On Universal Levitical Laws

I’ve been a Sunday school teacher at Northwest Baptist Church in Arab, Alabama for 3 years of my life. It’s a fundamental, King James readin’, red hymn book singin; Baptist church nestled in a quaint community, and of the five thousand residents of Arab, at least for -thousand are Baptist- at least as far as I can tell. I teach kids from 12-18 years old. I haven’t taught a lesson on the Old Testament (save some of the prophets) in about a year. But I mean…. Can you blame me? Middle school kids don’t want to hear “thou shalt not” again and again, and I shudder to think of the tongue-smiting I could receive when a kid approaches their parent with, “Mr. Josh told us about angels having sex with humans in class today! It was sweet.”

The Old Testament is filled with big-boy topics, and I teach a young boy class. But about six months ago, while watching a debate between theologians, (as a sometimes do in my spare geeky time) I ran across a hypothesis that changed my perspective on some of the Levitical laws. Leviticus 18 v 24 & 25 say, after mouthing off a lengthy list of sexual sins, mentions that some gentiles were judged and punished for breaking rules. These gentiles neither worshiped the Hebrew deity, nor did they acknowledge his holiness. How, then, could Yahweh judge them according to laws that they were never expected to follow in the first place?

Now, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The word used to describe these people that committed these sexual sins, in my bible, is “defiled.” Defiled is derived from the same Hebrew word used to render the English “unclean” which appears again and again in the Old Testament to describe things that God doesn’t think very fondly of. Pork, for instance, is labeled unclean because pigs have cloven feet. So this same word used to describe the gentiles, as a result of their sexual sin, is used to describe pigs. What sin did the poor pigs commit? Some clothing and animals were labeled unclean to the Jews only to distinguish the Hebrew people from the surrounding peoples. These strict laws, some of which we can’t understand because of our modern, Western perspective, were meant to demonstrate obedience. So since the pig has committed no sin against God but is still considered “unclean,” can we not suppose that there were similar standards held on the gentiles? Could it not be that the sin didn’t make them unclean, but they, like the pig, were just unclean to start with?

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The verbiage of the passage in questing doesn’t really leave room for this hypothesis. God did certainly give laws that bound only his people, but it is made quite clear that God condemned the gentiles for their deeds, not for just being gentiles. The website CrossExamined, headed by one of my role models Frank Turek, insists that there are three sets of laws: Ceremonial, Judicial, and Moral. Ceremonial laws refer to customs set in place by early Jews that displayed their allegiance or obedience to God, like circumcision or sacrifices. Judicial laws were codes of conduct that, of one were to disobey, they would be subject to capital punishment, such as children disobeying parents. Moral laws are a bit trickier. They can be discovered only on a case-by-case basis, and they are identified whenever God punishes a gentile land for laws given. So, laws on homosexuality given in Leviticus 18, for instance, could easily be placed into the judicial set of laws if not for verses 24 & 25. These verses demonstrate that it is not that God holds only His chosen people to this standard, but he also has indicted the gentiles of breaking this law, and that reveals a truth about the nature or morality of the Hebrew God himself. The bible makes clear that the God of the Jews doesn’t change. His morality is constant. So, considering the 24th and 25th verses in Leviticus, this means that the Levitical law has theological implications to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike- and that’s what makes blogs worth writing!

Dr. Brown, one of my favorite contemporary theologians, debating Harry Knox. He brings up the Levitical laws, particularly their universality, around the 12-14 minute mark as well as the 51 minute mark.

When I was a child in the first grade, I was fortunate enough to have the “cool teacher.” She would let us watch movies and play madlibs, and we were free to have fun. The teacher in in the classroom across the pod fit a profile more suitable for a dungeon master than elementary educator. Her class followed strict rules, but I never got myself into trouble with her because her rules didn’t apply to me. I’ve never in my life been held accountable for rules that didn’t apply to me. God held these gentiles in Leviticus 18 accountable. They were punished because their actions ran contrary to the Hebrew deity’s universal moral code.

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