Seeing them all listed out like that does seem to invite a marathon game of “I Never.” (Or, depending on regional variations in college drinking games, “Never Have I Ever.”)
But seeing them all listed out like that also invites a more meaningful exercise: Evaluating the consistency of one’s biblical hermeneutic.
That’s fancy seminary talk for an interpretive framework, or more generally for how you read the Bible.
Look at that list of “76 Things Banned in Leviticus.” Pretty much everyone can skim through that list and note several items that they agree ought to be forbidden. And pretty much everyone can skim through that list and note several items that it just seems weird to treat as morally significant in any way.
I personally reject many of these prohibitions while affirming many of the others. No. 39, for example, from Leviticus 18:22, forbids a man from having sex with another man as though “with a woman.” I don’t think that’s binding or meaningful today.
My disregard for that verse and that prohibition leads some of my fellow American evangelicals to accuse me of being “liberal” or insufficiently respectful of the authoritah of scripture.
But none of those folks has any problem with No. 42, maximizing profits (or “Reaping to the very edges of a field”), or with No. 48, “Holding back the wages of an employee overnight.” Most of them don’t believe in No. 66 — forbidding them to treat foreigners differently than they treat the native-born. And they utterly, vehemently reject No. 75, “Selling land permanently.”Yet somehow their disregard for all of those biblical commands never results in them being accused of “liberal” tendencies or a suspicious failure to respect the scriptures.
They’re picking and choosing.
And so am I, of course. The difference is I can explain why.
Here is the basis on which I do my picking and choosing:
He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
That tells me that No. 47, “Defrauding your neighbor,” still applies. And No. 67, “Using dishonest weights and scales” still applies. Those are both expressions of love for, and justice toward, your neighbor. But No. 61, “Trimming your beard,” does not still apply. In another time, place and culture, leaving one’s beard untrimmed may have been an expression of love for God. But not here, now, in this culture.
So far, everyone I’ve heard trying to defend No. 39 as a form of love for neighbor has resorted to making that case by violating No. 45 (lying), No. 53 (bearing a grudge), No. 67 (dishonest weights and scales), and especially No. 51 (spreading slander).