Continuing in James White’s Holiness Code series, the following three messages look at Leviticus 19:
Many misconceptions have abounded regarding this chapter. Some have taken a superficial look at what seem to be miscellaneous or “sundry” laws, all thrown together, and treat this chapter as a justification for claiming that the Mosaic law was “all one law,” with no distinction between moral, civil and ceremonial aspects. The general idea that the Mosaic law, and especially Leviticus 19, was “only for the Jews,” persists with many evangelicals, who have discarded this portion of God’s word as completely irrelevant to Christians today.
Then, especially ironic, are the unbelievers who quip that we should put aside all those antiquated, “iron age morality” ideas, and just love our neighbor as ourselves; they who object to the words against homosexuality, found in Leviticus 18 and 20, are completely unaware that the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is also found here – sandwiched in between those two chapters, here in Leviticus 19. Leviticus 19 also answers the modern evangelical idea that in the Old Testament age everything with Israel was all about externals only, nothing about their heart motive (the erroneous NCT idea that Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” was something completely new and unknown before that point: verse 17 says “you shall not hate your brother in your heart.”
White instead approaches Leviticus 19 from the perspective of Israel as the covenant people of God; how should the people of God live? Similar to handling the book of Proverbs, we look at the context – which in this case is not necessarily the immediate verses around it, but the same idea expressed elsewhere in God’s word—in this case, similar passages in Deuteronomy. The context includes also the actual practices of the pagans surrounding Israel, and also, especially, the moral precept behind the laws, which pertain to our relationship to our neighbor as well as or our relationship to God (such as verses 26-31, in reference to idolatry – the negative commands as well as the positive in verse 30).
What about verse 19, the laws forbidding the breeding of different kinds of cattle, the sowing of different kinds of seed, or garments of different materials? Some of the laws were not in themselves moral, but had the purpose of keeping God’s people separate from the rest of the world. These laws emphasized separateness, dedication and purity (not mixing, no division, in regards to your cattle, seed, and garments). Another interesting feature, seen in these laws, is that to be in covenant relationship with God meant a disadvantage, in the world’s economy, compared to other people. The laws regarding cattle, seed, and garments, brought a disadvantage compared to the worldings – as did laws in this chapter that curbed greed and provided for the poor (harvesting, gleaning the fields, verses 9-10) . Unregenerate Israelites would chafe under the restrictions, but the true, regenerate believer in relationship with God (and such did exist in the Old Covenant era; mankind have always been saved by faith, some Israelites were regenerate believers) would be willing to accept these disadvantages, trusting that God will take care of us and He is first in our lives.
James White’s “The Holiness Code for Today” is a very interesting and edifying series, one that looks at texts generally ignored and not taught in sermons or Bible teaching. Later lessons in this series look at Leviticus 20, chapters in Deuteronomy, and will address the issue of slavery in the Bible, noting the differences between Hebrew slavery, Roman slavery, and our own, much later history, American Slavery.
A few weeks ago a friend linked a great response of James White to the “West Wing” Bible Lesson, a sharp and witty response to an atheist’s ridicule of Christianity in reference to the Mosaic code. James White here responded to one of several such sarcastic remarks that originated several years ago in a letter from an atheist to Dr. Laura, this particular one: “My neighbor was working today (sabbath) so I murdered him. This is correct?”
Excerpted from the West Wing program that featured this same content:
“I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?”
“While thinking about that, can I ask another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it OK to call the police?”
… “Here’s one that’s really important, ‘cause we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?
“Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side?
“Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?
From the comments at the James White note (above) I learned of a full series that James White did on this very issue, “The Holiness Code For Today,” begun in 2014 and recently completed (August 2016), preached at Phoenix Reformed Baptists for both Sunday morning and evening sessions. The full series of 38 lectures is available here.
I’m now about ¼ of the way through this series, in lesson 10 of a great series that approaches the “holiness code” (generally seen as Leviticus 17 through the end of the book) from an apologetics perspective, equipping Christians with serious, thoughtful responses to the secular unbelieving world. The introductory lectures set the tone and the background, acknowledging our increasingly secular world and hostile unbelievers who mock by asking tough questions — and the truth, the right response to such challenges. As White mentioned, googling “holiness code Leviticus” or “iron age morality” will indeed bring up some rather interesting anti-Christian web pages. This portion of scripture especially deals with the evil and abomination of homosexuality, and this series responds to the common objections of those in our day who would try to deny or twist these texts into something that no longer applies to us in our age.
The introductory messages provide the overall setting and perspective regarding the holiness code and the real problem that unbelievers have. As White well said in this lesson: No one will ever hear or honor the law of God, who hates the God of the law. No one will ever honor or hear or bow to the law of God, who hates the God of the law, and that’s the real issue.
Among the highlights: the importance of looking at the historical context, of Israel surrounded by pagan religions and practices, a nation in stark contrast to the standards of its neighbors; whereas our society today cannot fully appreciate this, from a time reference of a post-Christian culture, a society that has enjoyed the common grace benefits of the Judeo-Christian worldview – a society that is, sadly, quickly heading back to paganism. Also, we must not look at these laws, the ones given to Israel in the Leviticus holiness code, from a pragmatic view, of trying to determine “why” He did so, “the real reason” for each particular law. A common example of this is the modern “explanation” as to why the Israelites were forbidden to eat pork, trying to rationalize it due to supposed modern discoveries of science. Instead, our starting point should be, that these laws were commanded by God; God forbid these things, and we may never discover the reason why.
In response to those who think that the Mosaic law in its entirety was “only for the Jews” and a part of “iron age morality” no longer applicable:
First, as noted in these chapters, the Canaanites were judged by God, were spewed out – the land itself said to vomit them out for their abominable practices. They did not have the Mosaic law, nor any prophets sent to them, yet they were still held accountable and judged, based on the light they had; reference Romans 2.
Secondly, it is true that these sexual behaviors, including homosexuality, were a part of the religious rituals of the Canaanites. That does not mean, though, that the underlying idea is in itself okay; people cannot reason that, because the Canaanites were doing such things in their religious practices, thus homosexuality in a different context is okay, in a “loving, monogamous (homosexual) relationship.” Leviticus 18 simply states the abomination itself: a man lying with another man. Leviticus 18 says nothing that would restrict the meaning to only those religious ceremonies.
White also references the various scriptures and usages of the Hebrew word for abomination – pronounced as “Toe-ay-Vo” (I have no idea of the spelling in Hebrew letters). The first occurrence is found in Genesis 43 (Hebrews were loathsome to the Egyptians), but the second and third are found in Leviticus 18 and 20. Other uses throughout the Old Testament, including several places in Isaiah, include the abominable idolatry of the Israelites. Throughout, the meaning of the word is clear, of something detestable; none of us would want to be considered as such, before God. The early church used the Greek Septuagint, and in the New Testament we find that Paul uses (in 1 Corinthians 6) the same Greek word for abomination, as what is found in the Septuagint in Leviticus 18.
All the above and so much more is available in just the first ten lessons of this series. The upcoming lessons consider the distinctions of law (moral, civil and ceremonial) and deal with the specific content of Leviticus 18-21 as well as a few passages in Deuteronomy. I find this series edifying, a topic that is especially helpful to study in our day and age, and I look forward to listening to the rest of the series.
While I’m still working on other blog posts (with too little time generally nowadays), here is the start of an interesting series from Fred Butler: His review and response to Hugh Ross’s book “Navigating Genesis,” beginning with this post.
This is an issue I also feel very strongly about, after so many years. As one who came to Christianity from a secular atheist, evolution old-earth modernist background – there simply is no excuse for Hugh Ross’s basic reasoning that the Genesis age question is somehow any type of stumbling block to Christians, and that to attract evolution-minded unbelievers to the truth of Christianity means that they need this apologetic, his “reasons to believe” with an old-earth version of Christianity.
Indeed it all really does come down to presuppositions, and the “two books” idea (or the 67th book), the book of nature, is laughable. The same physical evidence can be viewed in different ways, based on one’s presuppositions: uniformitarianism, or the global flood (catastrophism). And once this issue of presuppositions is rightly understood, the same physical evidence gives even greater proof of a recent creation, rather than the long, slow gradual uniformitarian processes of evolution/old-earth.
Listed here, some of my past blog posts on the doctrine of creation:
- Presuppositions and Hermeneutics: Conversation with an Old-Earth Creationist
- Highlights from Recent Online Articles
- Dr. Bill Barrick’s Creation Seminar
- Biblical Creation Observations: The Problem of Death, and Is It Poetry?
- Creation Apologetics: After the Flood (Book Review)
- Biblical Creationism: The Genesis Toledoth
- Creation Material: Free Online Books
- Creation Apologetics: The Creation Ordinance Sabbath