Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Do OT Leviticus Laws Still Apply to Us Today?

What attitude should we be reading all these rules and regulations that we see in Exodus and Leviticus? I guess I don't know what to think of being ceremonial clean. I understand when someone sins, he has to do the right things to get right with God again. But all the touching dead animals, monthly period, childbirth, and the whole paragraph on discharges...like what does that have anything to do with being spiritually clean? It sounds...kind of tedious, so I just didn't know what to think of it, or why God asked for these things to be done when the Israelites are just being human beings. How should we read these passages? How is it relevant to me now?

6 comments:

Daniel Kim said...

First, the theological background.. In the OT, there’s the concept of ceremonial “cleanliness”, which is separate from the issue of sin. When it comes to sin, they were moral issues which needed forgiveness. But there was another thing that set apart the Israelites from the surrounding nations and cultures, which was the concept of ceremonial cleanliness. The issue of ceremonial cleanliness was not thought of in the same way as moral sins, so we should not confuse the two. The remedy for ceremonial uncleanliness, for example, was to clean oneself properly, not repentance.

The way that theologians and biblical scholars view the OT ceremonial cleanliness issue (dietary laws being one of them) was that it was a specific way in which God set the Israelites apart from the surrounding culture. Through these laws, God set them apart so that it made it extremely difficult for the Israelites to mingle and intermix with the surrounding nations. This way, God made the Israelites “holy”, causing them to be very distinct from the culture surrounding them… the reasons for which became clear in that they were the ones who would usher in Jesus Christ into the world, and they were the ones who understood the seriousness of cleanliness and the need for sacrifice.

So when Jesus came, the ceremonial laws as well as the temple system was superseded by him, because those were methods (maybe even foreshadows) of God preparing His people (Israelites) so that they would recognize Him when he took on flesh and dwelt among them. (And indeed, the Jews were the only ones who were in the privileged position to recognize Jesus as God incarnate… remember that the first Christians were Jews). So that’s why those ceremonial laws were made obsolete by the death and resurrection of Christ. (e.g., ripping of the curtain in the temple, the abolishment of the dietary laws, the prophesied destruction of the temple in 70 AD, etc.)

So in short, it seems like those ceremonial cleanliness issues were foreshadows and methods that God used to shape the Israelites specifically before Christ, so they would not apply to us Gentile Christians today. Well, then, how can we read these passages? I think we can still glean important lessons from these passages – in that God is specific and cares about details, the whole concept of Christians being counter-cultural, being mindful not to let the surrounding culture influence the church, etc.. these are all important principles that would still be universal and would therefore apply to us today.

dan said...

There is also a related Reasonable Faith podcast on the topic here. The beginning and end focus on the particular issue of homosexuality(driven by an interesting clip from the West Wing), but at the core is a distinguishing of Moral vs. Ceremonial law by William Lane Craig.

Daniel Kim said...

Thank you, Dan, for the link. It was very helpful.

vivian lee said...

thank you Daniel Kim and Daniel Chiang, this was really helpful for me and others :)

Daniel Kim said...

btw, I believe "dan" is dan kinder..

Dan Kinder said...

Indeed. Guess I should make it unambiguous. And you're welcome.