Cleanliness Next To Godliness In The Bible

If you thought that cleanliness is next to godliness is in the bible you are not alone. Studies have shown that the majority of Americans believe that this phrase comes from the Bible.  You probably heard it from your parents and grandparents, from your Sunday School teacher or even Pastor.  I bet that most of you parents have used it yourselves trying to get your children to take a bath or clean their rooms.   Well this may surprise some of you but, “cleanliness is next to godliness is not in the bible.  

The phrase is probably from a Babylonian and Hebrew proverb.  It’s first appearance in English was a modification of the proverb in an essay written by Sir Francis Bacon in 1605 to “Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.”   In a sermon by John Wesley titled “On Dress” printed in 1769 the phrase is rendered “Slovenliness is no part of religion…cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.”    

Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness In The Bible

So if the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness” is not in the Bible why would a famous preacher like John Wesley use it in a sermon?  I didn’t say he said the phrase came for the bible, he just used it in a sermon.  The bible does talk a lot about the importance of being physically, ceremonially, and spiritually clean.  To be unclean, according to the Old Testament books Leviticus and Numbers was to be defiled.  The regulations and laws on cleanliness and purity were primarily designed to teach lessons about the holiness of God and the corruption of man. God’s presence in the midst of his people, the Hebrews,  could not be taken for granted and was to be carefully safeguarded and regulated.

Leviticus 26:11-12 (NLT)11  I will live among you, and I will not despise you.12  I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.

Exodus 33:14 (NLT)14  The LORD replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”  

Because of sin human beings aren’t automatically qualified to come into God’s presence.  Until Jesus came to the earth and paid the price for sin human beings had to prepare ourselves ceremonially and morally before they could approach God.  Uncleanness, just like sin, can manifest itself both inside and outside so the Hebrews had to be diligent in order to avoid uncleanness.  .  

Cleanliness Next To Godliness In The Bible

In addition to emphasizing the holiness of God the regulations on cleanliness would be a clear sign of separation of God’s chosen people from the surrounding nations.  

Leviticus 20:26 (NLT)  You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.

When God gave the instructions about clean and unclean animals, how to deal with leprosy, mold in clothing and in houses, relationships between parents, neighbors,  foreigners, how to worship, all the regulations we read about in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, including the Ten Commandments,  He was instructing them to be different from the other nations in their lifestyles.

Many of the rules, we recognize now, were also very practical, and given to keep the Hebrews from getting sick. For example;

  • God told the Jews not to eat pork.  

“Leviticus 11:7 (NLT)7  The pig has evenly split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean.   We know that pigs are susceptible to bacteria like trichinosis and if undercooked can be dangerous.”  

  • He told them to not touch dead bodies.   Numbers 19:11 (NLT)11  “All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days.  

Leviticus 5:2 (NLT)2  “Or suppose you unknowingly touch something that is ceremonially unclean, such as the carcass of an unclean animal. When you realize what you have done, you must admit your defilement and your guilt. This is true whether it is a wild animal, a domestic animal, or an animal that scurries along the ground.

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