Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Episode 204: Pete Enns – Pete Ruins Leviticus

We almost named this episode of The Bible for Normal People “Pete Rescues Leviticus,” because for most of you, Leviticus is ruined already. Not easily deterred, Pete Enns dives in and helps us wrap our heads around Leviticus as he explores the following questions: 

  • Isn’t Leviticus fun? 
  • What does Leviticus reveal to us about Israelite rituals and religion? 
  • Why is Leviticus so focused on priestly ritual duties? 
  • The law—all this Leviticus “stuff”—was it a condition of salvation for the Israelites? 
  • What does it mean for biblical books to have a developmental history? 
  • How is Leviticus structured, and why does it matter?  
  • Why is the completion of the Tabernacle so significant for Israel’s history and the biblical story? 
  • How does the unauthorized fire story in Leviticus 10 echo the Genesis story of Adam and Eve? 
  • Why is the translation of “sin offering” in Leviticus problematic and not entirely accurate? What is a better translation? 
  • Why are communal consequences of ritual impurity and moral impurity significant? 
  • Killing Nadab and Abihu seems super harsh. Why didn’t they just get a stern talking to? 
  • How do you explain contradictory laws, both within Leviticus itself and between Leviticus and other parts of the Torah? 


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete Enns you can share. 

  • “The law, all this Leviticus stuff, is not a condition of “salvation”—do this and you’ll be saved—it is a response to God’s act of salvation. Not useless things to do so we might go to heaven when we die, but things that help us maintain the connection between ourselves and God.” @peteenns
  • “Biblical books have a developmental history. They weren’t just written all at one time and here it is. As they were handed down, they were added to, and they were edited. That’s just the legacy of biblical literature.” @peteenns
  • “Leviticus is not an annoying, legalistic add-on to the exodus story, it’s the culmination of the exodus story. They are free from Pharaoh and they are now in God’s presence and bound to this God who rescued them.” @peteenns
  • “Both ritual purity and moral purity regulations have corporate effects for individuals acts, which affect the people or even the Tabernacle—more than just the individual. It’s not about personal perfection, it’s about the effect that you have on the greater whole.” @peteenns
  • “None of these words—holy, clean, pure—mean perfection. They all have to do with avoiding things that make the community and Tabernacle unfit for God’s presence. So Leviticus, in a manner of speaking, is all about how the people can be near God and stay there.” @peteenns
  • “Simply quoting a law as if “it is what is, and that’s it” doesn’t take into account the historical and literary complexities which the editors of the Bible clearly had no interest in shielding us from.” @peteenns
  • “Law follows grace, it doesn’t precede it. Becoming a Christian is not about earning points by obedience, but living a faithful life as a Christian is a matter of an ever-increasing alignment with the heart of God.” @peteenns

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Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty intro music]

Pete: Welcome to this episode of the podcast. And, you know, I thought of calling it “Pete Rescues Leviticus” because for many or maybe even most of you, Leviticus is ruined already, but, hey, I decided to aim for brand consistency. So, here we go.

And, you know, Leviticus? I get it, it’s not the stuff, I think for most people, of morning devotions or a sermon series, or like, neighborhood Bible studies. I mean, my doctoral advisor told us once in class that if we ever find ourselves as general editor for a commentary series, make sure we get a commitment to Leviticus first because that is the hardest one to assign. And, you know, it’s just a lot to wade through, I think. We shouldn’t pretend that it’s not. And for many people, I think that the effort doesn’t always have, like, payoff value. So, it’s a hard thing to try to get through. And for those who do dive in, sometimes, it’s used as an exhibit A for why the OT is boring and irrelevant or downright oppressive—like you can’t eat pork or for some, using it to justify anti-gay laws. Sometimes it’s just a book that’s worth avoiding for many people.

And I know it is a hard book to invest in for Christians. I’m not suggesting that it’s not. And I’m not suggesting it plays as key a role in Christian thinking as, say, Genesis or Isaiah or Psalms or a number of other books. But if you are interested in understanding something of Israelite religion, when I say that, Israelite religion, it’s not just what they believed in the abstract, but what they actually enacted, what they embodied—their rituals—well, then, Leviticus suddenly becomes quite significant. But its placement, the book of Leviticus, it’s placement in Torah makes it actually hard to miss. It is the center book of the heartbeat of the Hebrew Bible, which is Torah.

Look at it this way, just, hopefully it gives it a little bit of perspective. The entire action that is in the book of Leviticus takes place at Mt. Sinai and it covers a period of about a month. Now, let’s just take a step back and let’s put that in perspective. Leaving Genesis out of it, Moses is born at the beginning of Exodus and he dies 120 years later at the end of Deuteronomy—so Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy cover 120 years. Exodus alone covers 80 of those years and takes us from Egypt to Midian, and then back to Egypt, and then back to Midian where Mt. Sinai is. A lot of years and a lot of moving about. Numbers and Deuteronomy, well, they cover most of the remaining 40 years and they cover a lot of ground, literally, throughout the southern wilderness and the territories east of Jordan River. Now Mt. Sinai and all that happens there is clearly the center of attention in Torah. How do we know that?

Well, half of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and the first third of Numbers take place there and they cover a mere 11 months. Like, not even a year. So, Exodus – Deuteronomy covers 120 years. The center chunk of Torah, the time at Sinai, covers 11 months, and Leviticus, that one book in the middle, is devoted to a 1-month period in one location, Mt. Sinai. See, someone back then wanted to make a point. For whoever compiled the Pentateuch, Leviticus was clearly huge.

Now, even though Leviticus covers a short span of time, a lot is happening there—not only in terms of the content but a lot of things are presumed in the background. And we do have to cover a lot of ground ourselves if we want to wrap our heads around this book, which is the basic goal of this podcast. Not perfect, but just wrapping our heads around some of the big issues. So, what we’re going to do is hit the highlights concerning things like the structure of the book, maybe take a stab at its date and composition (question of authorship), its theology (what it’s saying about God and what it’s saying about the Israelite community in relation to God), and a few miscellaneous things. We’ll see where this goes.


But when I structure our podcast that way, I don’t mean to say that we’re going to hit these categories one at a time. Unfortunately, and this is true of really, I think any Biblical book we want to dive into—all those issues are actually interconnected—to talk about authorship, for example, you are already dealing with things like structure and theology. But I trust at the end it’s going to make some sense.

And one last point by way of introduction—like every other podcasts like this—I am going to bring into our discussion here, some insights of biblical scholarship, and as always, I will aim as much as possible for dealing with widely accepted scholarly positions. That way, at the end, you can feel like you have a good sense of what learned and informed people who study this stuff are saying. Of course, there are always in-house debates happening about this, that, and the other thing in academic circles. That’s just the way scholarship works. But let’s aim for the middle. Things that you can say out loud if you ever find yourself in a biblical scholar wine-tasting party and you don’t want to look stupid. Heaven forbid that should ever happen, but anyway.

[Music begins]

Pete: Simply quoting a law from Leviticus or anywhere doesn’t take into account the historical and the literary complexities, which the editors of the Bible had no interest in shielding us from. Becoming a Christian is not about earning points by obedience, but living a faithful life as a Christian is a matter of ever increasing alignment with the heart of God.

[Music ends]

Okay, so, let’s get into it this way. Let’s begin just with the title of the book. The Hebrew name is VayikRA—and he called, meaning, and the Lord called. In Hebrew, this is one word and it is the first word of the book. The Hebrew names of the other books of Torah do the same thing. They’re named after the first word of the book. So, here, at the beginning of the book, God is doing what? God is summoning Moses, he is calling to Moses, summoning Moses to the tent of meeting.

So, let’s just pause there for a second. The Tent of Meeting, and the Tabernacle, which was built in Exodus, I’m not going to get into that, don’t worry. But the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle are most often used interchangeably as the structure built in the second half of Exodus, the preceding book. But elsewhere in Torah, the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle are clearly separate structures. And here, for example, in Exodus 33:7 this is what we read, listen to those closely. “Now Moses used to take the tent,” that’s the Tent of Meeting, “and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp.” See, in Exodus 33, the Tabernacle, the instructions have been given but it hasn’t been built yet. There is no Tabernacle, but there is a Tent of Meeting where people could come and somehow receive an oracle from the Lord. However that works.  

So, in Exodus, the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle are clearly two separate structures, but in Leviticus, they are one and the same. And the standard explanation for this is that there are, in fact, two ancient Israelites traditions about the Tent of Meeting. In the older tradition (Exodus 33), they are separate structures. In the later tradition, which is Leviticus, they are combined.

Now, this later tradition, again, this is the logic of biblical scholarship. And I think it’s sound, but you know, there are things here that are certainly debatable and discussable. But here’s the basic framework to think about. This later tradition in Leviticus, where they’re combined, was composed by a priestly class who—why is that relevant? Well, this might sound like a bit of a cynical interpretation—I don’t think that it is, I just think it’s realistic. But priests may have wanted to bring all contact with God under their authority.


Priests did not have that authority in the Tent of Meeting in Exodus, but in Leviticus, they’re given that authority and a way to do that is to meld them together. The Tent of Meeting is as much a priestly matter as the Tabernacle is. And again, I think that’s a plausible theory. It’s more than we know, you know, we can’t say this is absolutely true, but it actually dovetails with some other things people talk about when it comes to the authorship of not just Leviticus, but of Torah as a whole, which we’re not going to get into here. We do have other podcasts on that issue, though. The Composition of the Pentateuch, so anyway. Leaving that to the side…

Isn’t Leviticus Fun? We haven’t even gotten past the first verse and we’re already sidetracked, because careful reading will raises legitimate questions. Welcome to adult Bible study. And these are the kinds of things that, you know, modern biblical scholarship as well as, you know, ancient Christian and Jewish scholarship—they were aware of these details as well. But, for us, this is how biblical scholarship really has taken root, is by trying to pay attention to things like this and saying, well, “What can explain it?”

Anyway, back to the title. We’re not even done with the title yet, folks. This is going to be an 87-hour podcast at this rate, but anyway. Back to the title.

In Judaism the book is also called torat kohanim, which means instruction for the priests. And kohan is priests, and if you know anyone, I mean, I had a good friend of mind in high school, his last name was Cohen. That means priest, that’s an ancient, you know, ancient title that’s been around for a very, very long time. But the instructions for the priest or the instructions of the priest, that’s what torat kohanim means. We know it as Leviticus, which is, hang with me folks, the Latin version of the ancient Greek title Levitikon (remember Greek became the main language of Judaism beginning around roughly 300 BCE). And Levitikon means “things pertaining to the Levites.”

Now, remember from the Hebrew Bible, remember that Levi was one of the twelve sons of Jacob and became a tribe, like all the sons wind up expanding to tribes of their own. That’s how the story goes. And remember, that Levi was the tribe set apart by God to serve in the holy sanctuary which is the Tabernacle. Later it becomes the Temple, which is a side issue, but for now we’re dealing just with the Tabernacle. So, they’re the ones who are going to be dealing with the holy sanctuary, that’s the Levite function. And singled out from the Levites, you had the sons of Aaron. Aaron is Moses’ brother. And the sons of Aaron would serve as a specific subset of the Levites and they’re called the priests (that is drawn out in Exodus a little bit more too). And here’s the thing—among the sons of Aaron, among the priests, one would serve as high priest and he had special duties, one of which was on officiating over the Day of Atonement (which is called Yom Kippur—Leviticus 16, which we’ll get to in a little bit).  

So, to be honest, you know, from an academic point of view, tracing out the differences between Levites and Priests and how that got to be is like is a whole scholarly thing we’re not going to get into. But for our purposes, here is what is worth remembering: all priests are Levites. Right, because Levite is the bigger category. All priests fit under that, but there are Levites who are not priests. In fact, most Levites are not priests. I mention all this because Leviticus, even though it’s called Leviticus, isn’t about Levites like in the general sense as much as it is about priests—those who do what? Those who are tasked with officiating over the sacrifices. Levites are more helpers. Now, the term Levite, it does appear in Leviticus, but only once. It’s all the way toward the end in 25:32.


Now, Leviticus as a whole is mainly about priestly ritual duties. For what reason? Well, those priestly ritual duties ensure that the communion between God and the Israelites stays intact. And it is also about the responsibilities of the everyday Israelites to do what they need to do to maintain that connection. You see, apparently, there are a lot of ways of threatening that connection along with many ways of restoring that connection once it’s broken.

Now, I know for a lot of Christians this will sound instinctively like “works righteousness,” which Paul doesn’t have much nice things to say about. But what Paul is talking about is not any of the stuff we’re talking about here in Leviticus. Or this may sound like “saving yourself by your own effort,” but it’s not. We’ll get into this a little bit later, but remember, the Israelites are, in the book of Leviticus, they’re already saved—they are God’s chosen people. They’ve been God’s chosen people since the time of Abraham. And what God did is God delivered them from Egypt.

The law, all this Leviticus stuff, is not a condition of “salvation”—do this and you’ll be saved—it is a response to God’s act of salvation. Okay? Just keep that in mind because it actually changes how we might approach the book of Leviticus, not useless things to do so we might go to heaven when we die, but things that help us maintain the connection between ourselves and God. And, by the way, Christians do that stuff all the time. They go to church, they pray, they read the Bible, they go to Bible studies…whatever, right? We all have rituals that help connect us with God and Leviticus, well, these are those rituals.

Okay. We’re going to get into all this stuff in a minute. I keep saying that, but I mean it. But before we do, let’s look briefly, although I don’t know how brief this is because this is really important. But let’s look at the structure of the book—and there is a method to my madness. Now, of course, there is no one right way to view the structure of a book of the Bible, any book of the Bible, but this is the way that makes the most sense to me of Leviticus. And to do that, I just like to divide Leviticus into 2 parts. The first part is chapters 1-16 and the second part is chapters 17-27, 27 total chapters.

Now, no sooner do I say that then I have to backpedal just a little bit and say that chapter 27, the last chapter, is its own thing. I’ll explain why in a second, but most scholars feel this is an appendix added to Leviticus at a later time. That’s not a big deal, and we’ll come back to that very briefly. But again, just a reminder that biblical books do have what you might call a developmental history. They weren’t just written all at one time and here it is. As they were handed down, they were added to, they were edited, and you know, what exists in the 3rd century BCE is probably different than what existed in the 6th century BCE. That’s just the legacy of biblical literature and we see traces in these books of how things probably did change over time. You can pick out things, anyway. That’s not a big deal, we’ll come back to it.

OK, so let’s look at part 1, chapters 1-16. What is happening here? Well, this is probably the section that most Christian Bible readers are somewhat familiar with—I say that with some hesitancy but somewhat familiar with. Because why? Many, probably a lot of you have said I’m going to read through the Bible in a year and you start reading, and if you get to Leviticus, that’s the place where you sort of conk out. You just can’t finish it because…why? You know, why am I reading this? But you’ve maybe come across things in this section begins with instructions to the people, these are instructions given to the people, about the basic sacrifices, and there are two types of basic sacrifices for Israelites. The first type are voluntary sacrifices, which are just as they say: they are offerings that one does voluntarily, not on a whim, but it’s things that you, you know, you ought to be considering but you do this on your own initiative, they’re not mandatory. And they’re for things like expressing gratitude or thanks.

Now, I know the text if you’re looking at Leviticus, it starts very early on and within a couple verses, where, you know, God says “you shall bring” animal X. Well, it sounds like a command but it’s not. It means, in the event that you make a voluntary offering, “you shall bring,” this is how you shall do it. OK, so the voluntary offerings are, again, maybe you’ve heard some of these terms: burnt offerings, grain offerings, and well-being (peace) offerings.


Each has its own stipulations of what to sacrifice and how, and they’re covered in chapters 1-3. 

The next two chapters, 4-5 (actually, it leaks into ch. 6 a little bit), but these are the mandatory sacrifices. To understand what these are about, we have to take a step back. There’s background here. We have to take a step back and understand that the ancient Israelites believed that certain, we’ll call them sins, but I don’t like that word because it conjures up certain things, especially for Christian readers. But the Israelites believed that certain activities, certain actions, certain contacts with certain things had an effect on the whole community, and especially an effect on the Tabernacle and everything in it.

What that means is there are certain actions that defiled things, that polluted things, that contaminated things (these are all good metaphors). There were different levels of sin that affected different areas of the Tabernacle. Right, this is very important. This is, the actions that Israelites sometimes could engage in without even knowing it could serve as a pollutant, as a contagion that could actually affect the Tabernacle itself, the holy Tabernacle.

And some of the actions, as I said, there are different levels of sin that affected different areas of the tabernacle. Some threatened the Holy of Holies, which is the most holy place. By the way, that’s what Holy of Holies means. Any time you see these expressions in the Bible, King of Kings, Lord of Lords—it’s the Hebrew way of making the superlative. So, Holy of Holies is the most holy place. King of Kings is the most kingly king. Lord of Lords, etc., etc. Or in the book of Leviticus, vanity of vanities—the most vain thing, the most meaningless thing.

So, in the Holy of Holies, there are actions that affect that inner sanctum where God’s throne is, and then you have the next level out which is called the Holy Place, and there are actions that can pollute the Holy Place. And then the outer court, which is where anybody can be, which is where the main sacrifice is made. And, you know, you have these stages of, we’re going to have to talk about this too a little bit later from a different angle. But the Tabernacle has different stages. It has different quadrants, let’s say, and all those things are susceptible to pollution if the Israelites do certain things and actually, inadvertently. That’s why calling them sins is difficult because sins for us usually means something we do that’s wrong. These aren’t things that were done that were wrong, these are things that were done that pollute. Big difference. Okay?

 See, the main point of this though, let’s not get lost in the details. The main point is that the pollution, whatever it is, if left unchecked, would threaten the community because it would put a barrier between them and God—which is about the last thing the exodus community wants, having just been rescued with God to be in relationship with God if I can use that word.

Side note, the exodus, that story was not simply a story of liberation from servitude. Like, go be free! It was a liberation from Egyptian servitude so that the Israelites could serve God. Exodus is quite explicit about that—Let my people go so they might serve me, specifically on this mountain, Mt. Sinai. And that service, as would be the case when you’re in service to anyone, that service has stipulations, which is what we are seeing them here in Leviticus. Leviticus is not like, an annoying, legalistic add-on to the exodus story, it’s the culmination of the exodus story. They are free from Pharaoh and they are now in God’s presence and bound to this God who rescued them. Yeah, that’s sort of a big overview, but I think it’s a very important one for trying to understand the theology of the book of Leviticus.

Anyway, these mandatory sacrifices that we see in chs. 4-5 are meant to take care of this pollution—and I have read scholars who think of the blood as almost like a detergent. That’s not a bad metaphor. And there are two types of mandatory sacrifices. The first is the sin offering or the sin sacrifice or better, I would say, the purification offering or the purification sacrifice.


And that was offered for taking away the pollution that resulted from the unintentional sins of priests and of the people. Now, what those sins are are not mentioned other than it concerns, not specifically, but it concerns anything that God commended should not be done—like think of the thou shalt nots of the 10 commandments. So, things that God commanded that should not be done. It involves some sort of an unintentional trespass. You see, sin happens and God isn’t angry. You just have to make it right through a ritual.

The other mandatory sacrifice is the guilt offering, which is better understood as a reparation offering. Guilt, again, just has certain connotations that probably is not what this regulation is saying. But it’s a reparation offering—the paying back to God some compensation for unintentionally misusing holy things or perhaps unwittingly overstepping a holy boundary of some sort. These things can also include deceiving or defrauding a neighbor, at least, that’s what we read there.

OK, so these instructions concerning voluntary and mandatory sacrifices are all given to all the people from God through Moses, these are the things that the people hear. Most of chapters 6 and 7 move onto another topic which is instructions to the priests themselves about officiating over these same sacrifices, which involves their own sorts of rituals. For our purposes, there’s really no need to get into any of this detail. Just know when you’re reading this it sounds repetitive, but the difference is that in 6-7 it’s the priests are being addressed whereas in 1-5, it’s the people being addressed.

Now, next comes chapters 8-10, and we talk about this as a block because these are not commands or regulations or laws, but they are narrative. So, you have a narrative section that sort of breaks up the laws a little bit, and they recount the process for ordaining priests. A very important thing, because they’re the ones who are going to be very close to God doing the sacrifices on behalf of the people, and there’s a ritual whereby they are ordained and it involves an anointing with oil. Not just kings are anointed, but priests are anointed also. Some prophets are anointed as well. It’s for a special set apart task that they have to do. So, we read about this anointing, and also a number of sacrifices that are involved in this ordaining process for the priests, and that’s in chapter 8. Chapter 9 is about the ordination of Aaron as High Priest, likewise, it’s a big deal, you know, with a number of rituals associated with that.

Now, here’s the thing. Before we get to chapter 10, I just want to set this up. When you get to the end of chapter 9, at this point, everything is in place, finally. The Tabernacle is completed, the sacrificial laws are arranged, the priests and the high priests are consecrated for their tasks. Everything is in place to begin the worship of God in the Tabernacle. This is no small moment in Israel’s history. Again, the whole reason for the exodus was to worship/serve (it means the same thing) God on Mt. Sinai. And now, they are finally ready to do that. In fact, Gary Anderson, who was a guest on the podcast a couple of years ago, Gary Anderson writes that this moment is actually the culmination of very purpose of creation, of the entire biblical story from the beginning (Genesis 1) up to this point. This is the culmination, finally, the true and right worship of the one true God. Now the world is as it should be: the Chosen People worshipping the true God at God’s holy sanctuary, at the base of God’s holy mountain. You can sort of say “heaven on earth” if you want to.


Keeping that in mind is important for understanding the next scene. In chapter 10, Aaron (remember, he’s the High Priest), his sons Nadab and Abihu (remember, they’re priests, they’re not High Priests, but they’re priests. They’re charged with officiating over sacrifices). But Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, they offer “unholy fire” before the Lord. And a better translation is “unauthorized fire.” Nobody knows what that means, at least I haven’t found an explanation that I think nails it, but it simply suggests that Nadab and Abihu did something they shouldn’t have done. They somehow overstepped a holiness boundary here at the culmination of the entire history of the world as far as the Israelites were concerned. And as a result, what does God do? He consumes Nadab and Abihu on the spot with fire from above.

Yeah, I know. That’s one of these stories that’s like, ugh. What kind of a God is this? And that does seem very harsh, and I’m not sure if God actually consumes people with fire. I’m betting on that God doesn’t do that. But this is the Israelite understanding of God and of their faith a very, very long time ago. And it seems harsh, but remember that at this moment, creation itself, this is what creation itself has been moving toward since the beginning. And no sooner are things in place but a couple of priests break the rules. See, this moment, maybe to put this in a much broader perspective. This moment is an echo of the Garden of Eden story. There God allows Adam and Eve to abide with God in God’s sacred presence—yes, the Garden is a sacred presence and actually a metaphor for the Tabernacle and later the Temple, which are both sacred space. But Adam & Eve’s failure to abide by God’s command led to punishment—they were driven out of paradise, which Genesis calls a “death.” “On the day you eat of it, you shall surely die,” right, but they didn’t die, they were exiled at the end of chapter 3 in Genesis.

Leviticus 10 is another fall narrative. It’s about disobedience, and the loss of sacred space, and a death. In fact, to broaden this out even further, there is another similar story in Exodus: it’s the golden calf story. There too, where are we? We’re at God’s holy mountain, while Moses is at the summit getting God’s commands, the Israelites worship a golden calf and have a wild party. This is God’s holy mountain, for heaven’s sake, and they’re crossing a major holiness boundary. They’re worshipping a golden calf. So what does God do? God punishes them for their disobedience by having the Levites go through the camp and kill 3000 of the people. 

Again, it seems harsh, and frankly, it is harsh in my opinion, but it doesn’t matter. We’re trying to get to understand the theology of Leviticus, the logic behind it. The deaths of Nadab and Abihu were a, from the logic of Leviticus, an appropriate response for daring to try to ruin everything, even if it was inadvertent the priests should not have done that they did. You’re going to throw everything off the rails. This is a big moment.

Now, not to get off track here, but again, these are the little nuggets that I think are very, very important. The Adam & Eve story, the Golden Calf story, and this unauthorized fire story are all fall stories of Israel’s disobedience in sacred space and God’s response. You know, the Adam & Even story has never picked up again after Genesis 5, but in a way, it sort of is. Just very indirectly, more thematically, more symbolically and not literally.

And I’m just making a point of this, first, to show the theological depth and subtlety of Leviticus, and also to help us not see this story as just weird and mean. In the theology of Torah, this all really does fit together. Now, what we do with that theology today, and especially Christians in light of the Gospel and in light of 2000 years of reflection, that’s another issue entirely. But we’re just dealing with the theology of the book of Leviticus, which, I think, I want us to try to respect before we critique.

Okay, moving to chapters 11-15, we come to a part of Leviticus that many of you might be familiar with—this is the concepts of clean and unclean, which is where Jewish kosher laws come from. They’re based on that. Now, the reasoning behind this distinction of clean and unclean, unfortunately, is not clear.  


So, we’re not going to get into all the theories. That would be a half an hour podcast in and of itself, just ferreting that out. But just know that there are animals that may be eaten and other animals that should not be eaten. That’s one thing that we discuss here, what we see here in Leviticus 11.

What’s interesting though, is that, you know, we’re not told what happens to someone if they eat unclean animals. I’m not sure why. We’re only told what happens when someone touches an unclean animal’s carcass. What do you do? Well, if it happens you have to wash your clothes and you remain unclean until the evening. OK, well what does that mean? To be unclean means you need to ritually cleanse yourself and then isolate from the rest of the community. Why? Well, presumably because your unclean state is a pollution. It’s a contagion. And that’s actually a good metaphor for trying to understand this clean and unclean business.

Now, the rest of this section deals with matters other than food, like a woman’s period of uncleanness after giving birth. By the way, for a male birth that period of uncleanness is 7 days (which is why circumcisions happen on the 8th day).

By the way, remember Jesus’s circumcision in the gospel of Luke? Mary and Joseph come to the Temple and offered a pair of turtle doves and two young pigeons as a sacrifice for Mary’s purification—which means after 7 days. And offering a dove and pigeons, well, that’s right out of Leviticus 12. Normally a lamb was sacrificed, unless you’re poor, which Joseph and Mary apparently were. So, Leviticus makes provisions for offering things that are less costly.

Anyway, for female births, it’s not a 1-week period of uncleanness, it’s 2 week period. Don’t ask me why. The point here, though, is that there is something about blood that renders the woman unclean. And this is why, this is a really good example why I’m focusing on this. This is why it is important to get something straight about clean and unclean. Unclean does not mean being in a state of sin. A woman who has given birth or who is menstruating has done nothing wrong, but she is unclean, which means a period of separation from the community along with some sort of offering, one of which is the “sin offering.” The fact that the offering is called a sin offering is probably, at least has helped promote the idea that the woman is in a state of sin. But she isn’t and that is why, as we saw a minute ago, sin offering is better translated as purification offering—because the point is to be purified from the uncleanness. It’s not to be purified from sin, it’s really important to keep that distinction clear.

We also in this section have two chapters on various skin diseases and then another on bodily discharges that make one unclean. You’ve probably heard that the Hebrew word “leprosy,” most study Bibles will give you this information, that the Hebrew word “leprosy” is actually misleading. Leprosy is a specific skin disease, but Leviticus describes something broader. So, the Hebrew word translated ”leprosy” is tsara`at, and it might be best just to leave it untranslated and just handle this in a footnote, that it refers to general skin diseases. The discharges, the bodily discharges, deal with both normal and pathological discharges from male and female genital organs. There ya go. Not the stuff of family Bible time. But anyway…

The same thing is going on here: these people are not in a state of sin. You might remember the woman who had been discharging/menstruating for 12 years whom Jesus heals—this is a pathological, not normal, discharge. He did not heal her from sin, but from a perpetual state of uncleanness that had her ostracized from the community. She needed to be restored, not forgiven.

Now, for some reason, these discharges are important matters. In 15:31 we read that the Israelites are to be kept separate from their uncleanness, which would result in defiling the Tabernacle and, it seems, even their own death. Right, if you’re not going to take care of the uncleanness in the prescribed way by going through the rituals of washing, separating, and sacrificing, well then the contagion will eventually get out of hand and contaminate the Tabernacle.


So, if someone is running around the camp spreading his or her uncleanness all over and not caring, they might need to be executed to protect the Tabernacle. That’s how serious Tabernacle purity is. See, it’s not about individual perfection. That’s another important thing to say. This is not about you have to be a perfect thing and have no problems, but it’s more when you’re unclean, there are things that need to be done. And, thankfully, it’s really readily available. It’s not terribly hard, it just takes a little bit of waiting and some washing and maybe a sacrifice. That’s what they’re told to do.

Okay. [Large sigh]

Which brings us to the last chapter of part one, this is chapter 16, and it’s the Day of Atonement—also called the Day of Purification, and in Hebrew, Yom Kippur. Which for me as a kid, it just meant I got a day off from school, but anyway. This is not only the last chapter of part 1, but something of a centerpiece of Leviticus. See, each year, here’s what happens: the High Priest and the High Priest alone would enter the most sacred part of the Tabernacle called the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant was. The point was to take away any lingering impurities that may have infected the Tabernacle over the course of the last year. Something that wasn’t caught, that is probably infecting the community. They don’t know what it is, but just as a surety to make sure that nothing is contaminating it now.

And there are a lot of moving parts here, but basically, it means that Aaron, before even entering the Tabernacle, he needed to sacrifice a bull to, first of all, why? Take away any unknown impurity he might be harboring. Can’t have him offering sacrifices for the people if he’s impure himself. And then he takes two goats, this is the really interesting part. This is the part people probably know something about when it comes to this ritual. But, two goats—one would be offered as a sacrifice and the other would be sent off into the wilderness, this is what the phrase says, to Azazel.

Now, this is odd on several levels.  But this goat seems to have the impurities of the entire community placed on him—not the sin placed upon him the way we think of it, but the impurities of the people. And he is then cast out of the community, to put the impurities far away from the Tabernacle and almost certainly just simply die out there. Either getting killed by another animal or just dying of hunger or thirst or whatever. Right?

So far, so good. So far, we understand sort of what’s going on, but what is this Azazel? Well, older Bibles, namely the KJV, took their cue from rabbinic tradition and rendered it “scapegoat”—and that’s a term that has stuck around in English usage. Rabbis later read Azazel, they broke that, it’s one word in Hebrew, but they broke it up into `ez ‘azel—which means a goat that goes away, but that is probably very unlikely. Nowadays, scholars understand Azazel as, you might want to be sitting down here. But they understand Azazel as a leftover allusion to an older idea—Azazel is a desert demon. Oh, that’s weird.

Yeah, it is weird. But this is an idea that goes as far back, well, it’s before the time of Jesus and is still seen 12th century in Judaism. This is not just a made up thing, but there seems to be some historical precedent to this. Now, this Azazel does seem to be not just like a scapegoat, it’s not an adjective describing the goat. This Azazel does seem to be an entity of some sort. See, lots were cast on the two goats, and as verse 8 says, “one lot for the Lord and one lot for Azazel.” It sounds like Azazel is a being of some sort like Yahweh is a being of some sort.

Unfortunately, none of this, of course, is explained at all in Leviticus or anywhere else in the Bible. But it does go to show us how very interesting the Bible can get once we dig down even just a little bit, and it should also be a reminder why having a good study Bible can really open our eyes.

OK, well that’s part one. To set up part two, let’s circle back and talk for a moment about the structure of Leviticus. Leviticus is not a mishmash of laws loosely arranged. It is organized. It’s very organized. The entire book is structured, interestingly, around 36 speeches of God that begin “The Lord said.” It’s how the book opens. Now, 36 is a multiple of 12, and I don’t like getting number happy when it comes to the Bible, but this is surely no accident.


It’s 3 x 12, right, so those are two important numbers there. And I mentioned earlier that chapter 27, remember that, is considered sort of a tacked-on appendix at a much later time. Well, some scholars think that it may have been tacked on to create that 36th speech, interesting idea, to give this book a sense of order and coherence.

Anyway, you’ve got these 36 speeches that begin “the Lord said,” 31 of them are addressed to Moses, Moses is the main guy. Four to Moses and Aaron, and one to Aaron alone. And along with that, Leviticus has 12 summary statements spread out through the book (again 12, right)—and those summary statements, obviously, they summarize what was just said before moving on to another topic. They can act for us as, like, alternate chapter divisions. That might be a good way for us to read Leviticus, just to shake things up a bit. See, again, get a good study Bible, mark the summary statements, and read it section by section. Maybe that’ll help make some sense or get a different kind of flow for the book. Chapter divisions are too arbitrary, especially, well, I think in a lot of books, but Leviticus certainly.

So, okay. Ch. 16 is also a structural marker of a different sort. And here, we’re going to get more into modern scholarship of the book of Leviticus. Not only is chapter 16 the climax of the book up to this point, but it takes us into part 2 which seems quite distinct from part 1. There’s some sort of a, in some respects, there’s a big break between 16 and 17. They’re connected in terms of content, but they also differ. And not to dig too deeply here, but you might be interested in listening to some of our previous podcasts that deal with the composition of Torah as a whole to maybe flesh out a little bit of what I am saying here (don’t go do this right this second, but maybe as a follow up if you have nothing else to do).

The bottom line, let’s just get to the bottom line. The bottom line is that 1-16 and 17-26, again, leaving 27 off, are widely considered by scholars of all stripes to be the product of two different authors representing two different legal traditions. 1-16 are the priestly edition (which is usually called P for short), and we know this author well—he shows up throughout Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers. He has a distinctive vocabulary and take on things. You really know when you’re reading this priestly tradition or this priestly author.

Now, chapters 17-26 are called by scholars the Holiness Code (H for short). And one big difference between these traditions is that for P… Now listen. One big difference between these traditions is that for P, the Tabernacle is the sacred, holy, space. For H, it’s the land of Israel as a whole. See, it expands beyond the Tabernacle. And likewise, P focuses on the holiness of priests (and you might get that more clearly from another P text, which is in Numbers 6:5-8, don’t worry about that here). But P focuses more on holiness for all priests, but in H it’s the holiness of all the people. We’re going to see an example of that later. So, you see, for H, since all of the land is holy, the holiness of the people becomes all the more important because the land, not just the Tabernacle, but the land—is sacred space.

A very big difference between the two (again, P and H) is that for P, impurity, uncleanness, unholiness—I’m using those terms interchangeably—all that is ritualistic, ceremonial as it’s called. Impurity is not a sin, I’ve said that before, but it keeps you from the community and it keeps you from God, and so steps need to be taken to restore that relationship. For H, purity and impurity are more personal moral matters.

This is vital, folks. Ritual purity—things like the foods that you eat, giving birth, skin diseases, discharges, etc., and also touching human corpses (Num 19, P), are not moral issues. They’re not issues of moral impurity. Why? Because they are (1) unavoidable like childbirth. You can’t always control the skin diseases you get.


They’re unavoidable, and in some cases like touching human corpses, you have to bury them, right? In some cases, getting unclean is even obligatory. You can’t just leave the body there, you’ve got to bury it. So, they’re not sinful or resulting from sin. Also, (2) they are impermanent. That sort of ties in with all these rituals we’re talking about. You know, you may be separated from the community for a day, a week, maybe a little longer. It involves some waiting, it involves some bathing, washing of clothes, sacrifice—but something happens where the ritual impurity gets taken away.

And these ritual impurities (3) are contagious—if unchecked, they accumulate. It’s like not taking the garbage out in your kitchen for a month at a time. It starts to smell and it ruins the whole kitchen. The only way to do something is to take care of the uncleanness, right? So, if the uncleanness is unchecked, the contagion takes over and it makes the Tabernacle, ultimately, unfit for the divine presence, which is, again, the whole point of the Tabernacle (which is why you have the Day of Atonement). The Tabernacle as being the place where God’s presence is vital for Israelite thinking, for Israelite religion.

H, by contrast, is concerned with moral impurity. Moral impurity is a result of a volitional sin, and oftentimes in H, it concerns sexual acts, it includes idolatry, and other acts that defile the land and that pose a serious threat to the land that will result in the expulsion of the people from the land. Which, by the way, Leviticus knows full well from the point of view of the author, already happened. The exile. They were already driven out of the land. This is sort of H’s explanation for that. It’s the impurity of the people the land can’t contain you, it’s got to throw you out. It’s sort of like, the garbage accumulating in the kitchen, bags and bags, you just open a window and toss it out to the driveway or something, right? You’ve just got to get rid of it.

The land here in H, is symbolically like the Tabernacle and also the Garden of Eden—it is another of God’s sacred spaces where impurities cannot be tolerated. So, unlike ritual impurity, the consequences of moral impurity are long-lasting, even permanent. They’re not temporary. And because these are not involuntary acts, but volitional—there is no means of purifying the offender. The solution, as we see throughout this section, is typically (but not always) death. See, that is how you purify the land. And it is here in H that we see that word, it pops up in a lot of sermons, “abomination”—the acts are abominable because they pose a threat to Israel’s existence in the land.

One thing that ritual purity and moral purity regulations share, there’s one thing that they really have in common, is that both have corporate effects for what individuals do. Whether it’s moral or ritual impurity, the act does affect the greater area or the others, the people, or even the Tabernacle. It affects more than just the individual. It’s not about, again, personal perfection, it’s about the effect that you have on the greater whole. And if the impurity is not dealt with—well, you need to deal with it. Because the consequences are not good. And ritual impurity and moral impurity have different ways of dealing with that issue. That’s a really key point, I think, to understanding just the nature of these regulations in the book of Leviticus and also the distinctiveness of P and H, which make up the two halves.

OK, let’s try to hit a couple of more issues briefly before we end. One, which I think is fascinating, is the idea of holiness and zones of holiness that we see in Leviticus.

Again, I want to repeat this because it’s so important. None of these words—holy, clean, pure—means perfection. They all have to do with avoiding things that make the community and Tabernacle, or the land in the case of H, unfit for God’s presence. So, Leviticus, in a manner of speaking, is all about how the people can be near God and stay there. And the closer one gets to God, the closer one gets to God’s presence, the more serious things get. This is one angle on Nadab and Abihu’s “unauthorized fire” for which they were themselves consumed by—this happened right after the sacrificial system in the Tabernacle was established, right in the heart of establishing God’s presence with Israel through the system of sacrifices. This is why Nadab and Abihu didn’t just get a stern talking to.


So, this raises (we’re getting to this idea of zones) the idea of zones of holiness and zones of degrees of closeness to God. We see this on Mt. Sinai—this is really the first place we see it. And think of concentric circles. Only Moses can climb to the summit of Mt. Sinai.  He alone can be up there in God’s presence. Priests and elders, well, they can go part of the way up the mountain, and the people and the altar of sacrifice, well, they remain at the foot of the mountain. That’s Mt. Sinai.

The Tabernacle has similar zones. Why? Because the Tabernacle is a portable Mt. Sinai—God transfers God’s home from a mountain to the sanctuary. That’s what the Tabernacle is. So, we see a similarity between Mt. Sinai and the Tabernacle. For example, in the Tabernacle, only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies, which is where the ark of the covenant is, upon which Yahweh himself is said to be enthroned. The High Priest’s audience with God is, think of it this way, a re-enactment of Moses on Mt. Sinai in God’s presence. Now, priests can enter the Holy Place (which is the next zone removed). Not the Holy of Holies, but the Holy Place. And the people and everyone are outside on the outer court, and another level removed. This is where the altar of sacrifice is before the priests even go into the Tabernacle itself. See, the Tabernacle and Mt. Sinai are mirror images of each other.

We can even expand these zones further to the land itself. In Numbers, the Tabernacle as a whole is the center of God’s holy presence, but then think again of concentric circles—the Israelite camp is one step removed and the area outside of that, further away, is the wilderness. That’s the furthest part away. You see that three levels happening on the level of the whole land, and later, when we get to the period of the monarchy, we see something similar. There is no Tabernacle, obviously, because they’re not wandering around the desert, but now you have the Temple as central, then the land itself is God’s land, and then beyond the land is the land of the exile. So, you have three levels of God’s closeness, and we see that in the sanctuary, the Tabernacle or the Temple, and we see it with, you know, with these gradations on Mt. Sinai. There’s something about this pattern that is important to at least these priestly writers in the Hebrew Bible.

Both sanctuaries (the Tabernacle and the Temple) along with the land are central to Israel’s understanding of itself and understanding of God. There is no more holy place to be on earth than in the sanctuary, performing the daily rituals, in a state of cleanness, in the land that God has given you. And when those things are ripped from you, as they were in the exile, maybe we can appreciate how devastating that was—and how powerfully Judaism had to regroup after these things about what it even means to be a Jew—but that’s another podcast. But just know, building a sanctuary in Babylon in exile would not have gone over well. You just can’t put God’s house anywhere.

One last thing if I may about the zones of holiness—the sacrificial animals also have zones. The fat, called the suet, this is the hardened fat that encases the kidney and liver, they, that fat, belongs to Yahweh alone. Don’t you think about eating it. In 1 Sam 2, it starts around verse 15, you can read about what happens to priests who take the fat for themselves—guess what happens? They die. Like Nadab and Abihu died. They overstepped a serious holiness boundary. Death is also the penalty, by the way, for idolatry/blasphemy. Why? It’s crossing a pretty major holiness boundary. It’s false worship, something pertaining directly to God. Likewise, murder is also punishable by death (perhaps because humans are image-bearers of God). And also certain sexual acts are punishable by death: bestiality, various forms of incest, and sex with someone of the same gender. Now, what all these have in common is genitalia, and it raises the question of why these behaviors are deserving of death, which is a very hard question to answer.


Now, remember folks, this podcast is not about debating Leviticus but trying to understand its logic, its theology, its structure—what it was trying to say back in the day. I know that the matter of human sexuality is a deeply meaningful issue for many of you, and even divisive for some. I don’t mean to appear to be sidestepping it—far from it, we have several episodes exploring various related topics to human sexuality. But here, I just want to try to just touch on the nature of Israelite religion. What we do with that religion today in light of, again, thousands of years of reflection and including reflection on the Gospel, what we do with this is a matter of very serious and mature theological reflection that has been going on since the church began.  

One common answer, let me get to a possible answer, one common answer about why these sexual behaviors are deserving of death is that they are just social taboos—all societies have things that just gross them out, and we even share some of them with Israelite culture, like, you know, having sex with your mother, things like that. I think that is a valid explanation historically speaking.

Another thought, another potential explanation is that genitalia are about reproduction—to fill the earth as Genesis says humans should—and that won’t happen except for sexual relations between men and women. But at the end of the day, I simply am not sure what the logic is here, and I’m not convinced that anyone has a really solid answer. Just think of it this way, in the same way that we don’t know the reasoning behind clean and unclean, even though that is so basic a concept to Leviticus, we might not really have the reasoning process here about human sexuality and how that’s treated in Leviticus.

Anyway, we sidetracked. We do that a lot here at The Bible for Normal People. But we were talking about the zones of the sacrificial animals. The fat belongs to God—let’s call the most inner zone of the animal. The next zone, the inner zone, includes entrails, reproductive organs, legs—most of these belong exclusively to God, but not all. Some is available to the priest. The outer zone includes the head and the body, and that’s food for the priests and the people. See, again, you see these three-part division of the animal itself.

OK, two quick points as we bring this to a close. Thank you for your patience, folks.  One has to do with the presence of contradictions in Leviticus, between P and H and also between Leviticus as a whole and other legal sections of Torah. Why am I raising this? I only raise it because I find it fascinating that a book where God is doing almost all of the talking, giving Israel laws of ritual and moral purity, it’s fascinating that this book, of all books, contains contradictory laws and contradicts laws other parts of Torah where God is likewise giving commands.

I want to say this bluntly, this is not debatable. These things are actually happening in Torah. The easiest explanation is that Torah contains several legal traditions that arose in some respects independently of each other (but probably not entirely independently) but were localized. And if you are a regular listener of the podcast, you’re used to hearing that. In my book Exodus for Normal People, which came out in 2021, I deal a lot with these traditions as they are seen in the book of Exodus. So, that might be someplace for you to go if you want to read a little bit more about it.

But anyway, the biblical editors who brought these traditions together were not fools. They could read. They were not asleep at the switch. They kept these traditions, these sometimes conflicting traditions together because they both had value for their communities. And I’m saying all this just so you know that I am not trying to tear the Bible apart by pointing out the fact of contradictions, but just trying to explain as I’m always trying to do, just the nature of the book, which clearly did not drop out of heaven but, like all biblical books, developed over time and was handled by different people in different times.

One example of an internal contradiction in Leviticus between P and H concerns sex during menstruation. What a great topic. Anyway, that is a no-no throughout Leviticus, but the penalties are not the same. In chapter 15, you can look up the specific references yourself, but in chapter 15, the man is considered unclean for seven days. This is P and a matter of ritual purity—it’s not permanent, it’s ritual cleansing that’s needed. Not a big deal. It’s something, you have to take care of it, but, you know. You’re not going to jump of the deep end because of this.

In chapter 18, we read of a number of sexual sins, one of them being sex during menstruation, but there it is treated on par with things like incest and adultery. The penalty for all of these sins is that the land will vomit the people out—which is exile language.


Remember, land purity is part of H’s ideology and we see it here in the law, it’s concerned about the land. Then turn to chapter 20. There the impurity or uncleanness is called a sickness, and intercourse results in both—this is so different—both the man and woman being cut off from their people. Whatever that means, it doesn’t seem to be a temporary period of isolation in cleansing, but something that looks permanent, which could be anything. To be cut off from your people, it could be anything from ex-communication to a premature death of some sort or perhaps even execution. Trying to reconcile these regulations to make them all say the same thing, it just twists you into knots.

One quick example going of a contradiction between Leviticus and laws outside of Leviticus concerns eating dead animals that you happen to come across. According to Leviticus 17, if ANY person—hear me—any person, citizen or alien, comes upon an animal that has either died or been killed by another animal and eats it, they need to what? Wash their clothes, wash themselves, and they will be unclean until evening. This is not a sin. It is a cause of uncleanness. There are ritual things to do to get rid of the uncleanness.

In chapter 22, however, priests now are specifically prohibited from eating carcasses at all. If they do, they will die in the sanctuary. For H, this is chapter 22/H, for H, priests operate on a higher level, let’s say, then Joe and Jane Israelite. Now compare this to Deuteronomy 14. There we read yet a third perspective, that NO ONE shall eat anything that dies on its own. Sure, give it to foreigners, but the people as a whole are holy, they don’t eat of it at all. Deuteronomy seems to put the people on the same level that H puts the priests. None of you can eat it. Likewise, Exodus 22:31 prohibits all people from eating the meat of an animal mangled by beasts.

This is just something worth observing, that’s all. The act of eating carcasses is presumed to be happening in Lev 17 (P)—it is a ritual impurity and therefore not permanent. In H (Lev 22), priests are singled out as not being allowed ever to eat a carcass, which is presumed they were able to do back in chapter 17. And in Deuteronomy and Exodus, this absolute prohibition against eating carcasses includes all the people—no one may eat of a carcass.

I’ve said this in other contexts, but I’ll say it here again. If you’re bored and want something to keep you busy for the rest of your life, study the law codes in the Pentateuch. There are a lot of puzzles there to untangle. At the very least, simply quoting a law from Leviticus or anywhere, you know, as if “it is what is, and that’s it, it’s the law” and the law is permanent, stuff like that… That kind of mentality doesn’t take into account the historical and literary complexities which the editors of the Bible had no interest in shielding us from. Again, welcome to adult Bible study.

One last point, and I promise, briefly: The Laws of Leviticus—as well as the laws elsewhere in Torah—do not exist simply as “law codes” sort of like Apple’s terms and conditions do just sort of plopped in front of you. The laws are embedded in a narrative context that begins with creation in Genesis and extends to Moses’s death at the end of Deuteronomy. Torah as a whole is a story that takes us from creation, to Egypt, to Mt. Sinai, and to the brink of the Promised Land. Woven into that narrative are Israel’s legal traditions.

Perhaps one of the bigger lessons to take away from this is the following. And I’ve said this before, but I want to say it again because I think it’s so crucial, especially for Christians to hear. The laws are a response to God’s act of deliverance from Egypt. They are not conditions for salvation—Israel was saved by God because they were the Chosen People. Let’s say they were elect. As the end of Exodus 2 puts it, it’s because God made a promise to Abraham to give his descendants the land of Israel. That’s why God delivered them.

Keeping the law is not the condition for Israel being the Chosen People. They always were. Law defines, to use the phrase, the “covenant relationship” between the rescuer and the rescuees.


In other words, to put this in Christianese, laws were not about earning their salvation—do these things and you will my chosen people. Rather, you are my chosen people, now here is how to act like it.

I know that from our perspective, these laws are somewhere between irrelevant and at times morally problematic. But I think the big picture remains, that law follows grace, it doesn’t precede it. To put that into some Christian language, becoming a Christian is not about earning points by obedience, but living a faithful life as a Christian is a matter of an ever-increasing alignment with the heart of God. Being saved by grace does not mean the saved ones have no obligations. Quite to the contrary. These obligations become more serious. That’s really not a controversial point in Christian theology, but even if what it means to be aligned with God is not always clear to us. But that is where all the interesting theological discussions can happen. What does it mean to live in harmony with God and God’s ways? That’s not an easy question to answer and I’m glad that it’s not.

All right folks, well anyway, I hope that has been helpful for you. This has gone a little bit longer than I intended, but I hope, you can pause and do what you want. Right? So, let me say again, it’s important too…we’re only touching the surface. If you want to dig into this more, I do suggest at least beginning by simply reading Leviticus with a good study Bible to try to catch a sense of the whole, and then perhaps move on from there in your studies.

OK, folks. Until next time, see ya.

[Music begins]

Stephanie: Well, that’s it for this episode of The Bible for Normal People. Before you go, we want to give a huge shoutout to our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you.

If you would like to help support the podcast, you can leave us a review or just tell others about our show. You can also head over to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3 a month, you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.

Dave: Our show was produced by Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marking Director, Savannah Locke; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared and the entire Bible for Normal People team—thanks for listening.


Pete: And of course, there’s always, you know. I have to do that again, Dave. Lack of subject/verb agreement.


Pete: Dave, I’m sorry. I need to start that again because an alert went off and it distracted me. I’m going to start with the top of the paragraph.


Pete: And it’s also about the responsibility, the…


Pete: Oh gosh, I have to, I don’t even know what that last sentence is saying.


Pete: So, what does God do? God PUNISHES them for their disobedience by having the Liv, Levites…


Pete: Sorry, Dave. I just dropped my earbud.

[End of recorded material]

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Christian Ethics with Jared Byas on The Bible for Normal People Podcast

Christian Ethics with Jared Byas

August 26, 2019

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Jared responds to Skillet lead singer, John Copper, and his public statement, “What in God’s Name is Happening in Christianity?” Jared unpacks Christian ethics and the origins of our collective concept of right and wrong and he explores the following questions:

  • Where does our sense of morality come from and how does the Bible fit into that?
  • Is the Bible a good place to go for our ethical foundation?
  • Is it possible that we’ve been raised with some generational baggage around this topic that may be coloring our view of Biblical morality?
  • Is it the Bible or the Holy Spirit that guides us into all truth?
  • If we don’t have the Bible to form our ethics, will we go on a moral rampage?
  • Where do we get our sense of right and wrong from?
  • Is the character of God found in the Bible?
  • What is the Problem of Evil?
  • Do the rules and laws from the Bible apply to the 21st century?
  • Christian ethics is heavily dependent on…what?
  • What element can we use from the Bible as our ethical rubric?
  • What do ethics, love, and culture have to do with one another?
  • Do our ethics shape the way we read the Bible or does reading the Bible shape our ethics?
  • Is the Bible an ethical rulebook?
  • What is our image-bearing responsibility regarding Christian ethics?


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements you can share.

  • “How do we make moral decisions based on something that’s unclear and ambiguous?” @jbyas
  • “Christian ethics [is] heavily dependent on the Spirit of God… to guide us as a community of faith.” @jbyas
  • “ We have to take our ethics and our experiences to the Bible and make decisions from there.” @jbyas
  • “Wisdom is necessary to figure out what is loving.” @jbyas
  • “Our experiences shape how we read the Bible and our Bible is part of that experience that shapes our ethics.” @jbyas
  • “It is dangerous to think that the Bible alone gives us an ethic.” @jbyas
  • “Each generation has to take what’s been passed down to us and we have to struggle with it.” @jbyas

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