A comparative study of the concept of purity/impurity in the New Testament Gospels and the letters of Paul
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This work is a comparative study of the usage of the purity language by Jesus and Paul. A simple reading of the Gospels and the Pauline corpus shows that the concept of purity and impurity is used in different contexts by Jesus and Paul, a fact that is due, I suppose, to their different cultural settings: Palestinian Judaism versus Roman culture. In order to trace the meaning of impurity the concept was analysed as it is employed in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple sources. It was found that Biblical Judaism placed strong emphasis on ritual and moral impurity, including the diet regulations of Leviticus. Ritual impurity was usually due to natural conditions of the body that were not unwanted, such as menstruation blood, semen, sex and birth, a few specific deceases and contact with dead bodies. Ritual impurity was contagious by contact. Moral impurity was not, but it was a defiling power due to grave sins, such as sexual immorality, bloodshed and idolatry, which polluted the sinner, the sanctuary and the land, even from a distance. The food regulations are interpreted as pedagogical means to remind the people of the importance of worshipping one God only. Since the impure animals were typically hybrids, we argue that the mixture of worshipping YHWH and BAAL was an hybrid cult that created moral impurity. Second Temple literature interprets priestly purity rules to include all Jews, giving rise to the doctrine of generational impurity that, in turn, served the purpose of maintaining a strict border between Jews and Gentiles. In the Qumran milieu we find a developed ontological dualism, the cosmology of which included the teaching of the two spirits, each representing two opposing kingdoms. The gestalt of Satan developed from being a member of God's court to an independent personage with his own host of demons. Roman culture is a complex concept. The philosophers had a world view quite different from that of the uneducated masses. The Stoics referred to uncontrolled sex as impure, since passions as such were seen as unwanted. Roman religion, as found in the cult of the Vestal Virgins, defined the loss of virginity as the ultimate impurity, which put the entire Fatherland at risk. In popular culture there was a vivid conceptualisation of demons and spirits and a full-blown art of astrology and magic. The aetiology of sickness as demonic attacks was commonplace. When our inquiry of the two cultural contexts is over, all the relevant scriptures of the Gospels and the Pauline letters are analysed. There proved to be a significant difference between the Synoptics and John. Exorcisms and impure spirits are found in the three first gospels only. John operates with the idea of Satan in the context of moral impurity, but he presents no narratives that include demons. The Synoptics present the teaching and practice of Jesus with a strong focus on demons as impure spirits with the ability to speak and to harass people. They are empowered by Satan and they represent the evil opposition of the kingdom of God. Jesus nullifies ritual impurity altogether and even modifies moral impurity, reserving the terminology for evil intentions coming from man's heart. In the Pauline corpus, we find the terminology employed differently. Evil powers are not denoted as impure spirits and there are no narratives or any teaching of exorcism. Paul uses the term much like the Stoic philosophers, to denote sexual immorality. Our inquiry concludes by stating that Jesus uses the term impure to denote ontological impurity as experienced in mental, spiritual and physical destruction, due to demonic presence. Paul uses impurity, mainly as an ethical category denoting individuals who have succombed to temptations of the human nature, sarx. The common denominator between Jesus and Paul is the belief that the holiness of God is stronger than any demonic presence. According to Judaism, impurity was dangerous because it drove away the presence of God from the Temple and the people. Jesus is exercising the power of God and is never prohibited by the presence of impurity. Paul believes that the powers of impurity were conquered at the cross, and therefore not worth mentioning after the death and resurrection of Jesus. While Jesus exorcised demons, Paul encourages his readers to stand firm in the Christian virtues, so that the Devil would flee from them. If the Church did not do this, it became polluted. Paul perpetuates the idea of moral impurity as a defiling force which prevents the presence of God. In the Church, this is manifested as lack of love and consideration for the poor, a situation which prevents the protection of God. As in the Temple, the remedy was sacrifice; in this case, the blood of Jesus, which was remembered and honoured during eucharist. And as in Judaism, it required repentance and a will to do better.
- Theology