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Some “Hard” Questions from Leviticus (1)

Devin Dean

Corner, Alabama

 

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Pet. 3:15-16)i

 

God makes clear to us that we can expect to find things that are hard to understand within the Scriptures. Beyond the fact that there will be things that are hard to understand we must realize that man continues to compound the confusion with his own precepts. The following list of ten items is a partial list of issues man makes to compound the difficult passages of the Bible:

 

  1. Presuming the Bible guilty until proven innocent.

  2. Failing to understand the context of a passage.

  3. Assuming the unexplained is not explainable.

  4. Denying that the Bible uses non-technical, everyday language.

  5. Neglecting to note that the Bible uses different literary devices.

  6. Confusing our fallible interpretations/translations with God’s infallible revelation.

  7. Confusing general statements with universal statements.

  8. Forgetting that later revelation supersedes previous revelation.

  9. Forgetting that only the original text, not every copy of Scripture, is without error.

  10. Assuming that divergent accounts are false accounts.

 

The book of Leviticus was addressed to God’s people, all of Israel, for the purpose of instructing them in how to come into fellowship and maintain that fellowship with God. The central theme of Leviticus can be summed up by, “And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine” (Lev. 20:26). As we look at these questions we should concentrate on the answers as making us more holy and acceptable to God, which is the purpose of this great book for all time.

Here are two questions with which many will charge the Bible with scientific error. The purpose of the charge is to find the Bible errant (when it claims inerrancy) and ineffective as a guide for man. There are many who will do this and will not accept any plausible explanations. It must be remembered that the Bible is not a scientific text book (though it is scientifically accurate), but a revelation from God to lead man to salvation. In the Old Testament (and even within the New Testament – see Acts 15:20) those things that man consumed as food were linked to salvation.

 

Is the Bat a Bird or Mammal (Lev. 11:19)?

While in today’s terms the bat is classified a mammal, we must in addition to allowing the use of the descriptive language, also remember that the system we use for classification did not come into widespread use until the publication of Systema Naturae by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758. We should then look back in the context and meaning of the original language to understand its usage in this passage. If we look at the most obvious “grouping” question, “does the bat fly?,” we see that it is rhetorical in nature. In the broadest sense there is no issue with classifying the bat with birds as it is a winged creature that does fly. It is not uncommon nor untenable for us to accept this supposed contradiction as a practical, rather than the scientific, grouping in order to identify to the Israelites that it was unclean.

 

Does the Rabbit Chew the Cud (Lev. 11:5-6)?

As with the previous question, God is describing that which is unclean by its appearance rather than the true scientific methods. God brings forth animals now that under the modern taxonomy are not ruminants (cud-chewers) – the “coney” and “hare.” We should not look at the modern usage of these terms as they, and the term “rabbit” are used interchangeably. Barnes gives us a good description of the coney:

 

The coney – The Old English name for a rabbit. The animal meant is the Hyrax Syriacus. It bears some resemblance to the guinea-pig or the marmot, and in its general appearance and habits Pro. 30:26; Psa. 104:18, it might easily be taken for a rodent. But Cuvier discovered that it is, in its anatomy, a true pachyderm, allied to the rhinoceros and the tapir, inferior to them as it is in size.ii

 

The hare found in verse 6 is actually a rabbit.

Neither the coney nor the hare are ruminants (cud-chewers), which is where those that are determined to find error in the Scriptures find their fill. The key again is in the appearance these animals have. It must again be pointed out that the modern taxonomies did not come to use until 1758 – as such, to which taxonomy would Moses have referred under inspiration? While it would have been easy for God to have given Moses our modern scientific classification, even in English to save translation, God was not concerned with the modern needs, but rather the immediate need to describe to His chosen people the identifying characteristics of clean and unclean animals. How is it then that God classified these animals through Moses? It was natural and easily understood to classify the animals by appearance. We do the same with whale and dolphin by calling them “fish” because they swim. The animals in question here have the habit “of moving its jaws when it is at rest as if it were masticating.”iii

The appearance of this chewing motion, to the ordinary observer speaking simply and understandably, would lead us to assume they were chewers of the cud as sure as the cow. Arndt makes a good closing observation on these passages:

 

We must remember that Moses is here giving to the children of Israel some practical rules which are to guide them in their choice of food. For that reason their own terms and their own descriptions are employed in designating clean and unclean animals. When all this is considered, the difficulty which people have found in these verses must vanish.iv

 

Conclusion

 

The benefits to us of studying these hard passages are worth the effort and time it takes to complete the study. Applying sound reasoning and proper study techniques allows us to fulfill the commands we find within the Scriptures: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). We should be as the Bereans were, receiving “…the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). May we all find the time and willingness to study God’s Word.

i All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.

ii Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Taken from e-Sword computer program.

iii Ibid.

iv W. Arndt, Bible Difficulties (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, rep. 1962), p. 120.

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