leviticus doesn’t have to suck


The Bible is in the wrong order.

Genesis is pretty interesting. It folds nicely into Exodus, where the story of God’s creation and chosen people continues, leading up to the lineage of Jesus. Then comes Leviticus — and you’re first bored to tears and then, wham, smacked in the face with a list of punishments and ceremonial cleansing rituals that, to modern eyes, seem arbitrary and unnecessarily harsh.

A lot of the cherry-picked verses that are exploited as “proof” that Christianity is backward, misogynist, hateful, etc., come from Leviticus. Putting people to death for saying something mean about their parents doesn’t quite seem to jive with our goal of spreading the unconditional love of Christ. Even as a believer, it’s pretty hard to get through Leviticus without some serious questions — unless you have the proper historical and spiritual context.

I’m approaching my Bible study without any accompanying historical data or commentary, at least this first time around. It feels a little reckless and contrary to what pretty much every how-to blog post will tell you, but I know myself. I don’t want to get bogged down in dates and maps and miss the message.

But for Leviticus, context is absolutely necessary. My advice? Regardless of how you choose to read the Bible, read Galatians first, then Leviticus.

Galatians is one of Paul’s most powerful epistles and explains clearly and succinctly why Jewish law is no longer followed. Galatians 3 gets a little metaphysical, but the gist is that the law was created by God to govern his followers until such a time as Christ could come and release us from the burden of sin. A brief excerpt:

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Galatians 3:23-26

Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice, we can now be saved by our faith, rather than our allegiance to a strict set of rules and regulations.

Once that was settled, my next question was: Why would the compilers of the Bible bother including a book of laws that no one is required to follow any more? For perspective.

If you have a Bible handy, flip to Leviticus and glance through the sections about ceremonial cleansing for people with leprosy (in my translation, “contagious skin diseases”) and bleeding or discharges.

Now think about how truly radical it was for Jesus to surround himself with lepers or heal the hemorrhaging woman who touched his cloak. By touching these people, Jesus under the law would have also become unclean and held to a strict schedule and series of baths. Nobody wanted to be near them for fear of becoming unclean themselves.

But Jesus kicked the law over and said, “Nope.” Love is all that matters.

By associating with lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, Jesus broke preconceived notions about what God is and isn’t like wide open. And that’s what he calls us to do every day — to break down the obstacles holding us back and to share God’s love and our love freely.

It’s our job as believers not to skim over the parts of the Bible that challenge us or cause us to question God, but to tackle those questions head-on. So, yes, Leviticus is kind of a drag. But it’s there for a reason. And dense as it may be, even Leviticus has something important to teach us.

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