Unclean in the New Testament


One day while reading in the New Testament, I noticed the repetition of this word. So, I decided to trace it through the New Testament to see how it was used and what the original text words were, that had been translated as “unclean” to see what they could tell me. I ultimately decided to start at the beginning and go though the whole Bible.


IN THE OLD TESTAMENT TORAH (law) “unclean” is:


Strong’s 2930 אמט taw-may – a prim. root, to be foul, contaminated, unclean, defile, pollute, uncleanness. A verb meaning “to be unclean.” The opposite of tahor רהט meaning to be clean or pure


Virtually very word for unclean in the torah is either this word or a derivative of it, but having the same meaning such as drive, driven, drove in English.

The two exceptions in the torah are הדנ niddah in Leviticus 20:21 which is related to incest and הורע er-vaw in Deuteronomy 23:14 which is about nudity and excrement.


IN THE NEW TESTAMENT “unclean” is:

Strong’s 169
   ak-ath’-ar-tos - impure, morally lewd, demonic, unclean, foul


This is used in all gospels and every reference listed in the gospels refers to a demonic spirit. However, Peter also uses this word in reference to what he will not eat, that which is “unclean,” in Acts 10:14. He also uses the same term when referring to Gentiles (as understanding they are not to be viewed as “unclean”) in Acts 10:28 and when recounting his experience among the Gentiles to the counsel in Jerusalem in Acts 11:8. Paul uses this word when referring to the children of a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever saying that without the believing spouse, the children would not be sanctified and thus be “unclean.”


In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul uses this word in connection with idols and false gods by quoting Isaiah 52:11:


2 Corinthians 6:17:


 "Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.”


In Isaiah 52:11, the word is taw-may, meaning unclean according to the torah. So, even in the New Testament we know that by Paul quoting the Old Testament that we are not to touch that which is taw-may; unclean according to God’s definition in His instructions. These instructions are found in the first five books of the Bible commonly called “the law,” though the Hebrew word torah, meaning God’s teaching and instruction, is more accurate.


In Ephesians 5:5, this word is translated to mean an immoral person. Some versions use immoral, some unclean. Immoral how? They do not follow the instructions of God who defines what is moral and what is immoral in the torah (which is also where the 10 Commandments are found).


Ephesians 5:5:


For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean (immoral) person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.


Those who do these things do them in disobedience to the commandments of the torah: adultery, immorality, coveting, idolatry are all prohibited therein.


Revelation 16:13 and 18:2 use this word again in context with demonic spirits.


There are only two other words used for unclean in the New Testament.

Strong’s NT 2839  koy-nos’ meaning common, shared by all, not separated in the least.


Paul uses this word three times in Romans 14:14:


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.


This is in reference to those who eat veggies only vs. those who eat “all things” (meaning all that GOD has called clean (Gk = broma) according to the torah. (See Does the Bible Say We Can Eat Anything for a full and exhaustive explanation of this subject.)


Therefore, all this verse is saying is that the one who considers vegetables to be all they should eat, can do so, the one who has a broader diet can do so, as well. It is not an endorsement of eating unclean things. (According to biblical definition, unclean is never considered “food.” See Does the Bible Say We Can Eat Anything)


The only other word used for unclean in the New Testament is in Hebrews 9:13


Strong’s NT 2940  koy-no’-o meaning to make profane.


Hebrews 9:13:


For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled,…


How does one know what is unclean in the New Testament? Easy, the definitions of these things are found in the beginning- the Old Testament. God even tells us this out right:


Isaiah 46:10:


Declaring from the beginning, the end, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure;


Therefore, since the New Testament continues to make reference to believers avoiding that which is unclean, how can we say that the torah has been done away with and is no longer in effect?