Ritual vs Moral Purity

Hi everyone. Today I came across the following article on Dr Skip Moen’s web site that I thought was worth reposting here. It deals with the difference between ritual purity and moral purity – something that is very poorly understood in western Christianity today.

(The original article can be found here).

Clearing Up The Confusion

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 | Author: Skip Moen

Thus the priest shall make expiation for them, and they shall be forgiven. Leviticus 4:20

Expiation – For centuries we have heard Christian theologians proclaim that forgiveness comes by grace alone. Pastors and professors have driven a wedge between the teaching of Leviticus and the words of Paul. The Jews were under the “law.” Christians are under “grace.” This is a false dichotomy. Every Jew knew that sacrifice would not remove the guilt of intentional sin. But every Jew also knew that sacrifice was absolutely essential for life before God. Why? Because every Jew knew there was a difference between moral purity and ritual purity. In order to have fellowship with the Lord, a person must be cleansed on both counts.

Baruch Levine makes the point that the Hebrew verb, k-p-r, is often translated by a phrase such as “to cover or conceal.” But this isn’t correct. The idea behind kipper is to wipe clean, to remove defilement, to wipe off. We can think of ritual impurity as if it were contamination. The worshipper realizes that something done has contaminated his presence before God. The contamination must be removed if he is to enjoy fellowship and proper worship. God Himself has given the appropriate steps necessary to expiate (remove) this contamination. That’s what Leviticus is all about. God tells us how to worship Him. We don’t make up the process of worship as we go along. We don’t decide what we will do to worship Him. He decides. If we want to worship Him properly, we will take the steps He commands. Some of those steps insure that we are ritually clean when we come before Him.

Too often we fail to distinguish between ritual purity and moral purity. So, when we read the word “forgiven,” we think in terms of moral acts. We think the sacrificial system was about forgiving our immoral choices. Then we conclude that the Jews believed sacrifices brought redemption, and we reject that suggestion because it looks like “earning” salvation. Once we see that sacrifices bring ritual purity, our views are corrected. Every Jew knew that a sacrifice didn’t bring moral redemption. Atonement brought moral redemption. But the sacrifices were needed to wipe away the accumulation of ritual impurity – the contamination of daily life – that made communion with a holy God impossible. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that these requirements have changed. Are we so ritually pure that we no longer need to be cleansed before we come into His presence? Does moral atonement cover ritual defilement too? Or are we really missing something here? Does our behavior really say, “Thanks for forgiving me, Lord. Now I will worship you in the way I choose to worship”?

Rodney posted at כ״ט בניסן ה׳תש״ע (April 13, 2010) Category: sacrifices, Torah, worship