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Holy, Clean, and Unclean

This is the first of a series of blog entries to support the Year 1, Quarter 3 Lamplighters material. These blog entries are aimed at families with older kids (6th grade+). These posts serve to connect with young minds by driving discussions of the various Lamp Lighters topics. Here is a list of the other topics with blog entries:

  • Sacrifice and Atonement

  • Structure of the Old Testament

  • Tribes of Israel

  • Moses

  • Name of God

  • Bible Context Questions

  • The Shema

This first post will focus on the first topic of the quarter, which discusses the definitions of the words Holy, Clean, and Unclean.

We want you to slowly read through this blog post and refer back to it throughout the coming weeks and bring it up in discussion. Talk about these ideas. Are some of the ideas challenging? Do you agree with all these points? What are the scriptures saying to you during this important time?


The idea of holiness is often associated with righteousness and moral living, but this is due to our 21st century context, and not due to the scriptures.

Holiness in the Bible deals with things that God has set apart for a special purpose.

Only God designates things as 'Holy'. This elevates their purpose to serve God's ends.

This is an important distinction, because we often think of sin as making something 'unholy.' Israel sins all throughout the Old Testament but still remains God's "Holy Nation".

Their sin might make them unclean, but it does not change their status as "holy".

On the other hand, people are often told to act or become "Holy". This stands in contradiction to our previous statements, but the principle still stands. If Israelites are told to be holy, the speaker is almost always saying that they need to act holy. Their lives and actions should reflect that God has set them apart for his purposes.

Check out this excellent video discussing holiness and talk about it with your family!

Compelling Questions:

  1. How does the idea of holiness develop in the scriptures?

  2. What does it mean to live a holy life?

  3. Are Christians holy? How do you know? Where do we get our holiness from?

  4. What would it look like to live as if we weren't holy?

Ritual Cleanliness

Something that has been made ritually clean is fit for service to God or worship. People, objects, animals are all subject to cleanliness laws in the Old Testament. They are supposed to be treated in certain ways when being brought to the tabernacle/temple. This is because the space around the tabernacle/temple has been designated as 'Holy' by God. To bring something unclean there is to risk destruction or desertion from God. God wants his people to take special care to prepare themselves to live in his presence.


The kitchen has been made holy by Mom/Dad to cook and prepare food

  1. What happens if the kids play catch in the kitchen?

  2. Not using 'holy' space for the correct purpose.

  3. What happens if someone puts their shoes on the kitchen counters?

Compelling Questions:

  1. What was the point of ritual cleanliness?

  2. How is ritual cleanliness related to morality?

  3. What does it mean to defile something that is clean?

  4. What physical space did the Israelites (usually) strive to keep clean and pure?

  5. Without a physical temple or tabernacle today, how does cleanliness apply to Christians?

  6. Why is sexual purity important to Christians, but not food or other cleanliness laws?

RITUALLY CLEAN - Metaphor #2

Bathroom is made holy for bodily cleansing and mouth-care. Shower is kept in a clean state:

  1. What happens if a funky mold starts growing in the shower/bathtub?

  2. Can it still serve its intended purpose? What must happen?

Ritually Unclean

Cleanliness often relates to people. Living a normal life would bring a person into contact with things that are unclean. This uncleanness often transfers to the person who touches it – Kind of like cooties. To be unclean was not necessarily to be in a state of sin. You might have to bury a dead relative, which means you had to touch their body, making you unclean. Perhaps you contracted some sort of skin disease that is described in the scriptures. Even menstruation is considered unclean.

Being unclean was not a huge issue, unless you wanted to participate in covenant worship or enter the presence of God at the Tabernacle or Temple. Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy describe a lot of the ways that the Israelites would cleanse themselves after becoming unclean. Sometimes ritual washing, sometimes animal sacrifice, and sometimes other offerings and actions were required to become clean again. You can read about these complex and important rituals in Leviticus.

In some cases, people remained unclean, though. Imagine contracting an incurable skin disease and remaining unclean for the rest of your life! Yikes!

Compelling Questions:

  1. Why does God want his holy people to be aware of their state (clean/unclean)?

  2. Does God really have nothing better to do than to watch whether Jews eat bacon?

  3. By the time Jesus arrives in the late second temple period, religious leaders strongly associate uncleanness with sin. Why do you think this is?

  4. Pharisees were religious leaders who would apply priestly cleanliness requirements to everyday people. Why was this inappropriate and burdensome to people?

  5. What are some diseases, conditions, or even 'sins' that our society looks down upon?

  6. How does Jesus treat the people he meets who are in states of uncleanliness? How should we treat them?

UNCLEAN - Metaphors

Bugs are high in protein and generally safe to eat. However, our society has decided that eating bugs is 'unclean'.

  1. How is eating bugs seen within our culture? Have you ever seen a lollipop with a bug or scorpion in it? How did that make you feel?

  2. What is the purpose of having designations like 'clean' and 'unclean' for a culture?

  3. How would strict dietary laws help shape the Israelites over time?

Check out this great blog post dealing with the rituals surrounding sin, cleanliness, and atonement.

To find out more information about Lamp Lighters please click here.

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