Clean or Unclean

Psalm 12.6

      The words of YAHWEH
            are undefiled words,
          silver refined with fire
          in a furnace of earth,
          purified seven times. 

There are many references in Scripture to the clean and the unclean, 
and to the pure and the impure. But most people don't understand 
the significance of these terms in regard to the teachings of Scripture. 
They're lost in the fog of "washing-vs-not washing", etc. 

However, there is indeed great significance attached to these terms. 
They do not, in most cases, refer to physical cleanliness. They refer most often to moral cleanliness - or the lack thereof. 

They range from the concept of being “pure” to that of being "filthy”. 

There are multiple variations related to the nuances of a particular concept, but at the heart of all this are some very foundational concepts. When understood from this perspective the terms take on a different connotation. 

Clean (in all its various forms) actually refers to a state of "undefilement”. 
Unclean (in all its various forms) actually refers to a state of "defilement”. 

Scripturally defilement, or, in its absence, undefilement, has to do with one's status in relationship to YAHWEH
The Elohim (God) of Scripture. If one is
defiled they're seen as “contaminated” - typically the result of following the ways of the world. If they are undefiled, however, they are seen as “uncontaminated” -typically the result of following the ways of YAHWEH

We need to remember that no one with a significant defect was allowed into YAHWEH's presence (The Tabernacle or The Temple - His "dwelling place”). A defect was also viewed as a defilement. With It one was not "pure", i.e., "uncontaminated”. This included one who was "damaged" (broken bones, etc.) as well as one that was "defective" from birth. With this in mind, every defilement is a "defect”. 

Sin (rebellion against YAHWEH) was seen as a defilement. YAHWEH does not tolerate sin in His presence. The consequences of one's defilement, or their undefilement, have to do with one's privilege to enter into the very presence of YAHWEH Himself. If you are undefiled - and thus following His ways - you are granted access to Him. If you are defiled - and thus following the ways of the world  - you are not granted access to Him. It's really just that simple. 

It's profoundly important to understand what's at stake (symbolically, but also quite literally. Ultimately it's the torture stake of YAHUSHUA, The Messiah).

Tradition, however, has greatly confused the heart of the matter. Tradition is what human beings have passed on to other human beings. It's the "practice" of doing things the way our predecessors have done them. Tradition has given us multiple “words” that are used to convey "cleanliness”, or "uncleanliness”; hence, defilement or undefilement. The result, at the very least, is a bewildering lack of clarity concerning what Scripture really intends. 

At worst, it deceives us into thinking “cleanliness” is merely a "physical" matter, and therefore has little to do with our mental and moral attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Yet everything in Scripture is connected to “cleanliness” - to being uncontaminated, unsoiled, and undefiled before YAHWEH. Without this lack of defilement your relationship with YAHWEH is far less than He desires. In fact, without it you cannot have  a relationship with Him at all.

This presents a real problem for us. If we can't have a relationship with Him because we are defiled why even bother to try to be 
or to become undefiled? It seems like an impossible task.

This is precisely where Scripture, YAHWEH's Word to us, comes to our rescue. (Read that as "our salvation", or "our redemption”.) YAHWEH has provided the means by which we, through no real effort on our own, can become undefiled. Once we are seen by Him as undefiled we can receive the gift (privilege, not a "right”) of being able to enter into His presence.

Indeed, THIS is the entire point and focus of Scripture! 
Without a relationship with YAHWEH there is NO rescue, there is NO deliverance, there is NO "salvation”!
Scripture provides the details - on how we can become undefiled! 
Scripture provides the reasons - why we should become undefiled! 
Scripture provides the teachings - on how to be seen by
YAHWEH as undefiled! 
But - you will never understand this Truth unless you commit your entire life to
YAHWEH and dedicate yourself to seeking His ways above everything else in your life - so you can live according to His desires. 

Given below are many references to "clean" and "unclean”. Also provided are the Hebrew and Greek terms used to help us understand the meaning of these concepts (not just the words). The profusion of different terms at first looks somewhat overwhelming. But once you comprehend the basic concepts of undefiled and defiled you'll have little trouble grasping the real meanings involved. And you'll begin to comprehend that everything in Scripture is connected to these concepts.

There are a number of Hebrew terms that have no equivalent in Greek. A comparison of the Hebrew text and the Greek Septuagint (a very old Greek "translation" of the text) quickly reveals the places where this affects what is translated. The Greek terms used attempt to convey the Hebrew concepts, but because they're less than accurate in portraying the Hebrew concepts they leave us with a serious lack of comprehension of what the original terms intended to convey. This is particularly true where there is no equivalent term in the Greek language. 

This quickly reveals the significant difficulty of trying to transfer Hebrew understandings into the Greek language. Where this becomes vitally important is in The New Covenant. The Hebraic meaning is often completely lost in the "translation" - first into Greek, and then into English - which further compounds the problem. Perhaps the only way to truly "get it right” would be to become an expert in Hebrew, Greek, and English. Yet even then some concepts would be missed. This is due in part to the movement from ancient Hebrew to contemporary Hebrew, and the shift in the meanings of certain terms that is known to have taken place.

Some individual Greek terms are used to "translate" several Hebrew ones, the Hebrew terms being combined under one Greek concept. This is often very misleading and confusing. One term represents several others. It is not properly "translating" the terms. The one thing that becomes pretty clear, however, is that clean means undefiled and unclean means defiled.

Remember, the main focus is one's relationship with YAHWEH. Are you undefiled, or defiled? 
If you are undefiled you are permitted access to Him. 
If you are defiled you are excluded from Him - and even from "The Camp” (the assembly). 

Most of the defilement/undefilement has to do with one's moral state. By violating, or rejecting YAHWEH's instructions (commands, rules, teachings, etc.) one becomes "contaminated" - defiled. By faithfully following His desires one lives within a state of being undefiled. Hence, cleanness or uncleanness is typically determined by the manner in which you respond to YAHWEH's words. If you place Him first and foremost in your life you tend to remain "uncontaminated" - undefiled: 
            - clean, pure, etc. 
If you place Him in
any other position you tend to remain "contaminated" - defiled:
            - unclean, impure, filthy, corrupt, etc.

Some Hebrew terms are bewildering to the western mind. It's difficult for us to comprehend how the Hebrews arrived at the interpretation they held of certain terms. Even to modern day “Jews” there are a number of terms that are "of uncertain meaning”. We can only guess at what they may mean by looking at the context in which they appear - and even then we may well miss the full intent. Fortunately, many of these are not critical to our faith or trust in YAHWEH. They don't change our essential perceptions of Him or of His desires for us. They only affect our understanding of the precise meaning of the terms in question.

The primary goal of this study, and others like it that are being prepared, is to help eliminate confusion within The Scriptures. The current state of affairs has left us with innumerable “translations” that are not really "translations" at all. Instead, they are misleading presentations of the "traditions of men”. There's a special term for this. It's called eisegesis. It means placing one's own ideas into a text to make it conform to one's own world view or belief system. 

Exegesis, on the other hand, is seeking to discover what the text actually says, and means. 
In this word study the following conventions will be used: 
Bold = best translation 
{ } = Writer's insertions for purposes of clarity. 
W: = Wilson's Old Testament Words meanings. 
[G-] = Greek equivalent terms (some of them are not included) 
Note: The list of Greek terms precedes
The New Covenant Section. 


If you look closely at the words you'll note various connections between them. Many are simply the same term with different vowel pointings - and thereby have been given "different meanings”. Keep in mind that in the original Hebrew text there were no vowel pointings. Thus, these are really the same word. But our present understanding of them has been impacted by these vowel pointings.Also take note of the root words involved. They are important guides to fundamental meanings.

444. jAlDa 'alach, aw-lakh´; a primitive root; to muddle {mix up, confuse}, i.e. (figuratively and intransitive) to turn (morally) corrupt: {W: rotten, fetid} 
—become filthy.                                                
[occurs 3 times]      [DEFILED]

The following three terms are connected to each other:

1249. r;Ab bar, bar; from 1305 (in its various senses); beloved; also pure, empty
clean, clear, pure.                          [occurs 7 times]      [UNDEFILED] 

1252. r;Ob bor, bore; from 1305; purify
—cleanness, pureness.                                 
[occurs 5 times]      [UNDEFILED] 

1305. rAr;Db barar, baw-rar´; a primitive root; to clarify (i.e. brighten), examine, select
{W: to separate that which is impure}:
-make bright, choice, chosen,
cleanse (be clean), clearly, polished, (shew self) pure(-ify), purge (out).                                                  [occurs 18 times]    [UNDEFILED]

The following two terms are connected to each other: 
hDw;∂d davah, daw-vaw´; a primitive root; to be sick (as if in menstruation)
[occurs 1 time]        [DEFILED] 

1739. hwRR;∂d daveh, daw-veh´; from 1738; sick (especially in menstruation)
—faint, menstruous cloth, she that is sick, having sickness.
[occurs 5 times]      [DEFILED] 
{These two terms have to do with defilement caused by the flow of blood.}

The following three terms are connected to each other: 
JKÅz zak, zak; from 2141; clear: {without impurities
[occurs 11 times]    [UNDEFILED]
2135. hDkÎz zakah, zaw-kaw´; a primitive root (compare 2141); to be translucent; figuratively, to be innocent: [pure; without impurities]
{W: to be clean or pure - only in a moral sense} 
—be (make) clean, cleanse, be clear, count pure.
[occurs 8 times]      [UNDEFILED] 
2141. JKAkÎz zakak, zaw-kak´; a primitive root (compare 2135); to be transparent or clean (phys. or morally): [wash, refine, cleanse]
{W: be pure without faults, impurities}
-be (make) clean, be pure(-r).                      
[occurs 4 times]      [UNDEFILED] 

2212. qAqÎz zaqaq, zaw-kak´; a primitive root; to strain, (figuratively) extract, clarify: {W: filter} 
—fine, pour down,
purge, purify, refine.     [occurs 7 times]      [UNDEFILED] 

The following two terms are connected to each other:
2403. hDaÚDfAj chatta'ah, khat-taw-aw´; or taÚDfAj chattaçth, khat-tawth´; from 2398 {to miss the mark}; an offence (sometimes habitual sinfulness), and its penalty, occasion, sacrifice, or expiation {make amends, satisfy, atone for}; also (concretely) an offender
—punishment (of sin), purifying(-fication for sin), sin(-ner, offering).
                                                                   [occurs 295 times - as sin] 
{Obviously, not all of these are tied to the sin offering and the resulting atonement. 
It is uncertain how many times this actually occurs.} 
{For the Hebrews the sin-offering became "the sin", which was then offered on the altar, thereby cleansing it. 
This also relates to: 
water of satisfaction - (referred to as the water of purification, but incorrectly so. The water was a means of satisfying the requirement for becoming “pure”, undefiled. The water itself did not purify one.)
- relates to the red heifer cleansing rituals.} 
2398. aDfDj chata}, khaw-taw´; a primitive root; properly, to miss; hence (figuratively and generally) to sin; by inference, to forfeit, lack, expiate, repent, (causatively) lead astray, condemn: 
—bear the blame, cleanse, commit (sin), by fault, harm he hath done, loss, miss, (make) offend(-er), offer for sin, purge, purify (self), make reconciliation, (cause, make) sin(-ful, -ness), trespass. 
{This is a specialized type of cleansing to make one

Note: Each of the following four terms refers to being undefiled in some manner.

2889. rwøhDf tahowr, taw-hore´; or rOhDf tahor, taw-hore´; from 2891; pure (in a physical, chemical, ceremonial or moral sense): —clean, fair, pure(-ness). 

                                                                    [occurs 94 times]        [UNDEFILED] 
2890. rwøhVf thowr, teh-hore´; from 2891; purity:
[occurs 2 times]          [UNDEFILED] 
2891. rEhDf taher, taw-hare´; a primitive root; properly, to be bright; i.e. (by implication) to be pure (physical sound, clear, unadulterated; Levitically, uncontaminated; morally, innocent or holy):
—be (make, make self, pronounce) clean, cleanse (self), purge, purify(-ier, self).
                                                                   [occurs 94 times]        [UNDEFILED] 
2892. rAhOf tohar, to´-har; from 2891; literally brightness; ceremonially purification: - clearness, glory, purifying.                            [occurs 4 times]          [UNDEFILED] 
2893. h∂rShDf tohorah, toh-or-aw´; feminine of 2892; ceremonial purification; moral purity
—x is cleansed, cleansing, purification(-fying).
                                                                   [occurs 13 times]         [UNDEFILED] 

The following four terms are connected to each other:
Each term refers to being defiled in some manner. 
aEmDf tame', taw-may´; a primitive root; to be/become foul, especially in a ceremonial or moral sense (contaminated): 
defile (self), pollute (self), be (make, make self, pronounce) unclean, x utterly.
                                                                [occurs 161 times]      [DEFILED] 
2931. aEmDf tame', taw-may´; from 2930; foul in a relig. sense:
defiled, + infamous, polluted(-tion), unclean. 
[occurs 88 times]       [DEFILED] 
2932. hDaVmUf tum'ah, toom-aw´; from 2930; religious impurity:
—filthiness, unclean(-ness).                      [occurs 36 times]       [DEFILEMENT] 
2933. hDmDf tamah, taw-maw´; a collateral form of 2930; to be impure in a religious sense:
be defiled, be reputed vile.                    [occurs 2 times]         [DEFILED]

hDlVkIm miklah, mik-law´; from 3615 {to end, complete}; completion (in plural concrete adverbial, wholly):
perfect.                                                  [occurs 1 time]           [UNADULTERATED]

4935. yIo◊vIm mish'iy, mish-ee´; probably from 8159 {to gaze at}; inspection:
to cleanse in preparation for inspection
—to supple.                                             [occurs 1 time]          [UNDEFILED] 
{No Greek equivalent}

5079. h;∂dˆn niddah, nid-daw´; from 5074; properly, rejection; by implication, impurity, especially personal (menstruation) or moral (idolatry, incest):
—x far, filthiness, x flowers, menstruous (woman), put apart, x removed (woman), separation, set apart, unclean(-ness, thing, with filthiness).  
{Denotes removal - something removed - uncleanness meant removal from the camp. The flow of blood causes defilement, and is therefore to be removed - rejected.}

                                                                 [occurs 29 times]           [DEFILEMENT]
{No Greek equivalent}

5178. t‰vj◊n nchosheth, nekh-o´-sheth; for 5154; copper, hence, something made of that metal, i.e. coin, a fetter; figuratively, base (as compared with gold or silver):
—brasen, brass, chain, copper, fetter (of brass), filthiness, steel.

                                                                    [occurs 1 time]               [IMPURE - DEFILED] 
{No Greek equivalent}

The following four terms are connected to each other: 

5343. aéq◊n nqe', nek-ay´; (Aramaic) from a root corresponding to 5352; clean: [innocent - as an infant]
—pure.                                                   [occurs 1 time]            [UNDEFILED]
{No Greek equivalent}
5352. h∂qÎn naqah, naw-kaw´; a primitive root; to be (or make) clean (literally or figuratively); by implication (in an adverse sense) to be bare, i.e. extirpated: 
[innocent - as an infant] {W: be clean from whatever stains or fouls} 
—acquit x at all, x altogether, be blameless, cleanse, (be) clear(-ing), cut off, be desolate, be free, be (hold) guiltless, be (hold) innocent, x by no means, be quit, be (leave) unpunished, x utterly, x wholly.

                                                                   [occurs 44 times]            [UNDEFILED] 

5355. yIqÎn naqiy, naw-kee´; or ayIqÎn naqiyi (Joel 4:19; Jonah 1:14), naw-kee´; from 5352; innocent:
—blameless, clean, clear, exempted, free, guiltless, innocent, quit.     
                                                                  [occurs 43 times]          [UNDEFILED]
5356. Nwøy;∂qˆn niqqayown, nik-kaw-yone´; or Ny;∂qˆn niqqayon, nik-kaw-yone´; from 5352; clearness (literally or figuratively): [innocence - the state]
innocency                        [occurs 5 times]             [UNDEFILED] 
{No Greek equivalent}

rÅgDs çagar, saw-gar´; a primitive root; to shut up [enclose]; figuratively, to surrender: 
—close up, deliver (up), give over (up), inclose, x pure, repair, shut (in, self, out, up, up together), stop, x straitly.                      [occurrences - uncertain]                             

5708. dEo 'ed, ayd; from an unused root meaning to set a period (compare 5710, 5749); the menstrual flux (as periodical); by implication (in plural) soiling:
—filthy.                                                      [occurs 1 time]               [DEFILED] 
{No Greek equivalent} 

6172. hDw√rRo 'ervah, er-vaw´; from 6168; nudity, literally (especially the pudenda) or figuratively (disgrace, blemish)
nakedness, shame, unclean(-ness).   [occurs 2 times]              [DEFILED]  

6338. zÅzÚDp pazaz, paw-zaz´; a primitive root; to refine (gold): [finest] 
—best (gold).                                        [occurs 1 time]                [UNDEFILED]

6663. qAdDx tsadaq, tsaw-dak´; a primitive root; to be (causatively, make) right (in a moral or forensic sense): [to be straight, walk straight path]
—cleanse, clear self, (be, do) just(-ice, -ify, -ify self), (be turn to) righteous(-ness).
                                                             [occurs 2 times]              [UNDEFILED] 
[No Greek equivalent]

The following two terms are connected:

6674. awøx tsow', tso; or aøx tsov, tso; from an unused root meaning to issue; soiled (as if excrementitious):
filthy.                                               [occurs 2 times]               [DEFILED] 
[No Greek equivalent]

6675. hDawøx tsow'ah, tso-aw´; or hDaøx tsovah, tso-aw´;: feminine of 6674; excrement; generally, dirt; figuratively, pollution:
—dung, filth(-iness).                           [occurs 3 times]              [DEFILED] 

6884. PArDx tsaraph, tsaw-raf´; a primitive root; to fuse (metal), i.e. refine (literally or figuratively): {W: purify by fire
—cast, (re-)fine(-er), founder, goldsmith, melt, pure, purge away, try.                    
                                                          [occurs 19 times]            [UNDEFILED]
[No Greek equivalent]

6942. vAd∂q qadash, kaw-dash´; a primitive root; to be (causatively, make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally): {to set apart for a special purpose; holy; consecrated}
—appoint, bid, consecrate, dedicate, defile, hallow, (be, keep) holy(-er, place), keep, prepare, proclaim, purify, sanctify(-ied one, self), x wholly.
   {See note in text - PDF file]         [occurs 172 times]           [UNDEFILED] 
[No Greek equivalent]

8251. X…w;qˆv shiqquwts, shik-koots´; or X;üqˆv shiqquts, shik-koots´; from 8262 {to be filthy}; disgusting, i.e. filthy; especially idolatrous or (concretely) an idol:—abominable filth (idol, -ation), detestable (thing). 
[occurs 28 times]              [DEFILED] 
[G-167 + abomination]

8562. q…wrVm;At tamruwq, tam-rook´; or qürVm;At tamruq, tam-rook´; or qyîrVm;At tamriyq, tam-reek´; from 4838; properly, a scouring, i.e. soap or perfumery for the bath; figuratively, a detergent:
cleanse, (thing for) purification(-fying).    
[occurs 4 times]                  [UNDEFILED] 
[No Greek equivalent]

Now you have a sense of the bewildering number of Hebrew terms "translated" as clean/pure, or unclean/impure. The terms that occur infrequently have less impact, but they are still important to our understanding of the concepts of "undefiled" and "defiled”. It's obvious that there are different types of “cleansing” - for which there are some very specific terms to help make the distinction. It's also evident that the English words used to "translate" the text of the KJV Bible often cause much confusion because of the inconsistencies in the way things are "translated”.

What's given below seeks to provide more consistency and clarity in the terms. This is part of an effort to prepare a new version of The Old Covenant text with language that is more easily understood. While some revisions have been made there is much yet to be done. Please recognize that almost every reference to clean and unclean, to pure and impure, to holy and profane, etc. could each be just as easily translated as undefiled or defiled, and you would still correctly understand the fundamental meaning of the text.

A PDF file of this study is available on the site at this link: Clean-Unclean PDF.
This file contains the corrected verses of Scripture showing the occurrences of these terms and the impact of seeing them
as they might have been translated. The perspectives this adds to the text is quite dramatic at some points. 

Be sure to review the other word studies found under the Scripture Studies heading on the site pages.

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May YAHWEH speak to your heart and bless you with understanding as you explore His Word.