The biblical languages make no distinction between washing and bathing primarily because the dry climate of the Middle East prohibited bathing except on special occasions or where there was an available source of water (John 9:7). Therefore, where “bathe” occurs in the biblical text, partial bathing is usually intended. However, two notable exceptions are: (1) that of Pharaoh's daughter in the Nile River, (Exodus 2:5), (2) that of Bathsheba on her rooftop, (2 Samuel 11:2). The public baths of the Greek culture were unknown in Palestine before the second century. The chief use of the word has to do with ritual acts of purification (Exodus 30:19-21). It is probably safe to say that the masses of people in both the Old Testament and New Testament had neither the privacy nor the desire for bathing as we know it today. Priests washed clothes, hands, feet, or bodies before approaching the altar for sacrifice. Ceremonial defilement was removed by bathing the body and washing the clothes (Leviticus 14:8). During a time of mourning or fasting, the face and clothes were left unwashed (2 Samuel 12:20), a practice forbidden by Jesus (Matthew 6:17). Lambs were washed at shearing time (Song of Solomon 4:2), babies after birth (Ezekiel 16:4), and bodies in preparation for burial (Acts 9:37). Sometimes other elements such as wine and milk were used to symbolize washing in a metaphorical sense. According to Josephus, the Essene community practiced daily bathing for ceremonial reasons, a practice which excavations at Qumran appear to confirm. See Clean; Unclean.
C. Dale Hill