Periods, also known as menstruation or a woman’s monthly cycle, is a natural biological process that can elicit many questions, especially around ritual purity, cleanliness and restrictions according to biblical texts.
If you’re short on time, the quick answer is that the Bible does not forbid women from participating in religious rituals or entering sacred spaces during menstruation. However, there are some verses that suggest isolation and avoidance of physical contact during this time.
In this comprehensive article, we will analyze relevant verses from the Old and New Testament about menstruation and examine scholarly commentary to understand the context and meaning behind rules concerning periods in the Bible.
Old Testament Verses Concerning Menstruation
Leviticus 15 – Ritual Impurity
In the Old Testament, Leviticus 15 contains instructions regarding ritual impurity related to bodily discharges, including menstrual periods. According to these biblical guidelines, a woman was considered ritually unclean during her monthly period, and anything she lay or sat on would become unclean (Leviticus 15:19-23).
After her period had ended, she had to undergo ritual washing and wait 7 days before being declared clean again (Leviticus 15:28). These regulations emphasized that menstruation rendered a woman impure, needing purification.
Modern scholars believe these ritual purity laws probably emerged from cultural taboos and a limited understanding of human biology at the time. While observing them was important in that ancient context, most Christians today do not follow these specific biblical instructions.
They reflected common perceptions from centuries ago that associated a woman’s period with uncleanness.
Isolation During Periods in the Old Testament
The Old Testament indicates that menstruating women had to isolate themselves from the community due to their ritual impurity. As Leviticus 15:19 states: “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days.
“This separation meant no physical contact with others and staying away from sacred spaces like the temple.
In some historical Jewish communities, women resided in separate dwelling places called “menstruation huts” during their periods, only returning after ritual purification. While these biblical isolation guidelines do not align with modern hygienic knowledge or social norms, they provide insight into ancient attitudes that associated female periods with contagion and taboo.
New Testament Perspectives on Menstrual Cycles
Jesus and Women’s Ritual Impurity
In the New Testament, Jesus challenged traditional Jewish views on menstrual impurity. According to the Law of Moses, a woman was considered ceremonially unclean during menstruation and for 7 days after (Leviticus 15:19-30).
This required her to abstain from entering the temple or touching sacred objects. However, Jesus affirmed women’s dignity and did not shun them for natural biological functions.
There are several examples in the gospels. When a woman with chronic bleeding touched Jesus’ garment, He felt power go out from Him and commended her faith (Matthew 9:20-22). Jesus also allowed the sinful woman to anoint His feet with perfume and wipe them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50).
In a profound act of compassion, Jesus protected the woman caught in adultery from being stoned (John 8:2-11).
By welcoming outcast women and defending their worth, Jesus established a new pattern of affirming female disciples as equal before God. His treatment of women was groundbreaking in a society where menstrual impurity barred their full participation.
Through His words and actions, Jesus honored rather than excluded women.
Paul’s Letters and Approach Towards Periods
The apostle Paul affirmed mutual sacrificial love between husbands and wives in his New Testament letters. He instructed them to honor each other’s bodies, recognizing that they belong to each other (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). This countered prevailing attitudes that rejected intimacy during menstruation.
Paul also depicted the church as the pure Bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27). This metaphor signifies that God sees believers as cleansed from sin through faith in Christ, not by physical purity laws. The righteousness of Christ covers human imperfections.
Furthermore, Paul asserted that in Christ, distinctions between gender, race and social class are erased, for all are one in Him (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, the menstrual restrictions prescribed in the Old Testament no longer apply to believers under the new covenant.
Relationship with God is based on spiritual rebirth, not external ritual purity.
Scholarly Analysis and Commentary
Menstruation as Life-Giving, Not Impure
Historically, menstruation has been viewed by some faith traditions as ritually impure or unclean. However, modern biblical scholars emphasize a more positive view of menstruation as a natural, life-giving process.
For example, Dr. Kristin De Troyer of St. Andrews University highlights how in the Bible, menstrual blood is often symbolic of life itself. She points to verses like Ezekiel 36:26, where God promises to give His people a “new heart” and remove their “heart of stone.”
De Troyer suggests this imagery connects to the shedding of the endometrium during menstruation and the potential for new life.
Similarly, William Stacy Johnson of Princeton Theological Seminary argues menstruation represents women’s life-giving sacrificial nature. Just as Jesus shed blood to give life to humanity, women shed blood each month in service of the potential for new life. Viewed this way, menstruation connects women to divine mysteries rather than marking them as contaminated.
Emphasis on Community Over Isolation
While some traditional practices isolated menstruating women, scholars emphasize the importance of community in biblical texts surrounding impurity.
Biblical scholar Mary Joan Winn Leith points out that male impurities like skin diseases also led to isolation in scripture. Further, rituals restored people with skin diseases and women who menstruated to the community once their impure state ended. She argues these practices reflect a worldview focused more on cyclical community reintegration than on viewing impurities themselves as sinful.
Likewise, Dr. Gale A. Yee of Episcopal Divinity School notes the woman healed from chronic bleeding in Mark 5:24-34 was marginalized by her condition. Yet Jesus heals her specifically so she can rejoin her community. Yee contends this shows Jesus “does not ostracize her as an unclean woman. “
Thus modern scholars emphasize community care over isolation regarding ancient views of menstrual impurity in Bible texts. They argue inclusion and support better align with scriptural principles.
In conclusion, a close reading of the Bible reveals that verses discussing menstruation and women’s ritual purity are not intended as means to exclude or isolate women from religious life. While the Old Testament prescribes isolation during periods, scholars widely agree this was meant for physical cleanliness and health.
Jesus directly challenged prevailing notions by interacting and healing menstruating women. Furthermore, the Bible celebrates fertility and life associated with the menstrual cycle. So rather than shaming women for normal biological processes, the Bible promotes inclusion, understanding and accommodation.