Clean and Unclean
Clean and unclean didn’t mean the same in New Testament times as it does to us today. There was no understanding of germs and microorganism. Unclean in the New Testament was more about being ritually and spiritually unclean before God rather than being contaminated with germs.
Ritual washing was not so much to sterilize as to make holy.
Frank E. Eakin, Jr. in the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, explains:
Israelite ritual concerns have both religious and ultimately cosmic significance. The origins of the association of cleanness and uncleanness are often clouded in historical obscurity, but it was necessary to observe the proper rituals lest Israel be unholy and therefore offensive to the Holy God. These ritualistic concerns focused particularly around life—its extremities (birth and death), sexual intercourse, blood, food, and the disease that degenerated and repulsed life (leprosy). Generally, to be unclean, was to be contaminated. Moreover, uncleanness was infectious and thus a threat to the community. Mechanisms were provided to remove impurities, ranging from sacrifices, to a waiting period, to the use of a cleansing agent (such as fire or water), or in some combination of the three.
(Macon: Mercer University Press, 1990, p. 159)
A group of particularly observant and influential Jews, mainly in Judea, from the second century BCE to the first century CE. The meaning of the name itself is obscure. It may mean “separate ones” in Hebrew, referring to their observance of ritual purity laws in ways that separated them from others, or it could mean “interpreters,” referring to their penchant for studying and teaching biblical law. In many Gospel stories, the Pharisees function as the opponents of Jesus in Galilee. The apostle Paul, however, was raised a Pharisee and continued to regard himself as a Pharisee even after he became a missionary for Chrsit (see Phil. 3:5).
(Harper’s Bible Dictionary: Revised and Updated, Harper & Row, 1989, p. 790)
Reading the Scripture
Here are some ways you might read the scripture or tell the story:
o Faith Comes by Hearing: You’ve Got the Time (Dramatized New Testament we used a few years ago during Lent. Available in the library and the church office.)
o The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible (“presented by a stellar ensemble of today’s top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and award-winning producers.” Available from Keith).
o WatchWord Bible, New Testament on DVD is available in the library. (These videos display and read the text in Contemporary English Version with background pictures, video and sound. Not exactly dramatized or all that exciting, but could be another way to read the text.)
• Jesus said, “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile.” We can think of many things that can harm or defile us going in: drugs, excess sugar, cholesteral. Jesus however is speaking of ritual or spiritual cleanliness and holiness (See comment above for more on New Testament ideas of clean and unclean). Some illustrations don't work as well, or make as much sense, in another setting. How could you retell this illustration for our setting?
o See a video explanation of the Mishnah: http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/movie_cdo/aid/1256813/jewish/The-Mishna.htm.
o A photo is attached at the end of this session of a page from the Mishnah. Notice how the layers of interpretation encircle the text of the Mishnah at the center, illustrating the importance placed on interpreting and following the law of scripture.
• Look at the order of worship in our bulletin. Where might we be in danger of worshipping with “lips but not hearts” or just going through the motions? For example: walking through the door, Doxology, Lord’s Prayer, singing hymns, etc. (See “Empty Worship, Empty Actions” Formations Teaching Guide, p. 11).
I have set aside a shelf in the library with resources for Sunday School teachers. I will place there resources of general interest and some specifically applicable to current lessons. Other resources are kept in my office.
• Harper’s Bible Dictionary: Revised and Updated (Harper & Row, 1989)
• Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1990)
• For additional commentary on the text see these commentaries in our library:
o Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995)
o Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988)