Cleanliness is next to Godliness

May 19, 2011 · Posted in Infectious Control Systems 

clean hands

You’ve probably heard of this expression far too many times, but do you know exactly that it means? If you think it means that if you’re really clean, you’re pretty close to being holy, you’re wrong. Stop with the literal interpretations. To understand this expression fully, you need to know how it came about in the first place.

First of all, this expression is unbiblical, meaning it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. It’s an archaic proverb, found in Hebrew and Babylonian religious pieces. Translated and modified into the English language, it appeared in Sir Francis Bacon’s writings. In 1605, in his piece called “Advancement of Learning”, Bacon wrote: “Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.”

Then in 1791, in one of his sermons, John Wesley made a reference to the proverb in the form we use today. He wrote: “Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.”

Where the connection between cleanliness and godliness came from is quite hard to tell. The concepts of what’s “clean” and “unclean” were a major concern among Israelites because one principal part of the Mosaic Law outlines the ideas for each. It was stressed in the teachings that for a person to re-enter the sanctuary of the Lord and the community, elaborate washing rituals must be done. Ceremonial laws were strictly observed in order to approach God. This is why the expression originated from Hebrew literature.

120 year old Bible back (American)

However, if you examine the expression in biblical context, physical cleanliness has nothing to do with godliness. It was pretty clear in the bible that what’s important is what’s inside a man’s heart, and not what he eats, what he doesn’t eat, or how often he washes his hands.

As for the term “godliness”, the Greek translation of the New Testament states that “godliness” means “holiness”. To be “clean” must not be taken literally when the bible says “by being transformed into completely new creations in Christ by the power of God… we are made completely clean and righteous before God and only then can we share in His godliness.”

As times passed, the expression has had many adaptations and permutations. One goes “Cleanliness becomes more important when godliness is unlikely.” Whatever the meaning is for the reader, one thing is certain – people value cleanliness so much that they link it with religion. Physical cleanliness encompasses the person himself and his home. People are also clever enough to know that what may look clean doesn’t mean it’s sanitized. Cleaning must be done properly to avoid health risks. For this purpose, disinfectants like bleach and hydrogen peroxide are made available.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Arlington CountyCreative Commons License photo credit: Wonderlane

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