Leviticus 12: Why would women be unclean for 7 days after giving birth to a boy, and two weeks after giving birth to a girl?

(Dave Kenny) #21

hi @evewp.

I see you circling around the Holiness/Purity code a bit here. I have found that for me personally, it is wise to lock as much of the Levitical code as tightly as possible into its ancient context. Extrapolating it forward into present day application is extremely difficult as this was an explicitly ancient Israel bound set of laws for a very specific time and a very specific people in history.

All that being said as a qualifier… I have found the Jewish theological concept of Holiness to be very fruitful for my Christian walk. The attached document is a 2 page excursus from the JPS Torah commentary series. This is explicitly Jewish. The closing paragraph is most helpful for me theologically. The Christian understanding of the Consummation is embedded here:

Holiness Excursus - Baruch Levine.pdf (1.0 MB)

The next document that I’ve uploaded here is a further expression of the Jewish concept of holiness, except from the perspective of a Jewish-Christian Rabbi.

Holiness - Kinzer.docx (162.8 KB)

My perspective is less juridical (strict legal definitions of what is and is not unclean) and more theological (what the God infused purposes of these rules were for these people in these times).

With this perspective of Holiness, we begin to see that the Leviticus document is not really a document that is attempting to assign value to people (per se)… but it appears to assign tremendous value to God and that God assigns tremendous value to being able to abide with us… so He makes a way.

My reading of Leviticus in its context leads me to resist the urge to nail down a juridical definition of clean/unclean people, and move more towards God as Holy and humankind as inherently Not Holy, but that because God desires intimate personal relationship with us he provides a way in which we may be MADE HOLY for the relationships sake… This provides a nice bridge for us into New Testament language of holiness.

I hope you enjoy the attachments… they have shed great light on the topic of Holiness for me.


(Eve) #22

Thanks. I will chew on this for a bit.

(Eve) #23

Thanks, I have just got hold of the book. So hopefully I will find some understanding there.

(Jimmy Sellers) #24

Great. Will look forward to your thoughts.

(Jolene Laughlin) #25

@Jennifer_Judson - I’m so sorry that the experience you had with marriage was pain-filled. I appreciate your response, and you are right in that all of the issues take a back seat when we, of both genders, are in total submission to Christ. Things gets a little sticky though, when people become dogmatic about what being in total submission to Christ looks like.

I am not an expert on the original languages of the Bible and cannot speak from that respect, to the accuracy of the translation of Genesis 3:16. My own marriage has certainly had its share of ups and downs and failures and growths, and I am no expert on that subject either. But I do think that the way we view the curse, and the way it’s worded here, have real-life implications today. We can shrug our shoulders and say “I don’t know why it happened. It just did. It just was. It just is.” But what we think about it, and the way we teach about it, affect us on all levels - from how we see ourselves as children of God, to the way we operate our homes and raise our families, to the way we structure our communities, and ultimately, the way we address these issues on a national level.

I don’t disagree that “wanting our own way” is a universal human failing - men and women are guilty of this, from birth on, and we each instinctively use our innate (and sinful) skills and abilities, physical force or emotional manipulation, for example, to get what we want. But the point is that this is sinful, regardless of who does it. Men are not justified in always having the final say - ultimately pulling the “headship” card - to get what they want, or in thinking that their “own way” somehow equates more closely to God’s will than a woman’s “own way” for the simple reason that they are male. Females should not simply “be quiet and submit” and allow men unquestioned power as they march toward destruction because they are the ones with the greater responsibility before God. And this is the message that is transmitted when we teach that the Bible gives men absolute, final say because they have a divine commission to be the rulers, or as you phrase it, more responsibility before God. Injustice and wrongdoing should be addressed by those who can address it, regardless of who, or when, or where.

If Genesis 3:16 tells men that their wives will desire to dominate them and that they must subdue, or rule over her (because this interpretation pairs the wording used in chapter 4, when God tells Cain that sin will crouch at the door and desire him, and he must rule over it) it prescribes an atmosphere of enmity within the marital relationship. This understanding of the text implies that women will strive against men as part of the curse, and men’s ordained role is to subdue her, conquer her, and rule over her. In this interpretation, a man dominating his wife is a God-ordained mandate.

In the other interpretation - where the curse states that women will desire, or long for, their husband, but he will instead be inclined to rule over her, we have an explanation for the way things are in the world today, and a warning that the curse will result in loneliness and suffering for both parties. It is also something that we, as Christians working to roll back the curse and help grow the kingdom of God, can feel free to battle against. We can support and work toward unity and oneness in our marriages, because Jesus conquered sin and the curse and we are not entirely in bondage to it any longer. In other words, we can stop teaching that women are by nature inclined to rise up and usurp authority over men and that men, in return, have been given a divine calling to dominate and conquer these troublesome women. We are free to teach mutual submission and to esteem each better than ourselves.

To me, the second view lines up better with both the character of God and with reality and human nature as we know it. Most women naturally delve into the deeper waters of emotions and relationship on a regular basis. Men tend to draw back from the messy depths and are not worried much about emotions, emotional health, and relationships. Studies indicate this, cultural jokes indicate this, entire seasons of sit coms in the US have been successful due to their portrayal (and mis-portrayal) of this common source of conflict and lack of understanding regarding emotional dynamics between men and women (A silly, but telling example:http://weknowmemes.com/2011/10/his-her-diary-on-the-same-day/ ). And this all applies even before we mention the dynamics of sexual intimacy in marriage, and the problems created in the relationship because of vastly different expectations and hopes in that area as well. I agree that both men and women want to be loved unconditionally, wholly, and fully - but their understanding of what that kind of love looks like is often quite different.

When we look at the differences in men and women in the world at large - beyond the realm of Christianity, the problem is even more pronounced. The common cry from women is that "he only sees me as my body - my thoughts, my mind, my identity as a person don’t matter. " For example, look at the vulgar jokes and crude language that dominates “shop talk” - anywhere men congregate and women are not typically present. Look at the culture-wide objectification of the female body; consider the pornography that nearly always includes acts that are specifically humiliating, degrading, and dehumanizing to the women involved. Prostitution, sex trafficking, domestic violence. In almost all of these cases, the victims are largely women and girls, (boys, men, and transgender people are also victims, but at a much lower percentage than girls and women). And in many cases of abuse and prostitution - the women being used won’t leave, or press charges, or defend themselves, because they “love” their traffickers and abusers. Women are not, in general, “using” the men in the same way that the men are using them. I don’t think men need encouragement to resist, rule, or dominate women. I think Genesis 3:16 is very descriptive and provides a perfect explanation for why this is so. I maintain that this is what the curse refers to.

You are the second person I’ve spoken to about this who said that they have seen (or counseled) people in marriages where the woman desires to control her husband. And while I can think of a few scenarios where this could be the case, I am curious as to what it looks like in practice. I don’t count “wanting to get my own way” as a desire to dominate or rule over another person. Nagging a spouse to take out the trash or wash a load of clothes is not demonstrating a desire to “rule over them.” A woman throwing a temper tantrum because her husband says they can’t afford a certain piece of furniture isn’t doing so because she is, by nature, slated to be “contrary” to her husband. This indicates childishness, immaturity, selfishness, for sure. But I don’t see those things as a power move to usurp authority and challenge the husband’s place.

I have also seen angry, resentful, bitter women who tear their husbands down, nag at them, and berate them, but I can’t think of one who was doing it to dominate, humiliate, or conquer her husband. In almost all cases, when I talk to those women, it boils down to resentment and hurt because he is not being the leader she thought, or hoped, or expected him to be. She is not “dominating” him out of a lust for power - she is angry and resentful at not being valued, cherished, or heard, and she is either retaliating and trying to hurt him back, or she is trying to push him toward being that person. What she says most often is one of these: He doesn’t hear me when I try to talk to him. He isn’t present with me. He doesn’t care about me. I chase kids around the house all day, and he comes home and locks himself in the den to watch t.v., leaving me to make dinner with kids everywhere. He loves work more than he loves me. He respects his friends opinions more than he does mine. She is “longing for her husband” - perhaps in a very ungodly way, and surely her responses are also sinful - but it’s a far cry from wanting to usurp his authority.

This is a hard topic to address, and is a bit of a rabbit trail from the original post, and I apologize for that. I appreciate the conversation and want to say that what I have written is not meant to be offensive or inflammatory, or pointed at any of the men in this forum. I have been extremely grateful for the richness of the material linked and presented here (and in the new topic that was started for that purpose). Thank you all for the compassion and understanding that you have demonstrated in addressing the concerns and questions about our (women’s) value in the eyes of God. I have, more than once, found myself reading your comments with tears in my eyes, thankful for godly men who can see the great uncertainty and hurt that lurks at the heart of these difficult questions.

(Jennifer Judson) #26

I’ve started a new topic specifically on Genesis 3:16. Thought that might be helpful as this thread is getting long.

(Eve) #27

Phew! Loving following the flow here. Thank you!

(Sanchia_J) #28

I have been asking this EXACT question for years, coupled with: In the garden of Eden, at the time of the fall, Eve was deceived, yet she was cursed. Adam was not deceived, he knew what he was doing, yet the ground was cursed for his sake. Why was he spared!?!?

I understand that Galatians says: That there is no male nor female and that we are all one in Christ, and I understand that God uses/used women in significant points in history to fulfill his work on earth, yet I can’t help but feel short-changed, almost as if God doesn’t like women and is being a bit passive-aggressive about it. I know that God does love me, but I have to admit seeing the double standards in the Bible does hurt a bit. :confused:

(SeanO) #29

@ClairDeLune That is a great point - it does seem unfair that the woman should be cursed bodily while it is only the man’s livelihood that is cursed (granted, they both now will die ultimately). But the truth is that this passage is notoriously difficult to interpret and anyone who says otherwise, in my opinion, is not being honest and is expressing bias. The first question that has to be asked is, “Does Eve’s curse apply to all woman for the rest of time or is it specific to Eve?” After answering that question, there are a number of ways of understanding the words spoken against Eve:

1 - Eve will have physical pain in child bearing
2 - Eve will have sorrow in bearing children because they will be born into such a broken world
3 - Eve will struggle with conception (full argument below)

Now, there are a few things that make the physical pain argument confusing - such as the fact that not all women experience extreme physical pain in childbearing. Below are articles and thoughts on this topic - hopefully they provide some good food for thought. I do not think there is an easy answer here and I believe that this is one verse where we should be willing to consider various options.

I hope that these articles offer you some perspective. May the Lord Jesus grant you wisdom as you study. The first people God allowed to be His witnesses of the resurrection were women, so it is inconsistent with the heart of God that He would unfairly single women out in this passage.

The Seeming Unfairness of It

The following article makes a slightly different point than the one we are discussing regarding child bearing, but has a very amusing poem that highlights the seeming unfairness in this curse. This article points out that when God talks about the man dominating the woman, it is a description of what would happen and not a command.

God said to man, “The earth will bring forth thistles.” Man replied, “I’ll weed them out. I’ll develop weed killers and make my garden a paradise.”

God said to man, “You will work by the sweat of your brow.” Man replied, “I’ll invent tools that will make my work easier: the plow, the hoe, the tiller and the John Deere tractor.”

God said to woman, “You will have pain in childbirth.” Man responded, “Yea, so be it, let her suffer so my quiver can be full. It is God’s will. My work was made hard because of her.”

God said to woman, “Your husband will rule over you.” Man responded, “Of course that’s the way it should be. I am to be her master. I was created first.”

And woman bowed her head and said, “I am indeed under a curse.”

Katherine Bushnell’s Argument

Katherine Bushnell was a strong Christian woman who stood up for the rights of women struggling in prostitution and a good many other causes - she also knew multiple languages, including Hebrew and Greek.

"It must, then, impress reasoning minds that the interpretation of Genesis 3:16 has had a history something like this: Men of old found a phrase here that seemed to have to do with woman’s relation to her husband, but it was beyond their comprehension. Unconsciously these men of olden time have consulted their own ideas of what a wife should be, in her relation to her husband, and inserted those ideas into their interpretation. The interpretation has been accepted by other men, without challenge, because it conformed to their unsanctified wishes, and handed on from generation to generation, until it became weighty through “tradition.” No effort, scarcely, has been put forth to reconcile such teachings with the spirit of Jesus Christ. A letter, relating to the passage, has come to me, during the preparation of these Lessons, from an eminent Bible scholar, to whom I suggested the need of a better interpretation. He replies: “I should hardly have thought a correction of the text was either called for or probable.” Of course, our proposal had never been to amend the text, as he well knew, but the interpretation and translation. Prejudice blinds men, even in their treatment of the Word of God, if a faulty rendering coincides with their preconceptions.

The Bible nowhere uses such an expression as “the curse” regarding women. We get the teaching about the woman’s “curse” wholly through tradition. Pain is invariably an outcry of God’s natural law against abuse; and pain must be contrary to God’s will. This is as true regarding the pain of childbirth as it is regarding any other sort of pain. If this were a lesson in Physiology, we could abundantly account for such suffering as some women endure periodically and in childbirth, quite apart from the fiction that God Himself inflicts such pain upon women. Woman suffers in childbirth more than any other female animal, because other female animals protect themselves (by the only proper means, of course), from all possibility of becoming mothers excepting at suitable seasons; they will not brook tyranny in such a matter."


Interpreting it As Barrenness

I stumbled across this article in JSTOR that I had not read before and I found it very interesting. We see throughout Genesis that the women were constantly worried about having children because that gave them value in ancient culture. So, it would make sense that if Adam was cursed in regards to his livelihood the woman may struggle to conceive, since in ancient culture this would make their curse nearly equivalent perhaps?

“Translators have rendered Eve’s curse in Gen 3:16a in various ways. Taking into account lexical, syntactical, and rhetorical considerations, we propose that the phrase עצבונך והרנך should be translated “your sorrowful conceptions.” Yhwh’s curse on Eve, therefore, was an increase in the rate of barrenness and infertility, and the emotional turmoil that engendered. As a result of the curse, Yhwh makes a descriptive (not prescriptive) observation that Eve would “desire” (תשׁוקה) her husband to help remove the stigma of the curse—something the man would seek to exploit. Syntactically, interpreting Eve’s curse as the emotional anguish that accompanies infertility and barrenness parallels Adam’s emotional toil over the now-cursed and unproductive earth. Rhetorically, the curse of infertility may explain why the author(s) of Genesis chose to include the motif of matriarchal barrenness as well as the “barrenness” of the land (famine) with which the Patriarchs had to contend.”


(Sanchia_J) #30

Thank you. This is quite comprehensive, detailed, and very illuminating. :slight_smile:

(SeanO) #31

@ClairDeLune Glad it was hepful :slight_smile:

(Sarah Abigail Kuriakos) #32

Hi @evewp:

I know I’m answering this question almost a full year after you asked it, but in reviewing the previous answers, I didn’t find a response that said what I’m about to say, though I may have missed it, given that I didn’t read every single word of every response; I browsed and glanced. So here goes…

In the Bible Elective, Jo Vitale gave a lecture called “Outrageous-Sounding Laws In the Old Testament”, and this law was one of them. Per the lecture notes, the birth of a son required one cleansing cycle, and the birth of a daughter required two cleansing cycles.

It turns out the reason is because female babies frequently bleed a small amount, up to two or three days after birth, almost like a mini-menstrual cycle, due to the female hormones she’s exposed to while she’s in her mother’s womb.

So the first cleansing cycle was for the mother, and the second one was for the daughter.

I had no idea this happened until I took this elective! Isn’t God amazing?

I hope this helps.

(Sanchia_J) #33

That actually makes a lot of sense! Thanks. :slight_smile:

(Sarah Abigail Kuriakos) #34

It made sense to me too. The Bible Elective was one of the best courses I’ve ever taken for a lot of reasons, and this lecture was one of them.

I’m glad it helped! You’re welcome!