Sundays With St. Paul: Do We Still Need Torah?

With my spring semester at George Fox having finished this past week and my “Paul and the Law” class with it, I’ve been thinking a lot about Torah and how much it matters to us in modern day Christianity. Ever since the first few weeks of class, this question has been on my mind: Do we need Torah if we have Christ?

My first inclination is to jump to Romans 13:8-10[1], combine it with Romans 3:31[2], and make the conclusion that those who are in Christ and love as Christ has loved fulfill Torah, which means we would no longer need Torah for our faith in Christ. Yet, I know this cannot be true because 1. Paul either quotes Torah (understood here as a general reference to the Hebrew Bible) or at least references it as a foundation for teaching about Christ and 2. we would not be able to make much sense of Paul without a thorough study of the Hebrew Bible.

Furthermore, if we take 2 Tim. 3:16-17[3] as a reference (at least) to the Hebrew Bible (and if 2 Tim. has Pauline authenticity – or at least his stamp of approval), then it’s clear that Paul wanted those in Christ to utilize the teachings of Torah to build up the church. And even beyond that, there is much to be found within the Hebrew Bible that reveals the character of God (as is implicit within Paul’s letters).

I guess what I’m reacting against is the idea that since Christ has come the “old” way of studying Torah is no longer necessary. It’s an idea that I don’t think was ever taught to me explicitly, but certainly was by implication. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,”[4] is the general understanding behind the implicit idea. Yet does this truly apply to our modern day usage of Torah?

I’m not suggesting we turn back to Judaism, nor do I think Paul is suggesting such a thing (although I don’t think he initially saw a difference between Christianity and Judaism until much later in his life). I just think, after learning the world in which Paul lived and breathed and talked about Jesus, there is still significant value to Torah. And in my experience of 12 years of Christianity, I am finding very little – if any – focus on the Hebrew Scriptures. Until I had taken “Paul and the Law” with Kent Yinger, I feel as though I was missing out on so much within the Hebrew Bible.

In your studies, teaching, or life in general, do you give weight to the Hebrew Scriptures? Do you think there is still significance to the Hebrew Bible in and of itself? What are some of your experiences in coming to Torah with or without the Christ lens? Did you find something good or did you see something lacking?

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.


[1] “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
[2] “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
[3] “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
[4] 2 Cor. 5:17b, English Standard Version. I do not think Paul is talking about Torah practices in this passage, but I could be wrong.


Sundays With St. Paul: Nuances of “Law”…

For our discussion groups this week, we were asked to interact with the 16th chapter of Westerholm’s Perspectives Old and New on Paul.[1] In this chapter, Westerholm discusses five key aspects of Paul’s usage of “law” (“nomos” in Greek[2]): its meaning, and its relation to “works,” faith, legalism, and Torah. Our goal was to utilize these nuances to find what Paul really meant when he used “law” – whether it be something ambiguous or something precise.

Another part of the assignment was to categorize all of Paul’s references to “law” as to what he might have meant by the term (i.e. Pentateuch, Sinaitic Law, OT in general, etc.). Although time-consuming, I found the exercise helpful in seeing how fluid “law” actually is, as Paul uses it. For instance, when Paul says, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good,” in Romans 7:12, he means something else by “law” when he says, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good…” in 7:21.[3]

Westerholm’s discussion of “The Law and Legalism” was the particular part of the chapter I interacted with. Reacting to Cranfield’s claim that “what [Paul] really has in mind may be not the law itself but the misunderstanding and misuse of it for which we have a convenient term,”[4] Westerholm argues “the Greek language… provided, Paul’s vocabulary included, sufficient resources for indicating whether he was speaking of the law as intended by God or in the (allegedly) perverted form in which it was understood by Jews.”[5] Westerholm takes this into his next point: “that no such distinction is intended.”[6]

Overall, this is the part I interacted with the most. Paul’s lack of distinction doesn’t seem to indicate the words didn’t exist; it indicates he didn’t feel the need to separate them. Instead, he treats “law” as a single entity (almost always), but with various aspects that he highlights in order to make different points. It’s as though Paul had a box of crayons: sometimes he refers to the entire box; sometimes he refers to specific colors. We create problems for ourselves when we say that Paul was only talking about one color (i.e. legalism).

Now I know this might oversimplify the issue, but I think it points out how Paul did not seem to care which part of the law he was discussing; what mattered to him was how, in comparison to Christ, it was insufficient. Or as Westerholm puts it, “But – it must be emphasized – in Paul’s argument it is human deeds of any kind that cannot justify.”[7] It didn’t matter if it was the legalism crayon or the “Abraham is our father” crayon; the entire box is insufficient in comparison to Christ.

With that analogy exhausted, I think there might be one counterpoint to Westerholm’s statement about human deeds. In Romans 13:8, Paul says, “Own no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” I might be misunderstanding Paul here, but if what Westerholm says is true, that deeds cannot justify, then what do we make of loving one’s neighbor? And how does Christ play into all of this?

I’m not asking rhetorically; I’m asking because this was the one hang up I had in understanding Paul’s nuanced usage of “law.” If he treats the law as insufficient, which I think is a correct assessment of Romans, then how should we interpret Romans 13:8-10?

What do you think? Does Paul have one cohesive meaning of “law” or is it more ambiguous as I’ve suggested? And how might this alter our understanding of Paul’s Judaism – or the Judaism in Paul’s day?

[1] Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New On Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (Eerdmans, 2004), 297-340

[2] I have not studied Greek; this is second-hand information from my professor

[3] Emphasis mine

[4] C. E. B. Cranfield, “St. Paul and the Law,” Scottish Journal of Theology 17 (1964), 55, referring to the terms “legalism,” “legalist,” or “legalistic.”

[5] Westerholm, Perspectives, 331

[6] Westerholm, Perspectives, 331

[7] Westerholm, Perspectives, 333

Drinking the Water of Christ…

(This is the 3rd message of the Galatians series I’m doing for the high school group at Calvary Fellowship. However, no one showed up yesterday, so this will actually be next week’s message. I thought I’d post it anyway. Hope you enjoy!)

Although it seems really odd to us today, circumcision was a major part of Judaism in Paul’s time. It was a way to separate Jew from Gentile – Israelite from Greek. But what Paul often describes in his letters was how circumcision became a form of slavery in the spiritual sense.

“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek,” Galatians 2:3

This verse alludes to the heart of the issue: Embracing the freedom of the gospel or seek the acceptance of the dominant religious elite by keeping the traditions of old.

We touched on this the first week by talking about where we place identity; is it with those who seek the acceptance of society or with someone else? But this week we’re looking at what is truly liberating about the gospel of Jesus.

Judaism, especially ancient Judaism, is a rather legalistic religion. If you ever get a chance, just breeze through Leviticus 11-15 – I know, not a very exciting book to read, but these chapters describe the purity laws of Judaism. If you were a Jew, you held these laws no matter what. But at the time of Jesus and Paul there was another set of laws which the priests and religious elite held their fellow Jews to.

Even though it was written down a couple hundred years after Christ’s death, the Mishnah (which is a part of what’s called the Talmud) represents the kind of oral traditions that were prevalent in Jesus’ time. These oral laws were as equally authoritative in that time period as the rest of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

An example comes from Mark 2:23-28:

“One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’

And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?’

And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Notice the key word in this passage, “lawful.” Judaism in Jesus’ time had become a very systematic religion that was mostly void of any authentic faith in God. People were more concerned about keeping accordance with what their religious leaders were telling them than actually seeking out a personal relationship with God. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he had to deal with this problem head on.

The systematic nature of ancient Judaism is a nature that has permeated every religion of our day. Groups of leaders come together to set up these codes of conduct that they want all their followers to abide by. No doubt some have a good intent behind it; they want to make sure they’re obeying God rather than man. But what always gets overlooked is how their own commandments and laws become more authoritative than the commandments and laws of God. This was the issue with the Galatian churches; Jewish-Christians were coming forward appearing to believe in Jesus as their Messiah, but still clinging to the traditions of old – and requiring everyone else to do the same.

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” – Matthew 15:7-9 

What is the gospel? It is the good news that Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. These religious systems attempt to enable all followers to attain a certain level of spirituality by what they do. If they obey, then their lives are going to be great. If they don’t obey, then they’re lives are going to be hell. Paul’s words to the Galatians meant this: It is not by what you do or what you believe in; it is by whom you believe in that saves you – not just from hell or condemnation, but from the legalistic systems of this world.

Followers of the Way, which was a way of describing followers of Christ back in antiquity, were hated not because they were annoying people with funeral protests and Koran burnings; they annoyed people because they believed in Jesus – a God-man who broke their system to pieces.

Obviously the system still pervades in our day. We have countless books about systematic theology (the title alone should be a warning) and what Christians should believe. But Paul repeatedly argues that what we really need to believe in is the fact that we are loved so much by our God He died for us so we may live with Him in eternity.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” Galatians 1:3-4

This week’s encouragement is to think about why we show up to church. Is it because we’re trying to please that false god of religious legalism? Is it because we’re trying to fit in with the rest of the Christian crowd? Is it because we’re trying to look good to the elites of our society? Or is it because we thirst for something beyond the system?

“People who have been starved of water for a long time will drink anything, even if it is polluted,” NT Wright, Simply Christian

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” – Jesus, John 4:13-14

Which well are you drinking from?

Let Jesus Slap You in the Face…

I love theology. I love studying theology, talking about theology, and wrestling with challenging theological ideas. So much of my walk with God has revolved around theological topics. In fact, I’d say most of my college experience has been an intellectual growth with God. And yet, loving theology is risky.

It’s risky because you can study all of Scripture, know every single verse, and yet completely miss Jesus.

I’ve been reading through John’s Gospel the past couple of weeks and last night I noticed something in chapter 5. Normally I read Scripture to see what’s happening and what’s there. Only when I understand the context combined with the text do I then try to apply it to my life. But last night I read Jesus’ words as if they were addressed to me. I read it as if I was a Pharisee.

He has some harsh words for the religious elite in chapter 5: “[God’s] voice you have never heard, [God’s] form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you,” (vv. 37b-38a). Ouch. In Jesus’ day, telling the religious leaders that they do not know God would be like the popular pastors of our day being told they don’t really know God. It’s a verbal slap in the face, to say the least.

These leaders devoted their entire lives to the study, practice, and interpretation of the Torah, and yet they completely missed out on what’s most important: knowing and loving God.

It makes me pause a little; it makes me stop and think about where I’ve devoted most of my time and energy in my pursuit of God. All the books and blogs I read and all the sermons I watch are great, but am I neglecting the cultivation of a quality and genuine relationship with God? Am I instead feeding the inner Pharisee?

Even though many Christians do not appreciate the biblical scholars (especially the ones in those pesky “liberal” universities), I do. In fact, I’d have to say that it’s because of the Bible scholars that I’m so passionate about God. The world of biblical/theological studies has been a liberating world for me; it has shown me the beauty and freedom in seeking God without having to rely on man-made doctrines. I can truly love God with all my mind in the scholarly world. And yet, it’s crucial that I continue to view the scholarly world in this light; anything more and I might drift from Jesus.

A little later in John 5, Jesus says to the religious elite, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you,” (v. 42). In the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Jesus declares that loving God is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). In Matthew, He goes on to say that, along with loving others, the entire Law – all of the Torah – hinges upon loving God. In John 5:42, he blatantly tells the religious leaders that they do not have it, thereby telling them that they have forsaken the entire Law. All their piety was a waste.

Our thoughts, ideas, opinions, beliefs all matter to God and are all part of a major way in which we interact with Him. But it’s dangerous to let all those take the place of God; where knowing all the right doctrines, dogmas, and theologies is the most important thing. Verse 39 is Jesus’ most powerful message; “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”

Loving God and others is more important than loving theology. The warning I find in John 5 is that when they’re reversed – when I love theology or doctrines or whatever more than God and His people – I run the major risk of forsaking God altogether. If/When I reach that point I hope Jesus will slap me in the face.

Baptism Part 5: John the Baptist and Qumran…

Once again, I’ve taken a long break from this series (this time, two months), but I hope to finish them off by the end of this summer. If you haven’t read (or would like to re-read) any of the previous posts, here they are: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, & Part 4. Feel free to ask questions and/or make comments.

Comparisons between the Qumran Community and John the Baptist aren’t that difficult to make. Both were related with Jewish priests in a unique way; both seemed to have a large age-gap between parents and children; both were located in the wilderness (possibly very close to each other); both ministry’s were based on Isaiah 40:3; and both practiced – in a unique way – immersions (Ferguson, 87). And as I discussed in my papers, both believed that their practice of ritual immersion was a part of their ministry to usher in God’s eschatological kingdom.

What was different? Quite simple: Qumran’s immersions were repeatable whereas John’s were not. With Qumran, as we’ve seen, there were three categories of immersion: Initiation, renewal, and purification. But with John’s baptism, it was once and only once. And yet even beneath that surface-level difference, it appears to have meant something different to each, as well.

Qumran’s immersion was a way of entering and then re-aligning oneself in the pathway of God. John’s baptism, which eventually became the model for Christian baptism, was a foreshadowing of the baptism to come; a one and done practice wherein one would enter the kingdom of God without needing to be ritually immersed once more. And yet the book of Acts contains an instance where John’s baptism is explicitly superseded by the baptism into Christ, but I’ll save that for a later post.

Both Qumran and John the Baptist utilize immersion in a central way to their overall movements, but with different purposes attached. Qumran’s was an important pathway-check to make sure each member wasn’t only studying the Torah, but strictly retaining purity as well. With John, though, purity was given in one act, “For the forgiveness of sins,” as Mark indicates (1:4). Perhaps a good way of looking at the comparison (though definitely not a perfect way) is to think of a sports team’s tickets throughout the season. Either you can buy an individual ticket for every game or you can buy a season pass. That’s sort of what the differences look like.

Yet it’s crucial to emphasize that both John and Qumran were intensely focused on genuine repentance. Neither would view the act of baptism as the redeeming factor; one’s heart and mind must be authentically in a repentant state. And it also wasn’t as if you could simply get baptized with a repentant heart and have that be the end of it. In both movements, following God’s commandments was an additional, crucial element to ushering in God’s kingdom.

Christian baptism followed John’s model of a one-time immersion, but added a major element with a major difference as to what was happening. It’s clear to me that both Qumran and John the Baptist believed something extreme was changing in their worlds and that they were playing a major role – especially within their immersion practices. And yet, Qumran thought that God’s kingdom would arrive through their movement – within their community. John believed that he was merely preparing the way for the One, Jesus.

In the next several posts, we’ll see how baptism is portrayed in the Gospels, NT letters, and even some non-canonical texts that discuss baptism’s role. In addition to all of that, the history of baptism in the pagan community stands out as something that the Christian baptism needed to distinguish itself from. And so we’ll look at the elements of Greco-Roman immersion.

Dancing Through the Day to Day…

Like Harold Camping, I had a failed prediction this weekend. On Tuesday I talked about “breathing deeply” on Sunday morning – this morning. But when I woke up, my sinuses were clogged and my asthma had kicked in; my allergy season as finally set in. I didn’t do much deep breathing this morning; I had to take what I could get.

In all seriousness, though, I’ve been thinking about what happens now after Camping’s second failed prediction. Is he thinking, “Third times the charm,” or is has his faith in God been rattled, if not destroyed altogether? Groups like the one Camping has led are terribly destructive; psychologically, spiritually, and even pragmatically. There was one man who had spent his entire life savings of $140,000 to pay for more advertising with May 21st. How’s he feeling this morning? That’s where my concern is now. What about Camping’s victims – even Camping himself?

My hope is that this weekend brought about the spiritual slap in the face they needed – as we all need from time to time. What I mean by this is that there is the human inclination, the human tendency, to slip into a pattern of piety and ritual; where we take the “simplicity” of the faith to the extreme – so much so that we hinder ourselves from experiencing the heart of God. Removing ourselves from this form of religion can be devastating to our faith. But if we’re spiritually slapped in the faith – rebuked in such a way that we’re compelled to step back and reevaluate everything – we begin to realize it wasn’t our faith that was devastated; it was our understanding of our faith.

Harold Camping and I believe in the proclamations of Scripture, that Jesus Christ is the crucified and yet risen Lord, and that He will one day return to make things right. What separates us, though, is how we understand these beliefs. What my hope today is that Camping is realizing the Bible can’t be a tool by which he gains national and international attention because of his deductive calculations. I hope he is beginning to realize that Jesus is more about grace than He is about wrath and condemnation. And I hope he has seen quite clearly that no one will ever genuinely come to believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit by fear and intimidation.

I hope the same exact thing for all his followers. I hope that their eyes would be opened as well as their minds and hearts to the real Jesus; the Jesus that is leading and guiding us in the Way to true life. Does it mean being ready for when He comes? Yes, but this is far from the focal point. What is? This morning, breaking from my routine of Proverbs in the morning and Psalms in the evening, I read Psalm 19. As usual, my mind wasn’t really engaging the text until I came to verse 14: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

I love the depth to this verse; that it isn’t about any outward show, but an inward intent. And from here I went back through the Psalm to see just what was defined as “acceptable,” or, as the NIV has it, “pleasing” to God. What I found aligns with what Jesus says in Luke 11:28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

In Psalm 19, there is a long passage discussing the laws, rules, fear, precepts, and commandments of God and also the effect of all these:

“The law of the LORD is perfect (or blameless),

reviving the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure,

making wise the simple;

the precepts of the LORD are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is prue,

enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the LORD is clean,

enduring forever;

the rules of the LORD are true,

and righteous altogether.” – vv. 7-9

Jesus wants us to live out the law of God not because He wants our habitual devotion, our aggressive advertising, or our surface-level piety; He wants us to live it out so that He can give us something – true life.

The law of God revives the soul, makes the simple wise, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, and is true and righteous altogether. Jesus wants us to follow this law in order to receive that which He wants to give us. We fail in receiving it when we apply our man-made philosophies of religion back onto the way, law, and heart of God.

God’s kingdom did not arrive yesterday. Why not? Because it’s already here. In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Jesus’ resurrection, as NT Wright says, inaugurated God’s kingdom making its invasion on the earth. In this pit of darkness a light is beginning to break through. We can choose to be a part of this light – a part of this Life – if we simply enact the heart of God in the day to day.

Harold Camping failed to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence in his own Bible that God is not in some distant galaxy waiting for one specific moment, one specific date, one specific hour to make His landing; He’s already here. He’s already within us. And if we love God and love others as Jesus commanded, we will experience that kingdom; we will feel Him at work within us. Future is not something we are supposed to just dream about and not strive for; it’s something we can choose to live today.

I hope and pray that Camping and all of his followers begin to see this reality – even if it means forsaking all of what they formerly believed to be true.

And may we all take part in this dance that is the Kingdom of God.

God bless.

Baptism Part 4: Common Judaism and Qumran…

After a month-long hiatus from baptism postings, I’ve decided to start them up again. Below is a condensed version of the second section of my Dead Sea Scrolls paper on ritual immersion. This is a long read, so I recommend you take it bit by bit. And as always, feel free to ask questions. Enjoy!

P.S. In case you haven’t yet read the other posts, here they are: Introduction, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Below is Part Four and I’d recommend reading it a while before and/or after lunch… Just sayin’…

In order to see just how different the immersion practices at Qumran were, we must first understand the context surrounding the Dead Sea sectarians. During this time period (referred to as the “Second Temple time period” or “Second Temple Judaism,” which dates roughly from the 6th c. BC to the 1st c. AD), there was a great diversity of Jewish groups in and around Jerusalem and yet, there was something held in common. E.P. Sanders, a prominent figure in this field, calls this “Common Judaism.” To him, it was an era in which ordinary Jews “worked at their jobs, they believed the Bible, they carried out the small routines and celebrations of the religion, they prayed every day, thanked God for his blessings, and on the Sabbath went to the synagogue, asked teachers questions, and listened respectfully,” (Practice and Belief, 494).

A better way to understand Sanders’ words is to depict a group sitting around a camp fire. These people, all Jews, are from all over the Roman Empire sitting at this one camp fire. What Common Judaism asks is: Could there be common ground found amongst these Jews – even though they grew up in very different parts of the Empire? Or, specifically dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls, could a regular Jew come across the practices at Qumran and understand what was going on? We come to find out that the existence of the Qumran sectarian depended upon a common understanding of Judaism.

To help outline what seemed to be common in regards to purity laws, I follow an outline given by Hannah K. Harrington in her book, The Purity Texts. Calling them the “Levels of Impurity,” she gives three main points: sources, contagion, and purification. Following these three points, we’ll see how the Yahad (“community”) distinguished themselves from “Common Judaism” in their ritual purification practices.


Although not a very popular read, Leviticus 11-15 outlines the main purity laws, which Jews in the Second Temple period made an emphasis to follow. From this section alone, we also see three main sources of impurity; death, leprosy, and bodily discharges. Sources of impurity at Qumran, however, have two more; excrement and outsiders. Rabbinic Jews regarded excrement as indecent (Deut. 23:12-14), but it wasn’t technically a source of impurity. Likewise for the treatment of outsiders; the Torah does not explicitly state that outsiders are impure, but as we shall see in certain scrolls, they certainly were treated as impure at Qumran.


Three major passages within the Hebrew Bible that highlight the indecency of excrement are; Deut. 23:12-14, Ezek. 4:12-14, and Zech. 3:3-4. It is likely these passages inspired the Qumran sectarians to regard excrement as impure, but what’s necessary here is the tone each of these sets. Deuteronomy requires Israelites to relieve themselves outside the war camp because God was present amongst the camp; excrement would be “indecent” in the eyes of God (v. 14). Ezekiel was commanded by God to eat bread baked on human dung, which repulsed Ezekiel on the grounds that his mouth had never been defiled. In Zechariah’s example, Joshua is standing before the Lord in a “filthy” garment and is changed into a clean one. It isn’t surprising for a common Jew to regard excrement as indecent, but the Community at Qumran went a step further.

Following the example from Deuteronomy, the Yahad had an area outside their camp designated for relieving oneself – and the only place to do so. And with a miqveh located at the entryway to the camp grounds, one who needed to relieve himself would go through the ritual purification process to re-enter back into the community, which seems to follow Zechariah’s story. Harrington says this designated area was located no closer than 4500 feet from the camp. Not only is that a long walk, but on Sabbaths, one could not walk more than 3500 feet (4Q265: 7), which means no one relieved themselves on the Sabbath (that’s when I’d stop being part of the Yahad, I think).


According to the Torah, Gentiles were allowed to live amongst the Israelites, but the daughters descending from Canaan were forbidden as wives to the Israelites. This was not for the sake of purity, but rather the belief that Canaan’s daughters were thought to persuade the sons of Israel into idolatry. This is possibly the influence for the Qumran Community to regard all Gentiles as inherently impure. The Damascus Document says that no member of the Community could send a Gentile to do his business on the Sabbath (11:2); spend the Sabbath near pagans (11:14); or sell animals, slaves or produce to Gentiles (12:8-11). And yet, as Harrington carefully points out, “Jews [were still] admonished by the Scrolls not to treat Gentiles unfairly so as not to give them a reason to blaspheme the God of Israel (12:6-8),” (Purity Texts, 114).

With two additional sources to the original list, the Scrolls indicate that the Qumran sectarians had a sort of “better safe than sorry” theme in their day-to-day conduct. An example that might shed a little light onto what this might have looked like comes from Luke 11: 37-38; “While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And yet, the Qumran sectarians weren’t about sheer avoidance from impurity; there was a purpose, a direction they had within all of it.


In regards to ritual purity, contagions are not the same as sources. According to the Leviticus chapters on purity laws, sources rendered one impure while contagions were whatever that impure person touched or came into contact with in that state of impurity. If someone had come into contact with death, they would be considered impure as well as everything they touched (clothes, household objects, other people, etc.). In Common Judaism, a dead man’s house was considered impure along with everything in it – except for sealed containers (i.e. food or wine). But at Qumran, such a qualification did not matter; sealed or not sealed, if it was in the man or woman’s house, it was impure.

Along with a more extreme treatment of contagious objects and items, the Temple Scroll indicates certain camps designed to house the impure; “And in every city you will make places for those afflicted with skin disease, plague, or a scall who are not to enter you[r] cities and defile them,” (11Q19 48:14-15a). Ian Werrett says these quarantine camps would include “those with skin diseases, bodily discharges, women who were menstruating, and those who had recently given birth,” (Ritual Purity and the DSS, 153-154). The hemorrhaging woman in the Synoptic Gospels, if a part of the Essenes, would never have been healed; she would never have been allowed to leave her quarantined spot.


As was already indicated in Part Three, repentance would make or break the sectarian’s experience and pursuit of purity. In many ways, it was the added element that truly enabled one to enter the “highway” preparing the entrance for God into the world. To the Qumran Community, ritual purity was not a system to be worked; it was a lifestyle to be lived. It was a gradual alteration of identity hinged upon one’s repentant heart and mind. As some scholars have speculated, the group at Qumran was out in the wilderness partially due to what they believed as the erroneous treatment of the Temple by the chief priests and “seekers of smooth things,” which was a rhetorical way of referring to the Pharisees (4Q169). Practicing ritual purification intertwined with a repentant heart and mind was everything to the Community at Qumran. As Harrington says, “[W]ithout repentance, immersion was meaningless,” (Purity Texts, 23).

Here is where we begin to see the similarities within Qumran’s literature and the personality of John the Baptist – as depicted in all the Gospels. I’ll save this comparison for the next post on baptism, but what’s important here is the emphasis on the necessity of a repentant mindset and state of heart before ritual immersion could affect anything in a person’s purity. Unlike the Rabbinic Jews, who sought to “interpret the gaps in Scripture [in order to create] a workable system,” the Qumran community saw purity as more than a system; it was the pathway to God’s kingdom (Harrington, Impurity Systems, 115). And this pathway required an “upright and humble condition of the heart during immersion,” (Pfann, 2).