In Luke 8, Jesus is touched by a woman who was subject to bleeding for 12 years. If Jesus was touched by her, wouldn’t that make him “unclean” as stated in Leviticus 15:25-27? Is there a punishment for unclean persons who break the law by making others unclean?


This is an interesting question.  We know that Jesus obeyed the Law of Moses during his life, although he felt free in many cases to disobey the added rules created by the Pharisees and others as a hedge around the Law.  In this case, there is no question about whether Jesus obeyed the Law of Moses, as it was the action of someone else to touch him.  He did not touch the woman.  I believe that we can assume that this woman was considered unclean because of her bleeding.  This is part of what makes the interaction of the bleeding woman and Jesus so poignant, because she was an outcast and Jesus was one to have great compassion for the outcast.  Luke especially emphasized the love of Jesus for the lowly, the outcast,  and the disrespected.  He emphasized Jesus’ relationship with outcast women, with Gentiles, with Samaritans, with lepers, with tax collectors and many more.  Jesus did not disobey the Law of Moses, but he repeatedly showed incredible compassion for the weak and vulnerable, as is especially pointed out by Luke.

But this brings me back to your question.  The woman did not touch Jesus, but she merely touched the hem of his garment (the edge of his cloak in the NIV).  We can infer that the reason she merely touched the edge of his cloak, rather than touching Jesus himself out of respect for the prohibition against women who are bleeding having physical contact with others.  What Leviticus 15:25-27 legislates is that a woman with abnormal bleeding is unclean and that the bed she sleeps on and the furniture she sits on is “unclean.”  The Leviticus 15 passage does not specify that others cannot touch the bleeding woman, but I believe we can infer that this would be implied.  However, we should remember that Jesus did not touch the woman, and it seems a fairly large stretch of Leviticus to say that merely being touched on the edge of the cloak of a person would make that person unclean.

So, was Jesus made “unclean” by this woman touching him according to Leviticus 15:25-27?  I say no, but perhaps an expert in the Jewish law may want to step in and comment on this—not those who extended the Law beyond what was written, but one who understands the Law itself.  However, I conclude he was not made unclean.

In any case, if Jesus was made unclean, then this would not impute sin to him—it would mean that he was ceremonially unclean, not a sinner, and the requirement would simply be that he wash himself and his clothes and remain unclean until that evening (Leviticus 15:27).  It seems very unlikely that this was the case, but I cannot prove that Jesus did not in fact consider himself temporarily unclean and I cannot absolutely rule out that he went through the ritual in Leviticus 15:27 later that day.

John Oakes

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