04 February 2013

Things banned in Leviticus

Selections from a compilation of 76 things, several of which are punishable by death:
2.     Failing to include salt in offerings to God (2:13)
3.     Eating fat (3:17)
4.     Eating blood (3:17)
12.   Letting your hair become unkempt (10:6)
13.   Tearing your clothes (10:6)
17.   Eating – or touching the carcass of – any seafood without fins or scales (11:10-12)
20.   Eating any animal which walks on all four and has paws (good news for cats) (11:27)
22.   Eating – or touching the carcass of – any creature which crawls on many legs, or its belly (11:41-42)
23.   Going to church within 33 days after giving birth to a boy (12:4)
24.   Going to church within 66 days after giving birth to a girl (12:5)
36.   Having sex with a woman during her period (18:19)
39.   Having sex with a man “as one does with a woman” (18:22)
42.   Reaping to the very edges of a field (19:9)
48.   Holding back the wages of an employee overnight (not well observed these days) (19:13)
50.   Perverting justice, showing partiality to either the poor or the rich (19:15)
54.   Mixing fabrics in clothing (19:19)
56.   Planting different seeds in the same field (19:19)
58.   Eating fruit from a tree within four years of planting it (19:23)
60.   Trimming your beard (19:27)
61.   Cutting your hair at the sides (19:27)
62.   Getting tattoos (19:28)
65.   Not standing in the presence of the elderly (19:32)
66.   Mistreating foreigners – “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born  (19:33-34)
72.   Working on the Sabbath (23:3)
73.   Blasphemy (punishable by stoning to death) (24:14)
75.   Selling land permanently (25:23)
I have not cross-checked these with the Biblical referents, so its possible some are overstated, but the general sense is probably correct. 

I seem to have been guilty of 13 of these (I'm wearing mixed fabrics at this very moment).  I'm posting this not to mock, but to inquire how a modern, sensible Christian should reconcile the realities of daily life with the admonitions of the Old Testament.  Personally I ignore things like many of those listed above as historically valid but now outmoded.  This attitude of course then falls right into the criticism that "the Old Testament doesn't apply except for those parts we say do apply (so we create whatever Bible and religion we want) and the ludicrous stuff doesn't apply because of Jesus."  But then Jesus said "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I didn't come to destroy them, but to fulfill them."  And how could his coming erase some guidelines, but not others.  There doesn't seem to be an easy way out.


  1. Quick answer:
    There was the ceremonial law, the purpose of which was to segregate the Hebrews from gentiles - a symbol of the separation of God's people from the World.
    Paul was told in the New Testament that the ceremonial law was past when he was instructed to call nothing unclean.

    There's a lot more fine detail to it than that!

    1. Quicker answer: The Bible is fiction.

    2. Anonymous, if "the ceremonial law" is "past," then how does one decide which parts don't apply. If you're citing Acts 10:15, that only applies to food, doesn't it?

      And Abram, that's a comment but not an answer. The question is IF one wants to maintain Christian affiliation and belief, how does one reconcile that with the laws of the Old Testament.

      Yes, your answer is a simpler way out - just renounce the Bible and the religion. I was asking a more complex question.

    3. I think it is an answer, though. You have this problem that can't be reconciled (like many things in the Bible), so there are two options. You can take the route of Anonymous, and perform all sorts of mental gymnastics and selective interpretations to make things jibe, or you can just accept that it's a thousands of years old book of questionable origin with little to no historical data to back up the outrageous claims it contains, and move on to more important things.

    4. Sorry--I guess you're right that I'm not giving an answer to the question IF one wants to maintain belief. But I question that question ;-)

    5. Abram,
      I have to say, I responded the same way.

      M, a quote for you, meant with great gentleness.

      "Problems that remain persistently insolvable should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way."
      - Alan Watts

    6. And to comment from the other side: WE accept Jesus in our heart, and to live our life to be as close to him as humanly possible while we are here on earth, and all will be blessed when we are risen up to be with him in his Father House. I believe the Bible is a guide line to how we should live our lifes, not a recipe to be followed to the T. If we have question or problems we use it to look for answers. It is God inspired by God for us to seek him.

    7. When Atheists decry the Bible for being complicated; and then worship science, which is often complicated, it seems a bit intellectually dishonest.

      You are asking the question wrong, as Zhoen suggests, because you want the Judeo-Christian religion to be a stagnant thing that you can decry for not fitting into modern life. You want it to be a constant that Christians believe has never, will never, and can never change. You want it to be boiled down into a bumper sticker. It can't be.

      People spend years trying to figure out the laws that apply to our lives, both in religion, and in science. Just because you want it to be as easy as a blog post comment doesn't mean it is.

      So if the bumper sticker line for relativity is, the speed of light is always the speed of light, even though there's quite a bit more to it then that, then the bumper sticker line for Christianity is, the rules of the old testament don't apply anymore, but they're still a good idea. Neither are very satisfying answers.

      Both science and religion require intellectual dedication.

  2. I am a liberal/progressive Christian. I am comfortable with the concept that the Bible is not "taken literally" but interpreted. I am okay with giving my own interpretations authority, or respecting some people's interpretations above others. This is all very subjective, obviously, but part of my faith is trusting that God is big enough to deal with what I get "right" and what I get "wrong." You are pointing out the basic problem with fundamentalism - it is not possible to reconcile/theologize your way out of adhering to the Bible selectively. Some places I've found somewhat satisfying answers to these questions are the book "The Naked Gospel" and emergent/progressive sites like Tony Jones' Theoblogy (whose entry today might interest you - http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/02/04/progressive-christians-dont-need-any-foundations-questions-that-haunt/)

  3. Ceremonial, civil, and moral law would be the three divisions of law in the OT. Most of Christianity would argue that Christians are only bound to the moral law. Jesus lifted the ceremonial law requirement in Acts, and gentiles are not part of the nation of Israel. That leaves the moral law.

    Now, when we see Jesus claiming that he will fulfill the law, the Christian position would be that Jesus' perfect obedience in life fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law. It's Martin Luther's great exchange. He gets our sin and we get his righteous life credited to us. Christians are not those who keep the moral,ceremonial, or civil law. Christians are those who trust in the only one who ever has.

    It's actually quite infuriating that people use Leviticus in the homosexuality debates. Christians need to realize that they are arguing not so much against homosexual behavior as the are arguing in favor of God's created order (Gen 1-3) and the divine meaning of marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). There's no way to do this without arguing against gay marriage, but it at least keeps us from looking so much like moralists picking and choosing our own rules here and there.

  4. Minnesotastan,

    You've asked a really complicated but good question, and there are various answers given throughout the history of the church. A good, concise commentary on the nature of the law and sin as dealt with by a Christian would be Paul's letter to the Romans, specifically chapters 5-7.

    To get started, without being overly technical, Paul asks what is the purpose of the law in the first place? Paul says it is two-fold: To teach us about God, and second, to demonstrate that we are not righteous. Now, all of these laws do not have "moral" components, as you can notice. Their purpose was to keep people totally cognizant of God at all times. So every time they ate or put on clothes, they had to think about God.

    What the law demonstrates to us is that something is wrong with us. Take "the Ten Commandments". We could look at them as a summation of all the Law. The question is, should you have to tell a "good" person not to steal? Covet? Take someone else's wife? Why would God even have to tell us that? Jesus explains that the law was given to reveal what is going on in our hearts, and the law bears witness to us that these things are evil.

    So while the law shows us what is right, and it establishes to us that God is to be obeyed, it also establishes that we fail to keep the law. The law cannot save us, it only brings guilt. Jesus said all the law of the prophets can be summed up as 1) Love God with all your heart 2) Love neighbor as yourself. (A summary of the Ten Commandments...a summary of the summary!)

    When Christ came to "fulfill the law", he means that he came to love God with all of his heart, and to love his neighbor. He did that, and he kept the law out of love for God. Christians believe that through Christ's death, his 'law-keeping' is credited to us by our faith and love for him. So Christians are "freed" from the penalty of the law by the sacrifice of Christ. Christians still maintain that the law is good, but that its source is from love for God and neighbor. So how does a Christian keep the law? Augustine famously said, "Love God with all your heart, then do as you please." It's a loaded statement, but it means that if God is truly merciful, loving, just, and etc., then love for Him will compel us to love neighbor as God does.

    So Christians do not have to keep the law as Israel did because the purpose of the law was to act as an instructor to keep us until Christ came to give us new hearts and a new spirit. (Jeremiah 31:31-31; Ezekiel 36:25-27). The Christian believes that through this conversion, as he or she grows in love for God, they will no long have to be told "Do this...don't do that" because our very natures are changed.

    So why pick and choose from moral/ceremonial/etc? because some of it more directly reveals what it means to love God and neighbor. Some of it was given to keep the people of Israel under discipline until Christ appeared. The point is that Christians aren't "keeping" the law for righteousness, rather, we believe that righteousness comes to us by grace through faith.

    This is a Protestant answer, as opposed to Catholic or Orthodox. There's a history there :). Also, this is brief, and I tried to keep Scripture references down to a minimum as I don't know if this is an issue that you want to study in depth or just a sort of passing curiosity.

    1. Brad, thanks for taking the time to give such a detailed (and informed) answer. I don't really need scripture citations because I trust your expertise and because I already have my own ways to deal with this conundrum. I find it interesting how varied the responses can be to basically the same question, from Orthodox Jews to Amish to those Old Believers sequestered in the Taiga.

  5. Okay, one more thing. Christians do not view the as a checklist for righteousness. As in, "Didn't commit adultery today..check. No stealing today...check. Oh man, I am a better person now." You cannot advance in righteousness by keeping the law, you can only lose out by disobeying it, and we disobey it because are character is bad.

    The Christian believe that he is actually guilty of breaking all the law, because the law is the same thing. As James says, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10). Instead of trying to keep the law for our righteousness, we now use it to teach us about the character of God and about ourselves. We've already blown it, and the only hope we have for recovery is by God's grace, not by personal effort to keep the law. We need a change of nature, not simple behavioral modification.

    1. Growing up as a Lutheran, I learned early on the difference between the value of Grace vs good deeds.

  6. Not being a Christian, I can't really get that involved in the discussion in the comments above. However, I will point out that some (or maybe all? I don't know) of these laws have "riders" - for example #54, the law of "shatnez" applies ONLY to mixing linen and wool. So other mixed fabrics are fine. And even then, Shatnez only applies to WEARING clothing made of those two fabrics mixed. You can, for example, have a tablecloth made of both fibres, but not wear it and you won't be breaking that law.
    Similarly, #72, working on the Sabbath, is very clearly defined as the 39 "melachot" or types of work that were done to build the Holy Tabernacle where the tablets of the law (10 commandments) were kept. Rabbis have since expanded those 39 types of work, so for example, creating fire is not permitted, and they've expanded that to include no use of electricity (which obviously wasn't in use when Leviticus was written).
    Just my 2c...

  7. We're in the middle of a Bible study (youth group) at our Church and are looking at a question similar to this. Namely, we've been studying the book of Galatians.

    According to Galatians 3, there are two primary reasons the Law (including Leviticus, but classically the first 5 books of the Old Testament) was given.

    1) "For transgressions" (Galatians 3:19), with the idea not so much of controlling our life because God is a tyrant, but rather setting up a parameter to keep us from harming ourselves. I'll not take every list from above, but specifically, many of the hygienic and dietary laws would help to keep disease from spreading in a time when disease and food safety guidelines were not well understood.

    2) "To lead us to Christ, as a tutor/custodian/legal guardian" - (Galatians 3:23-25). The second purpose was to help us learn that we couldn't earn salvation through following law and attempting to live the perfect life. It isn't possible for us. The failure of the law to make us holy therefore leaves us craving something more, which God brought through His son Jesus.

    So as to your question: what do we do with the laws in the Old Testament? Yes, Jesus said he didn't come to abolish the law (meaning the law had failed), but to fulfill it. For a Christian, the two primary purposes of the law has indeed been fulfilled, thanks to Jesus. We no longer need a tutor (#2) to lead us to Christ. Tutors, as Galatians 3 explains, are there for a time in our life until we reach maturity. The first reason (#1) is no longer needed in a Christians life as we are to live life not based on the law (read pretty much any of the rest of Galatians), but a life of faith. This doesn't mean that we can do as we please, but that we do what pleases the Lord - and a mere written code would never be enough.

    1. The too long; didn't read version: Read Galatians chapter 3 for the two primary reasons the law existed. Read the rest of Galatians for why Christians are no longer bound by the law (especially chapters 3,4).

  8. Very simply, the MORAL LAWS of the Old Testament (all of which were in place before Moses received the Law) are still in force, and always will be. The rest of the Law is specific to the Hebrews (though it wouldn't hurt us to observe some of them--e.g., circumcision; the prohibition against pork; etc.).

    The Sabbath, while not strictly moral in nature, existed (at least in the Bible) from as early as the 7th Day. And while it may not be moral, it seems to be something wise to observe. Not just for rest, but for staying centered, etc.

    Some of the ones you mentioned, though, have a moral purpose, even though they are subsumed under Jesus' "love your neighbor as yourself" (Jesus indicated that everything in the Law and Prophets hung on "Love God" and "Love your neighbor"). For instance, not gleaning to the borders of your field was done for the purpose of leaving something for those who had little or nothing. It would be tantamount to leaving a few oranges on orange trees...just so someone in need could avail themselves to it. And of course the whole wages thing has a moral cast.

    It is my OPINION that God gave many of these rules NOT because they are moral in nature, but because they not only separated the Jews from other (perhaps destructive) nations, but also served to protect the Jews in terms of health and prosperity. Moreover, it might be that it was meant to create a framework of obedience that would later allow the Jews to prosper.

  9. To think of all the people that have been humiliated, imprisoned, tortured, maimed and killed throughout history all because of the way some people choose to interpret this book. Unfreaking believable...

    1. That is a pretty poor way to interpret history, as well as the impact of the Bible on human history.

    2. That's a really poor and lazy (albeit accepted and approved) way of dismissing reality.

    3. Check out Dinesh D'Souza's "What's so Great about Christianity" if you want to look at the impact on Western Civilization. Also consider that movements and symbols can be co-opted by men seeking power (see also: swastika symbol), and thereby be abused.

      I say this as a guy who lived 20 years of his life thinking Christians were at best idiots and the Bible was a book of fairy tales. Now I am one of those "idiots."

    4. "...movements and symbols can be co-opted by men seeking power..."

      Which completely validates my original statement.

      I'm not saying that Christianity in and of itself is bad- but it's radical premise of poverty, pacifism and self sacrifice was utterly and thoroughly corrupted and perverted ever since those put to death for entertainment were in turn empowered by Constantine. Christianity died when it embraced political power- and it has never let go. It has turned its back on the teachings of Christ and embraced: wealth, war, opportunism, arrogance, vengeance, greed- pretty much everything the Son came down to rally against. It has very much made its kingdom on this earth, and left a long and bloody trail in its wake every century since.

      How many Christians today live by Christ's teaching of "turn the other cheek?" Most Christians (like most "pagans") would laugh and scoff at the very idea- after pointing out the biblical passage that unequivocally translates into god telling us to go forth and protect thy family with the annointed assault rifle of your choosing...

    5. I no longer call my self a Christian for several reasons. The first is the hypocrisy and hatred of those who loudly proclaim themselves to be Christian. (Jesus would probably liken them to the scribes and pharisees). The second is that I cannot live up to a truly Christian life. I have a nice house that I can't give up and give the proceeds to the poor. I can't let go of my material comforts. The third is that I simply do not believe that Jesus was any more a child of God than anyone else. In other words, I reject his divinity. That in itself makes me a heretic to those who believe in the divinity of Christ.

  10. You said: There doesn't seem to be an easy way out.

    Yes, there is. Just use your own brain to determine what is good and bad, in stead of relying on a 2000 year old text.

    Even if those things made sense back then, it makes no sense to pretend they do now. Even if the bible generally makes sense, and god exists, there still is no reason to not use your own god-given brain to determine your own actions and slavishly follow outdated instructions.

    In short: If god exists, he did not give you a brain to not use it. Think!

    1. Oh, I took your "easy way out" long ago. My comment re the difficulty was in reference to those who want to reconcile the OT with modern life within the framework of their religion.

  11. Stan,

    I come from a Lutheran background and grew up saying "Thank goodness I can throw out all those horrid laws." (I chatted with you by email about my parents who went to St. Olaf.) I had the same revulsion toward Leviticus well into my adult life.

    But when I started learning about the Torah's law code in in its historical context, my opinion entirely changed. Its humanitarian nature was actually revolutionary compared to other social codes of the time. Some of its ideas are so foundational to our own system of justice that we can't imagine society any other way.

    One revolutionary idea in the Ancient Near East was that the penalty for a crime does not depend on social status. In the code of Hammurabi, a barmaid who overcharged a nobleman for a beer could be drowned for her offense. But if a rich man caused the death of a peasant, he paid a fine based on the social class of the victim.

    Another shocking idea was that the society was supposed to take care of its weakest members. Tithes and gleaning laws were set in place to care for the widows and orphans. There is actually no set amount required as far as gleaning - it's not punishable by death at all. (Many of these laws aren't, actually.)

    Some of the laws that sound silly or arbitrary to us made perfect sense in their context. The reason for not wearing wool and linen together was that priestly garments were wool and linen. A chronic problem in this polytheistic culture was people setting up their own private shrines to other gods. So aspects of priesthood and worship were prohibited outside their official use.

    I agree that some of the laws are still are mystifying. But I wonder what a person a thousand years from now would think reading our laws. If they had no idea of the social context, some laws would sound completely unreasonable. For instance, there are severe penalties for painting swastikas on people's houses and burning crosses in their front yards. If you don't have any sense of what these symbols mean, those sound like relatively harmless activities. You need to know the social context.

  12. Sorry for the long quote, but I can't say it any better....

    Taken from the book:
    Patriarchs and Prophets, Chapter 32, The Law and the Covenants

    Link to book here:

    Stan, a while ago you had written about your father and his painful death. I was affected by this. I had wanted to send you a link to Chapter 1 of this book, "Why is Sin Permitted".

    I didn't send the link because sometimes even when we know the answers to life, the pain still remains....

    Anyway, back to the quote re: ceremonial vs. moral law:

    Through long intercourse with idolaters the people of Israel had mingled many heathen customs with their worship; therefore the Lord gave them at Sinai definite instruction concerning the sacrificial service.

    After the completion of the tabernacle, He communicated with Moses from the cloud of glory above the mercy seat, and gave him full directions concerning the system of offerings and the forms of worship to be maintained in the sanctuary. The ceremonial law was thus given to Moses, and by him written in a book. (placed BESIDE the ark; see Deuteronomy 31:24-26)

    But the law of Ten Commandments spoken from Sinai had been written by God Himself on the tables of stone, and was sacredly preserved IN the ark.

    There are many who try to blend these two systems, using the texts that speak of the ceremonial law to prove that the moral law has been abolished; but this is a perversion of the Scriptures.

    The distinction between the two systems is broad and clear. The ceremonial system was made up of symbols pointing to Christ, to His sacrifice and His priesthood. This ritual law, with its sacrifices and ordinances, was to be performed by the Hebrews until type met antitype in the death of Christ, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Then all the sacrificial offerings were to cease. It is this law that Christ "took . . . out of the way, nailing it to His cross." Colossians 2:14.

    But concerning the law of Ten Commandments the psalmist declares, "Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven." Psalm 119:89. And Christ Himself says, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law. . . . Verily I say unto you"--making the assertion as emphatic as possible--"Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Matthew 5:17, 18.

    Here He teaches, not merely what the claims of God's law had been, and were then, but that these claims should hold as long as the heavens and the earth remain. The law of God is as immutable as His throne. It will maintain its claims upon mankind in all ages.

    While the Saviour's death brought to an end the law of types and shadows, it did not in the least detract from the obligation of the moral law. On the contrary, the very fact that it was necessary for Christ to die in order to atone for the transgression of that law, proves it to be immutable.

  13. Christianity isn't about laws. It is about grace and love. Jesus came and fulfilled the law which means we aren't bound by any of the laws of the old testament. There is no picking and choosing. We aren't bound by it or expected to follow it.

    In the new testament Jesus said the most important law is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor. In that passage it implies that neighbor refers to anyone you come across. So if you treat people with love (respect, kindness, and the like) you are probably doing ok.

  14. There is an easy way out. Take a cool look at the whole thing and realise that it's all rubbish. Every religion, is rubbish. Even the good parts are good by accident, and if we're going to second-guess which bits are good and which bits bad, why don't we start with a clean slate instead of what was bothering stone-age societies up to 4,000 years ago?

  15. "Dinesh D'Souza'"

    Funny to suggest a conspiracy theory nut, fanatical, Christian, extremist author as a way to study up on the history of civilization....

  16. Here's a short video on the subject:

  17. The Old Testament law was given to the children of Israel. Jesus completely fulfilled the Law, which is what He came to do. His death and resurrection inaugurated the New Covenant. If I had time and space I could explain it all but I am rather tired of people who just grab out chunks of ceremonial law from the OT without realizing, for example, that Jesus declared all foods clean in the New Testament.

    The Bible is to be taken as a complete whole, not in bits and pieces, dude. It's a story and a revelation of God, not a list of dos and don'ts.

  18. Seems like answers along the lines of "the bible is fiction" amount to wilful ignorance or trolling. Neither really deserves an answer, does it. But, to give the benefit of the doubt, "the Bible" is not a single book; it's a compilation of books. It was not "written 2,000 years ago"; it is reasonable to suppose that the various parts were written over the course of a couple thousand years (i.e. tracing its history back to nearly the earliest recorded written language). Despite all that, it does contain internal consistency, but surely anyone can see that understanding it in a modern world will be a non-trivial exercise. That doesn't render it invalid or false. Many, many, many of the assertions within the bible are verified by independent archaeological and documentary evidence.

    But folks, go ahead and believe it's a work of fiction if that makes you feel better.


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