What does the Bible say about purity?


Image by Bonita Suraputra on Flickr

In light of my previous post on Purity Culture, I want to delve a bit deeper into the subject and explore what the Bible really has to say about purity. Because it does have something to say, and what it says may surprise you.

The first surprising thing is how seldom the word “purity” appears in scripture. My Strong’s Concordance lists it as appearing only twice in the New Testament. Other scriptures (almost all in the Old Testament) instead speak of pureness, being purified, or purification. Notice that some of these words speak of purity as a process. It is not an initial state but, rather, a completed state.

Purity Culture, of course, promotes purity as an initial state. It also focuses solely on purity as chastity, or abstinence from sex outside of marriage. But that is only one meaning of the word “purity” in scripture. It more commonly refers to:

  1. Having been physically washed
  2. Being free from sin
  3. Showing complete faithfulness to God/shunning idolatry

In fact, the two New Testament scriptures that mention purity are virtually the only ones in the Bible that use “purity” to mean “chastity.” And those verses are 1 Timothy 4:12 and 1 Timothy 5:2:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. ~ 4:12

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. ~ 5:1-2

Notice the focus of these verses. Being chaste is not about “saving yourself” for a spouse, or having great married sex, or following some kind of approved formula. It’s about setting a godly example for others of a faithful and self-controlled Christian life.

The second verse is particularly interesting. Here, the Apostle Paul tells Timothy to treat the women in his community with purity, viewing them not as temptresses or potential mates, but as mothers and sisters. Get this: a man is telling a man to refrain from sexually objectifying women!

Here is what Paul is not doing. Paul is not lecturing Timothy on the dangers of short skirts. He is not fretting over “the state of godlessness” portrayed in women’s clothing. He is not telling Timothy how hard it will be to keep his thoughts and his eyeballs from undressing every woman in the room because “God wired you that way, and you can’t help it.” He simply lays out the guidelines for how Timothy should view the women under his ministry: as mothers and sisters, with absolute purity.

In this case, purity is not what a person is, but how a person treats others.

This is why pastors like Doug Wilson and Mark Driscoll continue to come under fire in the Christian community. When you’re calling women “small-breasted biddies” (in Wilson’s case) or “penis homes” (in Driscoll’s case), you’re not treating women with absolute purity. You’re doing the opposite. And that sets a terrible example to others both inside and outside of the Church.

Imagine how life would be different if we, as Christians, pledged to treat everyone with absolute purity–honoring the Imago Dei in every person we meet. How would that look to the cashier who checks your groceries? How would it look to your friends? What if we reminded ourselves of this “purity pledge” before debating a critic on social media? Or before making comments about another person’s body?

Would it change us? I think so.

I think it’s time for a new Purity Culture.

7 responses to “What does the Bible say about purity?

  1. Very well thought out post. Purity of the heart is the ultimate. It’s thecpurity that we should be striving for, even though we fail daily. This cuts gender, or anything else out of the equation. We are ALL in the same boat. That’s why Jesus came, died and rose again, to give EVERYBODY the chance to reconnect with God and gain a new heart; a pure heart. Are anyvof us ‘pure’ yet? No.

  2. Oh, April, if only all people would actually READ their Bibles and strive to understand the words and intent. Unfortunately, too many attempt to make Scripture conform to their own ideas and agendas. Amen to you for continuing to let the Spirit lead you in God’s Wisdom and Truth.

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