12/9/09

Does Leviticus Still Belong in the Bible?

Leviticus. The 3rd book of the Bible! Apparently no longer applicable to the Christian life.

Recently I have seen a few posts, on this blog and elsewhere, where people seem to discount an opinion if Leviticus is quoted! Now I know that Leviticus is in the OT, the cleaner and crisper part of many Bibles, but does this mean that it is irrelevant?

Jesus quoted from the book of Leviticus. He quoted from the OT quite often. Yet many believers operate as if Christianity started in the NT! The entire Bible is one long story and transitions from book to book, with a steady thread of redemption, grace and mercy throughout.

The issue, as I see it, is when the Bible, Old or New Testament, contradicts our current worldly morality. I mean who wants to read a book that condemns drinking blood and witchcraft when both are popular in society today. Why read a book that condemns unhealthy and sinful sexual practices when society, and many believers, feel these practices are ok.

Sure there are some laws that aren't applicable anymore...like women being put outside the camp for an issue of blood. God was trying to teach the Israelites about purity. I am not saying we need to follow EVERY dot, comma and dash. I am saying God does not change his mind about sin. Drinking blood was considered a sin, witchcraft - sin, homosexuality - sin. Just because it's in Leviticus does not invalidate God's truth.

Why read the OT at all. Aren't we under grace now? I mean God couldn't have had a good reason for us to still pay attention to all that old stuff could He? I'm sure God is ok if we throw out the parts we don't like or that society considers archaic.

Or maybe he wants us to speak against sin while also showing His grace and love to the sinner!

What do you think?

5 comments:

Roberta Taylor said...

Rick, I understand (I think) that you feel that people ignore or discount Levitical law in order to use grace as an excuse to do as they please. But you yourself are forced to contradict yourself in your defense of Leviticus' "validity" (and I am not saying that it isn't valid, just using your terms) by admitting that we don't need to "follow EVERY dot, comma, and dash". I think that the conflict is not in whether or not Leviticus is still 'valid' but in how evangelicals choose to use it.

The problem that I, and many others I've spoken to or read, have with using Levitical law as a standard to measure modern life is that it is impossible to do so without making some sort of personal judgement call about what laws we need to still obey and which ones were 'just for Israel back then in the desert'. And everyone will tend to draw this line in a different place.

So instead of spending 5 days a month outside my camp, or feeling guilty that I haven't, or wondering if I should, I prefer to leave the judgement to God himself, and to follow Christ's teaching by doing my best to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and love my neighbour as myself. You see, if this is indeed the summation of the law and prophets as Christ said it was, then I think that we as New Testament Christians are called to lay down our stones and start offering those around us the mercy and grace that Christ first extended to us.

Leviticus is a part of the Word of God. It stands to show us, among other things, that not one of us can earn God's favour, none can live without blame. But I do not think that I can find in Christ's example any indication that we as Christians should use it as justification to judge others, or to withhold mercy and grace from certain groups of people. Christ defended the woman caught in adultery, he spoke words of kindness to the woman at the well. When we choose to condemn instead of loving, we are trying to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit- how presumptuous to think that our condemnation can do more than God's still small voice!




*note- If we are to discuss popular culture, I suggest that there is very little in the way of film or literature that we can't find something wrong with when we hold it to God's standards. That is why we as Christians are called to be discerning in what we think about and feed our minds. But no Christian who chooses to turn a blind eye to the sin in one genre or medium has the right to decry the sin in another. We who have submitted to Christ's authority are submitting to his standards, but the secular world is in rebellion against Christ and it is to be expected that this will be reflected in their creations. We do not have to consume these creations.

4thpoint said...

Thank you, Rick, for reminding us how the New Testament begins 2/3 of the way through the Bible, something many evangelicals seem to forget. Roberta's comments, above, are apt in how the debate begins with what specific commands in Leviticus (and other OT texts) we can render moot because of Christ's ultimate sacrifice. But I suspect there are many times we want to set aside parts as specific to ancient Israel not so much on biblical/theological grounds, but simply because we don't like to personally hear them or we don't want to discover their relevant implications for 21st century living!

Interestingly, when I began reading through Bible again at the beginning of the year, I was pleasantly surprised how meaningful my time in Leviticus was. (It was Numbers that proved a tough haul for me this time, but that's another story.) The recurring theme of holiness -- "Be holy, because I am holy," says the LORD (Lev 11:45 & elsewhere) -- kept bringing me to my knees, asking for God's forgiveness for my shortcomings and asking for His Holy Spirit that I may live who/what I already truly am in Christ -- His righteous child.

RDA said...

That's the thing. I have fallen in love with the OT again because I see God's grace, mercy and holiness throughout. Jesus did show grace to the sinners he met but He also spoke against their sin in that whole, "Go and sin no more" thing!

I see to many wink and nod at things God clearly condemned.

Rustybadger said...

Leviticus is still in the Bible, and is still relevant because it points to Christ, not because it contains a set of rules by which we should judge each other. God's entire system of interacting with Israel was upset ("fulfilled") by Christ's sacrifice on the cross. This was expressed by John the Baptist when he said "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." In many respects, Leviticus sets the stage for God to show the Jews His plan for their salvation through Christ, and by extension to all of Mankind.

As I said, Leviticus is not relevant as a rulebook- at least for anyone who's not a practising Jew. I am not saying it should be ignored when one is considering the ethics of certain behaviour- it clearly contains a lot of wisdom. But one cannot apply the moral codes in Leviticus without considering Christ's assertion that the most important part is the bit about "Love the Lord your God with all your heart...and love your neighbour as yourself." Remember also that without the influence of the Holy Spirit, nothing we say is going to change a person's heart, so quoting Leviticus at them in a drive-by fashion isn't going to be very effective.

My point is that you can't pull out a verse (entirely out of context, by the way) from Leviticus to condemn a book you haven't read; and you can't lay judgment on a person's lifestyle without loving them first. Christ's admonition to 'go and sin no more' always came after he had spoken love and trust into the person's life. How did He change Zaccheus's heart? By stopping under the tree, looking up, and saying 'Thou shalt not steal'? No, He inferred a great honour on him by saying 'I am coming to your house for dinner!' Scripture doesn't even indicate that Jesus preached at Zaccheus in order to effect this change in his heart. And when He spoke to the woman caught in adultery, His LAST words were 'go and sin no more'- before which He said 'neither do I condemn you'.

Every style of hermeneutics is subject to criticism from its audience. But there are more and less effective ways of presenting an argument, and drawing from a single, out of context verse to back up one's opinion is basically asking to be shot down. I know you're smarter and more knowledgeable than that, and I know you have the theological background to present a solid argument that meets the tests of logic and wisdom. I certainly believe that you could use Scripture to argue that the Twilight books and films are inappropriate for Christians to consume- but of course you'd have to be prepared to apply the same standards to everything you watched and read. But the Levitical admonition against drinking blood hardly applies in this case, as we're dealing with a mythological being- God wasn't telling the Israelites not to go around biting the necks of their fellows, He was telling them that blood was a symbol of life, and that it had to given in exchange for a life; therefore, they were to treat it with special respect.

In closing, I have a lot of respect for you, Rick. I have seen how you truly love the people you minister to. We have had long conversations about this kind of thing, and I know you understand it, so please don't think I am criticising how you live out your faith. But I'm still going to call you out if you write something I think contradicts what you truly believe- more for the fun of the argument than anything else, though! But that's what you get for asking "What do you think?"

RDA said...

How do we judge each other if we quote what God says is true? AM I judging someone by saying homosexuality is a sin? The Bible says it? Speaking truth is not judging someone. Grace does not condone sin?