Saturday, October 28, 2017

Do Levitical laws apply to us today?

There is an argument, which is specious at best, that Christians do not need to keep any of the Levitical laws. Some make such claims because they want to justify their unscriptural beliefs about the practice of homosexuality or other things the Bible labels as sin. Of course, some of the laws regarding "uncleanness" clearly do not apply today. The kosher laws in particular are mentioned several times in the New Testament as not binding on the church.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving. 1 Timothy 4:1-4
The kosher laws are in Leviticus 11 along with some other uncleanness regulations in chapters 11 and 12. What is the nature of these laws and why do we not need them today? (I am referring now to the uncleanness laws in these two chapters. We will consider other laws shortly.) Let's look at a couple of other uncleanness laws here.
By these you shall become unclean; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until evening; whoever carries part of the carcass of any of them shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening: The carcass of any animal which divides the foot, but is not cloven-hoofed or does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches it shall be unclean. Lev 11:24-27
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled. Lev 12:1-4
The first thing that we should notice is that these are not violations of the moral law, they are not sins. Touching a dead body is not sin. Having a baby is not sin. However, they were considered unclean as far as going into the sanctuary was concerned. In the case of touching a dead body, one had to wash and be unclean until evening. In the case of the woman who has borne a child, she would have to bring a sacrifice after a period of days.

But since God gave these laws in chapters 11 and 12, why do we not have to obey them today? The answer is clearly laid out in the New Testament.
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary ... the priests went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. Hebrews 9:1-8
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22
Jesus' sacrifice has opened up the way for all who receive Him to enter the divine sanctuary. We are all clean! It's not just the high priests but any priests (we are all priests, you know) can come into His presence. So the uncleanness laws of Leviticus 11 and 12 are no longer applicable under the New Covenant.

But what about the other laws of uncleanness. Have they been done away with as well? There is another list of "uncleanness" in Leviticus 18. They have to do with sexual sins - incest, homosexuality, bestiality, etc. It is odd that some have tried to say that homosexuality, because it appears in Leviticus, no longer applies to us so-called "enlightened" Christians in the 21st century. I do not hear them say (yet) that incest and bestiality are okay.

Another thing we need to see is that this kind of uncleanness has nothing to do with the sanctuary but has to do with sin.
Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Leviticus 18:24-29
These uncleannesses does not affect the sanctuary but the land. It says the land will "vomit" the Israelites out if they do these things. Those before them in the land of Israel were judged and expelled because they did the things listed in Leviticus 18. There is no such judgment on those who have babies or touch dead animals.

So, what does the New Testament say about the laws of uncleanness in chapter 18? Are they still unclean?
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Paul is saying that we ought to know these things. We should also notice that Paul uses the word 'uncleanness' when speaking of some sexual sins.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness ... Galatians 5:19 (KJV)
"Uncleanness" in this passage obviously refers to sexual sins. No doubt that Paul is referring to Leviticus 18 which lists homosexual activities as unclean acts.

The list of unclean activities in chapter 18 is very different from those in chapters 11 and 12. To mix them together and treat them both the same is the result of a failure to understand basic distinctions in Levitical law. It also leads to deception by those who wish to justify sexual sins. It seems that today, like the first century, there are those who "twist the scripture to their own destruction".

[Note: I cannot take credit for the insights into the Levitical laws here. The credit goes to Peter Leithart, a great scholar who often talks way above my head. It is he who pointed out in his blog the difference between encleanness regarding the sanctuary and the uncleanness regarding the land.]

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