Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 3: Harmony of the Law, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
as to the Purification of Women
after their Confinement
(Heading from the French, “Autre dependence de purifier
les femmes apres leur enfantement.”)
1. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
1. Et loquutus est Jehova ad Mosen, dicendo:
2. Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man-child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.
2. Loquere ad filios Israel, dicendo, Muller si misso semine conceperit, et pepererit masculum, immunda erit septem diebus: juxta dies separationis morbi sui immunda erit.
3. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
3. Porro die octavo circuncidetur caro praeputii ejus.
4. And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days: she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.
4. Et triginta tribus diebus sedebit in sanguine purificationis: nullam rem sacram tanget, et ad sanctuarium non veniet, donec completi fuerint dies purificationis suae.
5. But if she bear a maid-child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation; and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.
5. Quod si foeminam pepererit, immunda erit duabus hebdomadibus, secundum separationem suam, et sexaginta sex diebus sedebit in sanguine purificationis suae.
6. And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtle-dove, for a sin-offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:
6. Postquam autem impleti fuetint dies purificationis suae pro filio vel pro filia, afferet agnum anniculum in holocaustum, et pullum columbae, aut turturem, in oblationem pro peccato, ad ostium tabernaculi conventionis ad sacerdotem.
7. Who shall offer it before the Lord, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.
7. Et offeret ipsum coram Jehova: et expiabit earn, et mundabitur a vena sanguinis sui. Haec est lex parientis masculum vel foeminam.
8. And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt-offering, and the other for a sin-offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.
8. Quod si non potuerit offerre agnum, tune accipiet duos turtures, aut duos pullos columbae, unum in holocaustum, et alterum ad oblationem pro peccato: expiabitque eam sacerdos, et mundabitur.
2. If a woman have conceived seed. This ceremony had reference to two points; for, first, the Jews were reminded by it of the common corruption of our nature; and secondly, the remedy of the evil was set before them. There is little difficulty in understanding why a woman who has conceived and given birth to a child, should be pronounced unclean; viz., because the whole race of Adam is polluted and defiled, so that the woman already contracts uncleanness from the offspring which she bears in the womb, and is further contaminated by giving it birth. Hence it appears how foul and disgusting in God’s sight is our condition, since at our birth, and even before it, we infect our mothers. It has been almost universally, but very absurdly, considered that nothing is here condemned but libidinous intercourse between male and female; whereas the purification is not required except there be offspring; and to this the word תזריע, thazriang, refers, which can only be properly translated by insemination, and therefore it must be carefully observed that impurity in intercourse is not generally condemned here, but in generation. For the cohabitation of man and woman in itself, without reference to offspring, is a matter of shame and indecency; but here the procreation of children, which should remove this indecency, is accounted the cause of pollution, because the whole race of Adam is full of contagion. Hence the error of Pelagius 341 is clearly refuted, who denied that the sin of Adam was propagated among his descendants, and pretended that we contracted sin from our parents not by origin, but by imitation. For the mother would not be unclean if the children were pure and free from all defilement. Therefore God would by this rite teach His ancient, people that all men are born accursed, and bring into the world with them an hereditary corruption which pollutes their very mothers. If any object that holy matrimony is thus brought into disgrace and disrepute, the reply is easy, that if the marriage couch is free from stain, it is due to the indulgence of God. When therefore the husband and wife procreate children in lawful wedlock, it is not to be considered simply permitted, as if the generation were altogether without impurity, but by special privilege and indulgence; because the sanctity of marriage covers what otherwise might be imputed to blame, and purifies the very defilements of our guilty nature. Whence it is plain that marriage, through which the procreation of children becomes lawful, has nothing disgraceful about it. Yet it does not follow that the children who are thus engendered are holy and free from stain; for those who are born to unbelievers, remain under the guilt of the curse; and those who owe their birth to believers, are delivered from the common perdition by supernatural grace, and special adoption. And this God desired openly and distinctly to testify, by requiring a sacrifice for their purification. For although Moses seems only to speak of the mother, St. Luke, 342 his faithful interpreter, includes also the infant. If it be asked whether circumcision would not suffice to remove the stain of corrupt nature, I reply that hence it more clearly appears how great is our impurity, since God was not content with one symbol for its expurgation, but in order that He might exercise His people in continual meditation upon it, added another subsidiary sign, and did this especially because He knew how profound is men’s hypocrisy, with what self-complacency they flatter themselves in vice, how difficult it is to humble their pride, and, when they are forced to acknowledge their miseries, how easily forgetfulness creeps over them. Wherefore, when circumcision is expressly mentioned here, I presume it is by anticipation, lest the Israelites should object that circumcision was given them for the very purpose of altogether removing the curse; and therefore God signifies that, although circumcision should precede it, still the purification which He here enjoins would not be superfluous. The foolish comments of the Rabbins on this passage respecting seed, are both ridiculous in themselves, and unfitted by their filthiness for modest ears; since, as we have said, the simple intention of Moses was that the woman should undergo purification, if offspring should follow her intercourse. Now, since the Son of God, although He was not only pure, but purity itself, still was the representative of the human race, He subjected himself to the Law; and (as Paul teaches) submitted Himself to the Law, “to redeem them that were under the Law.” (Gal. 3:13, Gal. 4:5) And, by this His voluntary submission to it, He abrogated the old rite; so that it is not now necessary to bring infants to the visible tabernacle with the sacrifices, but all purity is to be sought in Himself.
4. And she shall then continue. The uncleanness of seven days in the case of a male, and fourteen days for a female, has reference to the hemorrhage, as we shall also see elsewhere of the menstrual discharge. For the remainder of the time she is forbidden to take part in religious services, and to approach the sanctuary, (by which word the court is here meant,) and thus is accounted unholy, not only that she should herself lament her condition, but that her husband also, admonished by the sight, should learn to abhor and detest original sin. For this was a serious exhortation to repentance, when they acknowledged that they were contaminated in their offspring, wherein otherwise God’s blessing manifests itself. The question now arises, why the time of purification is double for a female child? Some ascribe this to a natural cause, viz., because the hemorrhage is then of longer continuance; and in truth it was a part of chastity and continence, that husbands should not then come near their wives. But inasmuch as the object of this ceremony was different, viz., as an indication of the curse on the whole human race, we must look more attentively in this direction. I know not whether the view is sound which some take, that the mother is more defiled by female offspring, because there is more disposition to vice in this sex. Perhaps, it is more probable, as some think, that it was because the woman was the beginning of the rebellion, when, being deceived by the serpent, she destroyed her husband with her, and drew her posterity into the same ruin. But it seems more correct to me that the punishment in regard to males was lightened and diminished by circumcision. For although in that symbol God consecrated both sexes, yet He honored males with special favor, by engraving His covenant on their flesh.
Wherefore, also, He expressly mentions their circumcision, whereby a dignity was imparted to them, which rendered them superior to females. At the end of the chapter; regard is had to the poor, lest, being burdened by too great an expense, they might be rendered less ready to obey the Law: whence we gather that God has no care for outward pomp and wealth, since the humble sacrifice of the poor, according to the measure of their poverty, is no less grateful to Him than the more valuable one of the rich.
Une heretique ancien nomme Pelage. — Fr.
The allusion is, I suppose, to Lu 2:23.