Moral and Other Laws in Leviticus 19 from a NT Perspective

Does the New Testament go so far as to cancel honest business practices, respect for parents, and even sound agricultural practices? Or does it accept some of them and reject others?

Not all the laws in Lev. 19 are moral; a few are ceremonial. Others are practical. What do the New Covenant Scriptures say about them? Let’s see if we can clarify the puzzle.

For a general overview of the interrelations between the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, click on:

What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?

How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19

Many (not even close to all) elements are retained, and what is kept is improved on or streamlined.

The NIV is used here, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to go to biblegateway.com, choose their own translation, and open another window to follow along.

Now let’s begin.

Chapter 19 begins with this command (not a suggestion): “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (v. 1). Peter quotes this verse: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15-16). All the commands in Lev. 19 are practical guidelines to be holy. They boil down to treating our neighbors as you want to be treated–the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12).

Now let’s take the commands one at a time and by groupings.

1.. Respect for your mother and father (v. 3), and stand up when the elderly walk in the room, and respect your elders (v. 32). “Give to everyone what you owe them: … if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Rom. 13:7).

Jesus endorsed some of the Ten Commandments, but they were not the way of salvation. Relationship with him was the way of salvation (John 14:6). However, here are moral laws that are retained:

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother’ [Exod. 20:12-17] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” [Lev. 19:18] (Matt. 19:18-19)

The key clause is “honor your father and mother” in v. 19.

2.. Observe the Sabbath (v. 3) and Sabbaths (v. 30). The New Covenant Scriptures say: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord” (Rom. 14:5-6; Mark 2:27-28; Col. 2:16-17). The Fourth Commandment of the Mighty Ten orders people to keep the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11), usually considered to be not part of moral law, but a ritual. And Ex. 31:14-15 threatens Sabbath breakers with death, which was carried out on one violator (Nu. 15:32-36). The New Covenant takes the harshness out of the good advice to take a day off, but not as a legalistic, ritualistic command.

3.. Idol worship (v. 4). The last verse of John’s short epistle says, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21). What should a Christian sculptor do when he makes a statue of a famous person or something else? Should he stop? Let his conscience be his guide, but he is not making an idol to worship it, but to remember something or someone with honor.

4.. How soon to eat the fellowship (peace) offering (vv. 5-8; see Lev. 3:1-17). It offers good advice to eat it quickly because they had no refrigeration back then, but as usual, the ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness in those verses does not apply to New Covenant believers. (See the link for more information and see Clean and Unclean Food in Leviticus 11 from a NT Perspective)

5.. Kind-hearted business practice of leaving behind some agricultural produce, like grain or grapes, for the poor and foreigner (vv. 9-10) and not to withhold wages from workers (v. 13). The New Covenant Scriptures say nothing about harvesting, but they do say to care for the poor: ““The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor ” (Luke 4:18 and see 7:22; Matt. 11:5).

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (James 2:2-5)

6.. Commands of honesty: Don’t steal or lie or deceive (v. 11 see Exod. 20:15); don’t swear falsely (v. 12; see Exod. 20:16); don’t defraud or rob (v. 13).

Let’s explain them from a New Covenant perspective with the next point.

7. Honest business practices: Consistently use standard weights and measurements, without changing them from one customer to the next (vv. 35-36).

Jesus locates the source of all sorts of lies:

You [his specific Jewish opponents] belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44).

The above may be in the context of theology and the interactions between him and his opponents, but it can apply to other situations. Honesty must be practiced and lies avoided.

As noted under the first point, Jesus endorsed some of the Ten Commandments, and Lev. 19:18, but they were not the way of salvation:

Jesus replied, “‘… you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony’ ….’” [Exod. 20:12-17] (Matt. 19:18-19)

Paul wrote:

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. (Eph. 4:28)

8.. Don’t curse a deaf person or put a stumbling block before a bland person. This has to do with mockery and malice. It is easy to imagine people treating the disabled as a joke. Instead we must help them and respect them because they are made in God’s image.

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, the highest court and council in the land, that is was a kindness to heal a lame man (Acts 4:8-9). In other words, help and heal the blind and deaf and lame. Paul wrote: “Love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4). The Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12). The reverse is also true: Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.

Malice and mockery ≠ Kindness

Treat the deaf and blind kindly.

9.. This next law is perfect and so relevant for the current culture. In a law court–and I say in the court of public opinion also–we should not do this: “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.'” (v. 15). Perverting justice is to twist it.

Today we favor the rich or the poor, depending on the context, but we are not supposed to favor or disfavor based on their economic status. We are supposed to treat them equally, based on the facts of the case. James wrote: “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (2:9). In this context, the church may have been showing favoritism to the rich, but instead we are to honor the poor as brothers in Christ. In other words, treat both sides of the economic ledger equally, with equal honor and respect. And don’t favor the poor by virtue of his being poor. He is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Treat him equally well on that criterion.

10.. Keep the peace among the neighbors by not doing this: “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people'” (v. 16). BTSB says this may include cutthroat business practices or spying on someone (comment on 19:16)

In the context of clean and unclean foods, Jesus went right to the heart of the matter, from the inside out, and he says slander is a no-no:

21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23, emphasis added).

The key term is slander in this present context, but the other terms apply to many verses in Lev. 19.

11.. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord” (v. 16).  Here’s the Golden Rule again: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12). The reverse is also true: Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.

12.. Don’t hold a grudge by keeping silent: “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt'” (v. 17).

Jesus counseled his disciples to rebuke and forgive: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:3-4). This does not mean, however, that the hyper-sensitive get to rule over everyone else and go on a rebuking campaign. All such verses are generalizations for wise people, not the foolish and out-of-balance ones. And Jesus goes one better than the Torah: Forgive your neighbor as often as it takes, when he repents. Don’t hold hate in your heart.

13.. Good neighborly advice: Don’t take revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love him as yourself (v. 18). Notice how Jesus says our love of God must come first:

“He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ [Deut. 6:5]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” [Lev. 19:18] (Luke 10:27).

The neighbor in context was told in the Parable of the Good Samaritan–anyone with a genuine need (Luke 10:25-37). Note how the ancient Israelites were to love the foreigner among them, which anticipates the Parable of the Good Samaritan (v. 34). Our love for our neighbor must first flow from our love for God. And we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:9). Only then are we equipped to love our neighbors as ourselves.

As for revenge, Paul says no, but he also adds to do good works for your neighbor on whom you had wanted to take revenge and hold a grudge:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” [Deut. 32:35] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” [Prov. 25:21, 22]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 13:19-21)

14.. No mixture: Don’t breed different kinds of animals, sow different kinds of plants; sew together clothing for wearing from two kinds of material (v. 19). The New Covenant does not cover these matters on a practical level (sewing and agriculture), but it does say not to be mixed in with the world and its pollution.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[d] is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-16). 

James writes on how to keep from the world’s pollution:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (Jas. 1:27).

Some modern commentators expand this non-mixture law to include genders. Don’t confuse the two. Of course they are right about it, because God made us male and female. ““Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female…?’” (Matt. 19:4, quoting Gen. 1:27).

15.. Laws about slavery (vv. 20-22). The slave girl was betrothed to another man, but not yet married to her. If the first owner man has sex with her  before she is traded to another man after an agreement, he has committed a sin, and he must make sacrifice for it. But he does not deserve the death penalty. A virgin slave girls commanded a higher bride price. So her value decreased with his indiscretion.

Yes, it is difficult to understand slave laws, but consider these mitigating circumstances: (1) Every nation practiced slavery. (2) Therefore abolishing it in ancient Israel would have moved too quickly. (3) In the Year of Jubilee the slaves were free, so the law moved towards liberty. (4) The New Covenant Scriptures assume that slavery existed, but they do not condone it. In fact, Paul wrote that if a man can get his freedom he should go for it (1 Cor. 7:21). (5) And Paul denounced slave traders (1 Tim. 1:10). Get rid of traders and their trade, and slavery disappears.

I have a long post on the topic: Slavery and Freedom in the Bible

People need to understand that the flow of biblical history from Genesis to Revelation, in the Grand Narrative, is liberty.

16.. Fruit trees and when to eat ones acquired by entering land of promise and plant fruit trees. For three years, keep it forbidden, without eating it. In the fourth year it is holy, so offer it to the Lord, and in the fifth year it may be eaten The promise is that the people’s harvest will increase. (vv. 23-25).

The New Covenant Scriptures offer no practical agricultural advice like this. Instead, they trim it all away and say to be generous, and everything we own is holy to the Lord, so keep a lose grip on your things. See my post and scroll down to point no. 21 for what the New Testament teaches about generosity:

Why Tithing Does Not Apply to New Covenant Believers

17.. We are not to eat meat with blood still in it (v. 26).

For the logic behind this seemingly irrelevant command and what the New Covenant Scriptures say about this please see my post: ‘Life Is in the Blood’ in Leviticus 17 from a NT Perspective

18.. Don’t practice divination, seek out mediums or spiritists, or figure out omens; or you will be defiled by them (vv. 26, 31). Deut. 18:9-14 has more information there.

For more information, please see my post:

Magic, Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Fortunetelling

They are satanic. Don’t get involved in such things.

19..Bodily care: “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” (v. 27). “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord” (v. 28). BTSB says that cutting may refer to a pagan mourning practice. 

The New Covenant Scriptures say nothing about tattooing and cutting, but they do say that the body is the temple:

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:19-2)

The context is talking about sex, but temples should not be graffiti tagged by tattoos, either. It ruins the true use of the body-temple. However, if someone’s liberty allows him or her to get a tattoo on a hidden place (not the face!), then be careful. Pray about it, first.

And if the cutting really was related to a pagan mourning practice, then the church does not grieve like the world does: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13). 

Teens sometimes get into a trap of cutting, and this is a mental deception. They must be saved and set free.

20.. Don’t pimp out your daughter: “‘Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness'” (v. 29). To degrade her would be to devalue her holiness (19:1) and her being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). 

It is inconceivable that a elder in the church would turn his daughter into a prostitute. One of the qualifications of being a leader is to have a good household:

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)  (1 Tim. 3:4-5)

If it is objected that elders have higher status and authority in the church, so regular members don’t have to live by those high standards, then this objection is wrongheaded. The elder is supposed to lead by example. The regular church members should at least try to follow his example.

These verses tell us not to join our bodies with prostitutes because we belong to Christ:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” [Gen. 2:24] 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit [or Spirit]. (1 Cor. 6:15-17)

21.. We are to “reverence my sanctuary” (v. 30).

It is a good idea to revere holy places, but now in Christ, Jesus is greater than the temple or the wilderness tabernacle, before the temple was built.

Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. (Matt. 12:5-6)

The church replaces the earthly temple.

Paul:

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

 For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.” [quoting Lev. 26:12; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27] (2 Cor. 6:16)

From Ephesians we are joined together and rising up to become a holy temple of the Lord:

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)

Peter says we are like living stones, and in this new temple we offer spiritual sacrifices:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  (1 Pet. 2:4-5)

So the church does not need to worry about the temple in Jerusalem, which was still going strong when Paul and Peter wrote those passages. Therefore it is a clear teaching of Scripture that the church is now the temple. And treating it with respect is God approved.

22.. Respect foreigners and do not mistreat them, but love them as yourselves (vv. 33-34). Why? The Israelites were foreigners in Egypt, so they know what it was like to be mistreated. Experience is a tough teacher, and it clarifies moral law.

The early nation of Israel was about to enter the Promised Land and have well-defined boundaries (Josh. 13:8-21:45). The Israelites had a right to insist that foreigners live by their laws. If anyone committed a crime, then he could be executed. But when a foreign resident lived in peace, he should not be mistreated.

The church on the other hand did not have national boundaries. Everyone who converts could enter the kingdom of God and then become attached to a local body or church.

Paul writes in Ephesians:

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household (Eph. 2:17-19)

That passage teaches us that no household member is a foreigner, but he or she has the right in the household of God to be treated as a brother or sister, to be treated as a full member. But household members must keep household rules. That’s what Lev. is all about

How does this post help me know God better?

Throughout Lev. 19, God repeats the refrains: “I am the Lord.’” Or “I am the LORD your God.” “I am the LORD.” This identity speaks of his authority. We keep these commands because he is watching us. More deeply, we keep these commands because we know they are guardrails to keep us safe. And the God who sets up protective guardrails is the God who loves us.

In another post about the law, I wrote and repeat here since it is still applicable to us in Lev. 19. We are saved by grace through faith and our sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ upon our repentance (1 John 1:9). And then by his sustaining grace we can have the power not to commit those unlawful practices.

Here are some great verses on which to meditate, as we learn to say no to ungodliness:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)

With grace he appeared and offered salvation to everyone and gave himself to us. For what purpose? The purpose is to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that belong to him all by himself–not belonging to the world or the flesh or the devil. And then we are eager to do what is good. By the power of his grace, salvation, redemption and purification we will keep those moral laws that still apply to us. So grace does not excuse sin, but empowers us to avoid it.

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Unlawful Sexual Relations in Leviticus 18 from a NT Perspective

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