Reading Leviticus 12 with Genesis 1-3 — Pulling Apart Leviticus 12

Next up in our examination of Leviticus 12 is the question, “Is childbirth itself sinful?” I’ve already pointed out that the text seems to indicate that it is the blood that renders the woman unclean, not necessarily the act of childbirth. Indeed, the text is silent as to whether the child is considered unclean at birth. This is in contrast to records from the Hittite culture, for example, that specifically state that a child is rendered unclean through the act of childbirth. (See Jacob Milgrom’s commentary on Leviticus, Anchor Bible, 750).

But, some Christian scholars do indeed see the child as being born unclean. Nobuyoshi Kiuchi in his commentary on Leviticus (in the Apollos Old Testament Commentary series) argues that the ritual separation and atoning sacrifice cover not just the mother but also the child. (We’ll look at this a bit more, when we talk about Leviticus 12 and Luke 2:22 in a later post).

To start to answer the question above, we need to spend some time going back to the beginning. In Genesis 1:28 God commands the first humans to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Procreation appears to be part of the original design for humanity, even before the Fall.

Of course, the question is raised: to whom does this command ‘be fruitful’ apply? Rabbis in Second Temple Judaism believed that the command applied only to the men because the whole command is to be fruitful, multiply and subdue, and it is only the job of men to subdue the earth. (see Tal Ilan, Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Palestine, 107).

Would lochia bleeding have been part of the original design of childbirth? If, as most scholars argue, the lochia bleeding is best compared to semen, rather than bleeding in general (see previous posts), than I would suggest that post-partum bleeding could be seen as part of the original design of procreation, as there is nothing to suggest that before the Fall, insemination would have occurred by any other method than semen emission.

Of course, we also need to take into consideration the curse in Genesis 3. Here, the woman is told that because of her sin, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.” (Gen 3:16). Pain will be increased, and yet there is still the hope of childbirth. Indeed, the serpent will be defeated by Eve’s offspring, and while we as Christians tend to see this as Messianic, it also has a non-messianic element. For every child born, the continuation of the human race is guaranteed. The serpent does not ultimately win.

And as we read the entire book of Genesis we see this dramatic tension over and over again. Is humanity doomed to extinction after Cain kills Abel? (No, God gives Adam and Eve another son, Seth). Is the promise to Abraham doomed? (No, God eventually gives Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac). God does not condemn childbirth when he pronounces curses in Genesis 3, and indeed the command to “be fruitful and multiply” is repeated several times in Genesis (Gen 9:1; 9:7; 35:11).

Next up: The Need for Atonement