fall, but rather leaped to his death; but that is a discussion for another time), there was no death, no sexual reproduction (not needed when nothing dies and needs replacing), no disease, no consuming of animal flesh and no decay or decomposition; in short, no entropy. All things that are a direct result of this entropy are therefore not as the Lord intended them to be (unclean), and when partaken of, represent a corruption of the proper relationship between mankind and the rest of the Lord’s creation.
Simply being “unclean” is not a sin, as evidenced by the requirement(s) for rectifying this unsavory situation; generally, wash with water, and at sundown, the beginning of the next day, you are “clean” again, although there are some forms of unclean that take longer and/or have other requirements specific to their nature. This is quite different from being guilty of a sin, which requires the shedding of blood. Also, it must be remembered that there are numerous commandments that the fulfillment of requires one to become unclean, and it is impossible to fulfill a commandment by committing a sin. Another aspect of unclean that eliminates it from the category of sin, is that sin occurs in the heart and mind of the sinner through his knowledge and intent, while unclean and clean are purely physical and a person can be made to be unclean through the actions of someone else. Sin does enter into the picture because being clean is a requirement for performing certain acts or fulfilling certain duties; when one participates in those actions which require the participant to be clean, he profanes them and it is a sin, but it is not the being unclean that is sinful, rather it is in the failure to act in accordance with the commandment of the Lord through which the action becomes sin. We live in an unclean world, and striving to maintain a state of clean keeps this, and therefore the clean nature of the state of things that was in existence when creation was freshly completed, and will be again once reconciliation is complete, constantly in front of us.
Due to the extensive nature of the subject, I have divided “Clean and Unclean” into several parts. I will insert links for the following parts of this series as they are completed and posted. The portions of Scripture which concern clean and unclean are also extensive, so I will endeavor to include links to the references and add such links on an ongoing basis as time permits.