From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Easton's Bible Dictionary [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 ).
  • 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 .
  • 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 1215-15 ).
  • 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.

  Matthew 23:25 Mark 7:1-5 Mark 7:4 Leviticus 6:28 11 3236-36 15:22Washing

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

purification by washing the body, either in whole or part. Ablutions appear to be almost as ancient as external worship itself. Moses enjoined them; the Heathens adopted them; and Mohammed and his followers have continued them: thus they have been introduced among most nations, and make a considerable part of all superstitious religions. The Egyptian priests had their diurnal and nocturnal ablutions; the Grecians, their sprinklings; the Romans, their lustrations and lavations; the Jews, their washings of hands and feet, beside their baptisms; the ancient Christians used ablution before communion, which the Romish church still retains before the mass, sometimes after; the Syrians, Copts, &c., have their solemn washings on Good Friday; the Turks their greater and less ablutions, &c.

Lustration, among the Romans, was a solemn ceremony by which they purified their cities, fields, armies, or people, after any crime or impurity. Lustrations might be performed by fire, by sulphur, by water, and by air; the last was applied by ventilation, or fanning the thing to be purified. All sorts of people, slaves excepted, might perform some kind of lustration.

When a person died the house was to be swept in a particular manner; new married persons were sprinkled by the priest with water. People sometimes, by way of purification, ran several times naked through the streets. There was scarcely any action performed, at the beginning and end of which some ceremony was not required to purify themselves and appease the gods.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [3]

A ceremony in use among the ancients, and still practised in several parts of the world. It consisted in washing the body, which was always done before sacrificing, or even entering their houses. Ablutions appear to be as old as any ceremonies, and external worship itself. Moses enjoined them, the heathens adopted them, and Mahomet and his followers have continued them. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Jews, all had them. The ancient Christians had their ablutions before communion, which the Romish church still retain before their mass, and sometimes after. The Syrians, Copts, & 100: have their solemn washings on Good Friday; the Turks also have their ablutions, their Ghast, their Wodou, Aman, & 100:

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(1): (n.) The water used in cleansing.

(2): (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.

(3): (n.) The act of washing or cleansing; specifically, the washing of the body, or some part of it, as a religious rite.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [5]

Ablution. See Purification .

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [6]

ab - lū´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 v.722; compare Homer, Iliad vi.266; Od. iv.759). The Romans also observed it (Virgil, Aeneid ii.217); as did and do Orientals in general (compare Koran, Sura   Romans 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 νιπτω , niptō  ; 3 = Greek λούω , loúō ).

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 Y]] ahweh" ( 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. Kēlı̄m 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 ‛Edūy . 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 ,  Leviticus 15:18 ); a menstruous woman ( 2 Samuel 11:2 ,  2 Samuel 11:4 ), 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 ,  Numbers 19:8 ,  Numbers 19:19 ), 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 Mt 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 Macc 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, 294f)).

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" , nı̄psámenoi ̌ .

The attitude of Jesus toward the rabbinical law of ablution is significant. Mk ( 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 (, pugmé ). (See LTJM , II, 11). According to Mt 15:1-20 and Mk 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.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [7]

Ablution, the ceremonial washing, whereby, as a symbol of purification from uncleanness, a person was considered—

to be cleansed from the taint of an inferior and less pure condition, and initiated into a higher and purer state ( Leviticus 8:6);

to be cleansed from the soil of common life, and fitted for special acts of religious service ( Exodus 30:17-21);

to be cleansed from defilements contracted by particular acts or circumstances, and restored to the privileges of ordinary life (Leviticus 12-15);

as absolving or purifying himself, or declaring himself absolved and purified, from the guilt of a particular act ( Deuteronomy 21:1-9).

We do not meet with any such ablutions in patriarchal times: but under the Mosaic dispensation they all occur.

After the rise of the sect of the Pharisees, the practice of ablution was carried to such excess, from the affectation of excessive purity, that it is repeatedly brought under our notice in the New Testament through the severe animadversions of our Savior on the consummate hypocrisy involved in this fastidious attention to the external types of moral purity, while the heart was left unclean. All the practices there exposed come under the head of purification from uncleanness—the acts involving which were made so numerous that persons of the stricter sect could scarcely move without contracting some involuntary pollution. For this reason they never entered their houses without ablution, from the strong probability that they had unknowingly contracted some defilement in the streets; and they were especially careful never to eat without washing the hands ( Mark 7:1-5), because they were peculiarly liable to be defiled; and as unclean hands were held to communicate uncleanness to all food (excepting fruit) which they touched, it was deemed that there was no security against eating unclean food but by always washing the hands ceremonially before touching any meat. The Israelites, who, like other Orientals, fed with their fingers, washed their hands before meals, for the sake of cleanliness [WASHING]. But these customary washings were distinct from the ceremonial ablutions. It was the latter which the Pharisees judged to be so necessary. When therefore some of that sect remarked that our Lord's disciples ate 'with unwashen hands' ( Mark 7:2), it is not to be understood literally that they did not at all wash their hands, but that they did not plunge them ceremonially according to their own practice. In at least an equal degree the Pharisees multiplied the ceremonial pollutions which required the ablution of inanimate objects—'cups and pots, brazen vessels and tables;' the rules given in the law ( Leviticus 6:28;  Leviticus 11:32-36;  Leviticus 15:23) being extended to these multiplied contaminations. Articles of earthenware which were of little value were to be broken; and those of metal and wood were to be scoured and rinsed with water.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [8]

is a name for the wine and water used by the priest after communion to cleanse the chalice and his fingers. At one time the priest was required to drink it. The water-drain was always erected near the altar to receive the ablution.