Many times it is difficult to understand a concept
or a practice of a civilization from thousands of
years ago. Different cultures have had many
practices that do not make sense to us today, but
perhaps a proper understanding of that practice
might help us gain clarity. The Hebrew
practice to separate their women from others during
their menstrual cycle is one such practice.
Did God have a good reason for this law? Or
perhaps we don't quite understand this law.
The purpose of this article is to identify the
reason God gave menstruation statutes and how we
should apply them today.
Uncleanness in the Bible:
The scripture speaks much about being unclean.
The Hebrew word for unclean is ṭâmê',
which literally means, "polluted (-tion),
unclean" (Strong's Dictionary - H2931).
The Greek word used for unclean in the New Testament
is akathartos, which literally means,
"impure - foul, unclean" (Strong's Dictionary -
G169). The meaning of unclean in the scripture
is impure or polluted. Things or people that
were unclean were foul, impure, or polluted.
There is nothing about this that is ceremonial like
many seem to believe. To be unclean simply
meant that you were infectious. If you look
at the causes to be unclean this becomes clear.
You could become unclean by touching a dead body
(Lev. 5:2), by childbirth (Lev. 12:2), by disease
(Lev. 13:3), during a menstrual cycle (Lev. 15:19),
when you have an open wound (Lev. 15:5-12), and many more. The one common theme is that of
infection. The ancient Hebrews most
likely did not know about bacterial infections and
microbes that cause disease. They simply were
given the laws to avoid such things. Modern
science confirms this. Every example in the
scripture of an unclean situation can be
scientifically explained today.
It is important to remember that to be unclean was
not sin. It was a normal thing that could
happen on a regular basis. That does not mean that
sin could not cause uncleanness. When someone
had a disease such as the botch of Egypt or scabs it
was due to sin (Deut. 28:27). Though the
scripture is not clear, these diseases were most
likely a result of breaking one of God's health or
dietary laws. The point is, being unclean was
a natural part of the Hebrew society and God's law
regarding how to deal with uncleanness was meant to
protect the individual and the society from these
diseases. The menstruation laws of the
scripture are simply designed to protect the woman
and society from infection. Menstruation is
not a sin, but the discharge is infectious and needs
to be taken care of.
Interpreting the scripture can be difficult, but it
does not have to be. The problem we have is we
lack the knowledge of how to study the scriptures.
This should not be the case for the scripture tells
us plainly how to study it. According to
Isaiah 28:9-14, the Bible is written in legal code.
It was written, "precept ... upon precept,
precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon
line; here a little, and there a little" (Is.
28:10). We need to study the Bible as a lawyer
would study law. This type of study is called
code pleading. You can read more about code
Though code pleading is the method of study the
scripture portrays, there is more to the story.
According to the scriptures we need to study the law
in the Spirit of the Law, as opposed to the letter
of the law. The Spirit of the Law comes from a
maxim of law that says, the intent of the lawmaker
is the law. It is our duty to study scriptural
law in light of God's intent for that law.
This is the basics of biblical study. We need
to study the Bible as a law book and seek to
determine God's intent for each statute. You
can read more about the Spirit of the Law
The point to all this is simple, when you study the
scriptural laws concerning clean and unclean, the
only way it makes sense is in light of God's intent
for that law. If we try to spiritualize or
ceremonialize these laws they make God look
incompetent and ridiculous. Why would anyone
want to follow a God that asks us to do such
ridiculous things. The truth is, there is a
logical reason for each one of God's laws. We
just need to "Study to shew
approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be
ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth"
(2 Tim. 2:15). If
we study diligently using the above two principles
we will discover why God gave us these laws.
Using the principles of study above, we will now
take a look at the biblical menstruation laws.
Here is the passage in it's entirety.
if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh
be blood, she shall be
put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth
her shall be
unclean until the even. And every thing that
she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean:
every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be
unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash
his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be
unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth
any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes,
and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the
even. And if it
be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth,
when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the
even. And if any man lie with her at all,
and her flowers be
upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all
the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.
This is the entirety of the verses in question
regarding menstruation. The words highlighted
yellow are key words that need to be identified for
proper understanding. Here are the words with
their Strong's definition:
put apart (niddâh - H5079) - properly
rejection; by implication impurity, especially
her - not in the original language. The
Hebrew words involved are nâga‛ which
means to touch and ṭâmê' which means
unclean. This verse does not say not to
touch the woman/her, but to not touch the
it (hû' hı̂y' - H1931) - the third person
pronoun singular, (he, she or it).
and her flowers (niddâh - H5079) -
properly rejection; by implication impurity,
especially personal menstruation.
The previous definitions will help gain an
understanding of the meaning of this particular
statute. Many assume this means that a woman
has to be separated from her household for seven
days when she is menstruating. This
understanding might appear to be correct based upon
the English translations alone, but when each Hebrew
word is defined the truth becomes clear. In
fact, what might be most confusing is that the
Jewish tradition was that of the letter of the law.
They believed they needed to separate their women
for seven days from the rest of the household.
However, as the Messiah demonstrated throughout the
scriptures, the Jews followed their traditions over
the commandments of God (Matt. 15:3, Mark 7:6-7,
etc.). Just because the Jews interpreted this
passage this way does not mean this is how God
intended it. Remember, the Spirit of the Law
is to determine the intent and purpose of the
Lawgiver. We need to understand the
menstruation laws as God understands them.
The subject of this entire section is niddâh
(H5079). This word references the flow of
blood from a woman during menstruation.
Unfortunately, in Lev. 15:19 this word is translated
as "put away", but should be translated as
"rejection." That is, the rejection
of blood from the woman's body. This verse is
saying she shall be menstruating for seven days, not
to put women apart from the family. This makes
sense for a woman's menstrual cycle is typically one
week. In Lev. 15:24
this word is translated as "her flowers"
and refers to the flow of blood that is not to touch
a man. The
niddâh (H5079 - rejections, impurity,
menstruation, etc.) is called "it" in Lev.
15:23 and is the real subject of this passage.
We are to protect people from the "it," which is the
menstrual blood from a woman. If this
niddâh gets on the couch, bed, or
any person, they are unclean and need to wash.
Women are to be careful to make sure this
niddâh does not contaminate
anything. The sanitary pads women use today do
a wonderful job of this, but
the practice to put women outside the house for
seven days was a very disrespectful practice of the
Hebrew people. The truth is, the scriptures
speak of sanitary "rags" women used during
menstruation. In Isaiah 64:6 God declares that
"all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."
The words "filthy rags" are the Hebrew
words filthy (‛êd - the menstrual flux -
Strong's Dictionary - H5708) and rags (beged
- a covering, that is, clothing - Strong's
Dictionary - H898). This is a reference to the
Hebrew practice of a pad to cover the discharge of a
woman during menstruation. This law does not
refer to separating the women from the household,
but of separating the discharge from contact with
The next few verses confirm this understanding by
explaining how to deal with an extended menstrual
cycle. The topic here is of a seven day period
of menstruation, not a seven day period of
separating women from their households. Of
course, there is a separation of intimacy between a
husband and wife during those seven days, but this
is not to be understood as the wife leaving the
The bottom line is this, there are three things that
our bodies need to do that we are responsible to
keep clean. Men have to deal with two of the
three while women have to deal with all three.
Both men and women need to keep their bodies and
others clean after urinating and defecating (Deut.
23:13). Women have a third responsibility due
their reproductive system. Since women have
the ability to bear children, their bodies discharge
on a monthly cycle. God has given women
instructions on how to deal with this necessary, but
It is very unfortunate that many read these verses
and automatically assume God is asking us to do some
sort of ceremonial ritual to please him. This
sounds very religious and not like God at all.
God gave us a law, not a religion. The New
Covenant gives us the means to practice this law by
forgiving us of our sins and providing the Holy
Spirit for help. To interpret a law like God's
menstruation laws in such a ridiculous way gives
credence to the Pharisees and their strange
practices and makes God look incompetent. I
think we should give God some credit and look at His
laws through the eyes of His Spirit. This will
help us to make sense of the "perfect law of
liberty" (James 1:25), but to see this as a
religious ceremony as the Pharisees did makes God's
law to be without liberty and hard to understand.