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Leviticus details the Israelites' priestly rituals.

The Book of Leviticus is the third book of the Old Testament, traditionally ascribed to Moses. The main themes of the book are legal rules and priestly ritual. Among Christians, it is perhaps the least read and appreciated book of the Bible,[1][2] and some serious modern scholars outside of Orthodox Judaism have tended to overlook it, regarding it as "the remnant of a primitive culture, with its emphasis on sacrifice and purity."[3] After the preceding books of Genesis and Exodus, "full of incident, battle and drama, the dreary lists of priestly laws come as something of a let-down"[3] it may seem to some, as Pawson has described it, to be "like trying to read the telephone directory."[1] However, the Psalmist loved God's Law, (Ps. 119::97) and traditional evangelical scholars (in particular) see the critical importance of Leviticus, as an accurate understanding of this book is important for contemporary Christians in order to relate the legal text of the book to the church and the ordinary Christian in the 21st century.[4] Those who dismiss it as irrelevant today ignore that without it whole areas of later Scripture would become inexplicable, and even the sacrifice of Jesus Christ would become an enigma.[5]


Christian commentary

Adam Clarke: "As the law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, the whole sacrificial system was intended to point out that Lamb of God, Christ Jesus, who takes away the sin of the world."[6] A key chapter in this regard is Leviticus 16.

C. I. Scofield notes: "Leviticus stands in the same relation to Exodus, that the Epistles do to the Gospels. Exodus is the record of redemption, and lays the foundation of the cleansing, worship, and service of a redeemed people. Leviticus gives the detail of the walk, worship, and service of that people. In Exodus God speaks out of the mount to which approach was forbidden; in Leviticus He speaks out of the tabernacle in which He dwells in the midst of His people, to tell them that which befits His holiness in their approach to, and communion with, Himself. The key word of Leviticus is holiness, occurring 87 times. Key verse is Lev 19:2."[7]

In addition, Keil and Delitzsch state: "The laws contained in this book might justly be described as the “spiritual statute-book of Israel as the congregation of Jehovah....In the ordinances, rights, and laws thus given to the covenant nation, not only was the way clearly indicated, by which the end of its divine calling was to be attained, but a constitution was given to it, fully adapted to all the conditions incident to this end, and this completed the establishment of the kingdom of God in Israel."[8]


Its English name is derived from Liber Leviticus, the Latin translation of the Greek βιβλίον το Λευιτικόν ("biblion to Levitikon"/"book of the Levites"). The book however makes "a very strong distinction between the priesthood, who are identified as being descended from Aaron, and mere Levites."[4] The only mention of the Levites in Leviticus is at 25:32-33, and it has been suggested that this was added almost as a footnote during the writing of Numbers, which "specifically and often" refers to them in chapters 1-4, 7-8, 16-18, 26, 31 and 35.[9]

In its original Hebrew the book is called Vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא "and He called"), taken from its opening words, and this is the name by which the book is known in Judaism and Messianic Judaism.

Language and literary composition

Leviticus was written in Hebrew, and uses what has been described as a "distinctly priestly vocabulary"[9]. It is meant to be read seamlessly from the closing of Exodus, opening as it does with "and..." The laws are the revelations of God, generally given directly to Moses, although sometimes to Moses and Aaron (11:1; 13:1; 14:33; 15:1) and to Aaron alone (10:8). The book is written with God as the direct speaker almost throughout the whole, and no other book of the Bible contains more direct revelation than Leviticus.

That Moses is the author is asserted 36 times within the text[10] Although some scholars have suggested that the book was written after the time of Moses, or that there are two distinct authors ("P" compiling the priestly code and "H" compiling the holiness code)[11] it is traditionally accepted that Moses was the sole author.

While generally considered an accurate translation of the Hebrew scrolls from which it was first copied, the Old Greek translation from which almost all English versions are produced does have some flaws when compared with the Masoretic textus receptus, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Qumran and Masada scrolls. While Milgrom claims that the variations were "few and nearly always insignificant"[12], Wevers observed that the translators "made changes... in order to clarify the Hebrew text" but more significantly the translator ends up "in fact, actually 'correcting' the text...[putting] into Greek what he thought God actually meant to say", often misunderstanding the Hebrew text.[13] That there is some disagreement over translation should be considered when studying the text: Leviticus is essentially a book of rituals, the language used in its original form is extremely precise, and so its words need to be translated as precisely as possible, and the same way each time they are used. For example, although the word "leprosy" is used throughout Chapters 13-14 in most versions today, the Hebrew denotes "plague of corruption", using the same language that described the plagues upon Egypt. Its use in Leviticus would therefore seem to be describing all manners of contagious disease, not simply leprosy.


The book is set down in a fairly logical manner:

  • Chapters 1-7 - The sacrifices and how they should be performed are described in detail, firstly for the people, and then repeated for the priests
    • The burnt-offering - an act of dedication
    • The grain-offering - an accompaniment to burnt- or peace-offerings
    • The peace-offering - an act of re-establishing fellowship with God
    • The purification-offering - an act to obtain forgiveness
    • The reparation-offering - this overlaps with the purification-offering, and in general while the purification-offering was used for offences against God, the reparation-offering refers to offences against their fellows
  • Chapters 8-10 - The consecration of Aaron and his sons
    • Investiture - Moses institutes Aaron and his sons to the priesthood
    • Taking office - Aaron and his sons make their first offerings
    • Sacrilege - Aaron's sons deviate from the instructions: possibly due to being drunk, they transgress and are killed by fire
  • Chapters 11-15 - Laws of purity and impurity for daily life
    • Food Laws - animals considered clean and unclean
    • Purification after childbirth - the laws set out to separate fertility from prostitution and worship
    • Uncleanness due to skin diseases - sets out regulations for quarantine and preventive medicine
    • Uncleanness due to bodily discharges
  • Chapter 16 - The Day of Atonement
    • A day is set apart to be an annual Day of Atonement
  • Chapter 17 - Regulations regarding sacrifice, specifically to prohibit sacrificing to idols
  • Chapters 18-20 - Ethical and moral laws, which seem to be directed against the practices of Israel's neighbours
    • 18 - Sexual offences
      • verses 6-18 prohibit marriage between those related by blood or marriage, a practice common in Egypt
      • verses 19-30 prohibit adultery, child-sacrifice, homosexual relations and bestiality, practices which were used in the religious rituals of the polytheistic Canaanites
    • 19 - Various laws, and prohibition of some heathen practices
    • 20 - Serious offences and offences punishable by death
  • Chapters 21-22 - Regulations for priests
  • Chapter 23 - The Feasts
  • Chapter 24 - Duties and blasphemy
    • Lamps must be kept burning
    • A weekly offering of 12 loaves
    • No distinction between Israelite and foreigner in laws concerning blasphemy
    • Lex talionis - the law of retaliation
  • Chapter 25 - Sabbatical year and Jubilee
    • The seventh year of the seven year agricultural cycle is deemed a year of "release": the people are to let the land lie fallow and not labour, but instead study God's word. At the end of the year all outstanding debts are cancelled
    • Once every 49 years, the seventh Sabbatical year in the cycle is called Jubilee, the year of restoration, and all land reverts to its original owner. This reminded people that the land belonged to God and prevented the wealthiest from amassing land
  • Chapter 26 - Obedience and disobedience; blessing and cursing
  • Chapter 27 - Regulations applying to tithes and vows; redemption of things vowed to God


Christians generally have recognized the separation of Old Testament law into moral, civil/judicial and ceremonial/typological categories,[14][15][16] with the New Testament distinguishing immutable moral law from ceremonial law, and abrogating the requirement of literal obedience to the latter, (Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:14-17; Heb. 9:10) but not its intent. (1Cor. 5:8; Heb. 10:1-14) In addition, “Whenever Judaism entered into relations with other nations and religions, the moral laws were accentuated, and the ceremonial laws were put into the background.” [17] However, some Christians and churches hold that the law to keep the seventh day Sabbath (Ex. 20:8; 31:13,14) as well as dietary laws are to be observed today.

More recently chapter 18 has been the subject of special attention due to attempts by pro-homosexual authors to negate the universality of its prohibition against male homosexual relations.[18] (Lv. 18:22; 20:13)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Pawson, J. David Unlocking The Bible (London: Collins; 2003) ISBN 9780007166664
  2. Douglas, Mary Leviticus as Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2001) ISBN 9780198150923
  3. 3.0 3.1 Amelan, Ralph Let's hear it for Leviticus Jerusalem Post 12 April 1996.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Eveson, Philip The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press; 2007) ISBN 9780852346402
  5. Alexander, David and Pat The Lion Handbook to the Bible (Tring: Lion Publishing; 1983) ISBN 0856483206
  6. Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible, Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., (1715-1832)
  7. Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition), by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921)
  8. Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament Johann (C.F.) Keil (1807-1888) & Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Rendtorff, Rolf, Kugler, Robert A., Smith Bartel, Sarah The book of Leviticus (Leiden: BRILL; 2003) ISBN 9789004126343
  10. 1:1; 4:1; 5:14; 6:1,8,19,24; 7:22,28,38; 8:1; 11:1; 12:1; 13:1; 14:1,33; 15:1; 16:1,2; 17:1; 18:1; 19:1; 20:1; 21:1,16; 22:1,17,26; 23:1,9,23,26,33; 24:1,13,23
  11. Wellhausen, Julius Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel (Forgotten Books; 2008) ISBN 9781606202050
  12. Milgrom, Jacob Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible, vol 3. New York: Doubleday; 1991) ISBN 9780385114349
  13. Wevers, John W. Notes on the Greek Text of Leviticus (Atlanta: Scholar's Press; 1997) ISBN 9781589831575
  14. The Bible As Law, Gerald R. Thompson
  15. Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1977), p. 214. Bahnsen points out that the early third century church document Didascalia Apostolorum clearly distinguished between the Decalogue and the temporary ceremonies.
  17. Ceremonies and the ceremonial law, Kaufmann Kohler
  18. Homosexual relations and the Bible, Leviticus 18:22; 20:13

Books of the Bible
Old Testament
Pentateuch (Torah) GenesisExodusLeviticusNumbersDeuteronomy
History JoshuaJudgesRuthI SamuelII SamuelI KingsII KingsI ChroniclesII ChroniclesEzraNehemiahEsther
Wisdom Literature JobPsalmsProverbsEcclesiastesSong of Solomon
Major Prophets IsaiahJeremiahLamentationsEzekielDaniel
Minor Prophets HoseaJoelAmosObadiahJonahMicahNahumHabakkukZephaniahHaggaiZechariahMalachi
New Testament
The Gospels According to MatthewAccording to MarkAccording to LukeAccording to John
History Acts of the Apostles
Pauline Epistles RomansI CorinthiansII CorinthiansGalatiansEphesiansPhilippiansColossiansI ThessaloniansII ThessaloniansI TimothyII TimothyTitusPhilemon
General Epistles HebrewsJamesI PeterII PeterI JohnII JohnIII JohnJude
Prophecy The Revelation to John
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