Was sex considered a sinful activity in the Old Testament that required a sacrifice after each occurrence? Some people may read the cleanliness laws found in Leviticus 15 and come away with that impression.
But a careful reading of Leviticus 15 shows that a sacrifice was only need for unusual discharges from the body which would have been an indication of infection or disease.
This is one of those passages where language of the KJV obscures the text:
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When any man hath a running issue out of his flesh, because of his issue he is unclean.” – Leviticus 15:2
The “running issue” really means an “unusual discharge”. It does not refer to normal discharges from a man’s body such as urine or semen.
So the NIV more accurately translates this verse as:
“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When any man has an unusual bodily discharge, such a discharge is unclean.”
This unusual bodily discharge refers or swelling (if it blocked) refers to a disease or infection of some kind. So a man had a disease or infection which resulted in an unusual bodily discharge from his penis or his penis was obstructed from an infection or disease he was then required to offer sacrifices as prescribed in Leviticus 15:
“14 And on the eighth day he shall take to him two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, and come before the Lord unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and give them unto the priest:
15 And the priest shall offer them, the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord for his issue.” – Leviticus 15:14-15 (KJV)
Again in verse 25 we read about this same issue of an unusual discharge from woman and unfortunately once again the language of the KJV does not make this clear for us:
“25 And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean.”
When it says “beyond the time of her separation” this is referring to a woman’s normal monthly period. So the NIV again makes the issue be addressed clearer when it translates this verse as:
“‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period.”
And once again we read how women are to make a sacrifice for this unusual discharge associated with a disease or infection of some sort:
“29 And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
30 And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the Lord for the issue of her uncleanness.” – Leviticus 15:29-30 (KJV)
No sacrifice was required for sexual activities or a woman having a period
Leviticus chapters 12 to 15 deal with the cleanliness laws that God gave to Israel. In Leviticus 15 he deals specifically with discharges and infections having to do with the sexual organs. Leviticus 15 has 3 sections regarding God’s cleanliness rules in regard to sexual organs.
Section 1 – infections and diseases with a man’s genitals required a sacrifice
Verses 2-15 address the issue of a man having an unusual discharge from his penis or obstruction in his penis caused by infection or disease and this required a sacrifice to be made.
Section 2 – Nocturnal emissions, masturbation, sexual relations and women’s periods did NOT require a sacrifice
Verses 16-17 refers to a man having his semen go out from him APART from having sex with his wife. So this would cover nocturnal emissions or masturbation. This gives the cleanup rules for these normal bodily sexual activities of a man.
Verse 18 refers to a man having his semen go out from him as a result of having sex with his wife. It prescribes the same cleanup rules for both him and his wife after having sexual relations.
Verse 19 -23 refers to a woman’s normal period and the cleanup rules for this type of normal bodily activity in women.
Verse 24 refers to if a man happens to have sex with his wife during her period and the cleanup rules for that. Leviticus 18:19 forbade men from approaching their wife for sex during her period so this would refer to if a man accidentally had sex with his wife during her period.
Section 3 – infections and diseases with a woman’s genitals required a sacrifice
Verses 25-30 refers to a woman having a discharge of blood or other fluids from her vagina that is not as a result of her normal monthly period and this required a sacrifice to be made.
Why did God require sacrifices for diseases and infections?
A person may or may not get a disease due to their lack of hygiene so why did God require a sacrifice for these diseases and infections?
The reason is because infections and disease were seen as symbols of sin. Our bodies would not get diseases or infections except for the corrupting influence of sin on the world. This is why God required a an sacrifice for diseases and infections because it reminded the Israelites of the fact that man would not have disease and die in some cases from disease and infection apart from the fact of Adam and Eve’s sin.
We have shown here that while normal bodily functions like nocturnal emissions, masturbation, sexual relations and periods did carry some clean up rules and temporary restrictions on activities these activities did not require a sacrifice and therefore were not associated with sin in an any way.
Obviously as Christians we know that we are no longer under the sacrificial system of the Old Testament (Hebrews 10:12) as Christ was our sacrifice once and for all sin.
But God through his cleanliness laws God was trying to do two things. The first was to make uncleanliness and disease symbolic of sin to his people to show them what sin has done to man in separating him from God. The second part was for more practical reasons – the prevention of the spread of infections and diseases.
In the New Testament era we are no longer under the cleanliness laws, dietary laws, sacrificial laws or civil laws given to Israel as a theocracy established by God.
“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” – Romans 6:14 (KJV)
“I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” – Romans 14:14 (KJV)
On the other hand God’s moral law given in the Old Testament is reaffirmed in the New Testament.
“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” – Romans 3:31 (KJV)