Interacting with Luke 2:22-24 — Pulling Apart Leviticus 12

How do we understand Leviticus 12 in light of the New Testament? First, it is important that we look at Luke 2:22-24. Here, Mary fulfills the obligations of the Law by presenting herself at the Temple and offering the sacrifices as prescribed. In this case, she offers a pair of doves, suggesting that Mary and Joseph were poor. The dove offering was for those who could not afford the lamb offering (Lev 12:8).

But what does this mean? How could Jesus be born into such an unclean state? Or, if we hold that childbirth is in itself sinful (see earlier post for that discussion), how could Jesus, who is sinless, be brought into the world through sin?

Indeed, the Church has come up with all kinds of creative ways around this supposed problem. (I, for one, don’t have a problem with the idea that Jesus descended into the muck and mire of human brokenness. It does not, in my understanding, pollute or compromise Jesus’ sinlessness).

For example, in order to protect Jesus’ divinity, his sinlessness and his perfection, it has been suggested that Mary was herself sinless.

If this is the case, then we get teachings such as she didn’t actually experience lochia bleeding after the birth of Jesus. Mary’s presention of an offering at the Temple was not to render her clean, but to “keep up appearances.” This lack of lochia bleeding would suggest then, that lochia bleeding is part of the Fall, and not part of the original design of childbirth.

If, Jesus’ sinlessness and perfection means that he cannot cause another person to enter into a state of sin, then it has been suggested that immediately after the birth, Mary’s womb was closed by the Holy Spirit so that she did not become unclean because of Jesus.

Origen taught that Mary did not experience lochia bleeding and the resulting uncleanness, because she was a virgin, and as such she really didn’t need to offer a sacrifice of atonement. How having sexual relations would impact the mechanics of labour and delivery and thus, lochia bleeding is beyond me. Indeed, what would he say about menstrual bleeding, since it happens to women independent of their sexual activity. (This, of course, is outside the realm of this current blog post, but Origen’s Homilies on Leviticus make for a fascinating read).

Next up: Some Concluding Thoughts.

  • http://politicaljesus.wordpress.com/ Rod of Alexandria

    Poor Origen, need I say more? lols

  • http://robertcargill.com robert cargill

    is ritual impurity the same as sin in the second temple jewish mind? did a man enter a miqveh because he was ritually impure, or because he had sinned?

  • http://cdntheologianscholar.wordpress.com Amanda

    Well, that’s the question. Jacob Milgrom points to a Rabbi Simeon and says that he’s the only “sage” who sees the sin offering as a way to cleanse her sin. That being said, Rabbi Simeon does not see procreation as the reason for a woman’s sin, but instead suggests that her sin is that she ends up uttering a rash oath in labour, one that she doesn’t actually intend to keep! (I leave it up to your imagination what kinds of rash oaths a woman might decree after being in labor twenty hours!)

    Baruch Levine in his commentary on Leviticus (JPS Torah Commentary) suggests that the line between sin and impurity was hard to distinguish. He writes, “In man’s relation to God, all sinfulness produced impurity. All impurity, however contracted, could lead to sinfulness if not attended to, and failure to deal properly with impurity aroused God’s anger.” (pg. 74)

    I talk about the issue of atonement and sin, very briefly here: http://cdntheologianscholar.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/the-need-for-atonement-pulling-apart-leviticus-12/

  • http://cdntheologianscholar.wordpress.com Amanda

    Rod,
    I get a kick out of reading Origen. I am regularly confronted with ‘What the Heck?’ moments!