Exodus and Leviticus: A Parallel Reading (Part IV)

The following is part of series exploring the narrative of P material and its explanation of why Nadab and Abihu are killed in Leviticus 10. Such a study is important because theology often misuses verse like Leviticus 10:1-3 to demonstrate the un-malleability and impossibility of keeping Torah, resulting in antinomianism. In order to demonstrate the true focus of Nadab and Abihu’s death, I will compare two passages of P material, Leviticus 8:1 – 10:3 and Exodus 29 – 30:10. These pericopes, with a close reading, provide a reasonable explanation for the death of Aaron’s son.

The follow compares Exodus 29:31-37 and Leviticus 8:31-36. All translations are from the NASB.

Exodus 29:31-32 31 “And you shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh in a holy place.

32 “And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, at the doorway of the tent of meeting.


Leviticus 8:31 31 Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons, “Boil the flesh at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and eat it there together with the bread which is in the basket of the ordination offering, just as I commanded, saying, ‘Aaron and his sons shall eat it.’


Exodus 29:33 33 “Thus they shall eat those things by which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration; but a layman shall not eat them, because they are holy.


Exodus 29:34 34 “And if any of the flesh of ordination or any of the bread remains until morning, then you shall burn the remainder with fire; it shall not be eaten, because it is holy.


Leviticus 8:32 32 “And the remainder of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn in the fire.


Exodus 29:35 35 “And thus you shall do to Aaron and to his sons, according to all that I have commanded you; you shall ordain them through seven days.


Leviticus 8:33 33 “And you shall not go outside the doorway of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the day that the period of your ordination is fulfilled; for he will ordain you through seven days.


N/A N/A Leviticus 8:34 34 “The LORD has commanded to do as has been done this day, to make atonement on your behalf.


Exodus 29:36 36 “And each day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement, and you shall purify the altar when you make atonement for it; and you shall anoint it to consecrate it.


Exodus 29:37 37 “For seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it; then the altar shall be most holy, and whatever touches the altar shall be holy.





Leviticus 8:35 35 “At the doorway of the tent of meeting, moreover, you shall remain day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the LORD, that you may not die, for so I have been commanded.”


N/A N/A Leviticus 8:36 36 Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses.



As this brief chart displays, these two passages are similar, although they do have distinct focuses. Exodus, first of all, is far more focused on issues of holiness. Verses 31, 33, 36, and 37 demonstrate a focus on the holiness, purity, and consecration of the altar. Unlike Leviticus, Exodus explicitly notes that non-Priests, laymen, are not to eat of the sacrifices. Leviticus is seemingly simpler and more focused on ensuring that Aaron and his sons did exactly what the LORD had commanded through Moses. In only 6 verses, there are two references confirming their obedience to commandments of the past, verse 34 and 36.

The parallels between the narrative and commands are intriguing for a variety of reasons. For the sake of this post’s length, I will focus on one, namely the rearrangement of Leviticus by the redactor. The difference between Leviticus and Exodus 29:36, especially with regard to the issue of holiness and consecration, may be due, in part, to the final editors movement of sacrificial terminology and practice to one which fit his own socio-historical context. Regardless of that, Yitzhaq Feder suggests that consecration of the altar in Leviticus 8:15 may have been originally more in line with Exodus 29:36 (See Yitzhaq Feder, 2011, pg. 50-51). With this is mind, these two portions of Leviticus and Exodus are even more similar than they seem to be within the redactors rearrangement.

The next post will take into consideration Yitzhaq Feder’s argument regarding the strata of Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8.



Re-Understanding the Leviticus Sacrificial System

Popular Christian tradition often defines and interprets ancient Israel’s cultic rituals and offerings in Leviticus through the narrow lens with which the New Testament discusses the issue of the sacrificial system. Passages like Matt 5:17-19, Rom 7:6, and Heb 10:1 leave an impression that the Levitical offering system was solely intended to prepare for Jesus and him alone. While this is undeniable in a sense, it is important to note the theological thrusts of these texts. Matthew, Romans, and Hebrews each work to demonstrate how Jesus fits into the grand scope of the Torah, not to provide a comprehensive discussion about the sacrificial system of Leviticus. Thus, in order to properly understand a book such as Leviticus, especially for a Christian, people must begin by recognizing that the New Testament is not definitive for Leviticus. If anything, Leviticus defines the New Testament and the New Testament operates within those parameters. Although it adjusts various understandings and interpretations (cf. Thomas Kazen 2002), it does not ever comprehensively discuss how the entirety of the system was abolished by Jesus.

In light of this brief discussion, what is required of biblical readers? Two basic ideas sum up how readers should approach Leviticus:

1) Recognize the layers of tradition within the offering system. Leviticus was not written over one year and left as the original copy 3,000 years later. Rather, it has been redacted through various editors who lived in their own time with distinct influences than others may not have had (cf. Yitzhaq Feder 2011). What readers read now is the results of centuries of redaction. As a final comment, that is not to imply that Leviticus in unreliable. On the contrary, it is reliable, except one must recognize the variation within it.

2) Leviticus should be read with recognition that the cultic ritual was central to lives in the ancient world. To ignore or place a glaze over Leviticus is to ignore the centrality of ancient Israel’s culture and life.

Although these are only two of many essential hermeneutic approaches to Leviticus, they are a good starting place. By observing these two ideas, it may actually be possible to read Leviticus. This begins with expanding beyond the narrow view of the New Testament’s understandings of sacrifice and atonement and moving towards a more comprehensive understanding of Leviticus that takes into account the textual redaction and centrality of sacrifice to the ancient world.