Luke 2:22 says, the parents of Jesus brought him to the temple "their purification" implying and emphasizing his purification along with the mother. It is a scholarly consensus (acc to Matthew Thiessen) that Luke was ignorant, and he misrepresented Leviticus 12 which apparently states the mother's purification alone. The NET version notes wrongly states that "their" refers to Joseph and Mary (contrary to the text), ignoring the fact that the child is naturally defiled in birth rather than the possibility of Joseph coming in contact with the mother to be unclean; thus completely evading the apparent problem that Jesus was brought for purification.

ESV "And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord"

The KJV has “her purification,” following Beza’s Greek TR version. Erasmus did not have it in any of his five editions. There is a separate topic for that.

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    Beza 1598, Elzevir 1624, and Scrivener 1894 all have αυτης ; Stephanus 1550 has αυτων. Textus Receptus Bibles. Tyndale 1534 has 'their' purification. Wessex Gospels (1175) has purgationis Marie. ; Wycliffe (1382)(Vulgate) has purgacioun of Marie. Young's Literal (1862) has their purification. So the consensus of the Textus Receptus is αυτης - of her.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 10, 2023 at 14:33
  • "evading the apparent problem that Jesus was brought for purification." He was brought to the temple for presentation to the Lord, not purification. Regardless of whether it is her or their, the days of purification were completed and then they went to the temple. There is no problem in this regard. Jesus was circumcised on day 8, after his period of ceremonial uncleanness from passage through the birth canal was fulfilled. Therefore, 'their' does not include Jesus anyway. Dec 10, 2023 at 21:22
  • Circumcision does not mean purification. Their refers to the child and mother. The answer is in the Thiessen article. There is no "her" in the verse, it was a later interpolation to conform to Lev 12 interpretation or for something else. Textual issue is irrelevant here.
    – Michael16
    Dec 11, 2023 at 3:44
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    Jesus did a number of things that were not strictly required by law for instance, washing of feet of his disciples on Passover. He received Baptism at the hands of John the Baptist even though it was meant as an external sign of repentance. If he , as a babe, subjected himself to the ritual of purification post- birth , a purification strictly related to deemed physical impurity, it was his benevolence ! But then,Jesus would be the last one to add a layer of scrupulosity to the already burdensome law , by subjecting himself to it as a babe. Dec 12, 2023 at 6:48
  • His baptism of John was like his purification rites is "to fulfill all the requirements of the law". Contrary to the Gentile misconception, the Gospel atleast show him perfectly submitted to the customs of law. See related articles on the Luke 2 22 on academia
    – Michael16
    Dec 12, 2023 at 6:55

6 Answers 6


I would argue it this way: Even if "their" is correct according to the text, it is not a misrepresentation of Leviticus 12, because Luke was referring to the period of purification, using "purification" as a shorthand way of expressing this. From Luke's point of view, Joseph shared the period of purification with her. Also, Joseph as well as Mary was required to observe the purity rules. The man was forbidden to approach his wife sexually for seven days (similar to her period of menstrual bleeding) and she had to count 40 days from the birth before she could enter the Temple. Tirzah Meacham writes:

Immediately after birth of a male child, the woman is impure for seven days as in her menstrual impurity. That blood is compared to niddah, menstrual impurity. For thirty-three days after the seven days of impurity, any blood the woman sees is considered dam tohar, blood of purification. The woman is forbidden to come to the Temple during this time, but she is considered pure by the rabbinic sages in reference to sexual relations.

But Meacham explains that this rabbinical interpretation of Lev. 12 was not universally accepted. Some ancient and medieval rabbis insisted that any uterine bleeding after pregnancy was not "blood of purification" but must be treated as menstrual blood, thus requiring that her husband stay away from her. We do not know which rabbinical tradition Luke referred to or Jesus' parents followed. This becomes important, because according to this interpretation, if Mary continued to bleed even a little during the 40 days, Joseph would become ritually impure even by touching her or any shared furniture:

Leviticus 15

When a woman has a flow of blood for several days outside her menstrual period... Any bed on which she lies during such a flow becomes unclean, as it would during her menstrual period, and any article on which she sits becomes unclean just as during her menstrual period. 27 Anyone who touches them becomes unclean; that person shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.

Finally we should consider purification was required for both the man and the woman if they resumed or began sexual relations regardless of the above-mentioned issues:

Leviticus 15:18

If a man has sexual relations with a woman, they shall both bathe in water and be unclean until evening.

Conclusion: Luke was considering the family as a unit, not as individuals. Joseph was required to stay away from Mary for at least seven days; and they observed the 40 day period together as a couple. Moreover, if Mary continued to bleed after the birth and depending on which rabbinical interpretation was used, Joseph could hardly avoid becoming ritually unclean himself during the 40 days. In any case, for Luke, the 40 day period was offered together - so he referred to it as "their purification."

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    Joseph did not need to be purified. It is not 'his' purification. Therefore it is not 'their' purification. It is 'her' purification.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 10, 2023 at 20:23
  • I like this answer as well - very helpful indeed. +1.
    – Dottard
    Dec 11, 2023 at 1:13
  • The question is about why the child is also unclean acc to Luke. The answer is in the article of Thiessen. I will post the answer if someone doesn't improve his theory.
    – Michael16
    Dec 11, 2023 at 3:29
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    I thought it was about "the parents" purification. But there were indeed some Jewish writers who believed the child shared in its mother ritual impurity. Dec 11, 2023 at 5:53
  • @NigelJ I agree that Joseph did not need to be purified unless he became ritually impure through such things as touching her wife or her bedclothes or her donkey's saddle while she was in a state of impurity. I am defending Luke's use of "their" on the grounds he thought of them as offering the period of purification together. So Luke was not misrepresenting the law. As a side note, since Mary had no family in Bethlehem that we know if, I believe it likely that he attended her directly after the birth and could easily become ritual impure as a result. Dec 11, 2023 at 6:38

Beza 1598, Elzevir 1624, and Scrivener 1894 all have αυτης ; Stephanus 1550 has αυτων. Textus Receptus Bibles. Tyndale 1534 has 'their' purification. Wessex Gospels (1175) has purgationis Marie. ; Wycliffe (1382)(Vulgate) has purgacioun of Marie. Young's Literal (1862) has their purification.

So the consensus of the above is αυτης - of her.

That is to say the consensus of Beza, Elzevir, Scrivener, the Wessex Gospels, the Vulgate and the Wycliffe.

Stephanus and Tyndale say 'their'.

See Textus Receptus Bibles for all the above.

I think that, based on the above, Luke is owed an apology.

και οτε επλησθησαν αι ημεραι του καθαρισμου αυτης κατα τον νομον μωσεως ανηγαγον αυτον εις ιεροσολυμα παραστησαι τω κυριω [Luke 2:22 - Beza, Elzevir and Scrivener all identical]

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    there is already a ques on the textual criticism on this topic hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/19926/16757 your answer is irrelevant, and the TR versions consensus means nothing to support its validity, only the actual authentic reading does, which says "their" referring to Jesus and Mary.
    – Michael16
    Dec 10, 2023 at 14:46
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    @Michael16 You are asserting what you believe to be the 'authentic reading' based on faulty manuscripts (see Codex B and Its Allies by Hermon Hoskier). The recension of the fourth century is demonstrated by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus but it should not be followed. No, my answer is not 'irrelevant' just because you say so. It has scholarly validity. Just that you favour different scholars, sir.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 10, 2023 at 14:58
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    @Michael16 I can understand why you might think Nigel's answer is wrong, but not how it is irrelevant. Dec 10, 2023 at 19:53
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    @DanFefferman I think OP considers it irrelevant because OP believes the textual issue is undoubtedly already resolved, so bringing that again is not helpful to the discussion, and thus irrelevant (and seen as spammy). I agree with NigelJ here, though.
    – justhalf
    Dec 11, 2023 at 4:05
  • The textual issue has been resolved (barring new discoveries) among scholars, but KJVOs pontificate about textual issues on the basis of their religious notions. The only TR extant is from 1519, over a thousand years older than both Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. I refuse to discuss religion with such people, because to them, reality is what their imagination thinks it should be. The fact is, the KJVO don't even realize that the 1611 KJV is not the one King James authorized (not that that means anything).
    – Ruminator
    Dec 13, 2023 at 21:19

We have the following facts based on the readings of the Greek MSS of αὐτῶν ("their") vs αὐτῆς ("her") in Luke 2:22:

  • "their" is the reading of NA28, UBS5, NA4, W&H, Majority text, Byzantine text, Orthodox text, Textus Receptus of Stephanus 1550, F35, NIVGNT, Aramaic, THGNT, Tyndale, Erasmus GNT, etc, etc.

Greek texts show almost no variation here. So, what is the origin of the KJV's "her"? It appears that in this case, the KJV (as in a number of other places) followed the Clementine Latin Vulgate over the GNT. The Clementine text (which is followed by the DRB) has "eius" = "her".

It was only the Beza TR & Scrivener's Textus Receptus of 1894 which adjusted the Greek text to fit the Latin text & KJV that changed the text to "her" that has this variation.

The original Textus Receptus of 1550 (and that of Erasmus) has "their."

Lastly, I do not believe the inspired writer, Dr Luke, was "ignorant" about these things, especially when such involved bodily functions and birth! I agree with Dan Fefferman that Luke was treating Mary and Joseph as a family unit.

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    By 'original Textus Receptus of 1550' you mean Stephens. But what of Beza 1598 and Elzevir 1624 ? And what of the Old Latin, a very strong source which gives rise to the Vulgate ? Scrivener did not 'adjust' anything. By his specialist and extensive knowledge Scrivener discerned what manuscripts had been consulted by the KJV translators (who used many) and applied the source text from the translation given. As is often the case, manuscripts are being offered merely to support what has already been decided based on the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. Which differ hugely from one another.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 10, 2023 at 20:16
  • My conclusion is that Like is owed an apology. What is your conclusion to this matter, please ? (In answer to the question ?)
    – Nigel J
    Dec 10, 2023 at 20:20
  • @NigelJ - I have stated my view above. Yours appears to be based entirely on the Latin text rather than the Greek text.
    – Dottard
    Dec 10, 2023 at 21:16
  • @NigelJ - Then, let me ask a simple question: The text of Luke is found in 1000's of manuscripts with almost no variation at this point in Luke 2:22. Are you able to nominate even a few with "her" rather than "they"? Beza, Scrivener and Elzevir could not - they just followed the Latin Vulgate. So, is that your position also - that the Latin Vulgate is a superior text to the Greek?
    – Dottard
    Dec 11, 2023 at 0:55
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    But it you are correct you are left with the problem of 'them' being purified contrary to the requirement of ceremonial law which is the point of the question. There is no necessity for Joseph to be purified.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 11, 2023 at 6:36

Lev 12:2 says: "If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. "
See the cross reference to Lev 15: 19-23 : " When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. "`Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches her bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever touches anything she sits on must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening.Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, he will be unclean till evening.

Note that the impurity of the 'second party' lasts only till evening of the day in the event of his/ her coming into indirect contact with her say,through furniture ( What a typical forerunner for Covid 19 protocols ! ) This analogy was applicable only for 7 days after childbirth. For the following 33 days,she was 'not to touch anything sacred or enter the Temple '. What if she did ? Would those things and places become impure ? No way.

So, one should agree that Baby Jesus had all chances of being ' impure' on ' Till the Evening' basis for 7 days after his birth. This may have been the reason for having the circumcision fixed for the 8th day. There is no supporting rules in OT to believe that Baby Jesus remained physically impure for the first 40 days of his life. If Mark makes a mention to the contrary, that too in a limited number of versions, one needs to look for error of translation and/or interpretation.

  • One of your deleted answers made me wonder why a sin offering is involved when no sin was committed (giving birth is a blessing, not a sin!). I found an answer here. It's not in the Bible itself but the rabbis thought it was because the woman was likely to have sinned as a result of the pain of childbirth, by swearing never to engage in intercourse with her husband again. If find this amusing and plausible at the same time. Dec 16, 2023 at 20:25
  • Dan Fefferman, the joke is well- taken. Hope you have heard this old joke: In the good old days, women of a locality got together in prayer.They wanted an assurance from God that they be spared of delivery pangs which should go to the father of the baby delivered. God granted their wish. Within a year the ladies wanted restoration of the old system ! Guess why ? Dec 17, 2023 at 4:41

Luke 2:23 goes on to say;

as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated* to the Lord”

Footnote under Verse 23 says that it has reference to Exodus 13:2 which mandated that every first-born male be consecrated (presented) to the Lord.

NB: * If 'consecrated' is to be construed as 'purified', the question arises as to why the requirement was only for the first-born male children.

As per Num 18:16-17' a consecrated son is to be 'redeemed' when he is one month old. With the family now living out of their hometown, and Mary having no permission to enter the Temple on account of the 40 days period post- partem of impurity, Joseph thinks it wiser to visit the Temple with entire family on the first available occasion .

Now, let us have a chronological reconstruction of the events.

  • 25th Dec : Jesus is born
  • 1st January; Jesus is circumcised. Mary is not present on the occasion because she has not completed the period of impurity after childbirth
  • 24th January: Baby Jesus is one month old. It is time to present him in the Temple and also to 'redeem' him. But Joseph postpones the journey
  • 3rd February: Mary completes the period of impurity. She can now enter the Temple. Mary accompanies Joseph and Baby Jesus to the Temple for two things : first to undergo the ritual of purification for herself in accordance with Leviticus 12;
    and secondly, to present her first- born son to the Lord in accordance with Exodus 13:2.

So, Luke does not misinterpret the scriptures. The only requirement is that we read Lk 2 in totality, and not by bits.


Their Purification

Isaac Wilk Oliver writes in Gentilizing Luke’s ‘Most’ Jewish ‘Moment’: Reassessing the Circumcision, Purification, and Redemption of Jesus

The reference to “their purification” in Luke 2:22 could refer to the impurity of the mother and the father (rather than the infant), since “their purification” is followed by ἀνήγαγον αὐτὸν (“they [i.e., Mary and Joseph] brought him up”), which might suggest that both parents were impure. However, as Kalervo Salo, Luke’s Treatment of the Law, 52–53 and Sabourin, L’Évangile de Luc, 99 note, “their purification” lies closer to the previous verse describing Jesus’ birth and circumcision, allowing, therefore, for a reading that interprets καθαρισμοῦ αὐτῶν as referring to Mary and Jesus. Is Joseph’s impurity (to a lesser degree) implied as well since he presumably would have entered into contact with Mary and Jesus during the journey prior to arriving to the temple?

Contrary to the traditional misconception, the verse does not refer to the purification period of Joseph and Mary, but Jesus and Mary. The husband has no such purification period of 40 days, but the accidental usual contact with the impure woman would get him merely a one day of uncleanness (Lev 15:19) as the rules of niddah impurity contagion is the same as the new mother's purification period. Coming in contact with her blood shall make him unclean for seven days (v24). Thus, the general impurity of the husband or family upon contact does not require any long period and rituals. Luke talks about the customary purification period, not meant for the husband (which would be contingent and a non-issue), but for the mother and child.

Darrell Bock, in his Baker Exegetical commentary (1996), attempts to evade and fails:

On the first question of whom the plural refers to, Creed (1930:39) argues that the reference includes Jesus and Mary, because in Luke 2:22–24 the major figures are Jesus and Mary (also Schneider 1977a: 71). But the verse's syntax suggests that Luke means Mary and Joseph (“they brought him up for their purification") The most natural way to understand this verse is to see the subject and the third person pronoun in agreement. (Plummer 1896: 63; Fitzmyer 1981: 424).

Like many, he feels that merely appealing to some Plummer would settle the issue. Upon checking the Plummer's quote in his International Critical Commentary on Luke, we see that he does not substantiate an argument, which is merely an assertion of presenting the sentence as "context". However, on "her purification" interpolation, he writes:

τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ αὐτῶν. “Of their purification.” The Jewish law (Lev 12.) did not include the child in the purification. This fact, and the feeling that least of all could Jesus need purifying, produced the corrput reading αὐτῆς, followed in AV.

Plummer commits the same error of going after the same feelings in dealing with the verse about Jesus' purification, just like the corrupt scribes; he ignores the context which focuses on Jesus and Mary; moreover, there is no extra emphatic "they" in this verse (such as Mark 12:16 οἱ δὲ ἤνεγκαν), it is actually imbedded in the verb "brought" and is only present in English, there is nothing in the syntax which suggests that the plural genitive refers to those who brought Jesus. The context does not say that Joseph and Mary came for their purification, and they brought along Jesus for something else. Jesus is the main focus,

[Luke 2:22-23 RV] And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord)

The use of the phrase "shall be holy to the Lord" suggests the purification rite is combined with the presentation of Exo 13 with the Leviticus references to emphasize holiness. Luke's narrative theme is to present Jesus as righteous and holy, cf. Luk 1:35 "which is to be born shall be called holy, the Son of God".

We can notice how the popular scholars, and NET Bible often make baseless assertions, misleading claims, and think that quoting some popular scholar of old times would excuse them. The readers wouldn't question as they too share the same emotional dogmas. Thus, under their faith based framework, putting the cart before the horse seems to be the norm among them. Just as the same kind of ancient scribes often “corrected” the manuscripts according to their expectations; adding interpolations ranging from the OT prophecy allusions/quotations or simply to reinforce their particular Christology. See Ehrman's Orthodox Corruption of Scripture to see corruption on Luke 2:33, 48 where scribes attempted to remove the father Joseph from the text, along with more interpolation.

Consider this comment by a believer that illustrates the fact that regardless of the traditional lies, the honest plain reading is easily understood that the pronoun refers to Jesus and Mary:

In my simple words, isn't choosing the name 'Joseph' instead of 'His father' (in Luk 2:33) is about the Diety of Jesus, a necessary fulfilment of the Scriptures - 'a virgin shall conceive' (Is 7:14)? The other thing that really bothers me is what I found in some translations. Earlier in the text, verse 22, it says "their purification". Leviticus 12:6-8 in the various translations is seriously misquoted in the book of Luke regarding the law about the purification of the mother; to add the child to that law is a misrepresentation and a stretch of the truth and blatant denial of Jesus' Diety. The quote used in verse 23 of Luke 2 is also a blatant contradiction of verse 22 - "the first born male is Holy unto the Lord." The baby Jesus did not have to be purified... Those 'translations' simply cast doubt upon the deity of Jesus Christ, The Anointed One. Isn't that akin to blasphemy?

When one accepts that the plain reading is clear to all, the traditional scholarly arguments are exposed as disingenuous attempts of eisegesis, as the scribal interpolations could not help; the plain text is apparently and often blasphemous to them. Fortunately, though, in recent years, wise scholars have debunked the traditional views and corruption, as they do not work under preconceived dogmas or theology, thus, to them the purification of Jesus posits no problem. Matthew Thiessen Luke 2:22, Leviticus 12, and Parturient Impurity, is credited with revealing major evidences from the ancient times which proves beyond doubt that the Jews like every other ancient nations purified the child with the mother. They prove that Luke was definitely more knowledgeble on the law than his critics like Raymond Brown. The weak criticism of Luke prompted a blind consensus that Luke was a pagan, but a careful study shows he was likely a Jew with a detailed observance and reverence of the law.

No Code of Law is Exhaustive

One should not fall in the trap of a short-sighted interpretation assuming the law as exhaustive; the practice go way beyond just the written text, this is why the Rabbinic Jews emphasis on the oral tradition for the complete observance and interpretation. Lev 12 also does not mentions the immersion of the woman after 7 days, but it is implicit; likewise, the impurity of the child is also very implicit for the ancient readers. Luke also did not have to mention details like the five shekels for redemption.

Isaac Oliver summarizes some evidence,

Thiessen first shows how the silence of the text of Lev 12 does not preclude viewing the infant as also susceptible to acquiring the parturient's impurity. Scholars such as Milgrom have pointed out that the text of Leviticus is by no means exhaustive and does not outline its legislation in the fullest detail. Often the laws in Leviticus appear in terse and elliptical form, requiring further elucidation through analogy, inference, and acquaintance with the Levitical system as a whole.

As noted earlier, Lev 12 does not even refer to the ablution of the parturient after the first seven (or fourteen) days, although this ritual is certainly implied based on what is known about the rest of the purity system in Leviticus. It is certainly possible, then, that the laws concerning the impurity of the parturient also apply to the infant, even if this point is not mentioned in Leviticus.

Thiessen also appeals to cross-cultural studies in order to strengthen his case. In other ancient cultures, including Egyptian, Hittite, and Greek, both the mother and the newborn were considered impure. Hittite law even distinguishes between the length of impurity depending on whether the child is male (three months) or female (four months)

One should note that one (Dosithean) Samaritan voice applies Lev 12 both to the parturient and the child to the same degree. .... Jubilees 3:8–13 refers to a curious story concerning the entry of Adam and Eveinto the Garden of Eden. Adam has to wait until forty days are over before entering the Garden of Eden. Likewise, Eve waits until eighty days before making her entry. Elsewhere in Jubilees, the Garden of Eden is likened to the temple (Jub. 8:19). The connections with the legislation of Lev 12 are obvious, and, as Thiessen suggests, the author of Jubilees probably would have viewed newborn children as impure, having to wait forty or eighty days before entering the sacred realm, as Adam and Eve, "newborn" creatures, as it were, wait until the time of their impurity is fulfilled before entering the sanctuary of Eden.

... By presenting John the Baptist and Jesus as circumcised Jews, Luke places himself somewhere in between these two poles: he dismisses the notion that Gentiles must be circumcised, as the Apostolic Decree makes clear (Acts 15), but also refutes the idea that the ekklesia should teach “Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses” and not “circumcise their children or observe the customs” (Acts 21:21)

The ancient story that explains Lev. 12 by the reasoning of Adam and Eve, on the question of gender difference, (just as Paul does) suggests that it is the child which makes the mother unclean, not the other way around. Adam and Eve represents the newborn in the story. Due to the broken tradition and disconnect from the practice of the Jewish laws, details like this have been missing from the modern Rabbinic literature, and the regular Jews would deny the impurity of the newborn altogether. Some Christians have used this purification and Jewish mikvah baptism to support infant baptism, however, Jewish baptism has nothing to do with original sin.

The Problem with the Purification of Jesus

The theological objection is of course, the assumption of a particular Christology that assumes some original sin (from which he must be exempt) and confuses the ritual impurity as some kind of moral spiritual guilt, unworthy for the Messiah. However, the impurity of the child is ceremonial and symbolic, and not moral. There is no sin in the newborn, he is only born in an unclean state and requires to be purified with baptism and then perform the purification rites along with the mother. A deeper study into the law might help break the inhibition against accepting the scripture and accept the commandments from Jesus.

Child makes the mother unclean:

Dorothea Erbele-Küster writes in Body, Gender and Purity in Leviticus 12 and 15 (2017)- Page 141-143

The moral evaluation of the term is only secondary: ‘There is no onus attached to these pollutions...no “guilt” attributed to the impure’. In this respect, however, the book of Leviticus attests to several diverging opinions. In Lev. 15.24, sexual contact with a woman during her menstruation only results in the status of niddah being temporarily transferred to the man. In Leviticus 18 and 20, the same action is a capital offense entailing exclusion from the community, as it pollutes the land. Does this mean that categories are blurred, as questions of cultic fitness are dealt with as if they were about sexual morality? Not really. It seems to me that Leviticus has cultic and moral regulations next to each other, both aimed at preventing the crossing of boundaries aiming at the holiness of the sanctuary.

To conclude: In Leviticus 11-15, טָמֵא (tame) is a functional category that describes the status of an object or a person with respect to the cult and the sanctuary. As Mary Douglas puts it: Unclean is not a term of psychological horror and disgust, it is a technical term for the cult... To import feelings into the translation falsifies, and creates more puzzles. This is what the suggested renderings of טָמֵא (tame) such as ‘unsuitable for the cult’, “unclean in a ritual respect’, ‘compromising the cult’, ‘cult-abstinent’, “cult-disabled”, “ritual noncompliance’, ‘cultic disqualification’, ‘in conflict with the cult’ — are intended to express. These renderings try to make visible the cultic notion of impurity in Leviticus 11-15 in contrast to the moral usage elsewhere as ‘unless we supply our own descriptive terminology, confusion about the nature of the relationship between impurity and sin will continue’.

She explains, the reason for the duration of impurity is not bleeding, but the gender of the child, not the bleeding as with menstruation, which implies that the child itself is the reason for her impurity. If the birth or the child causes the impurity, it would be absurd to assume the child being exempt from the impurity.

Likewise, in the description in Leviticus 12 of a woman's condition after childbirth.., it cannot be the blood itself or the physical bleeding which functions as the point of reference for the impurity, since the duration of the postpartum bleeding varies from one instance to another and is not conditioned by the sex of the new-born child. Rabbinic tradition does take the duration of the bleeding as starting point and adds to it a certain time period of cultic impurity. As the talmudic tractate Niddah stipulates: ‘she has to be cult-abstinent during the time of the bleeding and the subsequent seven days." In Leviticus 12 the impurity seems to be constructed in reference to the woman's body, but without direct consideration of physiological processes.

James Bejon's article Luke 2.21–24 & Jesus’ Purification is also fascinating. He mentions Sifra Tazria Parashat Yoledet (the earliest known Rabbinic commentary on Lev. 12) with a reference suggesting the child which causes her impurity, where the actual argument said is said to be complicated. That children are a source of uncleanness is denied in Section 8, but re-affirmed in Section 11. (I am looking for all such text like this commentary and the Samaritan Lev 12 source, in complete context with translation for complete understanding).

The global cultural birth impurity laws present a great evidence; if you want to imagine the ancient Jewish customs, study the customs of the surrounding nations. We read in the African Bible Commentary (Zondervan 2010) on Lev. 12, although with the same ignorant confidence about the law as if the text explicitly forbids the impurity of the child:

“Note that it is only the woman who becomes unclean, the child is not considered unclean, as a result the child is never subjected to purification ritual. By contrast, in many African societies both the child and its mother are considered unclean and must undergo purification rituals. For example among the Tsonga of Mozambique, both mother and child are kept in seclusion for a month, after which the infant is taken out and washed in purifying water containing salt. Among Christians of Garantia Apostolic Church of Zion, this washing is combined with the reading of Lev 12:1-5.


It is evident that the child Jesus shared the purification rites with his mother, in fact he is the focus in the context. Interpretation should come from the text, not from tradition and dogmatic feelings. Having studied the ancient legal practice and Luke’s narrative focusing purity to God, we should see these verses in a new light.

(ESV) Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Job 15:14: “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?”

Job 25:4: “How then can man be in the right before God? How can he who is born of woman be pure?”

Origen writes in AD 235, Homilies on Luke, Homily 14, p. 57

Then the Gospel says, "When the days of their purification were fulfilled, according to the law of Moses, they brought him into Jerusalem."8 The passage says, on account of "their" purification. Who are "they"? If Scripture had said, "on account of 'her' purification"—that is, Mary's, who had given birth—then no question would arise.9 We would say confidently that Mary, who was a human being, needed purification after childbirth. But the passage reads, ''the days of their purification." Apparently it does not signify one, but two or more. Did Jesus therefore need purification? Was he unclean, or polluted with some stain? Perhaps I seem to speak rashly; but the authority of Scripture prompts me to ask. See what is written in the book of Job: "No man is clean of stain, not even if his life had lasted but a single day."10 The passage does not say, "No man is clean of sin," but, "No man is clean of stain." "Stain" and "sins" do not mean the same thing. "Stain" is one thing, "sin" another. Isaiah teaches this clearly when he says, "The Lord will wash away the stains of the sons and daughters of Zion, and he will cleanse the blood from their midst. By the spirit of judgment he will purge the stain, and by the spirit of burning the blood."11

Hippolytus of Rome AD 235

When they brought Him to the temple to present Him to the Lord, they offered the oblations of purification. For if the gifts of purification according to the law were offered for Him, in this indeed He was made under the law... But though He took to Himself the frame of man as He received it from the Virgin, and was made under the law, and was thus purified after the manner of the first-born,

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