What does the Bible mean when the word “defile” is used? What is the biblical definition of the word defile?
A Secular Definition of Defile
If you asked someone on the street what the word “defile” means, they might look at you rather strange but the secular definition of the word defile means to make something or someone unclean or impure or to corrupt the purity or perfection of something or someone. It could also mean to be debased or to make something or someone filthy or dirty. If you polluted a river then you’d defile a river, like with sewage or something similar. This is not that much different from the biblical definition of defile as we shall read.
Jesus’ Idea of Defilement
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were concerned with external things but Jesus was rightly concerned with the heart saying “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matt 15:11). He said this because it is “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matt 15:18) and not what goes into the mouth. What is it that Jesus was referring when He said “but what comes out of the mouth [that] defiles a person?” It was the words we use because our words reveal what is in our heart and if we are defiled before God it is because our words betray us for out of the mouth speaks what is hidden in the heart.
Defiling the Temple
When Paul brought in men from who had followed all of the temple rules for purifying themselves and the associated oaths the Jews cried out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place” (Acts 21:28). This was simply not the case as “For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple” (Acts 21:29). So a temple can be apparently defiled by non-Jews even though they were wrong in their accusations against Paul and the men.
When the Apostle John writes in the Book of Revelation about the 144,000 he is writing about “these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless” (Rev 14:4-5) so these are the redeemed of Christ but how can they become blameless before God? Second Corinthians 5:21 shows how this is done; “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” For those who have repented and believed in Christ, which is what Jesus demands (Mark 1:15), they have the righteousness of God imputed toward them on account of Jesus’ own righteousness and as such, God accounts them as blameless or undefiled.
When Paul wrote to Titus he said “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15). It appears these are false teachers trying to make false converts because Paul concluded that “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). Paul basically said the Judiazers or those who teach false doctrines have defiled consciences and that “They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11). Not only were they teaching doctrinal errors such as legalism and making others follow the now defunct Mosaic laws, they were doing it “for shameful gain” or money and today we have no shortage of false teachers who are only in it for the money and not for the sake of teaching biblical truth.
Being defiled can mean a lot of different things in the Bible but the underlying theme is that it is against God. Those who are undefiled have been purified by the blood of the Lamb of God and been accounted as righteous but those who preach and teach a false gospel are defiled. Jesus says that what comes out of our mouth, which reveals what is in our hearts, is really what defiles the person, not what they eat. If you have never had a time in your life where you have repented of your sins, which means you have turned away from them and forsaken them, and then put your trust in Christ, God sees you as still be defiled and the judgment that awaits you is sure and certain (Rev 20:12-15).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.