Fortress Press

Cleansed Lepers, Cleansed Hearts: Purity and Healing in Luke-Acts

Cleansed Lepers, Cleansed Hearts

Purity and Healing in Luke-Acts

Pamela Shellberg (Author)


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Illnesses are perceived and understood differently across cultures and over time. Traditional interpretations of New Testament texts frame the affliction lepra (“leprosy”) as addressed either by ritual cleansing or miraculous healing. But as Pamela Shellberg shows, these interpretations are limited because they shift modern ideas of “leprosy” to a first-century context without regard for how the ancients themselves thought about lepra. Reading ancient medical texts, Shellberg describes how Luke might have perceived lepra and used the language of “clean” and “unclean” and demonstrates how Luke’s first-century understandings shaped his report of Peter’s dream in Acts 10 as a warrant for Gentile inclusion.
For Luke, “cleansing” was how the favor of God announced by Isaiah was extended to Gentiles, and the stories of Jesus’ cleansing of leprous bodies in the Gospel are the pattern for the divine cleansing of Gentile hearts in Acts. Shellberg illuminates Luke’s understanding of “cleansing” as one of his primary expressions of the means of God’s salvation and favor, breaking down and breaking through the distinctions between Jew and Gentile. Shellberg’s conclusions take up the value of Luke’s emphasis on the divine prerogative to declare things “clean” for discussions of inclusion and social distinction today.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451485240
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 192
  • Emerging Scholars category Bible
  • Publication Date February 1, 2015


“Dr. Shellberg’s thesis, with its careful linking of leprosy, acceptability, and cleansing in Luke–Acts, breaks new ground in the discussion of the formation of early Christian identity. This book is a must-read for everyone interested in the process whereby early Christian communities reshaped their identities to proclaim the inclusion of Gentiles through God’s divine power and prerogative.”
—Gwen Sayler
Wartburg Theological Seminary   
“Pay attention to this emerging scholar and impassioned teacher! Pamela Shellberg writes with confidence and joy, plus she has something worthwhile to say. Adroitly bringing together the exegete’s skills, the poet’s imagination, and the theologian’s inquisitiveness, she opens up—beautifully, insightfully—how Luke, in confronting the division between Jew and Gentile, uses the cleansing of the leprosy-afflicted body to signal God’s boundary-bursting redefinition of holiness and ever-expansive love for all creation.”
Marvin M. Ellison
Union Theological Seminary
“Beautifully written and rich in theological significance, Shellberg’s work explores the seldom investigated cleansing theme from Luke-Acts, which served to authorize the legitimacy of mission to the Gentiles as an expression of divine power and prerogative for their authentic inclusion as God’s acceptable people.”
Craig L. Nessan
Wartburg Theological Seminary

“Shellberg’s work offers an important contribution to the study of Luke’s perspective on the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s kingdom. Her detailed investigation of the concepts of lepra and katharizō in various contexts of the evangelist’s milieu is, by itself, a valuable resource for students of the gospels. Here, it facilitates an insightful and convincing proposal of how Luke construes and integrates these realities to serve a crucial dimension of his narrative rhetoric across his two-volume work.”
Karl Kuhn
Lakeland College
“In this careful study, grounded in her dissertation research, Dr. Pamela Shellberg reinterprets the notions of leprosy, clean, and unclean in LukeActs. She applies this to a major turning point for Christianity’s spread in Acts, the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius. By studying the Lukan term lepra in the Septuagint and ancient medical texts, she differentiates its meaning from contemporary understandings of leprosy. I highly recommend this fresh study.”
William S. Kurz, SJ
Marquette University
“Clearly argued and well-written, Cleansed Lepers, Cleansed Hearts offers insights that will be helpful to preachers and pastors as well as teachers and students of Luke-Acts. Pamela Shellburg’s insights about lepra and cleansing in LukeActs can help any of us who are faced with the challenge to interpret texts about Jesus’ miraculous healings correctly and make meaningful connections between these stories and notions of acceptability and inclusion in our faith communities today.”
Amy E. Richter
St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Annapolis, Maryland

“In her new book, Cleansed Lepers, Cleansed Hearts, Pamela Shellberg offers an innovative approach to the study of Luke-Acts. Using ancient medical texts, she contextualizes ancient understandings of leprosy and relates them to Luke’s ideas about clean and unclean and the inclusion of Gentiles into the emerging church. This approach establishes new links between Luke and Acts and further contextualizes both in the first-century Greco-Roman world. Besides an innovative approach, Shellberg offers an engaging style that demonstrates confidence and erudition. Cleansed Lepers, Cleansed Hearts is a valuable contribution to the field, and it is a must-read for anyone interested in LukeActs and questions of Gentile inclusion in the early church.”
Kevin Sullivan
Illinois Wesleyan University