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Women and Their Menstrual Cycle

(God said to do what?)

 

 

          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.

 

Proper Interpretation:

 

          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 pleading here

          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 here
          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 [ourselves] 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.

 

A Modern Understanding:

 

          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.

 

And 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.  (Lev. 15:19-24)

 

          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 personal menstruation.

  • 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 unclean.

  • 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 people.  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 household.

           

Conclusion:

 

          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 to 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 unclean discharge.

          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.

 

By Steve Siefken
 

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV