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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Unclean, to Be

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A. Verb.

âmê' (טָמֵא, Strong's #2930), “to be unclean.” This root is limited to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. The verb occurs 160 times in biblical Hebrew and mainly in Leviticus, as in Lev. 11:26: “The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean.” Ṭâmê' is the opposite of taher, “to be pure.”

B. Noun.

Ṭûm'âh (טֻמְאָה, Strong's #2932), “uncleanness.” This noun is derived from ṭâmê'Ṭûm'âh occurs 37 times in biblical Hebrew. The word occurs in Num. 5:19: “And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanliness with another instead of thine husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse.” Here the word refers to sexual “uncleanness.” Ṭûm'âh occurs twice in Lev. 16:16 and refers to ethical and religious “uncleanness.”

C. Adjective.

âmê' (טָמֵא, Strong's #2931), “unclean.” This adjective occurs 89 times in the Old Testament. The frequency of the word is high in Leviticus. Its first occurrence is also in Leviticus: “Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty” (5:2).

The usage of ṭâmê' in the Old Testament resembles that of tahor, “pure.” First, uncleanness is a state of being. The leper was compelled to announce his uncleanness wherever he went (Lev. 13:45); however, even here there is a religious overtone, in that his uncleanness was ritual. Hence, it is more appropriate to recognize that the second usage is most basic. âmê' in the religio-cultic sense is a technical term denoting a state of being ceremonially unfit. Animals, carcases, unclean people, and objects conveyed the impurity to those who touched them: “And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth it shall lie unclean until even” (Num. 19:22). The impurity could also be brought about by a seminal issue (Lev. 15:2) or a menstrual period (Lev. 15:25), and whatever the unclean touched was also rendered “unclean.”

The Septuagint translations are: akathartos (“impure; unclean”) and miaino (“stain; defile”). The KJV gives these translations: “unclean; defiled; polluted.”

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Unclean, to Be'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/u/unclean-to-be.html. 1940.

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