Leviticus 12
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures

The purification and cleanness of the human conditions of the offerers. The lying-in women. The leprosy in men, in garments, in houses. Sexual impurities and purifications. Lev. 12–15”—LANGE

Laws of Purification after Childbirth


1AND the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived1 seed, and born a man child, then she shall be unclean seven days; according to [as2] the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. 3And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4And she shall then continue in3 the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. 5But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days. 6And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb [sheep4] of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: 7who shall offer it before the LORD, and5 make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female. 8And if she be not able to bring a lamb [one of the flock6], then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.


Lev 12:2. תַּזְרִיעַ. The Sam. here has the Niphal. Comp. Gen. 1:11 for similar use of Hiphil.

Lev 12:2. כִּימֵי. The text institutes a comparison, saying that the one is the same as the other, rather than makes one the law for the other.

Lev 12:4. עַל. There is no distinction in the A. V. between this and the preposition of the preceding verse. Two MSS. read here also בִּדְמֵי as in Lev 12:4.

Lev 12:6. כֶּבֶשׂ. See Textual Note5 on 3:7.

Lev 12:7. One MS., the Sam., LXX., and Syr., here supply the word priest, which is necessarily understood from the connection.

Lev 12:8. שֶׂה a different word from that in Lev 12:6, and used either of sheep or goats, but according to Fürst, only of the young of either.


Here begins a new Parashah of the law extending to 13:59; the parallel section of the prophets is 2 Kings 4:42–5:19, a prominent subject of which is the cleansing of Naaman from his leprosy.

The previous chapter was addressed to Moses and Aaron conjointly, and so is the following, the latter part of Lev 14 (beginning at Lev 12:33), and Lev 15; the present chapter and the earlier part of Lev 14 are addressed to Moses alone. The reason of this difference seems to lie in the fact that the parts addressed to Moses alone are simple commands given to him as the legislator, requiring no exercise of judgment in their application; while those addressed to both called for more or less of a discrimination which was entrusted by the law to the priests.

The previous chapter treated of uncleanness of men arising from the lower animals which, if attended to promptly, in no case required more for its purification than ablutions, and continued only until evening. This and the three following chapters treat of uncleanness arising from the human body, in most cases requiring expiatory sacrifices with various, and often prolonged, periods before the purification became complete. The various sources of this defilement are: child-bearing (12); leprosy (13, 14); and certain secretions (15); to these is added in Num. 19:11–16 the most intense of all defilements, that arising from contact with a human corpse. The omission of a vast mass of other sources of impurity, and restriction of rites of purification to these few, certainly indicates (as Keil has shown) that these are not simply regulations for the promotion of cleanliness, or of good morals and decency, but had a higher symbolical and educational meaning. The defilement of child-bearing, which occupies the present chapter, is placed first not only because birth is the natural starting point for the treatment of all that concerns the human body, but also plainly to prevent any possible confusion between this defilement and those mentioned in Lev 15:19–30. There is indeed a certain degree of connection between the two, and this made it all the more necessary that this should be treated by itself, as being a different thing and resting upon different grounds.

In regard to purifications in general, Kalisch says: “Next to sacrifices, purifications were the most important part of Hebrew rituals. Whenever both were prescribed together, the latter appeared indeed as merely preparatory to the former, since sacrifices were deemed the main agency of restored peace or holiness; but purifications, like offerings, were frequently ordained as separate and independent acts of worship: closely entwined with the thoughts and habits of the Hebrews, they formed an essential part of their religious system.…. The Hebrews ‘purified,’ or, as they understood the term, sanctified themselves, whenever they desired to rise to the Deity, that is, before solemn ceremonies and seasons, as sacrifices and festivals (Gen. 35:2–4; 1 Sam. 16:5; comp. 2 Chron. 30:17); or whenever they expected the Deity to descend to them by some supernatural manifestation, as a disclosure of heavenly wisdom, or a deed of miraculous power and help (Ex. 19:10, 14, 15; Josh. 3:5; 7:13). Therefore, when in a state of impurity, they were forbidden to enter the sanctuary, to keep the Passover, and to partake of holy food, whether of sacrificial meat, of sacred offerings and gifts, or of shew bread, because the clean only were fit to approach the holy God and all that appertains to Him (Lev. 7:19–21; 22:3 ss.; Num. 9:6 ss.; 18:11, 13; 1 Sam. 21:5).” Later he adds: “If compared with the purificatory laws of other nations, those of the Pentateuch appear in a favorable light..... They exhibit no vestige of a dualism; in every detail they are stamped by the monotheistic creed; God alone, the merciful, wise and omnipotent Ruler, sends trials and diseases; and no evil genius has the power of causing uncleanness. They are singular in the noble principles on which they are framed—the perfection and holiness of God; and they are thereby raised above frivolity and unmeaning formalism. Moreover, it would be unjust to deny that they were understood as symbols, or as means of sanctification; to defile oneself and to sin, and also to cleanse and to hallow, are frequently used as equivalents. They must be pronounced simple if considered side by side with those of the Parsees, the Hindoos, the Egyptians, or the Talmud.”

The connection here hinted at between uncleanness and sin, between purity and holiness, is a very important one. It rests partly on a symbolism which finds place in all languages, and is abundantly recognized in the diction of the New Testament; and partly upon that actual connection existing between the soul and the body (spoken of in the last chapter), whereby the one is deeply affected by the state and condition of the other. In both respects the educational value of the Levitical laws of purity to a people in their spiritual infancy were of the utmost value. The importance of the symbolism was further enhanced by the broad distinction made between defilements arising from human and those from other sources, and connecting the sin offering only with the former.

This chapter consists of two parts: Lev 12:1–5 relate to the time of seclusion, Lev 12:6–8 to the means of purification. The following are Lange’s Exegetical Notes on the chapter in full:

“The origin of life makes man unclean in regard to his theocratic right of communion; just as death, or the touch of the dead, and no less that which impairs life—sickness, especially as it is represented by the leprosy, and so also every disturbance of the springs of life. But this surely does not mean that finite life itself was thought of as unclean, and that it must therefore be reconciled to the universal life (Bæhr II., p. 461, opposed to which Sommer and Keil); and it also does not mean that original sin alone has produced all this darkening of life, although the natural condition appears here throughout laden with sinfulness; since we find directions for the purification of lying-in women among the most different nations (see Knobel, p. 466).” [The following brief summary of some of these is given by Clark: “The Hindoo law pronounced the mother of a newborn child to be impure for forty days, required the father to bathe as soon as the birth had taken place, and debarred the whole family for a period from religious rites, while they were to ‘confine themselves to an inward remembrance of the Deity:’ in a Brahmin family this rule extended to all relations within the fourth degree, for ten days, at the end of which they had to bathe. According to the Parsee law, the mother and child were bathed, and the mother had to live in seclusion for forty days, after which she had to undergo other purifying rites. The Arabs are said by Burckhardt to regard the mother as unclean for forty days. The ancient Greeks suffered neither child-birth nor death to take place within consecrated places: both mother and child were bathed, and the mother was not allowed to approach an altar for forty days. The term of forty days, it is evident, was generally regarded as a critical one for both the mother and the child.—The day on which the Romans gave the name to the child, the eighth day for a girl, and the ninth for a boy, was called lustricus dies, ‘the day of purification,’ because certain lustral rites in behalf of the child were performed on the occasion, and some sort of offering was made. The Amphidromia of the Greeks was a similar lustration for the child, when the name was given, probably between the seventh and tenth days (Menu v. 62; Ayeen Akbery, Vol. II., p. 556; Zend Avesta, ap. Bähr; Thucid. III. 104; Eurip. Iph. Taur. 382; Callim. Hym. ad Jov. 16, Hym. ad Del. 123; Censorin. De Die Nat. c. xi., p. 51; Celsus, II. 1; Festus, s. Lustrici Dies with the note in Lindemann, II. 480; Smith, Dict. of Antiq. s. Amphidromia).”—F. G.]—“But, in general, by this establishment of the uncleanness of the natural processes of birth and death, the truth was expressed, that the ideal life of man was already a kind of immortal life, which had to raise itself above the natural conditions of human life—the natural side of his being—and set itself in opposition thereto.”

“If now any one says that all these regulations are not to be considered under the aspect of sanitary or dietetic, but only of typical or religious precepts, we must hold this antithesis to be thoroughly false; there are plain indications that always, from the tree of knowledge down, especially from the circumcision, the one particular was joined with the other.”

“Lev 12:2 ss. In regard to the uncleanness of lying-in women, in the first place there are two conditions to be distinguished: first, the time of their especial sickness; secondly, the time of their recovery through the blood (the issue of blood) of their purification. These times differ according as she has borne a son or a daughter. If the child be a boy, the time of her especial sickness is fixed at seven days, exactly like the regulation in regard to the monthly courses. Then on the eighth day the circumcision of the boy was to follow, and from that time for thirty-three days—the eighth day reckoned in—she was to remain at home with the boy, engaged in a constant process of recovery and purification. But why are the seven days of her especial uncleanness doubled to two weeks by the birth of a girl? It is said that this has its foundation in the belief of antiquity that “the bloody and watery issues last longer after the birth of a female than of a male” (see the citations from Hippocrates [op. ed. Kühn. i. p. 393], Aristotle [Hist. anim. vi. 22; vii. 3], and Burdach [Physiologie III., p. 34] in Keil). Whether this view formed a natural reason for the above regulation or not, there was certainly also a theocratic reason of importance: the boy was circumcised—the girl was not; for this the twice seven days might form an equivalent. The girl was so far a Jewess, but not yet an Israelitess” [i.e. a descendant of Abraham after the flesh, but not yet incorporated with the chosen people.—F. G.]. “It was now moreover the proper consequence that the thirty-three days of recovery were doubled to sixty-six days, wherein, indeed, the law of circumcision is still more strongly reflected. The totality of the forty days of purification at the birth of a boy corresponds to the former explanation of the forty days in the life of Moses and Elijah: it is the symbolical time of purification, of exclusion from the world, as it was extended for the whole people to forty years. And the doubling of the forty days in the case of the new-born girl explains itself, if forty days are reckoned for the girl and forty for the mother; a doubling which could not be applied to the circumcised boy. Moreover, the coöperation of the physical view, already noticed, may be also taken into consideration.” [It is particularly to be noticed that the uncleanness continued only seven or fourteen days. During this time it appears from the analogy of 15:19–24, the woman was unclean in the sense that every person and thing touched by her became itself unclean and capable of communicating defilement. After this period, the woman was no longer unclean, but might perform at home all the ordinary duties of domestic life; only she was forbidden to approach the sanctuary (i.e., the court of the tabernacle) until the time of her purification. The suggestion of Lange (which was also the opinion of Calvin) that the difference in the length of time for the uncleanness and the purification at the birth of a boy or a girl was due to the fact of the boy’s being formally received into the visible Church of God by circumcision, is a complete and satisfactory solution of a long-vexed question; but this solution necessarily carries with it the determination that the law had respect to the child as well as to the mother. To this two objections are proposed: first, the case of still-born children; but this was so exceptional that there was no occasion to provide for it in the law. When it did occur—if the principle above given is correct—there being no child for whom purification was required, the time would probably have been reduced to that which was considered necessary for the mother alone. The other objection arises from the necessity of including the infant Jesus in the purification of the Virgin Mary, Luke 2:22 (where it is very observable that the Evangelist does not hesitate to say τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ αὑτῶν7), but this is easily disposed of on the principle announced by Himself in regard to His baptism that “thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). This is the view taken by S. Augustine (Quæst. in Hept. L. III. 40).—F. G.].

“Lev 12:6. The equalization of girls with boys appears again in the appointed completing sacrifice.” [That is, in the time at which it was offered; there was no distinction in the sacrifice itself.—F. G.]. “And in this there is not first a sin offering brought, and then a burnt offering, as in the trespass offerings; but first a costly burnt offering, as the expression of the consecration of the new life;—namely, a year old lamb, and then a sin offering small in proportion, a young pigeon, or a turtle-dove.” [This order of the offerings is a remarkable deviation from the general principle that when the two offerings came together, the sin offering always preceded. The reason of this exception appears to lie in the fact that at the birth of a child feelings of joy and gratitude are naturally uppermost; the thought of the child’s heritage of sinfulness comes afterward.—F. G.]. “Only in case of necessity was the burnt offering reduced and made the same as in the sin offering.” [This necessity seems to have been liberally interpreted by custom, and the smaller offering to have been allowed generally to the humbler classes of society. Comp. Luke 2:22–24. The time of the offering also could not be before the fortieth or the eightieth day, but only a very strict construction of the law could forbid its being deferred to a later period for those living at a distance from the sanctuary, as appears to have been done at the birth of Samuel, 1 Sam. 1:22–25.—F. G.]. “That bearing and being born, as well as being unclean through sickness and touching the dead, could not be thought of without human complicity in sin, or at least in guilt, was set forth by this law; but how gently was this judgment expressed! If it is now said of this sacrifice from one point of view: for a son, for a daughter [Lev 12:6], and then again so she shall be clean [Lev 12:8], so again is the time, just as much as the sacrifice of purification, designated as common for mother and child. Keil is thus incorrect when he supposes that the woman did not require purification for the child, but only for herself. According to the fundamental principles of the Levitical law, it could not be conceived that a clean child lay on the breast of an unclean mother. In this very community of the Levitical uncleanness, this inner fellowship between mother and child is raised above the supposed separation in their condition. It is evident that the thing here treated of is indefinite sinfulness, but not “sins becoming known indirectly in the corporeal manifestation of them.”

“Upon the laws of purity among other nations in regard to women in childbed, see Knobel, p. 466, and so too on the circumcision, p. 467.”


I. “The theocratic law is joined throughout with the sanitary law, without giving up its pre-dominating and symbolical Levitical signification. In the law of lying-in women there comes especially into notice the connection or unity between mother and child, and the difference between the man-child and the woman-child. See the Exegetical.” Lange.

II. “The doctrine, echoed in a hundred creeds, that ‘Purity is, next to life, the highest boon of man,’ was among them also [the Israelites] a truth and a reality.” Kalisch.

III. “The fall casts a shade of impenetrable darkness over the birth of a child of man. All that reason can say is, that this is another child of sin and heir of death.… The mother in Israel is here taught that while there is impurity and guilt connected with the bearer and the born of the fallen race, yet there is a propitiation on which she may rely for herself and for her off-spring, and a purification which she has for herself, and may confidently expect for her child, while she trains him up in the way he should go.” Murphy.

IV. This chapter shows clearly in the difference between the times of uncleanness and of purification at the birth of a boy and of a girl, the difference in relation to the ancient church brought about by circumcision. The Christian church has taken the place of the Jewish, and baptism has taken the place of circumcision; the same relation therefore may be expected to hold between these.

V. Inasmuch as a sin offering was to be presented conjointly for the mother and the new-born child, the doctrine of original sin is plainly taught in this law. Origen (Hom. viii. in Lev., § 3) draws the same conclusion from the fact that baptism is appointed “for the remission of sins,” and yet is administered to infants.


As the primeval curse on sin fell, for the woman, on child-bearing, so in child-bearing she becomes by the law unclean, and must present for her purification a sin offering. That curse remains and still clings to every child of sin coming into the world; for purification resort must be had to that true Propitiation for sin of which the sin offering was a type.

“As the mother and her child emerge out of the impurity, she learns to hope for the day when both will emerge out of the bondage and corruption of sin; as the child is circumcised on the eighth day, the confiding parents pray and wait and watch and work for the circumcision of the heart, which is hopefully foreshadowed by the outward rite; as the mother offers her burnt sacrifice and sin sacrifice she rejoices in the knowledge that there is a propitiation that is sufficient for her, and for her children, and for her children’s children to all generations.” Murphy.

“The priestly people of God have always a war to wage with the defilements of the natural life. Even the uncleanness which belongs to the natural vigor of a lying-in woman, and to a newborn child, must be taken away and atoned for.” Lange.

In accordance with this law, “on the fortieth I day after His birth from the Blessed Virgin’s womb, Christ, the second Adam, our Emmanuel, was presented in the substance of our flesh; and on the fortieth day after His resurrection, or birth from the grave (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), He was presented in our flesh in the heavenly sanctuary, and we were presented in Him in the dress of a cleansed and glorified humanity.” Wordsworth.


1Lev 12:2. תַּזְרִיעַ. The Sam. here has the Niphal. Comp. Gen. 1:11 for similar use of Hiphil.

2Lev 12:2. כִּימֵי. The text institutes a comparison, saying that the one is the same as the other, rather than makes one the law for the other.

3Lev 12:4. עַל. There is no distinction in the A. V. between this and the preposition of the preceding verse. Two MSS. read here also בִּדְמֵי as in Lev 12:4.

4Lev 12:6. כֶּבֶשׂ. See Textual Note5 on 3:7.

5Lev 12:7. One MS., the Sam., LXX., and Syr., here supply the word priest, which is necessarily understood from the connection.

6Lev 12:8. שֶׂה a different word from that in Lev 12:6, and used either of sheep or goats, but according to Fürst, only of the young of either.

7In note on Luke 2:22 the view taken by Oosterzee is that the plural refers to Mary and Joseph.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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