Was the empty tomb unclean according to Jewish purity laws? New tombs were not yet graves and not yet sources of uncleanliness. But once a body was put into the tomb, it became a family tomb or otherwise and entry would make one unclean for 7 days.

Numbers 19:16, Whoever in the open field touches one who has been killed by a sword, or who has died naturally, or a human bone, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

If, for example, in John 20, when Peter and the Beloved Disciple enter the tomb, would this have made them unclean? There had been a dead body in there for three days before it was raised. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid the body in the tomb and it is possible the Mary Magdalene had been there weeping through the three days of mourning before resurrection was thought to no longer be possible.

Is there any precedent for this in the text?

A related question: Can we know if the disciples would have THOUGHT that the empty tomb was unclean? Did Peter and the Beloved Disciple, for example, in John 20, believe that they were unclean for entering the tomb with the linens on the floor?

Useful Verse:

Acts 10:28, And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I [Peter] should not call any man common or unclean.

This seems to have taken place well after the resurrection. From the timelines that I can see, Peter reluctance (3-fold refusal here) indicates that he still held Jewish cleanliness laws at least 10 years after pentecost.

  • You will need to find precedent for a person rising from the dead (without the initiative of a prophet or priest) to determine what 'unclean' can possibly mean in this context. As with healing a man on the sabbath day, where is the precedent in law ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 11:04
  • 1
    Thanks Nigel. I'm not aware of any. I modified my question to try to explore what the disciples behavior would have been in John 20 upon entering the tomb post-resurrection (e.g. John 20:1-10)
    – Gus L.
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 11:48

2 Answers 2


Yes and then no in a broader sense, although this appears not to be what your Question is striving for. According to Paul, Christ had (3 days--40 or so hours previously), "wip[ed] out the handwriting in ordinances...tak[ing] it out of the way, nailing it to the cross." Col 2:14. He replaced the ceremonial law with Himself, the body of the shadows (--as He was before crucifixion too, as Mr Dot's answer indicated).

"Abolishing in His flesh the law of the commandments in ordinances, that He might create the two [Jew and Gentile] in Himself into one new man, so making peace." Eph 2:15.

Thus whether you believe in Him or not, Jewish purity laws themselves had not merely just been overridden, but legally abolished. Mingling Christ's and Paul's words, one can also use the phraseology "abolished by being fulfilled" (Mt 5:17).

If you died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances: do not handle, nor taste, nor touch...[which] are not of any value..." Col 2:20-23.

"In saying, A new covenant, He has made the first old. But that which is becoming old and growing decrepit is near to disappearing." Heb 8:13. The entire old covenant.

  • Thanks for taking the time on this @WalterSmetana. It seems to me that Jesus didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. The Colossians 2 verse refers to "when he forgave us all our trespasses". Also, this interpretation of "abolishing the law" (Eph 2:15) sounds like then all is permissible. Clearly murder was not all of a sudden ok. Why would this have applied to the purity laws? I updated the question to include whether or not the disciples at the empty tomb would have reason to BELIEVE that the purity laws no longer applied.
    – Gus L.
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 11:55
  • @GusL. the crime of Murder even according to the Jewish belief system predated the bible and was considered part of the "Seven Noahide laws". Also keep in mind that the ten commandments always had a special place in the bible and even in traditional Jewish thought. So even if some parts of the bible were abolished the ten commandments would still have a special place, even in Jesus' heart. The Sabbath is a perfect example.
    – bach
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 14:24
  • @Bach, great. I'm trying to understand how one comes to determine what is allowed and not my goal is to understand the motivations of characters in the text. As I edited the question, John 20:9 seems to indicate that they didn't know that Jesus was anything other than a corpse at the time of entry into the tomb, and Acts 10:28 seems to indicate that Peter still held cleanliness laws for up to 10-15 years after pentecost.
    – Gus L.
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 15:53
  • I apologize, Mr Gus, my answer edited? Peter's holding cleanness laws in Ac 10 was his wrong. Christ both already made all men "clean" to gospelize, and too all foods. Mt 28:19; Mk 7:19; Ac 10:15. Likewise the Sabbath as keeping a day was abolished. Mt 11:28-29; Mk 2:27-28; Jn 5:17-18; Col 2:16. Forgiveness is one thing; abolishing ordinances is another; both accomplished via His crucifixion. Eph 2; Col 2 specify "ordinances" referring to ceremonies/"shadows" of reality, realness (2:17; Jn 14:6). Mt 22:36-40 may help distinguish ceremony from morality. Rm 7:6 is yet another thing.
    – Walter S
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 21:42

Technically, on the basis of Lev 19:16, Jesus' grave would have been "unclean" following His resurrection.

However, (and this is quite important), Jesus had shown on numerous occasions that when He touched something or someone unclean (eg, lepers) He was uncontaminated and the unclean person became clean. For example:

  • Matt 8:3, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. See also Mark 1:41 and Luke 5:13.
  • Luke 11:41, But now as for what is inside you--be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

The fact that people (eg, Peter, John, Mary) entered the tomb after the resurrection and then immediately went and went and associated with others suggests that they somehow sensed this truth and ceremonial uncleanness appears to have not been matter that concerned them.

  • Thanks Dottard. We don't know that John was the disciple in John 20. The scholarly consensus bends towards John not being the Beloved Disciple. Also, we don't know that Peter, John (or the BD), or Mary were there at the first resurrection appearance. Thomas wasn't, for example. Also, I've frequently read the "don't touch me" comment from Jesus to Mary in John 20:17 in terms of Exodus 19:15, "prepare for the third day, do not go near a woman" so that they could ascend to God. I wonder about what this odd interchange could mean otherwise if he didn't still respect the purity laws.
    – Gus L.
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 12:02
  • I also updated to question to include whether Peter and John would have CONSIDERED themselves unclean in John 20:8. I'm leaning towards yes, they thought themselves unclean, because of 20:9, "as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead". They would have just thought, as Mary did, that someone had taken the body, and would have returned home to ceremonially cleanse for seven days.
    – Gus L.
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 12:04
  • Also, there is no evidence that Mary entered the tomb and she does go and mingle with the disciples according to 20:18. In fact, the text is careful to say that she "bent over to look into the tomb" (20:11) instead of entering in just as the BD initially did in 20:5. It seems that the BD's pause before entering indicated his awareness of the significance of entry. Another good question is why Peter just barreled right in.
    – Gus L.
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 12:05
  • @GusL. - you have raised a host of questions here that should be the subject of separate questions. For a partial answer to one of your questions see my reply at hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/48582/…
    – Dottard
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 20:51

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