Tuesday, January 01, 2008

My Plan for Living Leviticus

by Andrew Summey

The entry point on this question (Living Leviticus) for a Gentile Christian I see comes from Acts 15. There was a large meeting by the early Church (the Jerusalem Council) that asked this very question. Should Gentiles be circumcised? I take this to mean more than the physical operation but the act of conversion to be a Jew and the responsibility of the Law. It seems there were some who thought this was the way to go. After all, how can one follow the Messiah of Israel and not be “Israel”. So, some from the “party of the Pharisees” saw that this is how it should go down with all these new “Gentiles” joining the fold. So, after Paul (who was also a Pharisee) told of what was happening among the Goyim (Gentiles – lit. “nations”), then James gave a little speech mentioning requirements and then it was codified in a letter for the Gentiles:

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.”

James in his speech made this comment but then mentioned: “For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."

So, my basic take is that as a Gentile that is saved, I have basic requirements that help me follow God, but that I am to grow and learn. But, it does not seem that I am to learn AS a Jew, but from that heritage. This heritage from the Biblical text (Moses). So, as a Christian I should look at Leviticus as much to learn and to apply even if I do not do so as a Jew.

So, here is my approach: I will seek further definition of the basic requirements in the Leviticus text to make sure (1) my food is not sacrificed to idols (ok, no thai food), (2) abstain from blood (so all food is clean as long as the blood is drained? Pork is ok for me if it is killed in a kosher manner?? Or is this talking more on the line of murder? Shedding blood? This is getting complicated.), (3) no meat from strangled animals (notice how eating is an important aspect for Gentiles too), and (4) sexual immorality (this prohibition seems more familiar).

BUT, I am to seek to learn from the books of Moses.

Now, I know in Rabbinic Judaism they later codified what is known as the “Noahide Laws” taken from the requirements given to Noah after the flood (Gen 9:1-17). Maybe this line of thinking (Acts 15/Noahide) is where we get the whole idea of the separation of “ceremonial” from the other laws. But, Christians have ceremonial as well (communion, etc.). But, this was a “covenant” with all creation.

Anyway, while it could get broader, I will stick to defining the Acts 15 obligations for Gentiles turning to God and seek to familiarize and apply Leviticus as a Gentile. I will also look to define these basic requirements looking at Leviticus.

I am sure that it will get much more dicey than this. My notes will be flowing following some the questions.


Simon Chang, Levite said...

Andrew, your fellow Levite Simon here. You raised some very good points. I wonder what, in general terms, the relationship is between "acts" and the covenantal relationship the actions are supposed to symbolize. Clearly, the four stipulations passed on from the early Jewish brothers to the gentile brothers are also valid from the orthodox Jew point of view. It may be valid then to argue that there are some universal constants that, regardless of cultures/goyim, apply equally to all.

kristen said...

Good luck finding kosher slaughtered pork. But are the slaughter regulations part of the Written Torah or are they Talmudic? I know the prohibition on blood is Biblical -- but does it specify exactly how you get there? (i.e. draining the carcass v. salting the meat).

I'm not going to limit myself to meat with a kosher certification (partially because I'm adding other limitations which I'll discuss in a different post) but will be salting meat.