Leviticus 19:27 — it’s the Law

Everyone among you who claims to be a Bible-believing Christian, yet still cut your sideburns, raise your hands. Also, why don’t you all have beards down to your chests? After all, it’s the Law. Specifically, Leviticus 19:27:

You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.

Leviticus 19, all of Leviticus, in fact, contains many, many of God’s commandments: things we are required to do, and things we must not do.

Now, getting back to the fact that no one is righteous under the law (one of the great themes of Romans), and that our righteousness is only given by our faith in Christ Jesus. Yet our Lord also tells us that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). What does it mean to love the Lord your God? In part, it must mean what our Lord tells us about the Law (Matthew 5):

17″Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

“Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law…” So, how do we justify not following black letter law from Leviticus? Jesus tells us that we have no license to ignore the Law, although Paul also tells us that we must not confuse meeting part of the Law with righteousness.

The answer, such as we have it, is that we all, each and every one of us, must interpret Leviticus in the context of the entirety of the Scriptures. This particular one on shaving, for instance, was likely given to the Israelites so as to distinguish them physically from their pagan neighbors in ancient times.

Regardless of interpretation of individual passages, however, we must not take them totally out of context — just as we should not succumb to blind literalism. We also must not simply say, “well, Jesus died for my sins, I don’t need to worry about that pesky Law.” You trim your beard, i.e. shave. But you probably don’t do other things explicitly prohibited by God in Leviticus 19. For example, Leviticus 19:11: “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.” That’s God speaking. Hard to quibble. And yet…

No one (almost no one, at least) would argue that stealing and lying are just fine; Jesus loves me, I can do what I want — not at all. Yet, likewise, almost no one, I am certain, stays up at night worrying about violating Leviticus 19:27 because he will shave in the morning. What it comes down to is that we, as the body of Christ, have agreed (for the most part), that it’s acceptable to violate certain of God’s commandments in Leviticus, but not others. All of God’s commandments are important; but not all are necessary today to mark us as belonging to Christ. The tricky part? Deciding which is which.

A faithful Jew makes no distinctions; every single word uttered by God in the Torah is considered to have equal weight. All commandments are binding; no exceptions. A faithful Christian knows that some of these commandments have been fulfilled by Christ’s atoning death, and that those that were intended to set apart the people of Israel (such as Leviticus 19:27) are now internalized in our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit.

What I would ask of all Christians is that they keep in mind this form of relativism when their brothers and sisters interpret Scripture in a way that they find offensive. For instance, those who insist that women may lead in church, or even those who insist that homosexual acts are not sinful. I know they are wrong, yet they are doing what each of us does when we shave in the morning: decide for themselves which of God’s laws they don’t need to bother with.

My job, and yours if you agree with the overall sense of Scripture? Gently rebuke those who would violate that God-given sense of His Word. With all humility, as we also sin under the Law.

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