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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Leviticus 13:13

then the priest shall look, and behold, if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce clean him who has the infection; it has all turned white and he is clean.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Sanitation;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Leprosy;   Priests;  
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Hair;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Leprosy;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Flesh;   Heal, Health;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Leprosy;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Leper;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Leviticus;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Clean and Unclean;   Numbers, Book of;   Priests and Levites;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Leper;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Leper, Leprosy;   Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types - Leper;  
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Consider;   Leper;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Verse Leviticus 13:13. If the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean — Why is it that the partial leper was pronounced unclean, and the person totally covered with the disease clean? This was probably owing to a different species or stage of the disease; the partial disease was contagious, the total not contagious. That there are two different species or degrees of the same disease described here, is sufficiently evident. In one, the body was all covered with a white enamelled scurf; in the other, there was a quick raw flesh in the risings. On this account the one might be deemed unclean, i. e., contagious, the other not; for contact with the quick raw flesh would be more likely to communicate the disease than the touch of the hard dry scurf. The ichor proceeding from the former, when brought into contact with the flesh of another, would soon be taken into the constitution by means of the absorbent vessels; but where the whole surface was perfectly dry, the absorbent vessels of another person coming in contact with the diseased man could imbibe nothing, and therefore there was comparatively no danger of infection. Hence that species or stage of the disease that exhibited the quick raw rising was capable of conveying the infection for the reasons already assigned, when the other was not. Dr. Mead thus accounts for the circumstance mentioned in the text. See on Leviticus 13:18. As the leprosy infected bodies, clothes, and even the walls of houses, is it not rational to suppose that it was occasioned by a species of animalcula or vermin burrowing under the skin? Of this opinion there are some learned supporters.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:13". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Bridgeway Bible Commentary

Detection of leprosy (13:1-59)

Biblical scholars and medical scientists alike have shown that the leprosy the Old Testament speaks of was not always the disease that we know as leprosy today. The word had a broad meaning that covered a number of infectious skin diseases, some of which were curable. It applied even to fungus or mildew on clothes and buildings.
Laws laid down in these chapters concerned two main things. Firstly, because such disease was symbolic of sin, it made people ceremonially unclean and unable to join in the religious activities of the community till they were healed and ceremonially cleansed. Secondly, the public health had to be protected by separating infected people from the camp and destroying anything that might carry the disease to others.
These chapters are not concerned with the treatment of the disease. Instructions outlined here were for priests, not for doctors. Priests had the responsibility to see that holiness was maintained in the camp, and this holiness was inseparable from ordinary health and cleanliness. These laws helped the priests detect the disease in its early stages and so prevent infection from spreading.
People were to report any suspicious looking skin infection to the priests, who then quarantined the patient till they were sure whether the disease was dangerous. If it proved to be leprosy, the person was not merely quarantined but was put out of the camp (13:1-11; see v. 45-46). Cases may have arisen where a person could have appeared to be getting leprosy, but the suspected disease later proved to be something else. In fact, it may even have healed itself (12-17). Any boil or inflammation had to be investigated (18-28); also any itches, skin spots or falling out of the hair (29-44). If someone was found to be carrying an infectious disease, the person was excluded from the camp (45-46).
Mildew was often a problem in damp or humid weather, and the law of Moses set out regulations to counter its harmful effects. Any clothing found to contain mildew had to be brought to the priests for examination (47-49). Affected clothing had to be washed, and if that did not remove the problem, it had to be destroyed (50-59).

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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:13". "Brideway Bible Commentary". 2005.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

The disease here indicated appears to be that now known as Lepra commonis, the common White Leprosy, or Dry Tetter. It first shows itself in reddish pimples, the surface of which becomes white and scaly, spreading in a circular form until they meet each other and cover large patches of the body. It scarcely affects the general health, and for the most part disappears of itself, though it often lasts for years.

From his head even to his foot, wheresoever. the priest looketh - The first appearance of the Lepra Commonis may take place in any part of the body, especially, however, at the larger joints of the limbs; but the spots of elephantiasis are almost always first seen, on those parts which are habitually exposed, the face, ears and hands.

Leviticus 13:14

Raw flesh - See Leviticus 13:10.

Leviticus 13:15

Boil - Probably ulcer. In Job 2:7, and Deuteronomy 28:27, Deuteronomy 28:35, it would seem highly probable that the word expresses the ulcers of elephantiasis.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:13". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

Chuck Smith Bible Commentary

Chapter 13

As we get into chapter thirteen, God is dealing with the subject of leprosy, and the priests were given instructions on how to diagnose leprosy, a breaking out on a person's body. The examination of it, the color of hairs that are in the blotch and so forth, so that the priest can truly identify the leper. Now it was two-fold. Number one, if it was indeed leprosy, and many times they would set them apart for seven days and re-examine them to see if there be any change of condition. But God wanted them to be very careful to, number one, if it was leprosy, to isolate them from the people to keep this disease from spreading. And so it was a quarantine kind of thing. But secondly, the careful examination so that no one would be isolated who was not truly a leper. So God wanted them to be careful in both directions. Make sure it's leprosy so that in case it is leprosy, the person can be isolated from the community so that the disease would not spread. But secondly, make sure if it isn't, that this person doesn't have this isolation from the community itself.

And so this thirteenth chapter deals with leprosy, the identifying of this loathsome disease by the priest and the separation of the person who is diagnosed actually as to having leprosy. And the command that the person is to cry "unclean, unclean," in verse forty-five, if it is discovered that he indeed has leprosy. And how that the garments and so forth are to be dealt with if there is a growth of some kind within the garment and how it's to be destroyed and burnt and all.

This is the law of the plague of leprosy [verse fifty-nine] in a garment of woollen or linen, either in the warp, or woof, or any thing of skins, to pronounce it clean, or to pronounce it unclean ( Leviticus 13:59 ).


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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:13". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". 2014.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Abnormalities in human skin 13:1-46

God dealt with 21 different cases of skin diseases in this pericope. Some of these may have included measles, smallpox, scarlet fever, and other diseases characterized by skin rash. [Note: Harris, p. 577.] Some authorities believe that exact identification of the various forms of scaly skin disorders described in this chapter is impossible today. [Note: Browne, pp. 5-6.] Others feel more confident. One authority suggested the following identifications. [Note: Hulse, pp. 96-97.]

The swelling, scab, or bright spot (Leviticus 13:2-28)Psoriasis: a chronic, non-infectious skin disease characterized by the presence of well-demarcated, slightly raised reddish patches of various sizes covered by dry grayish-white or silvery scales.
An infection on the head or beard (Leviticus 13:29-37)Favus: a much more severe and damaging infection in which the fungus invades both the hair and the full thickness of the skin.
Bright spots on the skin (Leviticus 13:38-39)Leucoderma: a slightly disfiguring condition in which patches of otherwise normal skin lose their natural coloring and become completely white.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:13". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

3. Uncleanness due to skin and covering abnormalities chs. 13-14

Many translations and commentaries have regarded the legislation in these chapters as dealing with leprosy, but this is misleading. The confusion has arisen because the term "leprosy" appears in most English texts in these chapters, and English readers automatically think that what we know as modern leprosy is in view. However as the chapters unfold it becomes increasingly clear that what is in view is not modern leprosy (Hansen’s disease). [Note: See S. G. Browne, Leprosy in the Bible; E. V. Hulse, "The Nature of Biblical ’Leprosy’ and the Use of Alternative Medical Terms in Modern Translations of the Bible," Palestine Exploration Quarterly 107 (1975):87-105; John Wilkinson, "Leprosy and Leviticus: The Problem of Description and Identification," Scottish Journal of Theology 30 (1984):153-69; Rebecca A. and E. Eugene Baillie, M. D., "Biblical Leprosy as Compared to Present-Day Leprosy," Christian Medical Society Journal 14:3 (Fall 1983):27-29.] The solution to the problem involves recognizing that the Septuagint version has influenced the English translations of the Hebrew word used here, tsara’at. In the Septuagint, the Greek word lepra translates tsara’at, and the English translations have simply transliterated this Greek word because of similarities with modern leprosy. The Greeks used a different term for human leprosy: elephantiasis, not lepra. That tsara’at does not mean leprosy becomes especially clear in chapter 14 where we read that tsara’at appeared as mold and mildew in clothes and houses, something modern leprosy does not do. What tsara’at does describe is a variety of abnormalities that afflicted human skin as well as clothing and houses, coverings of various types. Lepra etymologically refers to scaliness, and tsara’at may also. [Note: See Hulse, p. 93; and Browne, p. 5.] Evidently there was enough similarity between these abnormalities for God to deal with them together in this section of Leviticus.

The section contains three parts. Moses frequently divided various material into three subsections in Leviticus. Each part in this section begins, "The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron" (Leviticus 13:1; Leviticus 14:1; Leviticus 14:33), and it closes, "This is the law for" (Leviticus 13:59; Leviticus 14:32; Leviticus 14:54).

The diagnosis and treatment of abnormalities in human skin and clothing ch. 13

We may further divide this chapter into two parts: the diagnosis and treatment of abnormalities in human skin, and the diagnosis and treatment of abnormalities in clothing and similar articles. A more detailed outline of the chapter follows. [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 194.]

Introduction Leviticus 13:1

First set of tests for skin disease Leviticus 13:2-8

Second set of tests for skin disease Leviticus 13:9-17

Third set of tests for skin disease in scars Leviticus 13:18-23

Fourth set of tests for skin disease in burns Leviticus 13:24-28

Fifth set of tests for skin disease in scalp or beard Leviticus 13:29-37

A skin disease that is clean Leviticus 13:38-39

Baldness and skin disease Leviticus 13:40-44

Treatment of those diagnosed as unclean Leviticus 13:45-46

Diagnosis and treatment of skin disease in clothing Leviticus 13:47-58

Summary Leviticus 13:59

Rooker saw seven types of infectious skin diseases in Leviticus 13:1-44: skin eruptions (Leviticus 13:1-8), chronic skin disease (Leviticus 13:9-17), boils (Leviticus 13:18-23), burns (Leviticus 13:24-28), sores (Leviticus 13:29-37), rashes (Leviticus 13:38-39), and baldness (Leviticus 13:40-44). [Note: Rooker, pp. 186-92.]

Before proceeding, we need to note that by "treatment" we do not mean that God prescribed a way by which people or objects afflicted with "leprosy" could recover. Rather the "treatment" dealt with how people were to relate to God and the sanctuary in view of these problems. He was not dealing with them as a physician but as a public health inspector. His objective was not their physical recovery in this legislation but their proper participation in worship.

Typically in each case we read four things: a preliminary statement of the symptoms, the priestly inspection, the basis of the priest’s diagnosis, and the diagnosis itself and the consequences.

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:13". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

These tests were appropriate when raw flesh appeared in an infected area of the skin. White hair in the raw flesh area was a sure sign of serious skin disease.

If the afflicted person became completely white rather than blotchy, the priest was to consider him or her clean. Evidently it was the patchy condition of the skin that made the person unclean. Another explanation is that a totally white condition indicated that the disease was over or not contagious. [Note: Bush, p. 119; Keil and Delitzsch, 2:380.]

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:13". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Then the priest shall consider,.... Look wistly upon it, and well weigh the matter in his own mind, that he may make a true judgment and pronounce a right sentence:

and, behold, [if] the leprosy have covered all his flesh; from head to foot, so that no quick, raw, or sound flesh appear in him:

he shall pronounce [him] clean [that hath] the plague; not clean from a leprosy he is covered with; but that he is free from pollution by it, and under no obligation to bring his offering, or to perform, or have performed on him any of the rites and ceremonies used in cleansing of the leper:

it is all turned white; his skin and flesh with white bright spots, scabs and swellings, and no raw and red flesh appears:

he [is] clean; in a ceremonial sense: this may seem strange, that one that had a bright spot, or a white swelling, or a scab that spreads, a single one of these, or here and there one, should be unclean, and yet, if covered over with them, should be clean; the reason in nature is, because this shows a good healthful inward constitution, which throws out all its ill humours externally, whereby health is preserved; as we see in persons that have the measles or smallpox, or such like distempers, if they stick in the skin, and only here and there one rises up in a tumour, and to an head, it is a bad sign; but if they come out kindly and well, though they cover the whole body, things are very promising: the mystical or spiritual meaning of this is, that when a man sees himself to be a sinful creature, all over covered with sin, and no part free, and disclaims all righteousness of his own to justify him before God, but wholly trusts to, and depends upon the grace of God for salvation, and the righteousness of Christ for his acceptance with God; he becomes clean through the grace of God and the blood and righteousness of Christ.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 13:13". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible

The Law Concerning Leprosy. B. C. 1490.

      1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying,   2 When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests:   3 And the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy: and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.   4 If the bright spot be white in the skin of his flesh, and in sight be not deeper than the skin, and the hair thereof be not turned white; then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague seven days:   5 And the priest shall look on him the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague in his sight be at a stay, and the plague spread not in the skin; then the priest shall shut him up seven days more:   6 And the priest shall look on him again the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague be somewhat dark, and the plague spread not in the skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean: it is but a scab: and he shall wash his clothes, and be clean.   7 But if the scab spread much abroad in the skin, after that he hath been seen of the priest for his cleansing, he shall be seen of the priest again:   8 And if the priest see that, behold, the scab spreadeth in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a leprosy.   9 When the plague of leprosy is in a man, then he shall be brought unto the priest;   10 And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the rising be white in the skin, and it have turned the hair white, and there be quick raw flesh in the rising;   11 It is an old leprosy in the skin of his flesh, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean, and shall not shut him up: for he is unclean.   12 And if a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh;   13 Then the priest shall consider: and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean.   14 But when raw flesh appeareth in him, he shall be unclean.   15 And the priest shall see the raw flesh, and pronounce him to be unclean: for the raw flesh is unclean: it is a leprosy.   16 Or if the raw flesh turn again, and be changed unto white, he shall come unto the priest;   17 And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the plague be turned into white; then the priest shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: he is clean.

      I. Concerning the plague of leprosy we may observe in general, 1. That it was rather an uncleanness than a disease; or, at least, so the law considered it, and therefore employed not the physicians but the priests about it. Christ is said to cleanse lepers, not to cure them. We do not read of any that died of the leprosy, but it rather buried them alive, by rendering them unfit for conversation with any but such as were infected like themselves. Yet there is a tradition that Pharaoh, who sought to kill Moses, was the first that ever was struck with this disease, and that he died of it. It is said to have begun first in Egypt, whence it spread into Syria. It was very well known to Moses, when he put his own hand into his bosom and took it out leprous. 2. That it was a plague inflicted immediately by the hand of God, and came not from natural causes, as other diseases; and therefore must be managed according to a divine law. Miriam's leprosy, and Gehazi's, and king Uzziah's, were all the punishments of particular sins: and, if generally it was so, no marvel there was so much care taken to distinguish it from a common distemper, that none might be looked upon as lying under this extraordinary token of divine displeasure but those that really were so. 3. That it is a plague not now known in the world; what is commonly called the leprosy is of a quite different nature. This seems to have been reserved as a particular scourge for the sinners of those times and places. The Jews retained the idolatrous customs they had learnt in Egypt, and therefore God justly caused this with some others of the diseases of Egypt to follow them. Yet we read of Naaman the Syrian, who was a leper, 2 Kings 5:1. 4. That there were other breakings-out in the body which did very much resemble the leprosy, but were not it, which might make a man sore and loathsome and yet not ceremonially unclean. Justly are our bodies called vile bodies, which have in them the seeds of so many diseases, by which the lives of so many are made bitter to them. 5. That the judgment of it was referred to the priests. Lepers were looked upon as stigmatized by the justice of God, and therefore it was left to his servants the priests, who might be presumed to know his mark best, to pronounce who were lepers and who were not. All the Jews say, "Any priest, though disabled by a blemish to attend the sanctuary, might be a judge of the leprosy, provided the blemish were not in his eye. And he might" (they say) "take a common person to assist him in the search, but the priest only must pronounce the judgment." 6. That it was a figure of the moral pollution of men's minds by sin, which is the leprosy of the soul, defiling to the conscience, and from which Christ alone can cleanse us; for herein the power of his grace infinitely transcends that of the legal priesthood, that the priest could only convict the leper (for by the law is the knowledge of sin), but Christ can cure the leper, he can take away sin. Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean, which was more than the priests could do, Matthew 8:2. Some think that the leprosy signified, not so much sin in general as a state of sin, by which men are separated from God (their spot not being the spot of God's children), and scandalous sin, for which men are to be shut out from the communion of the faithful. It is a work of great importance, but of great difficulty, to judge of our spiritual state: we have all cause to suspect ourselves, being conscious to ourselves of sores and spots, but whether clean or unclean is the question. A man might have a scab (Leviticus 13:6; Leviticus 13:6) and yet be clean: the best have their infirmities; but, as there were certain marks by which to know that it was a leprosy, so there are characters of such as are in the gall of bitterness, and the work of ministers is to declare the judgment of leprosy and to assist those that suspect themselves in the trial of their spiritual state, remitting or retaining sin. And hence the keys of the kingdom of heaven are said to be given to them, because they are to separate between the precious and the vile, and to judge who are fit as clean to partake of the holy things and who as unclean must be debarred from them.

      II. Several rules are here laid down by which the judgment of the priest must be governed. 1. If the sore was but skin-deep, it was to be hoped it was not the leprosy,Leviticus 13:4; Leviticus 13:4. But, if it was deeper than the skin, the man must be pronounced unclean, Leviticus 13:3; Leviticus 13:3. The infirmities that consist with grace do not sink deep into the soul, but the mind still serves the law of God, and the inward man delights in it,Romans 7:22; Romans 7:25. But if the matter be really worse than it shows, and the inwards be infected, the case is dangerous. 2. If the sore be at a stay, and do not spread, it is no leprosy, Leviticus 13:4; Leviticus 13:5. But if it spread much abroad, and continue to do so after several inspections, the case is bad, Leviticus 13:7; Leviticus 13:8. If men do not grow worse, but a stop be put to the course of their sins and their corruptions be checked, it is to be hoped they will grow better; but if sin get ground, and they become worse every day, they are going downhill. 3. If there was proud raw flesh in the rising, the priest needed not to wait any longer, it was certainly a leprosy, Leviticus 13:10; Leviticus 13:11. Nor is there any surer indication of the badness of a man's spiritual state than the heart's rising in self-conceit, confidence in the flesh, and resistance of the reproofs of the word and strivings of the Spirit. 4. If the eruption, whatever it was, covered all the skin from head to foot, it was no leprosy (Leviticus 13:12; Leviticus 13:13); for it was an evidence that the vitals were sound and strong, and nature hereby helped itself, throwing out what was burdensome and pernicious. There is hope in the small-pox when they come out well: so if men freely confess their sins, and hide them not, there is no danger comparable to theirs that cover their sins. Some gather this from it, that there is more hope of the profane than of hypocrites. The publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of heaven before scribes and Pharisees. In one respect, the sudden breakings-out of passion, though bad enough, are not so dangerous as malice concealed. Others gather this, that, if we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged; if we see and own that there is no health in us, no soundness in our flesh, by reason of sin, we shall find grace in the eyes of the Lord. 5. The priest must take time in making his judgment, and not give it rashly. If the matter looked suspicious, he must shut up the patient seven days, and then seven days more, that his judgment might be according to truth. This teaches all, both ministers and people, not to be hasty in their censures, nor to judge any thing before the time. If some men's sins go before unto judgment, the sins of others follow after, and so men's good works; therefore let nothing be done suddenly,1 Timothy 5:22; 1 Timothy 5:24; 1 Timothy 5:25. 6. If the person suspected was found to be clean, yet he must wash his clothes (Leviticus 13:6; Leviticus 13:6), because he had been under the suspicion, and there had been in him that which gave ground for the suspicion. Even the prisoner that is acquitted must go down on his knees. We have need to be washed in the blood of Christ from our spots, though they be not leprosy-spots; for who can say, I am pure from sin? though there are those who through grace are innocent from the great transgression.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Leviticus 13:13". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". 1706.