This Christmas has me reflecting on Levitical purity laws. I’ve never heard a sermon on Leviticus 12 or Leviticus 15. Maybe you have. There is a lot to work through there. Just looking at chapter 12, we have the uncomfortableness of the language, the meaning behind the number of days a woman who gave birth is “unclean,” why it’s so different if she has a son or a daughter, and this matter of women being kept from the sanctuary or even touching holy things for so long. A pastor would certainly have to address the question of gender disparity here. This can’t be random; it has to have meaning. And it does. It tells a story.

In The Sexual Reformation, I touch on this, building on Richard Whitekettle’s development of a womb/wellspring homology, showing that a woman’s body, in its structure and function, corresponds to the order of Levitical sacred space.[1] Our bodies speak, and what a story they tell! And this is why we see all those weird purity laws associated with a woman’s menstruation and postpartum discharge in Leviticus (12; 15:19–33)—her womb represents fullness of life, the inner sanctum of the divine realm. When it overflows as unbounded water, it is uninhabitable for life and a threat to sanctum, rendering her ceremonially impure for the set times (a pattern of familiar numbers) of seven or forty days.

In this homology, we see another literary pattern from Scripture of “creation–uncreation–re-creation” where unbounded water is confined, both with creation in Genesis 1 and the flood account in the second half of Genesis 7 and beginning of Genesis 8.[2] I love how all these stories come together and the pictures God uses to delight and surprise us! You can read more about that in The Sexual Reformation. For this post, I want to follow it to Dr. Amy Peeler’s latest book, Women and the Gender of God. Let’s get back to Christmas, and more specifically, the incarnation, as it tells us something about the woman’s body, sanctuary, and access to holy things.

In her chapter on “Holiness and the Female Body,” Peeler highlights the fact that even Mary, the mother of God, is not exempt from obedience to the Levitical purity laws, as we see in Luke 2:22-24.[3] We see that Mary observes this law, refraining from sacred space for the appointed number of days after the birth of Jesus.

And yet, “God is with her.”

Let’s let this blow our minds as it should. Peeler reminds us that “the same God who set the laws for female purification and exclusion from the temple met this woman when she was existing faithfully within those laws.” Let’s behold this “radical act” God performs within his own ceremonial laws. “The separation between impure humanity and holy God has been breached.” Young Mary, experiencing all the pains, inconveniences, and uncleanliness of afterbirth like every other mother—in all the embodiment of this female, motherly experience—is outside of the temple “handl[ing] the holiest of all things. Instead of bringing her into the holy space, God has made her the holy space. In the incarnation, God has deemed the female body—the impure, bleeding female body—worthy to handle the most sacred of all things, the very body of God.” What an incredibly humbling and powerful picture!

Is your mind blown? Not only by this, but by the divine vulnerability of which the Son of God entrusts himself in the womb, breasts, and arms of a woman to bear, nurture, and care for him? There are so many implications to this. Peeler names a couple:

“The incarnation, in continuity with a positive view of Levitical purity laws, puts misogyny out of bounds. The sinful fruit of patriarchy may cause some to despise the female body, but the God of Judaism and Christianity did not.” Out. Of. Bounds. People. God is with her. He comes to her. He waits on her word. Jesus has a mother. A real, flesh and blood mother. That is where he gets his human nature—from woman. Without male assistance. As Peeler later says, this Savior “embraces male and female, and therefore can in a powerfully and beautifully inclusive way save all humans. In short, a male-embodied Savior with female-provided flesh saves all.”

Okay, so misogyny is bad. We should already know that. But what does the incarnation teach us about a woman’s access to the holy? God is with her! “God’s choice to allow the body of a woman, even the most intimate parts of herself, to come into direct contact with the body and blood of the Son stands against any who would deny women by virtue of the fact that they are women access to the holy.” Peeler goes straight for the jugular of women handling the holy body and blood of Christ in serving the Eucharist. Woman not only handled the body and blood of Christ when he was most vulnerable, the Holy Spirit prepared his body through the flesh and blood of woman. And Peeler adds, he entered the world through a woman!

I know, I will have readers who do not like this last implication. Peeler addresses some counters to her argument. I encourage you to read her book; it stretches the mind and increases our praise in God. Maybe one of you will even be encouraged to preach on Leviticus this Christmas.


[1] See Richard Whitekettle, “Levitical Thought and the Feminine Reproductive Cycle: Wombs, Wellsprings, and the Primeval World,” VT 46 (1996): 376–91. He defines homology as “an acknowledged resemblance between two objects based on perceived similarities in structure and function.”

[2] Whitekettle, 389. Quoting from D. J. A. Clines, “Theme in Genesis 1–11,” CBQ 38 (1976): 499–502.

[3] Of interest is the word “their purification” rather than only “her” purification, Luke 2:22.