Leviticus is all about how to reconcile people (sinful, broken, unclean) with God (holy, complete, powerful, and righteous) to the extent that they can live together. Leviticus answers the question, “How can God and humans coexist.” Answer: very carefully with clear and good boundaries.
How should I read it?
The Levites were priests and the priestly authors of the Bible were all about order and boundaries. Remember Genesis 1? The night and day were separated and it was good. The dome held back (contained) the waters and it was good. But unlike Genesis, Leviticus is not written as a narrative. Think of it more as a cook book or a manual about how to honor the covenant between God an Israel. I am your God, you are my people, therefore you will be set apart from other nations. Here’s how.
Part I: How Should I Sacrifice? (Lev.1-7)
The different types, reasons, and instructions for sacrifice.
Part II: Who Will Sacrifice? (Lev. 8-10)
The distinction and ordination of Priests.
Part III: Laws of Cleanliness (Lev. 11-16)
Instructions on how to live with God and one another
Part IV: Holiness Code (Lev. 17-27)
MORE instructions on how to live with God and with one another.
Law, Law, and MORE Law
Leviticus is a dry and difficult book to read, but there is a reason why it was included in the book we know has the Bible. The laws listed are given for the sake of relationship. Dr. Kathryn Schifferdecker, professor of Old Testament writes, “The structure of the whole book would seen to suggest that holy living arises out of right worship and that worship of the Lord results in justice toward one’s neighbor.”*
Clean vs. Unclean
Cleanliness does not always mean sinfulness. Consider women’s menstruation (Lev. 15:19). It is natural, but mysterious since Israelites believed blood was the life force (17:14), and therefore unclean. Cleanliness was required for proper ritual worship of a God who was holy.
A note on Homosexuality:
The following verse has been utilized to condemn homosexuality:
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22). The ELCA does not condemn homosexuality based on this verse, but rather takes the message of the whole Bible to offer a stance of acceptance.
Furthermore, if we give full weight to 18:22, then what about 19:19, “you shall not…put on a garment made of two different materials”? Anyone wearing a cotton blend? For the full ELCA social statement, see below.