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

Bibliography

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 
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