I decided to research this common proverb. Is it true? Is cleanliness next to Godliness? This link identifies Francis Bacon as a source for the phrase, as well as linking it with an early Hebrew proverb. (By early they mean 2nd century AD).
The Hebrew source takes the word cleanliness in an entirely different direction…the Old Testament concept of clean and unclean. Animals were declared clean and unclean, actions were defined, everything was separated. And separation was closely linked with cleanliness. Much of the Old Testament law seemed intent on keeping the children of Israel separate and unique….peculiar. Exodus 19:5 states well that depends on the translation as the link shows…but the KJV says we are a peculiar treasure. I’ll bring up the other translations in a minute. The Old Testament law does connect cleanliness with being separate from all that is bad in the world and with coming closer to God (one was meant to be clean before praying or attending the temple).
Not everything that made you unclean was readily identified as sinful. Just living as a women for example would bring monthly uncleanliness. Having a baby again meant a time of uncleanliness and a need for purification (as Mary did in bringing two doves to the temple after giving birth to baby Jesus). How can it be unclean to give birth to God’s son? Having a baby is messy and close to God. <a href=”https://lessonnumberone.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/img_4653.jpg”><img class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-115″ title=”IMG_4653″ src=”https://lessonnumberone.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/img_4653.jpg?w=300″ alt=”having a baby is the messiest and closest to God I feel” width=”300″ height=”225″ /></a> <em>
In the New Testament, Christ questions much of what was considered unclean. The pharisees and added to the law making all sorts of things unclean that God had never declared so. Christ heals a women with an issue of blood . He regularly was with sinners, including letting this woman wipe his feet with her tears. He set aside the concept of clean and unclean animals was set aside.
Pharisees would prefer to be “christian” by themselves in a Temple. Cleaning yourself up and going to church takes a large part of my Sunday morning and it is good. BUT Christianity sometimes requires much more than just staying away from uncleanliness
Obviously there is a beauty and purity in cleanliness, that does help us feel close to God. All of the Old Testament was given by God and purity does matter to Him. It’s just that he wanted to be sure we knew what kind of purity is most important.We can and must feel close to God in the midst of a mess, as Mother Teresa would remind us. When I quoted Exodus 19:5, many other translations suggest not a separateness in peculiarity, but a belonging. We should separate ourselves from sin, but not the sinner. Christ doesn’t want us separate, he wants us as one, even as He and the Father are one. The sermon on the mount makes clear that love is the higher law…higher than cleanliness.
Perhaps cleanliness is next to Godliness, but God IS love.
For more reading you may want to check out these articles:
a fabulous article about cleansing the inner vessel http://lds.org/ensign/1986/05/cleansing-the-inner-vessel?lang=eng