Monday, November 16, 2015

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin, Part 2: Theological Exegesis on Leviticus

A superficial understanding of the Bible emphasizes the New Testament at the expense of the Old Testament by simply discounting these scriptures as having been superseded. The notion that Christ changed the law to effectively relegate the Hebrew Bible as though it no longer had relevancy is to assert ignorance regarding the Savior's exegesis on Psalms, Isaiah, Deuteronomy, and other scriptures. While Christ's teachings certainly superseded Israelite liturgical practices and, in some cases, He provided a higher order of doctrines and principles, still His teachings brought to surface principles and doctrines in other cases that were embedded in the Torah and elsewhere. One such example, is His reference to loving one another: "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. 19:18). Writing on the significance of this Israelite teaching, Joel N. Lohr, explains what this meant in terms of "corporate responsibility":
Although it may not be immediately apparent, a central emphasis of the book of Leviticus is corporate responsibility. Probably no other study has explored this topic more ably than Joel Kaminsky's Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible. The matter is particularly important for our biblical book because most of its laws seem concerned, in one way or another, with how the actions of some (or someone) affect the whole. That is, Leviticus is concerned with how both right living and transgression affect the communal life of Israel under God. To highlight this idea, consider the rabbinic midrash with which Kaminsky opens his study: "Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai taught: There is a story about men who were sitting on a ship, one of them lifted up a borer and began boring a hole beneath his seat. His companions said to him: 'What are you sitting and doing?' He replied to them: 'What concern is it of yours, am I not drilling under my seat?' They said to him: 'But the water will come up and flood the ship for all of us'" (Leviticus Rabbah 4.6).
Although Kaminsky does not explicitly treat Leviticus in his monograph, his work overall certainly applies to Leviticus in important ways, His conclusion that "being human means that we are linked to other people through the consequences of their actions" seems particularly relevant when we come to understand that Leviticus's emphasis on tahor and tame' (clean and unclean) is not simply due to antiquated ideas regarding taboos or superstition, but is intricately related to how sin and other actions or conditions can pollute a wider community (and God's sanctuary) if they are not dealt with swiftly, correctly, and completely. We will return to this in a moment. For now, note how even positively stated laws in Leviticus, those foundational for Jewish, Christian, as well as modern Western life, are given a particular emphasis in the book to highlight life in a community as opposed to life as an individual. One might think, for example, of the above-mentioned Second Commandment of Jesus: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). This commandment seems simple enough; yet for Leviticus, it can be understood only in light of larger questions regarding communal life. In the context of Leviticus, to love one's neighbor is to turn a neighbor from sin, thereby keeping guilt from damaging the larger community: "You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:17-18).
In a separate article, Kaminsky explores this teaching as it has come to be understood in the modern West. He rightly concludes that Westerners who think that the biblical idea of loving one's neighbor is to "live and let live" misunderstand it; such a way of thinking is completely foreign to the traditional teachings of Judaism and Christianity, and most certainly to the book of Leviticus. To love a neighbor is to reprove a neighbor, to correct a neighbor, to turn him or her from sin.1
In my previous post on 'loving the sinner and hating the sin' I emphasized that "loving the sinner" meant lifting one another. This wasn't to be done by being self-righteous and accusatory, or conversely, by condoning the sin, but by helping one another through the atonement of Christ. This requires recognition of the existence of sin as well as providing assistance in helping one another move in a proper direction away from the sin and towards Christ. Similarly, the insightful commentary by Lohr above illustrates that this same principle was part of loving one another among the Israelite community. The gospel in ancient Israel did not consist of simply minding one's own business, but required a communal application of righteous living and repentance. These are the same principles that provide the foundation for Zion living. In studying the New Testament gospels, the Savior's teachings throughout His ministry provide this same perspective. His love was always demonstrated through kindness and concern, but was also accompanied with teachings and encouragement ("go, and sin no more"). This isn't a principle where He employs the formula, "ye have heard that it was said by them of old time,...but I say unto you..." The second commandment in the New Testament doesn't change the commandment as it existed in Leviticus. Obviously some of the repercussions of certain sins committed while under the law of Moses was changed (no stoning, etc.), but the principle of love and correction was never superseded.

1 Richard S. Briggs and Joel N. Lohr, A Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch: Interpreting the Torah as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 90-91

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