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Clean and Unclean and the Law of First Mention

by Christine Egbert

In sound biblical exegesis, the Law of First Mention requires a Bible student to study that portion of Scripture where a principle or doctrine is first introduced. That first occurrence establishes the inherent meaning of that principle in an unchangeable pattern throughout the rest of Scripture. Unfortunately, since most study only the apostolic writings (New Testament), and interpret it through the contemporary lens of their denomination’s doctrine, they frequently miss the original intent of what Scripture says. How do I know? Because I did too at one time.

In this article we will deal with one specific instance of the abrogation of this exegetical Law of First Mention: the false assumption that the Most High’s many decrees to separate “clean” from “unclean” is not taught in the New Testament, and is therefore no longer applicable.

The First Mention

Genesis 7:2 – You shall take to yourself from every clean animal by sevens, male and female, and from the animal that is not clean by two, male and female.

Leviticus 10:10-11 – And that you may put a difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; And that you teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD (Yahweh) has spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.

In Leviticus 11:44-43 He says this: You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled. For I am the LORD (Yahweh) your God: you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy.

Leviticus 11:46-47 – This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps upon the earth: To make a difference between the unclean and the clean…

The principle of clean and unclean is further addressed in Leviticus 20:24-26:

But I have said unto you, You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey: I am the LORD (Yahweh) your God, which have separated you from other people. You shall therefore put a difference between clean beasts and unclean… you shall not make your souls abominable by beast or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And you shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD (Yahweh) am holy, and have severed you from other people, that you should be mine.

Ezekiel 22:26 – Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned my holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed a difference between the unclean and the clean…

Ezekiel 44:23 – And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.

New Testament

1 Thessalonians 4:7 – ”For God has not called us unto uncleanness but unto holiness.” When most read this they fail to apply the principle of first mention and instead assume the writer of Thessalonians means something other than what the LORD (Yahweh) meant in the Torah, in spite of the fact that uncleanness is contrasted to holiness.

Romans 6:19 – “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity (anomia: literally lawlessness) unto iniquity (lawlessness); even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” In this passage again uncleanness is contrasted with holiness and linked to lawlessness. But somehow most fail to make the connection.

2 Corinthians 12:21 – And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.

Galatians 5:19-21 – “Now the works of the flesh are clearly revealed, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and things like these; of which I tell you beforehand, as I also said before, that the ones practicing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Here uncleanness is listed with 16 other sins, including murder, sorcery, and heresy. The writer says those practicing these sins which include uncleanness will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven. Yet, somehow it is missed.

Here are some more mentions of uncleanness:

Ephesians 4:19 – Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

Ephesians 5:3 – But fornication, and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be once named among you as becomes saints.

Colossians 3:5 – Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

1 Thessalonians 2:3 – For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile.

2 Corinthians 6:17 – Wherefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing and I will receive you.

So the next time anyone (with or without a doctorate in Theology) tells you that God’s law concerning clean and unclean is not taught in the New Testament, and is therefore no longer applicable, beg them to take off their dispensational lenses and to apply sound biblical exegesis, to apply the Law of First Mention. If we are to correctly interpret the Holy Scriptures, which were inspired by a God who never changes, we must endeavor to understand everything we read in the Bible in light of its author’s original intent.

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