What’s Your Excuse for Not Reading the Bible? #4

Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the fourth in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I’ve spent the last 40+ years studying the Bible, but not necessarily trying to read each word from cover to cover. Several years ago I began setting aside time each day just to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. Having spent many years coming up with excuses not to read the Bible this way, I thought I’d record them here for you. But take note: I’ll be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #4: I’m not a levitical priest. I don’t need lessons in animal dissection.

Several long passages in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel describe, in minute detail, how to cut up, clean, discard, wave, dip one’s thumb into, and burn a variety of animals. These instructions were extremely important to the priests who ministered in the tabernacle and later, the temple. But beyond knowing that these sacrifices were done and what their purpose was, we don’t really need the details. We won’t be donning our ephods and slitting the throats of sheep during the Sunday morning worship service any time soon.

The passages I’m talking about go beyond “sacrifice a bull to Yahweh”. They explain how it is to be done — in detail. This makes sense in context, since these are literally instruction manuals for Aaron, his sons, and their descendants.

5The anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull, and bring it to the Tent of Meeting. 6The priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before Yahweh, before the veil of the sanctuary. 7The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before Yahweh, which is in the Tent of Meeting; and he shall pour out the rest of the blood of the bull at the base of the altar of burnt offering, which is at the door of the Tent of Meeting. 8He shall take all the fat of the bull of the sin offering from it: the fat that covers the innards, and all the fat that is on the innards, 9and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the cover on the liver, with the kidneys, he shall remove, 10as it is removed from the bull of the sacrifice of peace offerings. The priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering. 11He shall carry the bull’s skin, all its meat, with its head, and with its legs, its innards, and its dung 12—all the rest of the bull—outside of the camp to a clean place where the ashes are poured out, and burn it on wood with fire. It shall be burned where the ashes are poured out. — Leviticus 4:5-12

Yeah, but there’s not a lot of these verses, right?

I counted 468 verses (12,866 words) on this subject. That’s around 1.7% of the text (counting by words). If you’re reading the Bible in a year, you’ll spend just short of one whole week reading nothing but procedures for wringing the necks of doves and removing the lobes that cover the liver of bulls.

But it wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t important!

These details are absolutely important — if you’re a descendant of Levi ministering in the tabernacle or temple. But a more general understanding of the Old Testament sacrificial system is all that is needed for Christians trying to read and understand the Bible today. We need to know that God required a blood sacrifice for sin. Then we can understand what we read in Hebrews:

1For the law, having a shadow of the good to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2Or else wouldn’t they have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins? 3But in those sacrifices there is a yearly reminder of sins. 4For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. — Hebrews 10:1-4

11Every priest indeed stands day by day serving and offering often the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins, 12but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God, 13from that time waiting until his enemies are made the footstool of his feet. 14For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. — Hebrews 10:11-14

One of the fascinating things about the Law is that it ostensibly existed as a guide for its followers to make themselves righteous before God, but that in reality its purpose was to teach us the futility of believing that merely following a set of rules can make us right with God. This more subtle and enlightened (i.e. “basic Christian”) understanding of the Law makes the idea of spending a week learning how to dissect a goat in a way that pleases God even less rewarding than it literally is.

Save yourself a week

I skim and skip these passages when I run into them. I give you permission to do likewise. Don’t let a description of the fat around the kidneys keep you from getting all the way through the Bible.

Stay tuned and "I will yet show you a more excellent way"

3 Replies to “What’s Your Excuse for Not Reading the Bible? #4”

  1. Yeah, but…

    All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

    Not arguing with you, just working out my salvation with fear and trembling.

    You aren’t saying that those verses should be removed from the scriptures. I agree that in all likelihood, I will never be called on to sacrifice a bull. But personally, I’m reticent to say about any scripture “I don’t need to read that”. Seems to me that it could turn into a slippery slope.

    I get the idea of simplifying or streamlining scripture. There are some parts that seem made for a spreadsheet. And the repetition in Chronicles and Kings is frustrating.

    But it’s not my Bible, not my world.

    On this one, I will very respectfully disagree with you. I’ll take the hit of the extra week of reading. And remember your arguments every time, and wonder…

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I think we agree more than we disagree. I’m not arguing for removing anything from the Bible. Remember I’m talking to people who would like to read the entire Bible but they have a lot of excuses. I’m trying to take their excuses away so that they will be successful at what they want to do. So…

      * If you stop reading the Old Testament when you get to a long list of names, then skim those names and get past them. Don’t let that list of names be what stops you.

      * If you can’t finish the Old Testament because it presents events out of order and you get confused, then read from a chronological Bible. Don’t let the arbitrary order of books in the Old Testament stop you from reaching your goal.

      * And if you can’t find any value in knowing how to dissect a goat, then skip those passages. Don’t let instructions given to the priests — not to you — stop you from getting all the way through the text.

      I came out of a faith tradition that gloried in motivating people by guilt. “You’re a bad Christian because you didn’t come to church last week.” “You’re a bad person because your children fell away from the faith when they got older.” And, “You’re a bad person because you haven’t read the Bible, or don’t read it every day.” Too many people want to feel better about themselves by making other people feel bad about themselves. I want to help people recognize that there’s no value in wallowing in those things that keep you from succeeding and believing the people who just want to make you feel guilty. With respect to reading the Bible, I want people to know that there are others out there like them — people who find it difficult to get through every single word of the Bible because not every word is as interesting or applicable as every other — and those people say that it’s OK to skim or skip if that’s what it takes to keep going.

      In my opinion, many (most?) Christians lack a general understanding of the scope and sequence of the Old Testament. If they had it, it would give them a better grasp of what God has been trying to say and do in his relationship with people through history. As I said in an earlier post, you have to understand the whole thing before you can understand any single part of it. So if you’re getting hung up on something that is keeping you from gaining that understanding that comes from having read the whole thing, you need to find a way to get past the hang up. If you want to come back and read lists of names for two weeks just to say that you did it, then by all means do that.

      1. Thanks, Craig. We are in agreement. Similar to you, I grew up in a denomination that focused on Christian perfection, and that sure wasn’t me. So decades later, I’m still working through what the Bible really says, versus what others have said it says. Much grace is needed, especially for myself.

        So I’m not at all opposed to your advice. God can work through anything, and I certainly don’t want to be legalistic in saying “only this version” or “only this way of reading”. And yes, the Old Testament speaks to the New Testament. I love the book of Hebrews.

        Please continue your series. I’m reading them all, and you give me things to think about.

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