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An Introduction to Leviticus

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I. TITLE:

A. Hebrew: In Hebrew the title for this book comes from the opening words wayyiqra (aqyw) meaning “and he called” 1:1

B. Greek: In the Greek LXX the term is Leuitikon (LEUITIKON) an adjective used to describe the book as dealing primarily with ritual worship

C. Latin: The Vulgate (a revision of the Old Latin) rendered the Greek heading Liber Leviticus (Book of Leviticus) from which the English is derived1

1. This is an adjective suggesting the complete title “the Levitical book” or the “book pertaining to the Levites”

2. The book is really about cultic service which the descendants of Levi would participate in.2 The principle people in the book are Aaron and the priests to whom was committed the Aaronic priesthood

3. Later a distinction was made between the Levites and the Priests, and thee Levites could not claim Aaronic descent

II. CHRONOLOGICAL SETTING:

A. The Passover occurred on the first day of the first month of the year (Ex 12:2)

B. The tabernacle was erected at Mount Sinai exactly one year after the Exodus (Ex 40:2, 17)

C. One month later the nation prepared to leave Sinai for the Promised Land (Num 1:1)

D. It seems that the book of Leviticus was given to Moses during the one month period between the erection of the Tabernacle and the departure of the people for the Promised Land from Mount Sinai

Because YHWH is now dwelling among His people in holiness, He provides prescriptions mediated through Moses for the people to remain in relationship with Him (e.g., through ritual and cleanliness).

III. AUDIENCE:

A. Aaron and his sons as the priests to serve in the rituals and duties of the tabernacle (Lev 6:9--7:38; 11:1; 13:1; 15:1; 21:1)

B. The Redeemed nation at Sinai (Lev 18:2; 19:2; 23:2; 26:46)

IV. PURPOSES:

A. Priests: To remind the priests who officiate before YHWH that He must be treated as holy and honored before all the people (Lev 10:3)3

B. Individual: To instruct the individual that they must come before YHWH in worship through cleanness, atonement, and holy living4

C. Nation: To remind the nation of their covenant obligations which are necessary for continued occupation of and blessing in YHWH’S HOLY LAND5

D. Culture: To instruct Israel to establish their culture by narrating the revelation and the first steps in approaching into God’s presence as well as the revelation of living with God

E. Stipulations: To present his redeemed, covenanted people with a collection of cultic, civil, social, moral, and economic stipulations in order that the Holy God may continue to dwell amid an unholy people as He continues His work through them in the world. These stipulations are designed to prevent the withdrawal of YHWH from His people who will bring about defilement of the sanctuary

F. Reveal: To reveal YHWH in His holiness, righteousness, mercy, and sovereignty who blesses Israel with His presence dwelling in the midst of their nation administered in specific instructions for approaching God’s presence and for living in the community of God’s people6

G. Model: To demand that the Israelites live in a way that would show to the contemporary Near Eastern nations the true nature of holiness7


1 R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 13.

2 Exodus 13:2, 13; 22:29; Numbers 3:12.

3 Philip Powers, Analysis of Leviticus a paper presented in 371 Seminar in the Pentateuch (DTS, November 1989), 10.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid. The emphasis is not on conditions for God's presence, but on conditions for the people to be in the land with His presence! The danger is that the individual will be cut off from the people in the land and that the Nation will be removed from the Land.

6 Elliott E. Johnson, Notes in 371 Seminar on the Pentateuch (DTS, Fall 1989).

7 R. K. Harrison, Leviticus, 26.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines