What is in Leviticus?
Leviticus, the third book in the Bible and the third book of the five-book Pentateuch, is primarily a book of laws. Most of the book deals with laws given to the Israelites directly from God. The first seven chapters deal with five different types of offerings for Israelites to make to God, as well as instructions for the priests. Chapters 8-10 are more historical, and mention a few specific offerings from the Israelites, as well as a few instances where certain Israelites did not comply with these laws and were punished. The rest of the book goes back into giving law: Chapters 11 describe clean and unclean animals, chapters 12-15 describe what makes a person unclean and for how long. Chapters 16-27 further describe numerous laws for the Israelites to follow, such as prohibitions against doing the sort of practices other nations around them were doing (for example, child sacrifices and sexual immorality).
Who wrote it?
Traditionally it is believed that Moses wrote the book of Leviticus, as he did the other books in the Pentateuch (with at least some minor exceptions like the account of Moses’s own death in Deuteronomy). In the New Testament, the Pentateuch is called the Law of Moses by Jesus Himself (Luke 24:44). For Leviticus in particular, Moses is told many times to speak God’s words to the Israelites (Leviticus 1:1-2, Leviticus 4:1-2 for example), and this makes up a vast majority of the book. Even if Moses was not the writer, the real writer would have gotten their information from him.
When was it written?
There are many textual and cultural clues present to believe that Leviticus was written in the second millennium B.C., which supports the idea of Mosaic authorship.
When does it take place?
Unlike Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus features very few actions of the Israelites, instead focusing on sharing laws. Yet, it shares consistency with the last third of Exodus (where the rules for the temple are laid out). This would have been written during Moses’s lifetime, in either the 13th or 15th century B.C. (see Exodus for more on the problems of dating that book).
Why was it written?
Leviticus is first and foremost a book of laws. Therefore, it is very easy to see why the Israelites wanted to write it down and save it for future generations. These regulations were followed by law-abiding Jews throughout Old Testament history.
Who is in Leviticus?
Leviticus focuses less on the ‘who’ than other books do, since it is a book of laws. Yet, throughout, God is speaking to Moses about these regulations. Moses in turn is told to pass them onto the Israelites.
How does Leviticus apply to me today?
While the sacrificial system has been fulfilled today by Jesus (see the other notes section) and no longer applies to Christians, as do the cleanliness laws, many moral laws are still in effect today (proper sexual relations, prohibitions against worshipping other gods, witchcraft, etc.)
On the sacrificial system: See ‘Why are the laws different in the Old and New Testaments?’.
As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.
Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0