Category Archives: Leviticus

Literally Leviticus, an alliteratory allusion to uniquely unite contemporary and conservative christians

LITERAL (noun) “Conforming or limited to the simplest, nonfigurative, or most obvious meaning of a word or words.” I will be referring to the term literal several times and want to ensure that we are on the same page as to definition as I write and you (hopefully) read.

Leviticus is actually one of my favorite books in the bible. It has a great deal to say about holiness and what that means as it is lived out. Now, in fairness, a good many of us conservatives have given Leviticus a bad name with our ranting about the evils of tattoos, homosexuality and engaging in sexual congress with our father’s wife (all while eating bacon mind you), but all that means is in our literal interpretation of scripture (which I ascribe to) we missed the meaning. This is not to try and decipher what is sin and what is not in any singular category mentioned in Leviticus, rather to decipher what the simplest, and most obvious meaning of the words in Leviticus actually are. Don’t worry, I am not going to outline the entire book word for word.

Leviticus comes after Exodus and the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. So what you say? The lesson here is really quite simple for the followers of God then and now. First comes deliverance (Exodus) then comes sanctification (Leviticus). Notice that God did not expect that the Israelites would follow His dictates before they were delivered. As Christians we should probably follow that example and not expect that those who do not have faith in God through Christ to live like they do.

Leviticus exists to instill an awareness of sin as well as to show what constitutes holiness in one’s relationship to God. Under the covenant of law, this was demonstrated in large part by visual and concrete examples that were culturally relevant. It is done so in the covenant of grace as well with the many concrete illustrations that Christ gives, the difference being that Jesus told more stories to demonstrate rather than to simply say “don’t do this”. The examples given however are still concrete and culturally relevant. It is not interpretation to say that the overriding theme of what is written is that the people of God should be noticeably separate from those who are unfaithful. If people do not notice there is something different about us because of our faith we may be in trouble. That is quite literally what is laid out by God in Leviticus.

Leviticus foreshadows and reminds of the complete and perfect sacrifice of Christ by focusing on the perfect requirements of the sacrifice of animals. It prepared the Israelites for the coming messiah and the sacrifice necessary for redemption. No forgiveness without blood. Again, literally what the book says.

Finally, Leviticus adds to the revealed nature of God in Genesis (creator) Exodus (redeemer) by focusing on His holiness and His commands for us to be holy in response (sanctifier).

Whether liberal, progressive, conservative etc. there are a good many themes and ideas in Leviticus that we can focus on in agreement in our dealings and actions toward each other. Yes, sin is unpleasing to God and yes, we all should strive for personal holiness in an attempt to lead those around us to societal holiness, but we will not do so quibbling over the small stuff. We just might manage it when we focus on the big picture stuff. Yes, we are going to disagree over what is sin and what is not based on somethings in the book and I even think that good (Iron sharpening iron and all that good stuff), but let us be sure to do so within the over riding and literal theme of the book so that we can be identified as people of God that the world may see something in us to emulate. Isn’t that, after all, the simplest, and most obvious meaning of the words contained in Leviticus?

Quick Question – Leviticus and Deuteronomy

I was speaking to my rather elderly neighbor yesterday and a topic involving Leviticus and Deuteronomy came up.

This is how I explained the difference:

  • Leviticus presents a ritualistic (priestly/land) holiness
  • Deuteronomy presents a political holiness


New one… per comments

  • Leviticus presents a ritualistic (priestly/land) holiness
  • Deuteronomy presents a political faithfulness.

Awesome Slippage..

 14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit, and stories about him spread all through the area.15 He began to teach in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

 16 Jesus traveled to Nazareth, where he had grown up. On the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue, as he always did, and stood up to read. 17 The book of Isaiah the prophet was given to him. He opened the book and found the place where this is written: 
    18 “The Lord has put his Spirit in me, 
       because he appointed me to tell the Good News to the poor. 
    He has sent me to tell the captives they are free 
       and to tell the blind that they can see again. — Isaiah 61:1 
    God sent me to free those who have been treated unfairly — Isaiah 58:6 
    19 and to announce the time when the Lord will show his kindness.” — Isaiah 61:2

 20 Jesus closed the book, gave it back to the assistant, and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue was watching Jesus closely. 21 He began to say to them, “While you heard these words just now, they were coming true!”

 22 All the people spoke well of Jesus and were amazed at the words of grace he spoke. They asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

 23 Jesus said to them, “I know that you will tell me the old saying: ‘Doctor, heal yourself.’ You want to say, ‘We heard about the things you did in Capernaum. Do those things here in your own town!’ “ 24 Then Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown. 25 But I tell you the truth, there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elijah. It did not rain in Israel for three and one-half years, and there was no food anywhere in the whole country.26 But Elijah was sent to none of those widows, only to a widow in Zarephath, a town in Sidon. 27 And there were many with skin diseases living in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha. But none of them were healed, only Naaman, who was from the country of Syria.”

 28 When all the people in the synagogue heard these things, they became very angry.29 They got up, forced Jesus out of town, and took him to the edge of the cliff on which the town was built. They planned to throw him off the edge,30but Jesus walked (Slipped) through the crowd and went on his way.


All the people were amazed at the words of grace.. no, not that Jesus was a great speaker, but that He was talking about Grace, and most importantly, not grace for Israel, but for everyone, as he goes on to point out how Elijah was sent to a non-Israelite woman, and Elisha was healed an enemy general. This would be a bit like someone (claiming to be a prophet) standing up in America and saying that God was going to save Al Queda.

It would be shocking, and outrageous. God’s grace is for everyone, and He, the Messiah (these words about the Messiah are fulfilled before you today, he says), has not been sent to save Israel – the healthy do not need a doctor – but to save the Gentiles.

So they try to kill him. Ironically, Jesus did not test God to save him when the accuser tested him a little before, and now, miraculously, Jesus slips away through the crowd. “On his way” generally means, in Luke, some form of divine direction or leading, “a path set out before one by God” – so to speak.

Deuteronomy always beats Leviticus, always

Last week, I posted something on Brian Thomas who had used additions to justify the historical reliability of Scripture (because Scripture needs us to justify it. bah!). Today, Craig Adams posted something from Daniel Steele:

QUESTION: Explain Deut. 14:21: “Ye shall not eat of anything that dieth of itself: (thou mayest give it unto the sojourner that is within thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto a foreigner;) for thou art a holy people unto Jehovah.”

ANSWER: There is here evidently an instance of an uninspired interpolation which I have indicated by the marks of a parenthesis. This law is found in Ex. 22:31 and in Lev. 17:15 without the words in the parentheses which are out of harmony with the character of God, as revealed elsewhere in the Bible. In fact, they contradict the law about the sojourner, found in Lev. 17:15, where he is indirectly forbidden to eat carrion.

It is a glaring contradiction in the text, and if you have made such statements that the Scriptures are somehow inerrant then you may want to reconsider that, even in the original sources, as if there is such a thing as a pure original source for much of Scripture. Anyway…

So Steele points this contradiction out and points to what he considers a parenthetical (it’s not in parenthesis, by the way, in other the original text or in most modern translations) addition by a later scribe. So, for those who feel the need to explain this away… how do you? I guess for me, it is more about the political realities of the time in which Deuteronomy was coming about. Near and post-exile when Israel wasn’t so neatly ‘Jewish’ as it ‘once was.’ Maybe it looks at a type of religious pluralism while allowing for ethnocentrism? I note that Deuteronomy is often a less-supernatural book than the rest of the Torah, with more of a humanistic spin to it. I mean, look at the Sabbath and the reason given for that, as compared to Exodus (something Creationists always fail to mention, by the way).

Leviticus 20.2-3, the Septuagint and Patriotism as a capital offense

During my recent readings into Leviticus, I noticed a difference between the Masoritic Text and that of the Septuagint.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “You shall also say to the sons of Israel: ‘Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones.

(Lev 20:1-2 NASB)

And the Lord spoke to Moyses, saying: You shall also speak to the sons of Israel: If any of the sons of Israel or of the guests who have come in Israel – whoever gives any of his offspring to a ruler, by death let him be put to death; the nation in the land shall stone them with stones.

(Lev 20.1-2 New English Translation of the Septuagint)

The Greek reads,

καὶ τοῖς υἱοῖς Ισραηλ λαλήσεις ἐάν τις ἀπὸ τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ ἢ ἀπὸ τῶν προσγεγενημένων προσηλύτων ἐν Ισραηλ ὃς ἂν δῷ τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτοῦ ἄρχοντι θανάτῳ θανατούσθω τὸ ἔθνος τὸ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς λιθοβολήσουσιν αὐτὸν ἐν λίθοις

The bold word is ruler. The Orthodox Study Bible translates this passage as ‘to worship a ruler’, although I am not sure where they get ‘worship’ from.

I can understand the Molech bit, with its connotation of child sacrifice. But in my opinion, the passage in the Greek becomes more about idolatry, and more than that, nationalistic idolatry.  We read in Deuteronomy that a King would require the sons of the people in his army, but this is counseling against giving children to a ruler. Could this translation choice be directed towards Jews serving in either Ptolemy’s or the Roman armies of the time?

What do you think? How far off am I?

Responding to Mary Douglas, The Eucharist: Its Continuity with the Bread Sacrifice of Leviticus

c. 840
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Again, rough draft in response to this paper, which you should be able to find here.

I must admit, that it is most difficult to respond to someone of the stature of either Erich Zenger or Mary Douglas, and no matter how much I might disagree with them, my responses pale in comparison to their established body of work. Douglas knows that her argument is unconvincing, but given the space of a journal, and indeed, her work on the anthropology of Leviticus, I wouldn’t expect it to be neatly contained in this article. I believe that her argument about the bread/cereal sacrifice continued from the priestly codes to that of the Eucharistic celebration of the New Testament makes sense and can be easily verified; however, her outright dismissal of Deuteronomy (p 218) is in my opinion completely wrong. I note that the publication date of this article is 1999, and while the author most likely did not benefit from the studies produced by the New Perspective on Paul group and other, fuller, treatments of Second Temple Judaism, I think that her casual dismissal of Deuteronomy misshapes her entire argument and gives it a rather shaky defense.

She notes that the ‘continuity of writing and reading Leviticus was broken’ but still doesn’t see the role which Deuteronomy played in Second Temple Judaism and especially the Pharisaic community which gave rise to the early Church. For one, I don’t believe that there was such a stringent continuity which enabled Leviticus to shape the different Judaisms of the day, a fact which the author doesn’t call attention to. It is almost as if she assumes that the Judaism of Christ and the Apostles were the same as those who wrote the priestly codes, and yet we know from a simple reading of the Gospels (and indeed, comparing and contrasting Ruth/Ezra-Nehemiah and the books of the Kingdoms/Chronicles) that there was no such thing as a single Judaism. It would be my contention that instead of examining Leviticus tin search of a connection, Deuteronomy is the central book of the Torah for the Gospel writers and early Jewish-Christian community. Yes, while Leviticus is much more open to strangers and foreigners, which would have played well with the God-fearers (Acts 10.2), Deuteronomy shaped exiled-Israel’s view of itself through seeing the system of blessings and curses which the early Jewish-Christians would have seen brought about by the ultimate blessing, namely Christ, the prophet of Deuteronomy 18.

Further, Douglas, while examining minute texts in Leviticus to support the importance of the bread offering – and I believe she is correct in that the bread offering is an essential sacrifice which is often missed – she misses the Deuteronomic passages of 8.2-16 and 12.23-24 which speaks about the value of a heavenly bread given during redemption and the pouring out of a blood sacrifice. Further, her case, here at least, is not made for the notion of Temple sacrifice mimicking the body. I am not versed enough in this conversation to offer dialogue; however, I would note that some of the recent theological developments regarding Genesis One and is liturgical relationship identifying the Hebrew notion of Cosmos and Temple. Further, Deuteronomy sees little value in the Temple, preferring to focus more on the Land, which fit into the Christian theological spectrum, especially as the Temple was destroyed (before the Gospels were written) and the Gentiles became the dominant group in the Way.

With this said, I would agree with Douglas that the use of the bread in the Eucharist is not happenstance, and would have triggered something in the minds of the disciples and later readers (although I think it is the manna of the Wilderness saga). She is correct that the Eucharist is connected to the Paschal Meal and that it was ‘continuous with Bible teaching on sacrifice and that there was a solid basis for bread sacrifice laid down in Leviticus itself.’ Further, Douglas highlights the almost forgotten notion that illegal aliens were allowed to partake of the Passover meal which is something foreign to much of Deuteronomy, if not all. Finally, I ultimately disagree with her first premise, “For Christians, a loaf of bread and a cup of mine would substitute for the flesh and blood of animals,” and her exclusion of Deuteronomy to the favoring of Leviticus while seeing in her limited argument presented here many things that are missed in Leviticus.

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Leviticus as the Center of Jewish-Christian Interfaith Dialogue

1250 French Bible illustration depicts Jews (i...
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Part of the assignment in Old Testament class is to write a response to Erich Zenger‘s article (warning, PDF) on the above mentioned issue. How can I response to Zenger? But, this is my rough draft, which I thought I might share:


There is little doubt that Fr. Zenger is right that Christians rarely see anything more in Leviticus than a ‘what we are not’ view; however, I am unsure that we can so roundly disconnect ourselves from the holiness codes contained therein in our modern world. We know that Leviticus is absolute on its requirements to put to death homosexuals (Lev 20.13), patriots (Lev. 20.2-3, LXX), and unruly children (Lev. 20.9), and while Zenger makes good points that the idea of purity can and should be extended to ecological concerns, I am unsure as to the feasibility of taking one passage of a book as relevant and another passage of the same book as irrelevant.  Granted, while the whole notion of a canon-within-a-canon is reprehensible, it is easily enough seen that we make one for ourselves.  But, can Leviticus, the center of the Torah and ancient-Jewish cultic life draw Christians and modern Jews together?

While I think that the purity codes of Leviticus may serve to show a mutual connection to one another, especially in the area of stranger/foreigner and how we treat Creation, I think that the book serves to further the dialogue of just what our center pieces mean as well as our interpretation of Scripture. For my faith, I see Christ as the Incarnation of Torah and within Him the fleshing out, if you will, of the holiness codes which establish boundaries of righteousness and unrighteousness. Christ doesn’t remove those boundaries (Rev 22.11), but by His act of faithfulness creates a means to cleanse the unrighteousness not just maintain separation. By examining the cultic practices of Leviticus, I believe we see the central role which God played for the Jews, and more than that, the roll in which their active and ongoing daily responses to YWHW played. It was a grand liturgy with God as the leader and the congregation clearly marked and defined by their responses, which generally was physical instead of verbal. Zenger notes that many assume Christianity to be led ‘as a system of dogmas.’ Perhaps by examining Leviticus and understanding that for this community of Jews, the Law was not something to be examined one day a week, but lived daily. This might lead to a revolution for many Christians and encompass what a friend of mine once wrote, “Real Christianity is a life that is lived according to the doctrine of which our faith consists.” (Mike Radcliff, 2008). Christianity is not a set of dogmas, but a life to be lead daily as a response to the call of a holy God, just as Leviticus shows us.

Secondly, and maybe even more importantly, reading Leviticus with the Jews in our Scriptural community, or us with them, will help us in determining better interpretative methods for ‘hard words.’ As I noted before, there are calls for sanctions that we would find rather ruthless by modern standards and yet, Leviticus is every bit a part of our common canon. Further, the cultic sacrifices expressly applied to the Jews are simply not fulfilled and yet Judaism no longer wrestles with them. Further, for many Jews, Leviticus is less than literal but every bit as historical. For more conservative Christians, reading Leviticus in a community which included Jewish contributors might help us to understand better these portions of Scripture and those such as Genesis 1-9 (a section which Zenger notes several times as important to Leviticus). This inter-faith dialogue should prevent a closer communication between them and us, us and them, and more ecumenicalism, something I think that the late priest would have hoped we would take from his article.

While I disagree with some of Zenger conclusions, over all I do think that Leviticus can serve to draw the two communities together without sacrificing our own cultic practices.

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