Leviticus 18

Notes (NET Translation)

1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘I am the LORD your God!

The phrase “I am the LORD your God”, and its variations, occurs throughout this chapter. “It emphasizes that all of the commandments come directly from God and are to be obeyed with utmost strictness.”1 That Yahweh is your God emphasizes the covenantal relationship between Israel and God.

3 You must not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you have been living, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan into which I am about to bring you; you must not walk in their statutes.

Sexual morality was another means by which the Israelites were to separate themselves from the other nations. Egypt was known for marriages between blood relatives.2

4 You must observe my regulations and you must be sure to walk in my statutes. I am the LORD your God.

5 So you must keep my statutes and my regulations; anyone who does so will live by keeping them. I am the LORD.

The simple sense of the clause va-hai ba-hem, “he shall live by them,” is that one should live his life in accordance with God’s laws and commandments and that he should obey them all his life or while he is alive. This clause has, however, stimulated other interpretations reflecting its unusual syntax and its semantic nuances. Syntax allows us to understand this clause as one of result: “that man shall perform, so that [as a result] he may acquire life by them.” Performance of God’s laws and commandments holds forth the reward of life, whereas their violation threatens man with death. This interpretation is the basis for the traditional understanding of our verse by later commentaries, which state that observance of the commandments is rewarded by life in the world to come. We also find a nuanced rabbinic interpretation that stresses the sanctity of life itself: va-hai ba-hem ve-lo’ she-yamut ba-hem, “That one may live by them, not that one should die because of them.” In situations directly threatening human life, one should set aside the commandments in order to preserve human life. This principle was known as pikkuah nefesh, “the sparing or rescue of human life.”3

6 “‘No man is to approach any close relative to have sexual intercourse with her. I am the LORD.

In ancient Israel a family was formed when a man married one or more wives and had children by them. The family was organized along patrilineal lines so it is natural for this chapter to address the male head of the family.

In this context, the Hebrew term she’er (“close relative”, “flesh”) refers to blood relatives. In the context of saying a priest could only come in contact with the corpse of a close relative, Lev. 21:2-3 considers one’s mother, father, daughter, son, brother, and sister as close relatives. This implies sexual relations with these individuals is forbidden even if there is not an explicit law on the matter. “The group of relatives the Israelite was forbidden to marry would largely coincide with the relatives who would have lived in a single household in ancient Israel.”4

The Hebrew phrase translated “to have sexual intercourse” literally means “to uncover the nakedness”. Nakedness was associated with shame so, because the man and his wife were “one flesh,” to uncover the nakedness of one’s spouse in essence exposed his partner.5

Observing these decrees would result in strong, stable families and the protection of women and children from the sexual aggression of males.

7 You must not expose your father’s nakedness by having sexual intercourse with your mother. She is your mother; you must not have intercourse with her.

One’s mother is called the “father’s nakedness” because only he has sexual access to her (and vice versa). Her nakedness belongs to and is reserved for him alone. The two become one flesh (Gen. 2:24).

8 You must not have sexual intercourse with your father’s wife; she is your father’s nakedness.

This verse refers to a wife of one’s father who is not one’s mother.

Keil and Delitzsch (414) take “father’s wife” to include both another wife in a polygamous marriage and a concubine. A primary motivation for a son to take over his father’s concubines was the desire to usurp his father’s position, for the taking of another’s concubines symbolized that a usurper had indeed taken over his opponent’s authority (e.g., 2 Sam 16:21–22; 1 Kgs 2:22).6

Reuben was guilty of violating this commandment (Gen. 35:22; 49:4).

9 You must not have sexual intercourse with your sister, whether she is your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she is born in the same household or born outside it; you must not have sexual intercourse with either of them.

The phrase “your father’s daughter” may refer to a full sister while the phrase “your mother’s daughter” may refer to a half-sister. A half-sister may have been born and raised in the same household or in a different household from an earlier marriage.

Abraham married his half-sister Sarah (Gen. 20:12). In 2 Sam. 13:13 Tamar pleads with her half brother, Amnon, not to rape her while she insists that David, their father, would give her to him as his wife. The latter passage suggests this law was not known, or at least not followed, at certain periods in Israel’s history.

10 You must not expose the nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter by having sexual intercourse with them, because they are your own nakedness.

A prohibition of union with one’s own daughter is not stated explicitly but, in light of this verse, it must have been forbidden. Granddaughters are seen as one’s own nakedness because they bear one’s identity. “To abuse them is to dishonor himself. It may seem strange that a granddaughter’s nakedness is her grandfather’s nakedness, not her father’s. The reason is that in a father’s house the grandfather is head of the family.”7

11 You must not have sexual intercourse with the daughter of your father’s wife born of your father; she is your sister. You must not have intercourse with her.

It is debated how, or if, this law differs from the law in verse 9.

Wenham believes verse 11 forbids marriage to a step-sister if she is counted as part of the father’s house (what the NET translates “born of your father”):

One may envisage the following situation. Man A marries woman B and has daughter C, while man D marries woman E and produces son F. Normally C could marry F without objection. But what happens if man A and woman E die, and then man D marries woman B? Can the children of the first unions marry, or have their parents’ second marriage made them brother and sister? Can C still marry F?

This law says a man (F) may not marry his step-sister (C) if she belongs to your father’s kindred. It is this last clause that leads most commentators and translators to suppose that a man’s half-sister as opposed to his step-sister is meant, for they take kindred (moledet) to mean “offspring, family, or birth.” But in Genesis moledet clearly defines a wider grouping than the nuclear family, including cousins. Perhaps “patrilineage” or “extended family” might be a suitable translation. At any rate a man could certainly seek a wife from within his father’s moledet as long as she was not too closely related to him (Gen. 24:4). This rule states that a man may not marry his step-sister if she was also counted as one of his “father’s kindred.”8

12 You must not have sexual intercourse with your father’s sister; she is your father’s flesh.

Ex. 6:20 states that Amram married his aunt Jochebed, who bore Moses and Aaron.

13 You must not have sexual intercourse with your mother’s sister, because she is your mother’s flesh.

However, unions between uncles and nieces were permitted — for example, Nahor and Milcah, daughter of his brother, Haran (Gen 11:29); and Othniel and Achsah, daughter of Caleb, brother of Kenaz (Josh 15:17; Judg 1:13). Indeed, such marriages were considered meritorious by the rabbis (b. Yeb. 62b), perhaps because the affection a man has for his sister will be extended to her daughter (Rashi). Marriages between uncles and nieces were repeatedly and emphatically forbidden at Qumran (CD 5:8; 11QT 66:16-17; 4Q274, fr. 7:2-3, 4-5) and by early Christians (Matt 14:4; Mark 6:18).9

14 You must not expose the nakedness of your father’s brother; you must not approach his wife to have sexual intercourse with her. She is your aunt.

Verses 12-13 concern blood relatives while verse 14 concerns an affinal relative.

15 You must not have sexual intercourse with your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife. You must not have intercourse with her.

16 You must not have sexual intercourse with your brother’s wife; she is your brother’s nakedness.

This law is not condemning adultery. Rather, it is condemning marrying your brother’s wife after death or divorce has taken place. Deut. 25:5-10 provides an exception to this law known as levirate marriage.

17 You must not have sexual intercourse with both a woman and her daughter; you must not take as wife either her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to have intercourse with them. They are closely related to her — it is lewdness.

18 You must not take a woman in marriage and then marry her sister as a rival wife while she is still alive, to have sexual intercourse with her.

This verse does not permit marrying two sisters if the second is somehow not a rival wife. The rivalry or hostility is the possible result of such a marriage. Jacob married the sisters Leah and Rachel (Gen. 29:21-35; 30:1-2, 14-24).

19 “‘You must not approach a woman in her menstrual impurity to have sexual intercourse with her.

Menstrual impurity refers to ritual conditions, not sanitary conditions.

20 You must not have sexual intercourse with the wife of your fellow citizen to become unclean with her.

The OT definition of adultery, in common with that of other ancient societies, was rather narrower than that in the NT. It was defined as sexual intercourse with a married or betrothed woman by someone who was not her husband. Intercourse by a married man with an unattached woman, though disapproved of, was not adulterous and did not warrant the death penalty.10

21 You must not give any of your children as an offering to Molech, so that you do not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD!

Molech is the name of a false god. Giving a child to Molech involved passing the child through fire. It is not clear why this verse appears here among laws concerning sexual morality. Milgrom believes Molech was associated with the worship of the dead and so it makes some sense to place this prohibition among other laws regarding intimate family matters. “Since God placed his name among his people, their practice of false worship tarnishes God’s reputation among the nations (Ezek 36:20–21).”11 Jeremiah needs to make it clear that Yahweh did not endorse the worship of Molech (Jer. 7:31; 19:5; 32:35), which implies that some Israelites of his day thought the worship of the two deities was compatible. This verse explicitly denies that compatibility.

22 You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.

All anal intercourse between two men is prohibited. The phrase “as one has sexual intercourse with a woman” refers to anal intercourse.12 “Something detestable is an activity that God abhors.”13 Lesbianism is not explicitly prohibited in the Torah but was forbidden by the rabbis (cf. Rom. 1:26-27).14

23 You must not have sexual intercourse with any animal to become defiled with it, and a woman must not stand before an animal to have sexual intercourse with it; it is a perversion.

This is the only commandment in the chapter addressed to a woman because it involves a case where no man need be involved. The Hebrew term tebel (“perversion”) is from the root bll, meaning “to mix” and indicates that this sin involves the improper mixing of two species.15

Krebs (FF 39 [1963] 19) argues that this law is designed to counter rites between humans and animals practiced in certain pagan cults of the Ancient Middle East, such as the Egyptian cult at Mendes (Egyptian Dedet). He gathers some evidence to prove that such rites took place more often than has been supposed. These ritualistic uses of bestiality show that this law was designed to fulfill the exhortation against following the practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites (vv 3, 24). Bestiality would not be that uncommon in an agrarian society. In fact, Hittite law assigns the death penalty to lying with some animals, cattle, sheep, and pigs, but lying with a horse or a mule carries no penalty (#187, #188, #199, #200[A]; ANET 196–97). The myths from Ugarit report sexual relations between gods and animals; e.g., the mighty storm god Baal had sexual relations with a cow in an attempt to magically escape the tentacles of Mot, the god of death and the underworld (cf. U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, tr. I. Abrahams [Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967] 290).16

24 “‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things, for the nations which I am about to drive out before you have been defiled with all these things.

25 Therefore the land has become unclean and I have brought the punishment for its iniquity upon it, so that the land has vomited out its inhabitants.

The expulsion of the Canaanites is spoken of as if it has already happened. For the inhabitants to be vomited out of the land is for them to go into exile. “The use of the word ‘vomit’ to describe the people’s expulsion from the land particularly stressed the Lord’s repulsion at the people’s activity since vomiting is probably the most violent of all bodily reactions.”17

26 You yourselves must obey my statutes and my regulations and must not do any of these abominations, both the native citizen and the resident foreigner in your midst, 27 for the people who were in the land before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become unclean.

28 So do not make the land vomit you out because you defile it just as it has vomited out the nations that were before you.

29 For if anyone does any of these abominations, the persons who do them will be cut off from the midst of their people.

30 You must obey my charge to not practice any of the abominable statutes that have been done before you, so that you do not defile yourselves by them. I am the LORD your God.’”


Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.

Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.

  1. Levine 1989, p. 118 
  2. Milgrom 2008, p. 1518-1519 
  3. Levine 1989, p. 119 
  4. Rooker and Cole 2000, loc. 6959-6960 
  5. Rooker and Cole 2000, loc. 6943-6944 
  6. Hartley 1998, p. 294 
  7. Hartley 1998, p. 295 
  8. Wenham 1979, loc. 3413-3420 
  9. Milgrom 2008, p. 1543 
  10. Wenham 1979, loc. 3432-3434 
  11. Hartley 1998, p. 297 
  12. Milgrom 2008, p. 1569 
  13. Hartley 1998, p. 297 
  14. Levine 1989, p. 123 
  15. Rooker and Cole 2000, loc. 7031 
  16. Hartley 1998, p. 297–298 
  17. Rooker and Cole 2000, loc. 7056-7058 

Psalm 17

Notes (NET Translation)

A prayer of David.

1 LORD, consider my just cause! Pay attention to my cry for help! Listen to the prayer I sincerely offer!

2 Make a just decision on my behalf! Decide what is right!

3 You have scrutinized my inner motives; you have examined me during the night. You have carefully evaluated me, but you find no sin. I am determined I will say nothing sinful.

Night is the time for Yhwh to catch people out in their lack of integrity, because their thinking as they lie in bed reflects and reveals their real attitudes (cf. 4:4; 36:4[5]).1

4 As for the actions of people – just as you have commanded, I have not followed in the footsteps of violent men.

The “violent” had no consideration of God or his commands. They were the gangsters of the OT who robbed and murdered without blinking an eye (cf. Jer 7:11; 18:10). The psalmist had held to the way of God.2

5 I carefully obey your commands; I do not deviate from them.

6 I call to you for you will answer me, O God. Listen to me! Hear what I say!

7 Accomplish awesome, faithful deeds, you who powerfully deliver those who look to you for protection from their enemies.

In the Hebrew, the language of this verse recalls the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15:11-13).3

8 Protect me as you would protect the pupil of your eye! Hide me in the shadow of your wings!

9 Protect me from the wicked men who attack me, my enemies who crowd around me for the kill.

10 They are calloused; they speak arrogantly.

The first clause literally means: “They have closed their fat.”

There is a contrast between the way the suppliant and the enemies use their inner being and mouth. The midriff (heleb, lit., “fat”) suggests the part of the body where the heart is located. Closing the midriff implies being unwilling to rethink their attitudes and their lives. The parallel complaint is that they also give full rein to their mouths to declare ambitious plans for causing trouble to the suppliant.4

11 They attack me, now they surround me; they intend to throw me to the ground.

12 He is like a lion that wants to tear its prey to bits, like a young lion crouching in hidden places.

13 Rise up, LORD! Confront him! Knock him down! Use your sword to rescue me from the wicked man!

14 LORD, use your power to deliver me from these murderers, from the murderers of this world! They enjoy prosperity; you overwhelm them with the riches they desire. They have many children, and leave their wealth to their offspring.

The translation of v 14b is disputed. For example, VanGemeren understands it differently than the NET:

Whom does the psalmist describe in v. 14b? The NIV [May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones] divides v. 14 and interprets v. 14b so as to fit with v. 15. But the variety of interpretations in commentaries and versions cautions us to take another look at these cola. The literal reading makes for an obscure translation: “your hidden will be full — their — belly sons will have plenty; and will leave their remains to their children.” The crux of the problem is the meaning of “your hidden.” If it is “your hidden punishment,” then v. 14b belongs to v. 14a with the sense given in the NEB and Briggs, 1:127: “their belly fill Thou with Thy stored-up penalty. May their sons be sated, may they leave their residue to their children.” In its favor is the context and the contrastive phrase “and I” or “but as for me” (v. 15). On the other hand, “your hidden” could refer back to the metaphor of the wings under which the psalmist found refuge (cf. “But your treasured ones! — you will fill their belly, sons will be sated, and they will bequeath their surplus to their children,” Craigie, 160-61). This is close to the reading in the NIV.

For three reasons, I see v. 14b as a continuation of judgment: (1) the contrast between “their” and “I” (vv. 14b-15a); (2) the ambiguity of “their” (three times) and the problem of correspondence between “your hidden” (masculine singular!) and the third masculine plural suffix (“their”); (3) the referent of “their” cannot be different from the wicked in v. 14a: “their portion” (NIV, “whose reward”).5

15 As for me, because I am innocent I will see your face; when I awake you will reveal yourself to me.

Though the precise sense of v 15 is uncertain, the general sense indicates the conscious awareness of the divine presence. It would no longer be enemies that dominated the psalmist’s vision, but God’s face; on awakening from the restless sleep of night (see also v 3), God’s form or actual presence would be a reality, not an elusive phantom of the troubled dreams of night.6


Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.

  1. Goldingay 2006, loc. 4802-4804 
  2. VanGemeren 2008, p. 195 
  3. Craigie 2004, p. 163 
  4. Goldingay 2006, loc. 4856-4859 
  5. VanGemeren 2008, p. 200 
  6. Craigie 2004, p. 164–165 

Investigating the Evidence for Mormonism In Six Steps

J. Warner Wallace has written a good, long article entitled Investigating the Evidence for Mormonism In Six Steps. Here’s my outline of the article:

  1. Joseph Smith could have been motivated by lust, greed, and the pursuit of power.
  2. Joseph Smith was born and lived during the Second Great Awakening (1790-1845). This period of religious revival also coincided with the rise of a number of unorthodox Christian sects in addition to Mormonism. The culture of the time was fascinated with Native Americans and some suggested that Native Americans were descendants of ancient Hebrews. People in Palmyra, NY, where Smith was raised, were interested in digging for treasures.
  3. Joseph Smith was a treasure digger and used a seer stone to divine where treasure was buried. In 1826, when Smith was allegedly being visited by angels prior to the writing of the Book of Mormon, Smith was charged with fraud by Josiah Stowel after Stowel lost confidence in Smith’s abilities.
  4. Joseph Smith said he translated the golden plates in producing the Book of Mormon. No one, other than Smith, ever claimed to have seen these plates with their natural eyes (this claim from J. Warner Wallace does not appear to be accurate). Smith did not need the plates present to translate them. Rather he placed a seer stone in a hat and then placed his face in the hat. He would then receive a translation and someone would write it down for him. It should be noted that this process was similar to the process he used to divine where treasure was buried. One time Lucy Harris was given 116 pages of manuscripts to alleviate her fears that the translation was not authentic. She lost these pages. Instead of re-translating this text, Joseph Smith said he was replacing the text with a different account of the same events.
  5. The Book of Mormon contains a number of oddities and errors:
    • It contains language reminiscent of the KJV instead of the English spoken in Smith’s time.
    • It contains parallels with a book called View of the Hebrews (1823) by Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith), which argued that some Native Americans were descendants of ancient Hebrews.
    • It contains lengthy quotations from the KJV as if the KJV were the original language of Scripture. The Book of Mormon also has chapter divisions in the same places they are found in the KJV quotations.
    • It preserves some translation errors made in the KJV instead of correcting them.
    • It preserves text that is in the KJV but that we now know was not in the biblical autographs.
    • It contains anachronisms: paraphrases of Jesus before his earthly life, NT paraphrases of OT passages before the NT was written, quotes from the NT before it was written, Old World plants and animals in the New World in pre-Columbian times, and weapons and other technology or innovations that the Native Americans did not have.
    • It contains no archaeological verifiable information.
  6. Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Abraham into what is now called the Pearl of Great Price. Unlike the golden plates, the Book of Mormon papyri has been looked at by others. It has been determined that Smith did not accurately translate the papyrus.

Leviticus 17

Notes (NET Translation)

1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 2 “Speak to Aaron, his sons, and all the Israelites, and tell them: ‘This is the word that the Lord has commanded:

Chapters 17-26 are known as the Holiness Code because holiness is the dominant theme in these chapters. The people of Israel are called to be holy because Yahweh is holy (19:2). As verse 2 makes clear, these words are for all the Israelites, not just the priests.

3 “Blood guilt will be accounted to any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat inside the camp or outside the camp, 4 but has not brought it to the entrance of the Meeting Tent to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord. He has shed blood, so that man will be cut off from the midst of his people.

The Hebrew verb shahat (“to slaughter”) can refer to either (1) slaughter in general or (2) slaughter for sacrifice. Is this verse saying every domesticated animal is to be slaughtered at the sanctuary or is it saying only ritual sacrifices need to be slaughtered at the sanctuary? Deut. 12:15-16 permits the slaughter of animals for food without recourse to the altar as long as the blood is drained and not consumed. Is Lev. 17:3-4 in agreement with Deut. 12:15-16 or is Deut. 12:15-16 a modification of Lev. 17:3-4 to make the consumption of meat more practical in the promised land where most Israelites would live far from the sanctuary? It seems to me that Lev. 17:3-4 is in agreement with Deut. 12:15-16 since the animals named in v 3 are animals permissible for sacrifice and vv 4-9 depict the animal as being an offering to Yahweh. In sacrificial contexts, such as this passage, the word shahat never refers to the mere killing of an animal.1 Verse 7 indicates this is a lasting ordinance and not something meant just for the time in the wilderness. The man who engages in improper sacrificial slaughter is said to have “shed blood”, an idiom that normally refers to homicide.2 This hyperbole highlights the seriousness of the offense. His punishment is to be cut off from his people.

5 This is so that the Israelites will bring their sacrifices that they are sacrificing in the open field to the Lord at the entrance of the Meeting Tent to the priest and sacrifice them there as peace offering sacrifices to the Lord.

The “open field” is a place where people do not dwell.3 By requiring sacrifices to be performed at the Meeting Tent the legitimate priesthood could regulate the cult and prevent improper sacrifices from occurring. The peace offering was the most frequent offering. Since it was less formal people would be more inclined to offer it away from the sanctuary.4

6 The priest is to splash the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the Meeting Tent, and offer the fat up in smoke for a soothing aroma to the Lord.

The “altar of Yahweh” is the one, legitimate altar at which God may be worshiped.

7 So they must no longer offer their sacrifices to the goat demons, acting like prostitutes by going after them. This is to be a perpetual statute for them throughout their generations.

The goat demons (seirim) were thought to be rulers of the wilderness and were associated with illness and death.

8 “You are to say to them: ‘Any man from the house of Israel or from the foreigners who reside in their midst, who offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice 9 but does not bring it to the entrance of the Meeting Tent to offer it to the Lord – that person will be cut off from his people.

Verses 8-9 extend the preceding law to other kinds of sacrifices and to foreigners.

10 “‘Any man from the house of Israel or from the foreigners who reside in their midst who eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats the blood, and I will cut him off from the midst of his people, 11 for the life of every living thing is in the blood. So I myself have assigned it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives, for the blood makes atonement by means of the life. 12 Therefore, I have said to the Israelites: No person among you is to eat blood, and no resident foreigner who lives among you is to eat blood.

Verses 10 and 12 forbid consuming any and all blood. Notice in v 11 that blood is connected to life. The blood/life of the sacrificial victim atones for the life of the supplicant.

It needs to be remembered that the foremost issue addressed by this verse [11] is the reason that the blood of an animal cannot be eaten. Since God has assigned blood as the tangible element in effecting expiation, blood carries the strongest taboo. It may not be eaten or misappropriated in any way. The number of laws against misappropriating sacred objects to the worship of demonic spirits in chaps. 17–20 indicates that a major reason for this prohibition against eating blood is to prevent any uses of that which is holy in the worship of field spirits and to prevent any attempt to ingest divine power into one’s body by partaking of the sacred. Therefore, blood, the tangible center of human life, must never be put to common (חל) use (cf. 10:11). It must always be handled properly as the exclusive property of Yahweh, the Creator of that life.5

Acts 15:29 forbids the consumption of blood by Gentiles.

For the modern interpreter the Jerusalem decrees raise problems. Were they intended to be permanently binding? Or were they a compromise to avoid offending Jewish sensitivities (cf. Rom. 14)? Clearly unchastity (porneia) was never approved (1 Cor. 5; Rev. 2:14). But Paul does allow Christians to eat food offered to idols as long as the meal does not take place in a pagan temple and it is not misinterpreted by pagan friends (1 Cor. 8; 10:25ff.). It seems likely, therefore, that Paul did not view eating blood as something that was intrinsically wrong, but held that it should be avoided whenever it might offend Jewish Christians (cf. Rom. 14:2-3, 14-15). Some groups in the Church continued to abstain from blood as late as Tertullian’s day (early 3rd century).6

13 “‘Any man from the Israelites or from the foreigners who reside in their midst who hunts a wild animal or a bird that may be eaten must pour out its blood and cover it with soil, 14 for the life of all flesh is its blood. So I have said to the Israelites: You must not eat the blood of any living thing because the life of every living thing is its blood – all who eat it will be cut off.

Wild animals could not be sacrificed but that did not mean their blood could be consumed.

15 “‘Any person who eats an animal that has died of natural causes or an animal torn by beasts, whether a native citizen or a foreigner, must wash his clothes, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening; then he becomes clean. 16 But if he does not wash his clothes and does not bathe his body, he will bear his punishment for iniquity.’”

Both domesticated and wild animals are covered by v 15. The blood of these animals was probably congealed, instead of being properly drained, and so caused uncleanness. Priests were not to consume carcasses (Lev. 22:8).

Similar regulations about the hunting and eating of game are found in Deut. 12:15-16, 22ff. It is recommended there that animals found dead be disposed of differently; they should not be eaten by native Israelites, but may be consumed by resident aliens or (visiting) foreigners. There is no conflict of principle between the provisions of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Deuteronomy fails to mention the consequences of eating this sort of meat, but the fact that it instructs the full-born Israelites to avoid eating it suggests it concurred with Leviticus that such meat does cause uncleanness. Whereas Leviticus allows both Israelite and sojourner to become unclean and insists on washing afterward, Deuteronomy simplifies the rule by forbidding such meat entirely to Israelites, but allowing sojourners to eat it at will. This seems to be a case of upholding a principle while varying its detailed application.7


Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.

Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.

  1. Rooker and Cole 2000, loc. 6760-6761 
  2. Levine 1989, p. 113 
  3. Milgrom 2008, p. 1459 
  4. Hartley 1998, p. 272 
  5. Hartley 1998, p. 277 
  6. Wenham 1979, loc. 3290-3294 
  7. Wenham 1979, loc. 3273-3277 

Re: A point that bears repeating: there is nothing in the Bible that couldn’t have been written by ordinary people

This post is a response to a post by the A-Unicornist, Mike D, entitled: A point that bears repeating: there is nothing in the Bible that couldn’t have been written by ordinary people. Unless otherwise specified the quotes are from his post.

As far as the title itself goes, I agree with him. There was nothing special about the authors of the Bible in terms of literary ability. Unlike many Muslim apologists, Christians do not claim that the literary quality of the Bible is a marker of its divine inspiration. Rather, the issue is whether the Bible accurately describes God’s actions in the world.

In terms of atheist/Christian dialogue, I am of the opinion that the Christian does not need to prove that the entire Bible is divinely inspired. We merely need to show that the Bible is accurate enough that it is reasonable to believe the major claims of Christianity are true and that atheism is false. Suppose, for example, that I am convinced the four Gospels are very accurate historical documents but contain a few errors. I would be warranted in believing Jesus rose from the dead and that his message was from God. I would also be warranted in believing atheism is false. It would be absurd for the atheist to turn around and declare any kind of victory if such a state of affairs is true. So my goal in this post is not to prove that the entire Bible is divinely inspired but to show some of the reasons to believe it is accurate enough to warrant Christian belief.

Near the beginning of his post Mike makes a revealing comment:

After all, I for one don’t really have a problem with deists. I don’t agree with them, but the reality is that a deistic god is, at best, a sort of nebulously defined metaphysical placeholder for grand existential mysteries. You don’t pray to a deistic god, and such a god does not care whom you marry or whether you’re naughty or nice. So, outside of coffee-shop philosophical discussions, I consider deists to be squarely in the camp with atheists and agnostics — namely, those of us who live out our lives under the assumption that we are not being watched or judged, or that our lives are unfolding according to a careful divine destiny.

His problem with the Bible is only partly about what we should believe. His other problem is that if the Bible is divinely inspired then God makes demands on our behavior that might conflict with his desires.

And when it comes to the supposed divine inspiration of the Bible, the burden of proof for such a remarkable claim falls squarely on the believer. After all, no one can disprove that much of anything is ‘divinely inspired’. . . . But with an infinite number of claims that cannot be disproved, the idea that something cannot be demonstrated to be false is not, in itself, a valid reason to accept it as true.

I agree with Mike on two counts: (1) that the burden of proof rests with the person claiming the Bible is divinely inspired and (2) that just because an atheist can’t demonstrate an error exists in the Bible does not, by itself, mean the Bible is divinely inspired. But I part ways with him on believing it is particularly difficult to show that a writing is not divinely inspired. On the assumption that God is omniscient, any factual error in a writing would disqualify the writing from being divinely inspired. In fact, I think Mike realizes this because later in his post he mentions alleged factual errors in the Bible.

The question is simple: why should any rational skeptic be compelled to believe that the only reasonable view of the Bible is that it is indeed the product of divine inspiration?

This is an entirely fair question and I don’t think Christians, in general, have done a good job at answering it (if you think I’m ignorant of a good answer feel free to drop a link in the comments). I think we have good reason to believe the Bible is historically reliable (e.g., 50 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically) and that certain prophets were inspired by God (e.g., Daniel). But how do you jump from those facts to the conclusion that each and every word of the Bible is divinely inspired? I don’t have a good answer to that question. Then again, it doesn’t keep me up at night for the reasons mentioned above nor do I think an atheist could be happy with a generally-reliable-but-errant Bible.

We know that most of the old testament is comprised of mythology and legend.

This sentence is overblown rhetoric. Outside of the supernatural, OT history from the time of the monarchy going forward isn’t hard to swallow from a secular perspective. That’s presumably why Mike’s examples stop with the reign of David. The history from the monarchy onward makes up the bulk of the OT.

There is not a shred of evidence Adam and Eve existed or that “The Fall” occurred, and such a narrative conflicts with what we know about humanity’s evolutionary past.

As a theistic evolutionist, I agree that a woodenly literal reading of Genesis 1-11 is incompatible with natural history. This may (or may not) create tension with other parts of the Bible that allude to Gen. 1-11 (going through such passages is outside the scope of this post). But even if such tensions exist the Christian can live with this tension.

Moses, if he existed, did not lead Jewish slaves out of Egypt — because there’s no evidence Jews were enslaved in Egypt in the first place, and the evidence we do have places the origin of Jewish tribes out of Canaan.

Note the argument from silence in regards to the exodus. Egyptologist K. A. Kitchen notes why this argument fails:

The setting presented in Exod. 1-14 is indubitably that of Egypt’s East Delta, whence the Hebrews are shown going directly into the Sinai Peninsula first of all. Background data may well be drawn from Egypt overall, but for locating the biblical Hebrews and their movements “on the ground” in Egypt we are restricted to the East Delta zone geographically.

This fact imposes further severe limitations upon all inquiry into the subject. The Delta is an alluvial fan of mud deposited through many millenia by the annual flooding of the Nile; it has no source of stone within it. Mud, mud and wattle, and mud-brick structures were of limited duration and use, and were repeatedly leveled and replaced, and very largely merged once more with the mud of the fields. So those who squawk intermittently, “No trace of the Hebrews has ever been found” (so, of course, no exodus!), are wasting their breath. The mud hovels of brickfield slaves and humble cultivators have long since gone back to their mud origins, never to be seen again. Even stone structures (such as temples) hardly survive, in striking contrast to sites in the cliff-enclosed valley of Upper Egypt to the south. All stone was anciently shipped in from the south, and repeatedly recycled from one period to another. Thus Eighteenth Dynasty blocks were reused in Ramesside temples; Ramesside temples were replaced under later dynasties largely by reuse of existing stones again; and periods through Saite, Ptolemaic, Romano-Byzantine, and Islamic times repeated the process. In more recent centuries, limestone has been largely burned for lime, and harder stones often reused for millstones or whatever. Scarce wonder that practically no written records of any extent have been retrieved from Delta sites reduced to brick mounds (whose very bricks are despoiled for fertilizer, sebakh), with even great temples reduced to heaps of tumbled stones. And in the mud, 99 percent of discarded papyri have perished forever; a tiny fraction (of late date) have been found carbonized (burned) — like some at Pompeii — but can only be opened or read with immense difficulty. A tiny fraction of reports from the East Delta occur in papyri recovered from the desert near Memphis. Otherwise, the entirety of Egypt’s administrative records at all periods in the Delta is lost (fig. 32B); and monumental texts are also nearly nil. And, as pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of foreign slaves (with loss of a full chariot squadron) would ever have been memorialized by any king, in temples in the Delta or anywhere else. On these matters, once and for all, biblicists must shed their naive attitudes and cease demanding “evidence” that cannot exist. Only radically different approaches can yield anything whatsoever. “Archaeology” that limits its blinkered evidence solely to what comes out of modest holes dug in the ground can have no final say in the matter.1

I’m not sure what Mike is referring to when he says “the evidence we do have places the origin of Jewish tribes out of Canaan.”

And, as Steven Pinker noted in The Better Angels of Our Nature, “If there was a Davidic Empire stretching from the Euphrates to the Red Sea around the turn of the 1st millennium BCE, no one else seems to have noticed it.”

Steven Pinker is a psychologist so carries no authority on this matter.2 This is once again an argument from silence that ignores basic facts of ancient history. K. A. Kitchen notes that the Assyrians and Babylonians did not spend much, if any, time in Israel prior to 853 B.C. and thus would have no reason to mention David’s empire (ca. 1000-960 B.C.) in their records.3 The Egyptian Shoshenq I left a record of his expedition to Palestine but, like all his New Kingdom predecessors, he did not mention adversaries and states so we would not expect David or his kingdom to be mentioned.4 It is worth noting that skeptics doubted the very existence of David with an argument from silence until the Tell Dan inscription was found in the 1990s. Inexplicably, they keep using arguments from silence. Apparently, you can’t teach a new atheist a new trick.

The Gospels fare even worse.

How could anyone think the Gospels fare worse than the examples Mike gave? The Gospels are supported by other written documents and far more archaeological evidence.

There is no evidence that they are eyewitness accounts (they don’t claim to be), nor any evidence that the stories were passed down by any sort of rigorous oral tradition as is popularly claimed by Christian apologists.

When an atheist says there is “no evidence” there is often evidence. John 21:24 explicitly claims to have been written by an eyewitness. Luke 1:1-4 speaks of accounts being passed on and states that its author is following in their footsteps. The traditional authorship of the Gospels is strongly supported by external sources (see the citations on Matthew, Mark, and Luke for example).

Quite simply, there is no reason whatsoever to think that the Gospels are reliable historical accounts of a real person, and many good reasons to think they’re the product of creative, credulous and superstitious human minds.

If Mike thinks there is no reason whatsoever to think the Gospels are reliable historical accounts you would think he has not looked into the matter at all. Unfortunately, I bet he has looked into the matter but went for rhetorical effect. Let us take the Pool of Bethesda as a counter-example. Since this pool was only mentioned in the Gospel of John some scholars used to think it didn’t exist. As you may know, this pool was discovered in the 19th century. Admittedly this is only one piece of evidence but it is a reason to trust John’s account. The historical reliability of the NT is based on many discoveries of a similar nature.

  1. On the Reliability of the Old Testament, pp. 245-246; cf. ch. 6 as a whole and Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticiy of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier 
  2. The historians at Quodlibeta criticize portions of The Better Angels of Our Nature here, here, here, and here if you’re interested 
  3. On the Reliability of the Old Testament, pp. 88-89 
  4. On the Reliability of the Old Testament, p. 89 

Psalm 16

Notes (NET Translation)

A prayer of David.

The translation and interpretation of this psalm is difficult in a number of places. To start with, the Hebrew word miktam (“prayer”) is of uncertain meaning. The LXX and targums take it to mean “inscription”.1

1 Protect me, O God, for I have taken shelter in you.

The occasion for this prayer is not stated explicitly but it might be in relation to idolatry (v 4) or the threat of death (v 10). But even then it is not clear if the psalm is expressed in the midst of a crisis or after the psalmist has been delivered from a crisis.

2 I say to the LORD, “You are the Lord, my only source of well-being.”

The first “Lord” is Yahweh while the second “Lord” is Adonai. The psalmist is saying that he submits to Yahweh.

3 As for God’s chosen people who are in the land, and the leading officials I admired so much – 4 their troubles multiply, they desire other gods. I will not pour out drink offerings of blood to their gods, nor will I make vows in the name of their gods.

The NET translates addiyr as “the leading officials” but the Hebrew is more ambiguous, meaning something like “the glorious ones.” It may also be that a period should follow v 3 and that v 4a should read: “The troubles of those will multiply who desire other gods.” The psalmist is strongly stating his antipathy towards idolatry.

5 Lord, you give me stability and prosperity; you make my future secure.

The NIV provides a more literal translation: “LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.” Exactly what the psalmist’s portion is is not specified. Whatever it is, the NET translation makes it clear that it is safe with God.

6 It is as if I have been given fertile fields or received a beautiful tract of land.

The NIV reads: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

7 I will praise the Lord who guides me; yes, during the night I reflect and learn.

8 I constantly trust in the Lord; because he is at my right hand, I will not be upended.

To be upended would be to be unfaithful. With God at his right hand the psalmist can remain faithful.

9 So my heart rejoices and I am happy; My life is safe.

10 You will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit.

The phrase “see decay” [see the Pit] (v. 10) is a metaphor for total isolation and banishment from God’s presence. It is not clear whether the psalmist had in mind the experience of God’s presence in the life hereafter or specifically in the resurrection of the body. But in the apostolic preaching this verse did have a particular apologetic significance, as both Peter (Ac 2:27, 31) and Paul (Ac 13:35) quoted v. 10 as proof of the resurrection of Jesus.2

The main point is that the psalmist does not see his relationship with God ending at death.

11 You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.

The NIV reads: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” This translation of the third clause, if correct, may refer to eternal life.


Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.

  1. Goldingay 2006, loc. 4568-4569 
  2. VanGemeren 2008, p. 191 

Leviticus 16

Notes (NET Translation)

1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons when they approached the presence of the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother that he must not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil-canopy in front of the atonement plate that is on the ark so that he may not die, for I will appear in the cloud over the atonement plate.

Verse 1 reminds the reader of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu recounted in chapter 10. That event reminds Aaron, the high priest, and his successors that they must strictly follow God’s commandments or risk death. When verse 2 states that Aaron must not enter the Holy of Holies (“the holy place inside the veil-canopy”) at any time it means that he was only to enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), as the following verse makes clear. The “atonement plate” was the sculptured slab atop the Ark of the Covenant. It is not clear whether the cloud over the atonement plate is the cloud of incense the priest raises (v. 13) or the divine cloud (Ex. 40:34-35; Num. 9:15-23).

3 “In this way Aaron is to enter into the sanctuary – with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

The Hebrew is emphatic that this is the only way that the high priest is to enter the sanctuary.1

4 He must put on a holy linen tunic, linen leggings are to cover his body, and he is to wrap himself with a linen sash and wrap his head with a linen turban. They are holy garments, so he must bathe his body in water and put them on.

The high priest did not wear his regular vestments on this occasion. Instead he was to wear unadorned white linen vestments. “They symbolized the abject state of the High Priest, the representative of the Israelite people, in seeking expiation of sins and making confession.”2

Among his fellow men his dignity as the great mediator between man and God is unsurpassed, and his splendid clothes draw attention to the glory of his office. But in the presence of God even the high priest is stripped of all honor: he becomes simply the servant of the King of kings, whose true status is portrayed in the simplicity of his dress.3

Milgrom adds that angels were said to be dressed in linen (Ezek. 9:2-3, 11; 10:2; Dan. 10:5) so, by wearing linen, the high priest ministered in clothes appropriate for approaching the divine presence.

5 He must also take two male goats from the congregation of the Israelites for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering.

6 Then Aaron is to present the sin offering bull which is for himself and is to make atonement on behalf of himself and his household.

Aaron’s household includes all and only the Aaronid priests.4 According to m. Yoma 3:8 the high priest prayed the following prayer:

O God, I have committed iniquity, transgressed, and sinned before thee, I and my house. O God, forgive the iniquities and transgressions and sins which I have committed and transgressed and sinned before thee, I and my house, as it is written in the Law of thy servant Moses, For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the Lord (Lev 16:30).5

7 He must then take the two goats and stand them before the Lord at the entrance of the Meeting Tent, 8 and Aaron is to cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and one lot for Azazel.

The Hebrew word Azazel is found nowhere else in the Bible outside this chapter. Its meaning has been disputed since antiquity.

The LXX and Vulgate translate the term as “scapegoat”, suggesting they see the term as describing the goat’s function. Jewish tradition largely thought the word referred to the location where the goat departed (Tg. Ps.-J.; b. Yoma 67b; Sipra, Ahare 2:8). Rooker and Cole believe these two options have the strongest support.

Hartley argues that the fact that Azazel is used in parallel with Yahweh suggests that the term refers to a personal being. In 1 Enoch, a source that post-dates Leviticus, Azazel is one of the deposed angels who cohabited with human women.6 He was given jurisdiction over sorcery, acts of war, and harlotry. He was cast into the wilderness by the archangel Raphael. While we should not read this account back into Leviticus, it does suggest that the wilderness was seen as a place of sinfulness and evil (Isa. 13:21; 34:14; Luke 11:24). Levine links Azazel to the goat demons mentioned in 17:7. He thinks this chapter transforms the sacrificial worship of demons, forbidden in 17:7, into a set of rites that subjugate the sinful and evil forces identified with the demon. The scapegoat forces the sins of the Israelites back on Azazel. In other words, evil returns to its point of departure.

According to Wenham, Hertz countered the above interpretation by noting how easily it could be confused as a gift for the demon. Since an offering to a demon is a grave sin, he says this makes it unlikely that a demon was in any way associated with the holiest of rites.

Milgrom, largely agreeing with Levine, counters:

The most plausible explanation is that Azazel is the name of a demon who has been eviscerated of his erstwhile demonic powers by the Priestly legislators. First, the goat sent him is not an offering; it is not treated as a sacrifice, requiring slaughter, blood manipulation, and the like, nor does it have the effect of a sacrifice, namely, propitiation, expiation, and so on. Moreover, an animal laden with impurities would not be acceptable as an offering either to God or to a demon (cf. v 26). Second, the goat is not the vicarious substitute for Israel because there is no indication that it was punished (e.g., put to death) or demonically attacked in Israel’s place. Instead of being an offering or a substitute, the goat is simply the vehicle to dispatch Israel’s impurities and sins to the wilderness/netherworld. The banishment of evil to an inaccessible place is a form of elimination amply attested in the ancient Near East.

Azazel himself is deprived of any active role: he neither receives the goat nor attacks it. Regardless of his origins — in pre-Israelite practice he surely was a true demon, perhaps a satyr (cf. Ibn Ezra on 16:8), who ruled the wilderness — in the Priestly ritual he is no longer a personality but just a name, designating the place to which impurities and sins are banished. As for the survival of the name Azazel, “demons often survive as figures of speech (e.g., “gremlins”) long after they have ceased to be figures of belief. Accordingly, the mention of a demon’s name in a scriptural text is not automatic testimony to living belief in him” (Gaster 1962b: 818). Azazel suffers the fate of all angels and spirits in Scripture. They can represent powers of the physical world (e.g., Pss 104:4; 148:8) but they are not deified (Deut 4:19; 17:3; Job 5:1) and their worship is prohibited (Exod 20:4-5; 22:19; Deut 5:7-8).7

9 Aaron must then present the goat which has been designated by lot for the Lord, and he is to make it a sin offering, 10 but the goat which has been designated by lot for Azazel is to be stood alive before the Lord to make atonement on it by sending it away to Azazel into the wilderness.

“The scapegoat was not an offering to Azazel; it was being dispatched to his realm, the wilderness.”8

11 “Aaron is to present the sin offering bull which is for himself, and he is to make atonement on behalf of himself and his household. He is to slaughter the sin offering bull which is for himself, 12 and take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord and a full double handful of finely ground fragrant incense, and bring them inside the veil-canopy.

The altar mentioned in verse 12 is the altar for burnt offerings in the sanctuary courtyard. The incense is described in Ex. 30:34-38.

13 He must then put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the cloud of incense will cover the atonement plate which is above the ark of the testimony, so that he will not die.

The ark of the testimony is so named because the tablets given to Moses were placed inside it (Ex. 31:18; 40:20). The incense cloud is required so that Yahweh will manifest himself (v. 2; cf. Ex. 24:15-18; 33:18-21).

14 Then he is to take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the eastern face of the atonement plate, and in front of the atonement plate he is to sprinkle some of the blood seven times with his finger.

The number seven indicates completeness.

15 “He must then slaughter the sin offering goat which is for the people. He is to bring its blood inside the veil-canopy, and he is to do with its blood just as he did to the blood of the bull: He is to sprinkle it on the atonement plate and in front of the atonement plate.

16 So he is to make atonement for the holy place from the impurities of the Israelites and from their transgressions with regard to all their sins, and thus he is to do for the Meeting Tent which resides with them in the midst of their impurities.

The sanctuary itself is purged of impurities. Atonement is also made for the transgressions (pesha) of the Israelites. The Hebrew term pesha refers to intentional violations of God’s law.9 Every kind of wrongdoing is atoned for by this rite. According to m. Yoma 5:4 some blood from each of the two sin offerings was sprinkled on the outer side of the veil-canopy (cf. Lev. 4:16-17). This is what is meant when this verse states “thus he is to do for the Meeting Tent.”

17 Nobody is to be in the Meeting Tent when he enters to make atonement in the holy place until he goes out, and he has made atonement on his behalf, on behalf of his household, and on behalf of the whole assembly of Israel.

At other times priests officiated in the larger section of the Tent outside the Holy of Holies.

18 “Then he is to go out to the altar which is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it all around on the horns of the altar.

The altar in this verse is the altar for the burnt offering.

19 Then he is to sprinkle on it some of the blood with his finger seven times, and cleanse and consecrate it from the impurities of the Israelites.

20 “When he has finished purifying the holy place, the Meeting Tent, and the altar, he is to present the live goat.

21 Aaron is to lay his two hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the Israelites and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins, and thus he is to put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man standing ready.

The sins of the Israelites are symbolically transferred to the scapegoat by the laying on of both hands. If this were a sacrifice the priest would only lay one hand on the goat (1:4). Note that a confession is to be made. “Iniquities”, “transgressions”, and “sins” are terms that collectively encompass the totality of human sinning.10 According to m. Yoma 6:3 a priest was given the task of driving the goat away so that it would not return to a settled area.

22 The goat is to bear on itself all their iniquities into an inaccessible land, so he is to send the goat away in the wilderness.

The Hebrew translated “an inaccessible land” literally means “a land of cutting off.”

“Cutting off” could refer to the fact that the place to which the goat was led was “cut off” from the camp, perhaps by a deep valley, so that the animal had no chance of returning to Israel and bringing back the guilt of their sins. Alternatively, it could refer to the fact that it was taken to a place where its life was “cut off.” In later times, the Mishnah records that the goat was led to a steep cliff and pushed over backward to kill it.11

23 “Aaron must then enter the Meeting Tent and take off the linen garments which he had put on when he entered the sanctuary, and leave them there.

Taken literally verses 23-24 mean Aaron disrobed in the Meeting Tent and walked in a naked state to the place of bathing. Since nakedness before the altar was forbidden (Ex. 20:26; 28:42-43) this literal meaning is unlikely to be entirely correct. It seems that certain details are omitted in this chapter. Aaron probably disrobed and bathed in a screened area near the Meeting Tent. Since the priests were commanded to disrobe and bathe in other performances of the cult it is quite likely an area for disrobing and bathing was near the Meeting Tent. Mishnah Middot 5:3 and Mishnah Yoma 3:3 refer to a bureau in the temple complex on whose roof was a place for ablutions.

24 Then he must bathe his body in water in a holy place, put on his clothes, and go out and make his burnt offering and the people’s burnt offering. So he is to make atonement on behalf of himself and the people.

25 “Then he is to offer up the fat of the sin offering in smoke on the altar, 26 and the one who sent the goat away to Azazel must wash his clothes, bathe his body in water, and afterward he may reenter the camp.

27 The bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought to make atonement in the holy place, must be brought outside the camp and their hide, their flesh, and their dung must be burned up, 28 and the one who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may reenter the camp.

29 “This is to be a perpetual statute for you. In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you must humble yourselves and do no work of any kind, both the native citizen and the foreigner who resides in your midst, 30 for on this day atonement is to be made for you to cleanse you from all your sins; you must be clean before the Lord.

The date corresponds to approximately October.12 The Israelites were to humble themselves by at least fasting (Isa. 58:3), although further measures may be implied. Mishnah Yoma 8:1 says that eating, drinking, bathing, anointing, putting on sandals, and marital intercourse were forbidden.13 This practice shows that contrition is indispensable for forgiveness. The foreigner had to abstain from work so as to not affect the Israelite community. The foreigner did not need to observe all aspects of the Day of Atonement.

31 It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must humble yourselves. It is a perpetual statute.

32 “The priest who is anointed and ordained to act as high priest in place of his father is to make atonement. He is to put on the linen garments, the holy garments, 33 and he is to purify the Most Holy Place, he is to purify the Meeting Tent and the altar, and he is to make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.

34 This is to be a perpetual statute for you to make atonement for the Israelites for all their sins once a year.” So he did just as the Lord had commanded Moses.


Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.

Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 1-16. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.

  1. Levine 1989, p. 101 
  2. Levine 1989, p. 101 
  3. Wenham 1979, loc. 3070-3072 
  4. Hartley 1998, p. 236; Milgrom 1991, p. 1019 
  5. Rooker and Cole 2000, loc. 6206-6209 
  6. 1 Enoch 8:1; 9:6; 10:4-8; 13:1-2; 54:5; 55:4; 69:2 
  7. Milgrom 1991, p. 1021 
  8. Levine 1989, p. 103 
  9. Hartley 1998, p. 240; Milgrom 1991, p. 1034 
  10. Hartley 1998, p. 241 
  11. Wenham 1979, loc. 3112-3115 
  12. Wenham 1979, loc. 3139 
  13. Hartley 1998, p. 242; Rooker and Cole 2000-05-01, loc. 6379-6381 

A layman's views on biblical scholarship, religion, philosophy and more


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