Leviticus For Christians

A few interesting laws from Leviticus, which at first glance don’t seem to concern us today:

Forbidden leftovers

When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the LORD, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because he has desecrated what is holy to the LORD; that person must be cut off from his people.
—Leviticus 19:5-8, NIV

Meat that was offered as a sacrifice could be eaten by the priests and their household; it was their pay. In the case of the Passover lamb, it could be eaten by just about everyone in the community. However, it was strictly forbidden to eat any leftover sacrificial meat on or after the third day.

In the New Testament, John the Baptist proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). On Passover, Jesus institutes the Last Supper and gives His body and blood in the bread and wine, and commanded His disciples to eat it (Luke 22:19-22). This became the communion ritual in the church (1 Corinthians 11:24-26).

Jesus said that it was written in the Law that He was to rise from the grave on the third day. None of the Bible commentators I have read can find anything in that portion of the Old Testament that Jews call The Law that says that. All they can figure is that Jesus was referring to Jonah, especially since He alluded to that as well in another place. Jonah, however, is in the part of the Old Testament that the Jews call The Prophets.

Could Jesus have been referring to this passage in Leviticus? If, as Jesus said, the whole Law pointed to Him and was fulfilled in Him, this prohibition might be a foreshadowing of the resurrection of the Ultimate Sacrifice.

When we eat the bread of communion, we eat the body of Jesus Christ, and thus become part of His body, the church.

Jesus the innovator?

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
—Leviticus 19:9-10, NIV

When a field was harvested, the edges and corners were to be left undisturbed. Also, only grapes that were on the stem could be harvested, any that fell to the ground had to be left behind. This was a provision for the poor and needy, who could take what was left over.

Perhaps you remember the passage in the New Testament where Jesus’ disciples were gathering grain on the Sabbath and rubbing it in their hands. This passage in Leviticus was the reason for their action. Jesus and His followers had no gainful trade, so they lived off donations and the land. They had a legal right to eat that grain. The dispute was over whether or not rubbing the grain constituted threshing and thus work. That was mere rabbinical tradition; Jesus and His followers were on solid legal ground.

In this we see that Jesus is no innovator, bringing some mystical new understanding of the Law to bear on contemporary society. Instead, He sweeps away traditions that defeat the eternally valid purpose of the Law.


Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
—Leviticus 19:18, NIV

Well, so much for the theory that the Old Testament represents a more primitive morality! This commandment is completely in line with the New Testament, Paul’s advice in Romans 12.

“Of course, as a Christian, I have forgiven him,” we hear someone say, “but there are some things you just can’t forget!”

If you have ever said that, be mindful that in the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive us according to our standards for forgiving others. Imagine this: It is the Last Day, and after many, many years, you are resurrected! You are eager to stand before your God in the flesh; and suddenly you find yourself in that Sublime Presence. It is the Last Judgment, you realize with quickening pulse, and you eagerly anticipate Paradise.

God pushes His glasses up onto His forehead and scrutinizes your Permanent Record. (No, I don’t think God has a forehead or wears glasses, this is just a prop in an allegory.) He rubs his mouth with His hand and makes ‘uh-huh’ noises. Then He lays down the paper and looks you straight in the eye. Your pulse quickens; your body trembles with excitement!

“Well, of course, as a Christian, I forgive you,” He says, reaching over for a lever, “but there are some things you just can’t forget!” Then, as your eyes grow large in horror, He pulls the lever!

You fall screaming into the Pit, your own words echoing in your head, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” and you realize in regret that you got what you asked for, and His judgment is just. Repent now, and save yourself the agony!

Eating blood and reading horoscopes

Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it. Do not practice divination or sorcery.
—Leviticus 19:26, NIV

In other passages, we learn that blood was forbidden as a food because the blood was the life of the animal. This is why meat isn’t kosher (that is, clean) until all the blood is drained out. In the Jewish Law, the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled for an atonement of sin.

In communion, Jesus makes a radical break here. He commands us to drink His blood! Remember that blood is for the remission of our sins, and that because His blood is His life, by drinking it we share in His life... not in a life that ended in tortuous agony on the cross, but in a life that was resurrected from the tomb and ascended to sit at God’s right hand!

Haven’t you ever wondered why all those psychics don’t pool their talents to win a lottery and donate the proceeds to charity? There was a town that passed a law against unlicensed psychics, and the psychics protested, because they hadn’t been informed in advance. A town official observed that if they were truly able to see the future, they would have foreseen the law and gotten licenses before the law went into effect.

We all know that palmists live in run-down houses next to the freeway; that psychics generally aren’t rich or socially successful; and that astrologers don’t fare any better than the rest of us. We know that when people try to contact the dead through mediums, the benefits they claim are largely emotional and questionable. Yet in our urgent desire to know, we ignore these things and consult them anyway!

Most people can be excused for grasping at these straws, because the world is tumultuous and the future is uncertain, and anxiety is great.

But why do we do these things if we have access to the best source of information that there could possibly be? Why would someone, who claims to be on good terms with the King of the Universe, go mucking around with such things? If it is possible to contact the dead, how knowledgeable can a spirit be if it is a recent arrival in the afterlife and has nothing better to do than rap on the underside of your kitchen table? If the secrets of your life were locked in the wrinkles of your palm, why aren’t they used by criminologists to prevent crime? If you think psychics and astrologers have value, go buy a book with their predictions for last year. It’s amusing reading: I do better with guesswork.

So if I can do better than all the psychics, astrologers, palmists, and would-be prophets, just with some sober prayer, reflection, and cool-headed guesswork, why do I need all those fakes?

If you truly have a good relationship with God, all these other things are unnecessary. You’ll have confidence that God will tell you what you need to know, and you’ll trust Him for the rest.

You Might Also Like:

The Art and Agony of Translation

1 John 5:7-8 reads differently in the King James Version than in other translations because Erasmus lost a bet. If you compare this verse in the King James Version, you will find a Trinitarian formula (“the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” ) that does not appear in mos...
Read More

Translations of the Bible Into English

You decide to buy yourself or someone else a Bible, so you run down to the nearest bookstore—but they have so many different translations, you don’t know where to begin. Here is something that might help: a list of modern translations that you are likely to find in a bookstore, with a description of...
Read More

About Those ‘Literal’ Translations

Every so often, someone writes to ask me about some obscure Bible translation, and invariably they add, ‘it is supposed to be a literal translation.’ For me, this is a red flag. Let me explain. New Testament Greek is quite a different language from English, and a strictly literal translation is impo...
Read More

The Nicene Creed and the New Testament Canon

The New Testament and the Nicene Creed are deeply entangled with each other. The wording and the concepts in the Nicene Creed come from the New Testament—in fact, one of the most important debates at the Council of Nicea concerned whether it is proper to include a word in the Nicene Creed that does ...
Read More

The Torah in Modern Scholarship

The first five books of the Bible are called the Torah by Jews and the Pentateuch by scholars. The word ‘Torah’ is Hebrew for ‘teaching’ or ‘law,’ and the word ‘Pentateuch’ is Greek for ‘five books.’ Sometimes scholars include the book of Joshua and term the collection the ‘Hexateuch,’ which means ‘...
Read More

The Apocrypha and the Old Testament

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.—Proverbs 30:5-6, NIV The canon of scripture—that is, the official list of what’s in the Bible—is not revealed to us by any saying of Jesus, nor does scr...
Read More

New Testament Scholarship

The Insufficiency of Literary Analysis Unaccompanied by Other Tools New Testament critics generally assume that our gospels are the product of a scribe having two or more editions before him, which he takes together to produce a new version that contains material from the old sources. They say this,...
Read More

The Synoptics and John

If you read Matthew, Mark, and Luke in a row, you get a “haven’t I read this before” feeling, because they are so similar to each other. In many places, they even have identical wording! For this reason, Bible scholars lump them together with the term “synoptic gospels.” The word “synoptic” means “t...
Read More

Slavery and Sonship

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”—John 8:34-36, NIV Notice that Jesus has the slave living in the house, albeit temporari...
Read More

Are There Contradictions in the Bible?

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise yo...
Read More

The Rescue of Lot

The story of the destruction of Sodom and its sister city of Gomorrah is of compelling interest today because of the current debate in the churches over homosexuality. In the course of this debate, these two chapters of Genesis have been degraded from a story of God’s justice and providence to a dia...
Read More

Evolution and Creationism

Why does water boil? Fred and Ethel have different explanations. Fred says that heat causes the vapor pressure within the water to rise to the same level as the atmospheric pressure on its surface. That causes bubbles to form, which rise and break the surface.Ethel says that’s nonsense. The water wa...
Read More

Reading What Isn't There

“Judge others, but you are exempt from judgment. You must go out and tell it like it is, exposing sinners wherever you find them. You will receive a special bonus for each evil you expose.”—Matthew 7:1-2, Reversed Fractured Version “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you ju...
Read More

Wrong Impressions

Do you have a regular Bible study plan? Well, I’m so glad to hear that! You don’t? Well, maybe that is not so bad. You know, a lot of people who have a regular Bible reading plan are very systematic about it. Certainly you’ve met the type: they read a chapter a day, or some other arbitrary amount. I...
Read More

But Is it Biblical?

Recently I helped my boss decode a rather obtuse document, in which the writer had used obscure words instead of plain language. “This is,” I said, “an example of what happens when people go to the dictionary for permission instead of guidance,” and my boss thought that was an astute observation. Ju...
Read More

The Bible and Personal Revelation

God reveals Himself to us in nature, for Scripture says: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.Their voice goes out in...
Read More

The Inspiration of the Bible

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.—2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV Someone recently asked if I consider the Bible the inspired and inerrant word of God or if I fee...
Read More

Interpreting the Bible

When I work on interpreting Scriptural texts, I work through these layers: The probable meaning of the writer, which has to fit in with the writer’s environment.If it is an Old Testament text, the way the passage has been used and interpreted historically in Judaism.The way the passage has been used...
Read More