Day 53 (Feb. 22): The blood is the life necessary for purification, sexual conduct rules, decrees for treatment of others, and more of God’s decrees

Welcome to BibleBum where we are reading the New Living Translation Bible in a year, chronologically.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily reading.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Let us know if you have any comments to add.

Leviticus 17-19

Questions & Observations

O. (Leviticus 17:10-14): Rob addressed the forbidden blood issue in the first answer to Day 49 (Feb. 18).  Check it out.  Like God said, you must sacrifice in His presence.  If not, the blood (the life) was taken out of His vicinity and the attempted atonement for a sin would not be accepted.  As Leviticus says, “I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you.”

Q. (18:1-30): These laws obviously keep the peace and sanity.  Many are accepted today as taboo and thus no need to bring them up.  However, homosexuality is on the rise.  Does the NT back up the OT on this issue or is homosexuality OK under the new covenant?

A. The laws are set up to create a (fairly) clear ethic of sexual relationships: only between men and women who were married to each other.  Then you add a few other perimeters: not having sex with close relatives was a clear way to respect families and to protect women in particular, since they could be more easily taken advantage of in this system – we will see more rules like these.

The question of homosexuality is a thorny one, and one that I fear is badly overemphasized in the church today.  It does not come up very much — around 10 times in the entire Bible — but where it does, the NT and the Old are clear that it is a sinful action (Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9).  Please note what it does not say: that being attracted to people of the same sex is forbidden, but only acting on that attraction.

There are some (generally among the more liberal Protestant denominations) that consider homosexuality to be acceptable under the new covenant, specifically because Jesus does not speak against it in His earthly ministry.  I don’t agree with the way they tend to reach this position (basically using Jesus as an argument from silence, and then minimizing other verses in both the OT and NT in order to “say” that the Bible doesn’t forbid homosexuality – this is the important part — as it is practiced today.  So there’s a few different positions out there that various groups consider to be the “right” one.

As a more conservative Bible scholar, I don’t like the way the above conclusion about the acceptability of homosexuality is reached, but it is important to understand that this is a real issue that many people struggle with, even many who do not desire to.  We must be sure that we maintain an ethic of loving the sinner, even as we rightly set the Biblical standard for sexuality.  As I said, homosexuality gets a lot of press, but there are much more pressing issues related to marriage and sex that are much more rarely challenged.  The Biblical prohibition of divorce — except in cases of abandonment or infidelity — is clearly not spoken of enough, especially in a culture where there is divorce on demand.  And in the bigger picture on sexuality, the Bible prohibits ANY sexual conduct outside of a man and woman who are married!  And we have many more heterosexual couples that are wrapped up on sexual sin than we ever will gay couples.  To me that says we too often as churches lack the willpower to proclaim this clear truth.  We certainly do not proclaim this standard in our churches very well either.  So while the perception of homosexuality being on the rise gets a lot of the press, there is a total sexual ethic that the Bible paints in this passage and other places that is too often truncated or ignored completely.

Q. (19:1-4): What should I glean from the repetition of “I am the Lord your God.”

A. The reminder that these are God’s standards for the Israelite conduct, not human ones.

O. (19:9-10): I love this small passage.  It shows so much compassion!

Q. (19:17): I don’t understand what is meant by “confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.”

A. This verse appears to be warning against holding a grudge, and carrying around malicious thoughts about a brother or sister in the community.  If a person has sinned against you, this verse teaches us, you become guilty as well if you hate them for it — i.e. you share in the sin.  This verse should be clearly read with the intent that is culminating in the next verse: don’t seek revenge, but love your neighbor as yourself — something Jesus repeats as one of the greatest commandments.  Love for neighbor covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Q. (19:19): Several of these are violated today. I saw a zorse (half zebra, half horse), there are mules, of course. (Nice poetry, eh?)  Many clothes are made with different kinds of material or thread.  Would you say these are OK under the NT?

A. I think we are ok here.

Q. All of these decrees seem so random, jumping from one subject to another.  I just wonder that if they had a different flow in the language they were written.

A. That might help some, but I think this is very likely an edited volume, where various parts of the Law were brought together into one volume, and so from the outside it might appear to be done in a hodgepodge manner.  There is a lot of scholarly debate about the role of editing in the Old and New Testaments, but I have no problem with the idea that various sections of manuscript were brought together, since it would appear that this was generally done with great reverence and care.

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