25 July 2022  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

How do we decide which parts of Leviticus apply to the church today, and which parts were only for the ancient Israelites?

Sincerely, Confused reader

Dear Confused,

That is an excellent question for Seventh-day Adventists—we who say so often that we take the entire Bible seriously. We do take the whole Bible seriously, but we don’t follow every command in the Old Testament. In fact, if you think of it in terms of “doables” we follow very little of the Old Testament, with the exception of the Ten Commandments. 

Aunty has had a bit of fun with this in a Sabbath School class—which you might like to try some time yourself.

Someone says, “God said it, so I believe it, and that settles it.” “You’re right,” Aunty replies. “It’s time we start following Numbers 15:32-36.” (Rustling of pages….) “And Leviticus 15:19-21.” (More rustling.) “And I very much fear that there are some of you who are breaking that last line of Leviticus 19:19 at this very moment, right in church.” 

So about this time someone pipes up: “Hey, wait a doggone minute, Aunty. Those don’t apply to us.” 

Aunty puts on a nonplussed face and says, “Oh, so all of the rules like that don’t have to be followed?” “You know that, Aunty,” says the opposition. “They were just for the Jews.”

“What a relief,” Aunty says, “because I used to love bacon, and now that I know we don’t have to follow those Old Testament rules I can go back to it again!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Aunty,” the opposition says. “Of course Leviticus 11 still applies to us!” “Why?” Aunty asks. “It seamlessly follows in the same body of rules you say don’t apply to us!” 

“Because… because…” and here we move into self-justifying explanations:

  • “These rules are good for our health”—but they’re still commands, not advice.
  • “The church tells us to not eat unclean meats.”
  • Ellen White tells us to not eat unclean meats.” (She doesn’t. She said the opposite, until years later when she came out clearly for vegetarianism.)
  • “Because I’ve always followed these rules and I’m not going to change now.” 
  • “You shouldn’t question things that God has said.”
  • “Actually, I’m not sure why, but even though we toss out all the rest of those rules, the food rules still apply.”

And almost always it ends up with the following implied, if not said straightforwardly: 

  • “Because I know which texts everyone needs to follow, so just shut up, Aunty, you heretic! You shouldn’t even be a Seventh-day Adventist if you don’t want to follow God’s rules!”

(On second thought, please don’t try this in your local Sabbath School class: it usually ends up creating hard feelings. Which is why Aunty never speaks up in a Sabbath School class anymore.)

But to the point: taking both Testaments seriously means we see the Old Testament as descriptive of what led up to Jesus, and the New Testament as prescriptive of who we should now be in Christ. While it is true that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament—he uses a passage from Isaiah 61 to describe his ministry—over and over again both Jesus and the apostle Paul push aside all the old Jewish rules—even the food ones! (Mark 7:1-23; Romans 14:7). 

We are not Jews. We are Christians bound by a relationship to Christ and our fellow Christians, not by Old Testament rules. We don’t get to pick and choose whatever rule we want to drop on people’s heads. We need to instead just follow Jesus.

Aunt Sevvy

You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.

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