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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

ab-lu'-shun: The rite of ablution for religious purification seems to have been practiced in some form in all lands and at all times. The priests of Egypt punctiliously practiced it (Herodotus ii.37). The Greeks were warned "never with unwashed hands to pour out the black wine at morn to Zeus" (Hesiod, Opera et Dies v0.722; compare Homer, Iliad vi0.266; Od. iv.759). The Romans also observed it (Virgil, Aeneid ii.217); as did and do Orientals in general (compare Koran, Sura 5:8, etc.). Ablutions for actual or ritual purification form quite a feature of the Jewish life and ceremonial. No one was allowed to enter a holy place or to approach God by prayer or sacrifice without having first performed the rite of ablution, or "sanctification," as it was sometimes called (Exodus 19:10 1 Samuel 16:5 2 Chronicles 29:5; compare Josephus, Ant, XIV, xi, 5).

Three kinds of washing are recognized in Biblical and rabbinical law:

(1) washing of the hands,

(2) washing of the hands and feet, and

(3) immersion of the whole body in water. (1 and 2 = Greek nipto; 3 = Greek louo).

Something more than an echo of a universal practice is found in the Scriptures. The rabbis claimed to find support for ceremonial hand-washing in Leviticus 15:11. David's words, "I will wash my hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O Yahweh" (Psalm 26:6; compare Psalm 73:13), are regarded by them as warranting the inference that ablution of the hands was prerequisite to any holy act. This is the form of ablution, accordingly, which is most universally and scrupulously practiced by Jews. Before any meal of which bread forms a part, as before prayer, or any act of worship, the hands must be solemnly washed in pure water; as also after any unclean bodily function, or contact with any unclean thing. Such handwashings probably arose naturally from the fact that the ancients ate with their fingers, and so were first for physical cleansing only; but they came to be ceremonial and singularly binding. The Talmud abundantly shows that eating with unwashed hands came to be reckoned a matter of highest importance-"tantamount to committing an act of unchastity, or other gross crime." Akiba, when in prison, went without water given him to quench his thirst, rather than neglect the rite of ablution (`Er. 216). Only in extreme cases, according to the Mishna, as on a battlefield, might people dispense with it. Simeon, the Essene, "the Saint" (Toseph. Kelim i.6), on entering the holy place without having washed his hands, claiming that he was holier than the high priest because of his ascetic life, was excommunicated, as undermining the authority of the Elders (compare `Eduy. 5 6).

Washing of the hands and feet is prescribed by the Law only for those about to perform priestly functions (compare Koran, Sura 5 8, in contrast: "When ye prepare yourselves for prayer, wash your faces and hands up to the elbows, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles"; Hughes, Dict. of Islam). For example, whenever Moses or Aaron or any subordinate priest desired to enter the sanctuary (Tabernacle) or approach the altar, he was required to wash his hands and feet from the layer which stood between the Tabernacle and the altar (Exodus 30:19; Exodus 40:31). The same rule held in the Temple at Jerusalem. The washing of the whole body, however, is the form of ablution most specifically and exactingly required by the Law. The cases in which the immersion of the whole body is commanded, either for purification or consecration, are very numerous. For example, the Law prescribed that no leper or other unclean person of the seed of Aaron should eat of holy flesh until he had washed his whole body in water (Leviticus 22:4-6); that anyone coming in contact with a person having an unclean issue, or with any article used by such a one, should wash his whole body (Leviticus 15:5-10); that a sufferer from an unclean issue (Leviticus 15:16, 18); a menstruous woman (2 Samuel 11:2, 4), and anyone who touched a menstruous woman, or anything used by her, should likewise immerse the whole person in water (Leviticus 15:19-27): that the high priest who ministered on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:24-28), the priest who tended the red heifer (Numbers 19:7, 8, 19), and every priest at his installation (Exodus 29:4; Exodus 40:12) should wash his whole body in water. Compare `divers baptisms' (immersions) in Hebrews 9:10, and see Broadus on Matthew 15:2-20 with footnote. (For another view on bathing see Kennedy in HDB, I, 257 v.)

Bathing in the modern and non-religious sense is rarely mentioned in the Scriptures (Exodus 2:5 Pharaoh's daughter; 2 Samuel 11:2 the Revised Version (British and American) Bathsheba, and the interesting case 1 Kings 22:38). Public baths are first met with in the Greek period-included in the "place of exercise" (1 Maccabees 1:14), and remains of such buildings from the Roman period are numerous. Recently a remarkable series of bath-chambers have been discovered at Gezer, in Palestine, in connection with a building which is supposed to be the palace built by Simon Maccabeus (Kennedy (illust. in PEFS, 1905, 294)). The rite of ablution was observed among early Christians also. Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, X, 4.40) tells of Christian churches being supplied with fountains or basins of water, after the Jewish custom of providing the laver for the use of the priests. The Apostolical Constitutions (VIII.32) have the rule: "Let all the faithful. when they rise from sleep, before they go to work, pray, after having washed themselves" nipsamenoi.

The attitude of Jesus toward the rabbinical law of ablution is significant. Mark (7:3) prepares the way for his record of it by explaining, `The Pharisees and all the Jews eat not except they wash their hands to the wrist (pugme). (See LTJM, II, 11). According to Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23 Pharisees and Scribes that had come from Jerusalem (i.e. the strictest) had seen some of Jesus' disciples eat bread with unwashed hands, and they asked Him: "Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread." Jesus' answer was to the Jews, even to His own disciples, in the highest degree surprising, paradoxical, revolutionary (compare Matthew 12:8). They could not but see that it applied not merely to hand-washing, but to the whole matter of clean and unclean food; and this to them was one of the most vital parts of the Law (compare Acts 10:14). Jesus saw that the masses of the Jews, no less than the Pharisees, while scrupulous about ceremonial purity, were careless of inward purity. So here, as in the Sermon on the Mount, and with reference to the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1), He would lead them into the deeper and truer significance of the Law, and thus prepare the way for setting aside not only the traditions of the eiders that made void the commandments of God, but even the prescribed ceremonies of the Law themselves, if need be, that the Law in its higher principles and meanings might be "fulfilled." Here He proclaims a principle that goes to the heart of the whole matter of true religion in saying: "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites" (Mark 7:6-13)-you who make great pretense of devotion to God, and insist strenuously on the externals of His service, while at heart you do not love Him, making the word of God of none effect for the sake of your tradition!


For list of older authorities see McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia; Nowack, Biblische Archaeologie, II, 275-99; and Spitzer, Ueber Baden und Bader bei den alten Hebraern, 1884. George B. Eager

2512. katharismos -- a cleansing
... cleansing, purification. From katharizo; a washing off, ie (ceremonially) ablution,
(morally) expiation -- cleansing, + purge, purification(-fying). ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/2512.htm - 7k

449. aniptos -- unwashed
... unwashed. From a (as a negative particle) and a presumed derivative of nipto;
without ablution -- unwashen. see GREEK a. see GREEK nipto. ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/449.htm - 7k

909. baptismos -- (the act of) a dipping or washing
... baptism, washing. From baptizo; ablution (ceremonial or Christian) -- baptism,
washing. see GREEK baptizo. (baptismois) -- 1 Occurrence. ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/909.htm - 7k

907. baptizo -- to dip, sink
... a derivative of bapto; to immerse, submerge; to make whelmed (ie Fully wet); used
only (in the New Testament) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/907.htm - 9k

3538. nipto -- to wash
... wash. To cleanse (especially the hands or the feet or the face); ceremonially,
to perform ablution -- wash. Compare louo. see GREEK louo. ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/3538.htm - 7k


General Consistency of the Apostle.
... Moreover, by superadding, "But such indeed ye have been; but ye have received ablution,
but ye have been sanctified, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and ...
/.../tertullian/on modesty/chapter xvi general consistency of the.htm

Eucharistic Rites. Liturgy.
... innocency; so will I compass Thine altar, O Lord [219] ." In some Churches, perhaps
also at Jerusalem, the words were actually chanted during the ablution [220 ...
/.../cyril/lectures of s cyril of jerusalem/chapter v eucharistic rites liturgy.htm

On Baptism and Paedo-Baptism
... water, by a minister of the church, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of
the Holy Ghost " to signify and to testify the spiritual ablution which is ...
/.../arminius/the works of james arminius vol 2/disputation lxiii on baptism and.htm

Epistle xxv. To Gregoria.
... promised to us by the prophetic voice concerning this time of the holy Church: And
in that day the house of David shall be an open fountain for ablution of the ...
/.../gregory/the epistles of saint gregory the great/epistle xxv to gregoria.htm

Of Baptism.
... For he did not mean to intimate that our ablution and salvation are perfected by
water, or that water possesses in itself the virtue of purifying, regenerating ...
/.../calvin/the institutes of the christian religion/chapter 15 of baptism.htm

Use Made of Water by the Heathen Type of the Angel at the Pool of ...
... 8582] now renew eternal; they who did set free but once in the year, now save peoples
in a body [8583] daily, death being done away through ablution of sins. ...
//christianbookshelf.org/tertullian/on baptism/chapter v use made of water.htm

Moreover, it is Right that Thou Shouldest Fear God While Thou Art ...
... and the wheel of the vessel which may chance to have been left in the hollow, when
the course of time comes to its end [115] and the ablution-bearing period of ...
/.../a metaphrase of the book of ecclesiastes/chapter xii moreover it is.htm

But we are Called to Account as Harm-Doers on Another Ground...
... preserves me both in heat and blood. I can be rigid and pallid like you
after ablution when I am dead. I do not recline in public ...
//christianbookshelf.org/tertullian/apology/chapter xlii but we are.htm

On Re-Reading My Protest, which I Honestly Think Much Needed...
... On re-reading my protest, which I honestly think much needed, against our heathen
idolatry of mere ablution, I see that it may possibly be misread. ...
/.../chesterton/whats wrong with the world/chapter 48 on re-reading my.htm

Another Sect of the Esseni: the Pharisees.
... And the women likewise undergo ablution in a similar manner (with their husbands),
and are themselves also arrayed in a linen garment, after the mode in which ...
/.../hippolytus/the refutation of all heresies/chapter xxiii another sect of the.htm

Smith's Bible Dictionary


Easton's Bible Dictionary
Or washing, was practised,

(1.) When a person was initiated into a higher state: e.g., when Aaron and his sons were set apart to the priest's office, they were washed with water previous to their investiture with the priestly robes (Leviticus 8:6).

(2.) Before the priests approached the altar of God, they were required, on pain of death, to wash their hands and their feet to cleanse them from the soil of common life (Exodus 30:17-21). To this practice the Psalmist alludes, Psalm 26:6.

(3.) There were washings prescribed for the purpose of cleansing from positive defilement contracted by particular Acts. Of such washings eleven different species are prescribed in the Levitical law (Leviticus 12-15).

(4.) A fourth class of ablutions is mentioned, by which a person purified or absolved himself from the guilt of some particular act. For example, the elders of the nearest village where some murder was committed were required, when the murderer was unknown, to wash their hands over the expiatory heifer which was beheaded, and in doing so to say, "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it" (Deuteronomy 21:1-9). So also Pilate declared himself innocent of the blood of Jesus by washing his hands (Matthew 27:24). This act of Pilate may not, however, have been borrowed from the custom of the Jews. The same practice was common among the Greeks and Romans.

The Pharisees carried the practice of ablution to great excess, thereby claiming extraordinary purity (Matthew 23:25). Mark (7:1-5) refers to the ceremonial ablutions. The Pharisees washed their hands "oft," more correctly, "with the fist" (R.V., "diligently"), or as an old father, Theophylact, explains it, "up to the elbow." (Compare also Mark 7:4; Leviticus 6:28; 11:32-36; 15:22) (see WASHING.)

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) A washing or cleansing of the body as a religious ritual; purification; as, water of ablution.

2. (n.) The water used in cleansing.

3. (n.) A small quantity of wine and water, which is used to wash the priest's thumb and index finger after the communion, and which then, as perhaps containing portions of the consecrated elements, is drunk by the priest.

... The Pharisees carried the practice of ablution to great excess, thereby claiming
extraordinary purity (Matthew 23:25). ... Standard Bible Encyclopedia. ABLUTION. ...
/a/ablution.htm - 18k

Wash (105 Occurrences)
... 1. (vt) To cleanse by ablution, or dipping or rubbing in water; to apply water or
other liquid to for the purpose of cleansing; to scrub with water, etc., or ...
/w/wash.htm - 45k

Washing (56 Occurrences)
... To such precepts about ceremonial washing Mark here refers. (see ABLUTION.). ... 2.
(n.) The act of one who washes; the act of cleansing with water; ablution. ...
/w/washing.htm - 38k

... dip," meaning "to dip repeatedly." The word baptizo (and baptisma) in the New Testament
is "used absolutely, `to administer the rite of ablution,' `to baptize ...
/i/immersion.htm - 14k

... dip," meaning "to dip repeatedly." The word baptizo (and baptisma) in the New Testament
is "used absolutely, `to administer the rite of ablution,' `to baptize ...
/t/trine.htm - 14k

... dip," meaning "to dip repeatedly." The word baptizo (and baptisma) in the New Testament
is "used absolutely, `to administer the rite of ablution,' `to baptize ...
/t/triune.htm - 13k

Barefoot (7 Occurrences)
... his shoes. As a rule, too, the feet must be cleansed by ablution in every
such case, as well as hands and feet before each meal. 3 ...
/b/barefoot.htm - 13k

Bathing (9 Occurrences)
... Arch., 108, note), the rigid requirement of it for so many ritual purposes by the
Mosaic law is, to say the least, remarkable (see ABLUTION; CLEAN; UNCLEANNESS ...
/b/bathing.htm - 15k

Ablutions (2 Occurrences)

/a/ablutions.htm - 6k

Able-bodied (4 Occurrences)
Able-bodied. Able, Able-bodied. Ablution . Noah Webster's Dictionary ... (See
NIV). Able, Able-bodied. Ablution . Reference Bible.
/a/able-bodied.htm - 7k



Ablution for Defilement of Lepers

Ablution for Defilement: Those Having Bloody Issue

Ablution for Defilement: Those Having Eaten That Which Died

Ablution of Burnt offerings

Ablution of Infants

Ablution of Priests

Ablution of the Dead

Ablution of the Face

Ablution of the Feet

Ablution of the Hands

Ablution of the Hands, As a Token of Innocency

Ablution: Figurative

Ablution: General Scriptures Concerning

Ablution: Traditional Forms of, not Observed by Jesus

Related Terms

Wash (105 Occurrences)

Washing (56 Occurrences)




Barefoot (7 Occurrences)

Bathing (9 Occurrences)

Ablutions (2 Occurrences)

Able-bodied (4 Occurrences)

Bath (13 Occurrences)

Sheba (36 Occurrences)

Baptist (16 Occurrences)

Interpretation (45 Occurrences)

Baptism (76 Occurrences)

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