Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Leviticus 15

Verses 1-15

Leviticus 15:1-15. Discharges from Males.—These are evidently regarded as abnormal. The greatest care is taken to mark the contagion arising from them. Keener precautions could not be taken with what is the most loathsome disease of our modern civilisation. The bed, the seat, anyone who has touched the bed or the seat or the afflicted person himself, or has been touched by his saliva, is infected. In each case of infection, washing and seclusion for the rest of the day is prescribed; wooden vessels are to be rinsed, earthenware (cf. Leviticus 6:28, Leviticus 11:33) to be destroyed. The infected person himself, however, when free, is simply to wait for a week, wash his clothes and his body in running water; on the next day he offers a sin offering and a burnt offering in resuming his intercourse with holy things. Only small birds are needed for this purpose (cf. Leviticus 12:8).

Verses 1-33

Leviticus 15. Issues.—Four kinds are considered; the first of these (Leviticus 15:1-15) is apparently pathological, though there is no reference to venereal diseases, which are unknown in the OT the second (Leviticus 15:16-18) normal; the third (Leviticus 15:19-24), normal and periodic; the fourth (2 Leviticus 15:5-30), an abnormal occurrence or prolongation of the normal. Whether normal or not, all these occurrences are regarded as causing "taboos" in ethnic religions, and as connected with supernatural powers; the third kind is constantly associated with the bite of a demon (as, for example, in Australia). Possibly a similar belief existed originally among the Hebrews, but it is not necessary in order to account for the feeling of repulsion which causes all such phenomena to be regarded as unclean. The first, third, and fourth kinds need washing, and whether this was originally so intended or not, it is certainly in practice entirely hygienic. Only the abnormal kinds, the first and fourth, have prescribed for them an interval of a week, followed by a sacrifice; this, however, is of the cheapest kind (cf. Leviticus 5:7, Leviticus 14:22). The uncleanness is regarded as breaking the communion (Leviticus 15:31); hence, a sin offering is needed to remove its traces, and a burnt offering to signalise resumption of relations. To most primitive peoples, the sexual life is surrounded by taboos (cf. Crawley, Mystic Rose), The savage fear of evil spirits is here specially active. In this chapter, however, the entire absence of anything that could be called magical must be noted (the same is true of the early Heb. narratives in the form in which we now have them), as of initiation ceremonies at puberty (whether of boys or girls) or of marriage rites. For all their ethnic affinities, the codes, on this subject, are purity itself, although so often traditional customs connected with marriage have been made the ministers of impurity.

Verses 16-18

Leviticus 15:16-18. Emissions, Voluntary or Otherwise.—Here only washing is needed. The existence of the first part of the law may well help to allay the horror with which the phenomenon is often needlessly regarded. In the second part, there is no suggestion of sin, as in the writings of Augustine and other fathers, or in the medieval deductions from Genesis 3. Cf., however, Exodus 19:15, 1 Samuel 21:5, 2 Samuel 11:11, 1 Corinthians 7:5, Revelation 14:4; in the OT passages the ritual aspect of the act is emphasized, in the NT the moral. To primitive thought, the act has its significance for good or evil quite apart from considerations of wedlock (cf. also Leviticus 15:24).

Verses 19-24

Leviticus 15:19-24. Here the ceremonial has become almost identical with what would now be considered the hygienic. The prescriptions for infected persons are the same as those in Leviticus 15:1-15. Leviticus 15:24 conveys a very salutary caution: contrast Leviticus 20:18—the two cases, however, may not be the same. The impurity is held to disappear of itself after an interval of a week from its beginning.

Verses 25-30

Leviticus 15:25-30. Abnormal Prolongation of Discharge.—Here the treatment of the patient is identical with that of the man in Leviticus 15:1-15. In neither case, however, is any "treatment" in the modern sense of the word mentioned. Even if the law is by implication hygienic, it is not medical.

Verses 31-33

Leviticus 15:31-33. Conclusion.—These five chapters, and especially the last, throw a strong light on the conception of sin in P. Sin is not an act, but a condition. The sacrifices prescribed for it are not punishments, nor even methods of escape, but means by which, the abnormal conditions gone, the functions of the normal can be safely resumed. But the connexion of the abnormal, as well as the strictly pathological, with a sense of sin and guilt, is a truth familiar to psychology, and is illustrated by common feelings about all four of the cases in Leviticus 15. But, in fairness to P, it must be remembered that P does not brand as sins, in our modern sense, acts or states for which the individual cannot be held responsible; it simply asserts that they necessitate ritual seclusion, and that escape from them demands the performance of certain ceremonies not by any means particularly burdensome.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Leviticus 15". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.