Friday, December 25, 2009

Killer Typos

We are in the book of Leviticus, which is full of laws given by God to Moses for the Israelites. Some laws are good, while other laws are weird. For example, in the previous chapter, Leviticus 19, God provides the “love thy neighbor as yourself” law (in a form few would recognize), and in the same chapter God provides a law prohibiting the wearing of clothing made from more than one material woven together.

There are also some laws which seem a bit harsh, at least in terms of their punishments. Leviticus 20 showcases many of such laws, and will be the subject of this study.

Killer Typos
Many Christians have the idea that God is brimming with love and mercy. Indeed, as God describes Himself in Exodus 34:5-7, He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin. And who has not heard the words of Jesus immortalized in the story of John 8:1-11: “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

However, when you read the laws in Leviticus 20, you get a different impression of God. God comes off as being a bit intolerant. In some cases, the intolerance seems rightly deserved. In others, it just seems that the punishment is a too steep for the sin. In fact, it leaves you wondering why Jesus did not pick up the first stone and throw it at the adulterous woman.

In Leviticus 20:1-3, God commands the Israelites to kill anyone who sacrifices his child to Molech. It's not mentioned here in the text, but it would have been a sacrifice by fire. God goes on to say in Leviticus 20:4-5 that if the Israelites choose not to kill such a man, God Himself will “set [His] face against” that man, his family, and any who follow him, and will “cut [them] off” from their people. I can definitely respect that, but it makes me wonder why God has not “cut off” other evil doers in history.

It is not clear what God means by “cut off” when He said He would “cut off” anyone sacrificing to Molech. God wanted such a person dead, and you cannot be more “cut off” than being dead, so “killed” seems to make sense for a definition.

Leviticus 20:6 commands the slaying of anyone who goes to mediums and spiritists. Seemingly disjoint, God does not call for the slaying of actual mediums and spiritists until the very end of the chapter in Leviticus 20:27. But what would you expect? After all, this divine inspiration was recorded by a man long before the creation of word processing software. Typos happen.

Leviticus 20:9 demands the death of anyone who curses either of their parents. If we had that law, probably around 5% of kids would not make it to adulthood.

Leviticus 20:10-16 covers several sexual sins. Can you guess what the punishment is for these:
Adultery with the wife of your neighbor – death to both people
Sex with your father's wife (not necessarily your mom) – death to both people
Sex with your daughter-in-law (not necessarily your own daughter) – death to both people
Male homosexual sex – death to both people
Marry a woman and her mother – all three are burned to death
Male or female bestiality – death to the person and animal

Notice that God placed the same punishment on adultery as He did male homosexuality. Yet you do not find that hate groups seek out and target adulterers. Where is the Christian outcry against adultery which permeates our culture far greater than homosexuality?

Continuing on the path sexual sin, the language of punishment in Leviticus 20:17-21 gets a little more vague. It is not necessarily death for everyone:
Marry your sister – both people are to be “cut off”
Sex with a woman on her period – both people are to be “cut off”
Sex with a sister of your mother or father – both people are to be “held responsible”
Sex with an aunt – both people will die childless
Marry your brother's wife – both people will be childless

Remember from above that “cut off” seemed to mean killed. So it appears that God also wants to kill anyone who has sex with a woman on her period. On the other hand, it may be that “cut off” was simply kicked out of the community, or even less than that. After all, according to Leviticus 15:24, if a man has sex with a woman on her period, he is unclean for seven days. Oops, it seems we have a little typo contradiction!

Speaking of typos, that last bit about not being able to marry your brother's wife seems to be one too. Or is God implying that it is acceptable to marry other people's wives? This is not about divorced women, as they are dealt with later. The only context where this would really make sense is if the brother had died. However, Deuteronomy 25:5-10 says that you should marry your brother's wife if your brother died without producing a male child, and that marriage is explicitly purposed in order to have children! It seems to be another typo contradiction.

So what do we have here? Lots of laws demanding death to transgressors and several typos showing evidence of being a man-made construction as opposed to a divine dictation. That is not a good combination for a book proclaiming to be the Truth.


  1. "Indeed, as God describes Himself in Exodus 34:5-7, He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin."

    The God of the Old Testament is quite the megalomaniac and narcissist, so of course he'd describe himself in the best possible terms. I wonder if all the people executed or cut off for minor offenses under his laws felt the same.

  2. No kidding, Ahab. I often wonder what it would have been like to live in that time under that belief structure. It seems as though any sickness or misfortune was to be interpreted as a punishment from God for sins. Likewise, any good fortune, such as children or an abundant crop, was thought to be a reward for good behavior. It must have been really confusing if your house got mildew at the same time that you had a bumper crop of grain. :-)