No, That's Not in the Bible
No, That's Not in the Bible
Next to Godliness"
NO that's NOT in the Bible
T he phrase "cleanliness is next to godliness" was probably a Hebrew proverb that had been around for many centuries, but it first appeared in a printed sermon entitled, "On Dress" by John Wesley in 1769. Wesley said, "Slovenliness is no part of religion...cleanliness is indeed next to godliness."
Today, studies have shown the majority of Americans believe this phrase comes from the Bible. Every time I hear it, I think of the man who came to me years ago to tell me he was divorcing his wife. One of the reasons he was leaving her was because she was a messy housekeeper. To justify his decision he said to me, "Like the Bible says, 'Cleanliness is godliness,' and my wife is a slob." He didn't like it very much when I told him the phrase actually wasn't in the Bible!
I've discovered that many of these incorrectly labeled biblical phrases often sound similar to biblical truth. In other words, people can misinterpret or exaggerate what the Bible says about a certain topic and stray from its intended meaning. So, is there any truth to that age-old saying about cleanliness and godliness? What does the Bible say?
Rules, Rules, Rules!
In the books of Leviticus and Numbers, God gave the Jews many laws about the importance of being both ceremonially and physically clean. To be unclean was to be "defiled." God gave them directions about certain foods that were clean and unclean to identify food they could and could not eat. Many of these rules we now recognize were simply practical precautions God gave to keep the Hebrews from getting sick.
For instance, God told the Jews not to eat pork. We know today pigs are susceptible to bacteria such as trichinosis, and undercooked pork can be dangerous to consume. Another example is God's prohibition about touching dead bodies. Today, we understand infectious diseases can sometimes spread from corpses. In Leviticus 11, God warns the Jews about the danger of touching animal carcasses. Before people knew anything about the spread of germs, God warned how bad germs could spread to all kinds of surfaces and materials. The Bible says about carcasses, "You will make yourselves unclean by these...Whoever picks up one of these carcasses must wash his clothes...when one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use will be unclean whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean" (vv24–28).
God was specific in His rules about personal hygiene, but He did so with a purpose. He told the Jews to take the ashes from a red heifer, which would include the animal fat and the ashes from the wood used to burn it, and add water to the mixture. His instructions may sound strange to us today, but if you know your chemistry, you know that animal fat, wood ashes and water mixed together create soap! God was simply saying, "Do yourself a favor - use soap and water and you'll be healthier."
Several chapters in Leviticus read like a dermatology textbook, giving detailed instructions about diagnosing and treating skin diseases. In the last few years, we've heard about the problem with mold in houses - that's nothing new. God devotes over a hundred verses in Leviticus to getting rid of mold and mildew!
Because of this emphasis on cleansing, the Jews became one of the most health-conscious groups of people in his