“Woo-hoo! We’re in Leviticus!” (Words seldom heard in a Bible study group.)
Maybe we could more easily enumerate the reasons we don’t love reading and studying Leviticus: It’s difficult to understand. It’s boring. It’s not relevant.
Yes, Leviticus is a challenging book to understand. Boring? Maybe when you compare to other biblical books, like the Gospels or Acts. Perhaps boring if we get bogged down in the details and fail to see the broader message and purpose of the book. Irrelevant? Absolutely not. Though the laws contained in Leviticus are not applicable to us in the same way they were to the people of the Old Testament, that doesn’t mean we can write them off as irrelevant. The principles contained in them are timeless and true.
We know too well the reasons we tend to stay away from this book; let’s celebrate reasons to love Leviticus—or at the very least to have an interest in studying the book.
1. All Scripture is inspired and profitable—including Leviticus.
Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Because “all Scripture”—including Leviticus—is “inspired by God,” then all Scripture—including Leviticus—is “profitable” for us. Profitable translates a Greek word that includes the ideas of useful, beneficial, and advantageous. Because Leviticus is God-breathed, a study of the book is useful, beneficial, and advantageous to us.
Not only does Leviticus provide the theological foundation for the atoning work of Christ on the cross (see below) , but New Testament writers frequently alluded to content in Leviticus and assumed their readers possessed knowledge of the book. Consequently, if we’re to understand certain practices in New Testament, we need to be familiar with the Book of Leviticus. Here are some examples:
- laws of purification (Luke 2:22; Lev. 12:6-8; see also Luke 8:43; Lev. 15:25)
- the offering of two turtledoves or pigeons (Luke 2:24; Lev. 5:11; 12:8)
- a leper showing himself to a priest after healing (Matt. 8:4; Lev. 14:3-4,10)
- eating unlawful bread (Matt. 12:4; Lev. 24:5-9)
- the Jewish festivals (John 7:37; Lev. 23:34-36)
- death by stoning for blasphemy (Mark 14:64; Lev. 24:16)
- separation from Gentiles in eating (Acts 10:9-16; 11:1-9; Lev. 11:2-4)
Leviticus is God’s Word to us and is both foundational and profitable for our understanding of the whole of Scripture. A.W. Tozer said, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
2. Jesus used and quoted Leviticus.
Jesus did not neglect Leviticus. Consequently, neither should we. When He said, “You’ve heard it said … but I say to you” (Matt. 5:33,38,43), He was referencing and quoting Leviticus (Lev. 19:12,18; 24:20). He also affirmed He didn’t come to abolish those laws but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17-19). When asked which was the greatest commandment, He replied the second greatest comes from Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).
If Jesus knew and used Leviticus, who are we to think it has no value for us?
3. Leviticus points us to Jesus.
Far from being irrelevant, Leviticus is valuable and instructive because it points us to Jesus (Luke 24:27). As mentioned earlier, it provides the theological foundation of our understanding of sacrifice and atonement. In the light of this Old Testament background, we have a deeper understanding of Jesus as our perfect priest and the once and for all sacrifice for our sin. The writer of Hebrews affirmed the old priesthood and the old sacrifices (described in Leviticus) were but a shadow of the greater realities that come from Jesus’ death on the cross (Heb. 10:1).
Because all of the above is true, we can approach a study of Leviticus with the conviction that this book will give us “a deeper devotion to Jesus Christ, a stronger worship of God, and a better understanding of daily Christian living” (CSB Study Bible).
Mike Livingstone is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.