Martin Young
Martin Young

Leviticus explained, and why sceptics should leave it alone

If I had to comment loudly and publicly about the play of a rugby match using the rules of golf, I would rightly deserve to be considered an idiot. Similarly anyone who uses the content of Leviticus as an argument against Christianity could with good reason be called the same. Yet I see this done time and time again by people who consider themselves both intelligent and omniscient enough to make public proclamations about something about which they demonstrably know very little indeed. They don’t know that they don’t know it, and global experience suggests that this is the worst and most dangerous type of ignorance.

So, please permit me to explain to those who would parade The Law of Leviticus, or the Old Covenant, in public in order to attack Christianity so that they don’t embarrass themselves again.

One cannot accurately critique Christianity without understanding The Law of the Old Covenant and the massive exchange that occurred under the New Covenant — here I try to describe it in as few words as possible.

The Bible tells the story of Man’s falling out with God, and God’s restoration of the relationship by means of parable, analogy, poetry, prophetic writings, and personal letters with a bit of historical detail as well. It is neither a science book nor a history text, and context is everything. So one is advised not to use a text or verse without knowing who wrote it, to whom it was written, why it was written, and what the conditions at the time were. Leviticus is a supreme example of the need to apply this rule.

The essential story of Genesis is that Man decided to go his own way, break relationship with God and exercise his own free will. And God (I paraphrase) said, “Fine. But you’re moving out to be on your own, and if you want to restore our relationship, you’ll have to do it on my terms. If you want to make things right with me again via your own endeavours, this is what you will have to do. Jump through hoops. This, for the time being, is The Law for being acceptable in my sight.”

God for his own indiscernible reasons chose the Jews, a particularly irascible and fractious people at the time, as his chosen conduit to restore relationship with man. And he gave his people the “ritual” Law contained in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the set of rules by which they could approach him and have relationship with him by being “good enough” to do so.

The Law was by intention impossible to live by, a yoke and burden beyond any reason. Normal people could not keep The Law living a normal life, and breaking just one meant they had broken it all and had sinned. A Holy God could not let sin go unpunished, and to keep themselves in God’s favour, the Jews had to provide a substitute for the punishment that followed breaking The Law, by passing judgement onto something else, by sacrificing an animal that was itself blameless.

So the God of the Old Testament is indeed at the time an angry God, concerned about the welfare only of his own chosen people, keeping them under an impossible burden of rules and regulations, reliant on making amends by animal sacrifice. It is no surprise the Old Testament is a story of wars and conquests, of failures far more than successes, making for the most part neither happy nor comfortable reading.

Christians believe that God then did something truly remarkable. He provided himself as the atonement sacrifice, bearer of blame, in the person of Jesus, who through the crucifixion removed the need for the Law completely. The new deal for every individual was: Exchange all the requirements, limitations and restrictions of The Law simply by accepting the reality and purpose of Jesus.

So, the ritual Law in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, applies to those Jews alone who turn down the new deal and should have no influence nor bearing on Christians who have accepted the New Covenant through Christ. To argue that it should is a deception as old as the New Testament itself, something that Paul was preoccupied about and wrote about in most of his letters to the new Churches, and one that continues within the greater church today. Show me a church focused on keeping and enforcing the rules — all too many churches — and I’ll show you an unhappy congregation and a dysfunctional church.

Time and time again the Bible states (paraphrased) “Who would believe this New Deal, that it could be so easy, and require so little from us?” Indeed, The Law remained such an issue in the minds of man that it is no surprise that newer religions like Islam should revert to the process by which man had to again follow rules to be acceptable to God.

The discerning reader will notice that the terms of the New Covenant are such that even the worst of sinners has a “get out of jail free” card and an easy escape from heavenly retribution. Christianity is that alarmingly simple, that “unfair” in our own worldly terms that it is no wonder many still cannot bring themselves to believe it.

So the laws of Leviticus have no bearing on modern Christian thought or practice except as a reflection of the fate that we have escaped, and of the great exchange that took place on the cross.

Anyone who uses The Law in modern criticism of Christianity might as well swap his/her golf clubs for a rugby ball and kick it around the course. Good luck in getting it into the hole, and in avoiding the stares and sniggers in the clubhouse!

So, critics, please by all means challenge us on our beliefs, call us out on our actions, but please do so accurately, and from an informed perspective.

Or risk looking as foolish as you think are those you critique.

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