There’s a fun couple of lines that goes, “have you ever read the Bible? Did you understand it?” I think Moltmann made this little two question dialogue famous but don’t quote me on that. Well anyway, tonight I sit here reading Leviticus and Matthew and can’t help but feel like I don’t think people actually understand them. ??? These books side by side make me feel like a lot of “Christians” claim they’re “Bible believing” but ignore large portions of the Bible. Leviticus and Matthew are great examples of this blatant disregard. Leviticus represents the Torah, the law by which Christ taught from in Matthew. You can’t understand one book without the other.
Read Matthew, Jesus was obsessed with the law: “be perfect as your father is.” That’s a quotation from the covenant pacts in the Torah, a la Exodus 19 and Leviticus 20. My struggle is, what do we Christians do with the law? Should we just ignore it as most do?
I don’t have an easy answer. Maybe I don’t have one period? (And I’m open to yours. Leave them in the comments below.) On one hand the law is about parsing the world into holy, clean, and unclean. And on the other hand, a pro-law book like Matthew is about being faithful to that law AND to Jesus. But Matthew doesn’t see why we should abandon parsing the world up into holy, clean, and unclean. He’s more concerned that we don’t add to the specifics of the law and create additional burdens against the more authoritative spirit of the original law. In a sense Matthew is the Karaite version of Christianity.
Matthew’s Jesus arguably abolishes some of the law in light of this type of Karaite Christianity but not all of it, and remember in a sense he ramps it up (Matthew 5:17-20). Matthew’s Jesus is paradoxical, in the sense that Jesus doesn’t want his followers abandoning the law but actually continuing in it; but, at the same time Jesus, as the Messiah, wants his followers to obey him, even at the sake of abandoning some of the law (for example, Matthew on the sacrificial system is ok with it but implies Jesus’ cross is superior). I don’t know if Matthew has a way of solving this paradox and it’s hard to tell since he does it in a narrative form, that’s pro-law, it’s hard to point out all the specifics he had in mind.
So have you read Leviticus? Did you understand it? I think honest Christians should say, listen, most Christians are Gentiles and not Jews so it’s not that the law is bad but it’s just not why we’re in the fold of Christ. In other words, there is a way of life that’s faithful to Christ but not bound by the law and we’re ok with the consequences.
I think if Gentile Christians are honest and say that they basically believe in complex versions of universalism (depending on your denomination) it would make it easier to say that books like Leviticus and Matthew are more like parts of a set but they don’t make the whole. I think Jewish Christians have the option to join us or try to continue the law mitigated by Jesus’ superiority. But how to oder that into their lives sounds harder than the questions that sparked this post. The law is thousands of years old. Much has changed since then.
In a nutshell, I think Christians side with the literal words of Paul when he wrote, “for Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” But, books like Matthew show us that Christianity is or at least can be a big tent religion that can take on more than a lawless version of itself. Honesty is key.
Keep your focus, awareness, and love for Christ and the law will be the least of your worries. Be blessed.
“abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” -The Apostles and the Elders