The verse is generally translated as "the holy and the profane" or "the holy and the common".

Profane has a very negative connotation while common is more neutral (to a person living in the 21st century).

Which word more closely reflects the meaning in the original context and why?

Lev 10:10 - You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the clean and the unclean

2 Answers 2


The Hebrew word is חֹל (chol), which the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon defines as "profaneness, commonness". Common English renderings of חֹל in this verse include common, profane, and unholy.

The term is being used as an antonym for holy, distinguishing between those things which are set apart and dedicated to God versus those things which are for ordinary use. The context here is the reverence Aaron and his sons are to show to the tabernacle, contrasted with the disrespect Nadab and Abihu had showed for sacred ordinances a few verses prior.

חֹל does not have an inherently negative meaning -- for example, see 1 Samuel 21:5, contrasting bread which has been set apart for a special religious purpose with ordinary bread.

The negative connotation associated with "profane" is more a result of the development of the English language. Profane comes from the Latin profanus, meaning "outside the temple, not sacred" (source: Oxford Languages). Historically, "profane" would have meant essentially what "common" means in 21st century English. "Profane" has come to have a broader and more negative meaning over the last few centuries, covering a spectrum from the innocuous "common" to the very negative "desecration".


8 The Lord said to Aaron: 9 When you are to go to the tent of meeting, you and your sons are forbidden, by a perpetual statute throughout your generations, to drink any wine or strong drink, lest you die. 10 You must be able to distinguish between what is sacred and what is profane, and between what is clean and what is unclean; 11 and you must be able to teach the Israelites all the statutes that the Lord has given them through Moses.

The Hebrew word ḥōl or "chol" (Strong's 2455) is uncommon so some guesswork is required. The specific issue has to with drinking wine. Such beverages are not normally prohibited to priests, but when they enter the sanctuary there must be no hint of drunkenness. One issue is ritual purity. The other is that the priest must be clear-headed in order to act as teachers of the Law. A drunken priest could lead to serious scandal.

Neither wine itself nor drinking it is "profane" in the sense of "the opposite of sacred." Indeed wine was used as a sacred offering (Leviticus 23:13, etc.)

Conclusion: to avoid the false impression that wine-drinking itself is considered profane in the modern sense, "common" or "ordinary" may be the better translation.

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