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Study Resources :: Dictionaries :: Defile; Defilement

Dictionaries :: Defile; Defilement

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Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

Defile; Defilement:

de-fil', de-fil'-ment (Anglo-Saxon, afylau, etc.; Middle English, defoulen, "make foul," "pollute," render (the King James Version) 9 Hebrew roots (the Revised Version (British and American) six): ga‘al, "defile"; chalal, "defile" (from "untie, loosen, open," i.e. "make common," hence, "profane"); chaneph, "incline away" (from right or religion), hence, "profane," "defile" (Jer 3:9, the American Standard Revised Version "pollute"); Tame', the principal root, over 250 times translated "defile" 74 times "to become, or render, unclean"; Tanaph, "to soil" (So 5:3); ‘alal, "deal severely, or decidedly, with," "roll" (Job 16:15, the King James Version, the American Revised Version, margin); ‘anah, "humble" (Ge 34:2 the King James Version, the American Standard Revised Version "humble"); qadhash, "separate," "sanctify," "devote to religious use," hence, "forfeit" (De 22:9 the King James Version, the American Standard Revised Version "forfeit," margin "consecrated"). They also render 6 (the King James Version) Greek roots (American Revised Version, 4): koinos, etc., "common" or "unclean," because appertaining to the outside world and not to the people of God, opposite of katharos, "clean," used 13 times; miaino, miasma, miasmos, "stain," "tinge," "dye": "In their dreamings defile the flesh," Jude 1:8; moluno, "stain," "contaminate": "not defile their garments" (Re 3:4); spiloo, "spot," "stain": "defile the whole body" (Jas 3:6); phtheiro, "corrupt," "destroy": the temple of God (1Co 3:17 the King James Version, the American Standard Revised Version "destroyeth"); arsenokoites: "defile themselves with men" (1Ti 1:10 the King James Version, the American Standard Revised Version "abusers of")):

1. Defilement in the Old Testament:

Defilement in the Old Testament was physical, sexual, ethical, ceremonial, religious, the last four, especially, overlapping.

(1) Physical: "I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?" (So 5:3).

(2) Sexual: which might be ceremonial or moral; of individuals by illicit intercourse (Le 18:20), or by intercourse at forbidden times (Le 15:24; 1Sa 21:5); of the land by adultery: "Shall not that land be greatly defiled?" (Jer 3:1 the American Standard Revised Version "polluted," usually substituted where the moral or religious predominates over the ceremonial).

(3) Ethical: "Your hands are defiled with blood" (Isa 59:3); "Neither shall they defile themselves any more with.... any of their transgressions" (Eze 37:23).

(4) Ceremonial: to render ceremonially unclean, i.e. disqualified for religious service or worship, and capable of communicating the disqualification.

(a) Persons were defiled by contact with carcasses of unclean animals (Le 11:24); or with any carcass (Le 17:15); by eating a carcass (Le 22:8); by contact with issues from the body, one's own or another's, e. g. abnormal issues from the genitals, male or female (Le 15:2,25); menstruation (Le 15:19); by contact with anyone thus unclean (Le 15:24); copulation (Le 15:16-18); uncleanness after childbirth (Le 12:2-5); by contact with unclean persons (Le 5:3), or unclean things (Le 22:6), or with leprosy (especially defiling; Le 13:14), or with the dead (Nu 6:12), or with one unclean by such contact (Nu 19:22), or by funeral rites (Le 21:1); by contact with creeping things (Le 22:5), or with unclean animals (Le 11:26).

(b) Holy objects were ceremonially defiled by the contact, entrance or approach of the defiled (Le 15:31; Nu 19:13); by the presence of dead bodies, or any remains of the dead (Eze 9:7; 2Ki 23:16: Josiah's defilement of heathen altars by the ashes of the priests); by the entrance of foreigners (Ps 79:1; see Ac 21:28); by forbidden treatment, as the altar by being tooled (Ex 20:25); objects in general by contact with the unclean. Ceremonial defilement, strictly considered, implied, not sin, but ritual unfitness.

(5) Religious: not always easily distinguished or entirely distinguishable from the ceremonial, still less from the ethical, but in which the central attitude and relationship to Yahweh as covenant God and God of righteousness, was more fully in question. The land might be defiled by bloodshed (Nu 35:33), especially of the just or innocent; by adultery (Jer 3:1); by idolatry and idolatrous practices, like sacrificing children to idols, etc. (Le 20:3; Ps 106:39); the temple or altar by disrespect (Mal 1:7,12); by offering the unclean (Hag 2:14); by any sort of unrighteousness (Eze 36:17); by the presence of idols or idolatrous paraphernalia (Jer 7:30).

2. Defilement in New Testament:

The scope of defilement in its various degrees (direct, or primary, as from the person or thing defiled; indirect, or secondary, tertiary, or even further, by contact with the defiled) had been greatly widened by rabbinism into a complex and immensely burdensome system whose shadow falls over the whole New Testament life. Specific mentions are comparatively few. Physical defilement is not mentioned. Sexual defilement appears, in a figurative sense: "These are they that were not defiled with women" (Re 14:4). Ceremonial defilement is found in, but not approved by, the New Testament. Examples are: by eating with unwashed, "common," not ceremonially cleansed, hands (Mr 7:2); by eating unclean, "common," food (Ac 10:14; Peter's vision); by intimate association with Gentiles, such as eating with them (not expressly forbidden in Mosaic law; Ac 11:3), or entering into their houses (Joh 18:28; the Pharisees refusing to enter the Pretorium); by the presence of Gentiles in the Temple (Ac 21:28).

But with Christ's decisive and revolutionary dictum (Mr 7:19): "This he said, making all meats clean," etc., and with the command in Peter's vision: "What God hath cleansed, make not thou common" (Ac 10:15), and with Paul's bold and consistent teaching: "All things indeed are clean" (Ro 14:20, etc.), the idea of ceremonial or ritual defilement, having accomplished its educative purpose, passed. Defilement in the New Testament teaching, therefore, is uniformly ethical or spiritual, the two constantly merging. The ethical is found more predominantly in: "The things which proceed out of the mouth come forth out of the heart; and they defile the man" (Mt 15:18); "that did not defile their garments" (Re 3:4); "defileth the whole body" (Jas 3:6). The spiritual seems to predominate in: "defiled and unbelieving" (Tit 1:15); "conscience being weak is defiled" (by concession to idolatry.) (1Co 8:7); "lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many be defiled" (Heb 12:15). For the supposed origins of the idea and details of defilement, as from hygienic or aesthetic causes, "natural aversions," "taboo," "totemism," associations with ideas of death, or evil life, religious symbolism, etc., see POLLUTION; PURIFICATION; UNCLEANNESS. Whatever use God may have made of ideas and feelings common among many nations in some form, the Divine purpose was clearly to impress deeply and indelibly on the Israelites the ideas of holiness and sacredness in general, and of Yahweh's holiness, and their own required holiness and separateness in particular, thus preparing for the deep New Testament teachings of sin, and of spiritual consecration and sanctification.

Written by Philip Wendell Crannell


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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