Book of Leviticus
Book of Leviticus
by Timothy Kenney, PhD
The third book of the Pentateuch is called Leviticus. The name "Leviticus" was chosen by the ancient Greek translators because a good part of this book consists of sacrificial and other ritual laws prescribed for the priests of the tribe of Levi. Authored by Moses in 27 chapters, it continues the legislation given by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. Leviticus is almost entirely legislative in character. Generally, the laws contained in this book serve to teach the Israelites that they should always keep themselves in a state of legal purirty, or external sanctity, as a sign of their intimate union with the Lord. The central idea of Leviticus is contained in its oft-repeated injunction: "You shall be holy, because I, the Lord, am holy."
The Book of Leviticus has been organized into the following five components:
- Ritual of Sacrifices
- Ceremony of Ordination
- Laws regarding Legal Purity
- Code of Legal Holiness
- Redemption of Offerings
A basic outline of the Book of Leviticus is as follows.
I. Ritual of Sacrifices - Leviticus 1-7.
The Lord provides instructions for the people by providing Moses prscriptions for the Sons of Israel concerning burnt offerings, meal offerings, and occasions for atoning sacrifices for unintentional sin. Each offering involved three objects: the offerer (the person bringing the offering); the offering (the animal or other object being offered); and the nediator (the priest). There were important differences between the offerings. Each offering was different from the other offerings. secondly, within each offering there were different options of what the offerer could present and how they could offer them.
II. Ceremony of Ordination - Leviticus 8-10.
The account of the consecration of the priests and the priesthood follows the regulations concerning offerings. The section of Leviticus clarifies the way all approaches to God were to be mediated under the Old Covenant. The consecration ceremonies involved many of the sacrifices described in the Ritual Sacrifices of chapters 1-7. The institution of the Aaronic priesthood constituted the fulfillment of God's commands recorded in Exodus 28-29, and chapter 40. Almost every verse in chapter 8 is a quotation or allusion to commands first given in Exodus 29. Chapter 9 contains freer summaries of the laws in Leviticus 1-7. Thus we learn that Moses adhered strictly to God's instructions.
III. Laws regarding Legal Purity - Leviticus 11-16.
A change of subject matter indicates another major division in Leviticus. We move now from narrative to more legislation. These six chapters pick up the idea introduced in 10:10: "...make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean." This section of legislation culminates in chapter 16 with the cleansing of the nation on the Day of Atonement. These chapters on purity help explain what uncleanliness means and teach how the holiness of God requires cleansing and purification from the contamination of life.
IV. Code of Legal Holiness - Leviticus 17-26.
The next major division of Leviticus deals with how th Israelites were to express their worship of Yaweh in their private lives. These calls to holiness show that every part of the life of God's people have to be set aside for God. All the commandments contained in chapters 17-20 relate to the holiness of the life of every Israelite. Yaweh had brought the Israelites into covenant fellowship with Himself through atonement. Consequently they were to live as holy people different from all other peoples, especially the Canaanites.
Chapter 17 says very little about the role of priests, but instead emphasizes on mistakes that the ordinary Israelite could make that would affect his or her relationship to God. Therefore what the Israelites ate and how they ate it demonstrated their consecration to Yaweh. Emphasis shifts in chapter 18 with attention to the holiness of the marriage relationship. The order of the laws in chapters 18-20 may be significant. They set out foundational principles of social morality. Unacceptable sexual behaviors were also condemned by God, including adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality. Chapter 19 stresses the interactive connection between the responsibilty to one's fellow man and religious piety --holiness of behavior toward God and man.
Chapter 20 shifts from the two preceding chapters setting forth just punishments for disobedience, to include serious crimes. Chapters 21-22 tells how all the people were to maintain holiness before God, but the priests had higher standards because of their privileges in relationship to God. Various feasts are detailed in chapters 23-24 and chapter 25 orders the sabbatical year. Chapter 26 ends this section with promises and warnings. God promises benefits to the faithful for fidelity to the Law, but warnings for those who show contempt for the Law.
V. Redemption of Offerings - Leviticus Chapter 27.
The blessings and curses (ch.26) were in a sense God's vows to His people. This chapter deals with His people's vows to Him. God did not command the Israelites to make vows or to promise anything to Him. Yet God gives regulations to His people that were to govern their natural desire to vow and dedicate. Chapter 27 concludes with the redemption of tithes. God claimed as his possession one-tenth of the seed, fruit, and livestock of the Israelites. The Israelites were to devote the Sabbath entirely to God. The tithe was not just the part the Israelites owed God. It was a reminder that they owed everything to God.
Our next article will provide us with an outline to the Book of Numbers.
- Books of the Bible: Leviticus.
- Catholic Doors Ministry: An Outline of the Book of Leviticus.
- Harris, R. Laird. "Leviticus." In Genesis-Numbers. Vol.2 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1990.
- Malick, David. An Argument of the Book of Leviticus. Bible.Org.
- Phillip, James. Numbers. The Communicator's Commentary series. Cambridge: University Press. 1976, p.12.
- Revised Standard Edition of the Bible. Electronic Text Center, University of
- The New American Bible. Wichita, KS: Devore and Sons, Inc., 1987.
- The Unbound Bible. Bioloa University.