Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Made Clean through Baptism (Leviticus 22:4-6)

“Whoever touches anything that is unclean through contact with the dead or a man who has had an emission of semen, and whoever touches a swarming thing by which he may be made unclean or a person from whom he may take uncleanness, whatever his uncleanness may be—the person who touches such a thing shall be unclean until the evening and shall not eat of the holy things unless he has bathed his body in water.”

Leviticus 22:4-6

Throughout the laws of cleanliness, a common denominator among all of them is that, if they are made unclean, they cannot be made clean again unless they are washed and then their sins atoned for in the blood of the proper sacrifice. All this prefigures Christ as well as the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The Church Fathers often interpreted the blood and water that poured forth from Jesus’ side after He died (John 19:34) as the water representing Baptism and the blood representing the Lord’s Supper. Many theologians—especially Protestants—have abandoned this interpretation, but I wish to challenge the abandonment. The New Testament speaks of both the blood of Christ and the water of Baptism as a washing that makes us clean. Here are a few examples of Jesus’ blood washing or cleansing us.

  • Hebrews 9:14, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” The Greek word for “purify” is καθαρίζω (katharizo), which literally means “to make clean.”
  • 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” The word for “cleanse” is also katharizo.
  • Revelation 7:14, “‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb‘” (cf. John 1:29). The Greek word used here is πλύνω (pluno), which means “to wash” and is often used when speaking of the washing of clothes, hence its use here. This verse is also an allusion to Baptism.

The word for “baptise” (βαπτίζω [baptizo]) also means “to wash,” and is often used when referring to purification rituals. This word for Baptism was used for the Pharisees’ purification rituals (e.g., the washing of hands, cleansing furniture, purifying lepers, etc.). We see this word used, for example, in Mark 7:4 and Luke 11:38 where Bible translators often translate it simply as “wash,” which is fine and accurate.

It is translated as “baptise” when referring to Jesus’ Baptism (Matthew 3:6, 13, 14, 16; etc.) and whenever Christian Baptism is being discussed (e.g., Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 36; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27; etc.). Interestingly, in Titus 3:5, with “the washing of regeneration,” Paul uses the noun λούτρον (loutron) that means “bath, washing” from the verb λούω (louo) meaning “to bathe/wash” to allude to Baptism. (Not to be confused with λύω [luo] that means “to free, loose.”)

There’s one time when the verb louo is used in conjunction with reference to Christ’s blood, for example, in Hebrews 10:19-22, so the Church Fathers were not entirely far off in interpreting the water and blood from Jesus’ side as representing the two Sacraments. Louo and loutron are more often used to refer to a general washing or bathing and are only used three times to allude to Baptism in Titus 3:5, Ephesians 5:26, and Hebrews 10:22.

For us too, then, being made clean requires blood and water. It required the blood and water of Christ. On the cross, Jesus accomplished this purification of sins for us, and in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, He delivers them to us. Jesus is so clean that instead of the bleeding woman’s uncleanness coming off on Him, as would be expected according to this law in Leviticus, His cleanness comes off on her (Matthew 9:18-22). Thus, with His Word in, with, and under the waters of Baptism, they become His water and He makes us clean. And in the Lord’s Supper we consume His pure, clean blood, washing us thoroughly in body and soul.

When you walk away from the Lord’s Table, therefore, you are made clean of the uncleanness you’ve put on yourself and even the dirty violations others have forced upon you.

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