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  1. You are here
  2. Introduction: Biblical Law Collections
  3. Leviticus Q&R | The Bible Project
  4. Books & Media
  5. Details for The Pentateuch

Then it's concluded with a little bit of narrative. Jon: So the structure is beautiful in and off itself? Tim: Yeah, and it's drawing all of the focus towards the central sacrificial ritual right in the middle of the book. Jon: And then also, bigger picture than even the symmetry of the book is up here talks Leviticus begins how Numbers begins? Tim: Yeah. Even though there's not a lot of narrative in the book, it's framed by a narrative like a plot tension.

God's come to live among his people, but we know from Exodus, the golden calf debacle that the Israelites are really screwed up and unfaithful.

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So when God finally does show up at the end of Exodus to live among His people, Moses cannot go into the tent. It's really anticlimactic. Like, God shows up, the tabernacle is done and then Moses can't go in, which you might not think anything of. You might think, "I wouldn't want to go in neither. But the moment you begin the first sentence of the book after Leviticus, it begins with Moses in the tent. Someone pointed this out to me a long time ago, and I thought, "Man, that's such an easy way to think about what the book of Leviticus is.

Moses, their representatives cannot enter. So whatever this book is about, it's about God revealing away for His own sinful, broken people to get into the tent, to enter into His presence. Jon: Cool. Tim: If you don't learn anything about Leviticus from the rest of the discussion, just that simple fact helps you frame how it fits into the storyline.

Tim: So we've got a question from Joe Hicks from Texas.

Introduction: Biblical Law Collections

You asked about tattoos in Leviticus. You said, "Why does Leviticus consider tattoos to be unclean and what does that mean for modern day Christians? Leviticus Tim: Yeah, Leviticus Jon: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on your ourselves. I am the Lord. We'll talk about this as an example, but it opens up much bigger set issues about what Leviticus is doing in the Bible and what not just modern readers, but what readers throughout history, specifically Christian readers have thought what they're supposed to do with this book.

So just to address this one in context, tattoos don't appear by themselves in this law given to the Israelites. Jon: It's connected to cutting your body for the dead. Tim: It's connected to some kind of self-mutilation for the dead. This still happens in many cultures today, like Eastern cultures that do acts of ancestor worship, where they will provide offerings of some kind to their dead ancestors to get their favor and to guide them and so on.

Israel wasn't to do that. This comes in the section of laws right here. This whole section 18 to 20 is opened up by saying, "Don't live like the Canaanites. Many if not most of these laws in these chapters which is, is one target some practice in Canaanite culture and says, "Don't do that.

Jon: We know for sure that was one of them? We're just guessing? Tim: No, we know. Think of the story, the mutilating yourself as some kind of way of getting favor from the gods. Think of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Jon: Oh, that's right. Tim: After a while, their God doesn't answer them, no fire from heaven, they start cutting themselves.

Leviticus Q&R | The Bible Project

There's also a parallel to this law in the book of Deuteronomy that doesn't mention tattoo. It's in Deuteronomy chapter It doesn't mention tattoos, it mentions, "Don't cut yourselves or shave your heads for the dead. So I don't think— Jon: That's why most Portlanders get tattoos. It's for their I actually think it's a violation of the author's intent to pull that line out of Leviticus and say, "God hates tattoos," because that's not honoring the context of the verse itself, much less the cultural context of what these laws are all about. I mean, if I wanted to go get a tattoo of my grandpa and then say prayers to my grandpa, like, okay, then we're in the ballpark.

But other than that, it's just a total— Jon: Then I should confront you about that.

I would want you to get my face about that one. Jon: Okay. Tim: But what that raises is the bigger question of, for a Christian, how do I relate to these laws? Jon: Right. That's the bigger question. Tim: Yeah, that's the question Joe's asking, "What does that mean for modern day Christians?


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We have a whole video on the law that we talked about how Jesus' fulfillment of the law, how he summarizes it as love God and love others, and how Paul then uses the law sometimes to I guess with any of these, it sounds like first, you got to go and say, "What's this law actually saying in its original context? There we go to somewhere like Paul's first letter to the Corinthians where he'll quote from a law in Deuteronomy about oxen. Something about what you do with your ox.

But then it doesn't have anything to do with ox.

Books & Media

From his point of view, he derives a wisdom principle out of it and then applies that to an issue in the life of the Corinthian church. So I think Paul becomes a model for us about what to do with obscure laws in the Pentateuch. These laws don't define the covenant relationship terms by which I relate to Jesus. They don't. Jon: So the principle behind this law, the wisdom, is don't participate in activities that in and off themselves are not wrong necessarily, but that are trying to get you to go into some spiritual realm that's not— Tim: Yeah, that's right.

I mean, across the whole biblical storyline in the Old Testament and New Testament, doing ritual practices that are trying to get you in touch with spiritual beings and powers so that they'll work for you or do things on your behalf, that's not good. Jon: That's not a Judeo-Christian thing you should be doing. Because first of all, you're not acknowledging the one true God who is truly is the author of life and has power to guide you, and so on. But second, it's that you're messing with fire. You're messing with really mysterious spiritual realities.

Details for The Pentateuch

Jon: Now, however, this is nuanced in Paul's discussion of eating meat sacrificed to gods that he's saying, "Well, look, we know that these gods don't have any power. So if it's not causing you or anyone else to sin, or doubt, or get confused, then eat the meat. Tim: Paul definitely puts a prohibition on going to pagan temple and eating the sacrificial meals in a pagan temple. He just says it straight up. But if you're in your own home and you're eating a steak that was sacrificed, to Zeus earlier that day, it's like alright.

Jon: Sure, no big deal. Everyone's cool with this - the Zeus steak? We're all good?

Tim: Yeah, it's no big deal. We know God made this cow and we're going to accept it with — Jon: So if you run into a tattoo parlor and they specialize in tattoos for the dead, right, and that's the thing is they like Or your mom that's a bad example. If it's going to be of like Wile E. Coyote or something on your forearm. You probably shouldn't do that. Tim: and I don't want to downplay the fact that there is a whole underbelly of like a cult magic subculture at least I know of here in America.

It's pretty dark stuff. Jon: And some of it is piercings and some of it is tattoos. Is part of that. That's part of it sometimes. Tim: For some people. And I think the point is, stay away. Stay clear of that stuff. Good question, Joe.