Rules for Priests in Leviticus 21-22 from a NT Perspective

This post is a quick summary of those two chapters in Leviticus. I am learning a lot in my journey through this infallible and inspired book, when it is properly interpreted through the filter of the New Covenant or New Testament.

As I note in many of these posts that touch on the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices, the Spirit-inspired writers of the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament) encourage us to read the Old Testament, particularly the priesthood and the ministry of the priests, as containing types and shadows of the substance or reality, which is Christ and his heavenly priesthood.

They [priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Heb. 8:5)

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. (Heb. 10:1)

Then the author of Hebrews writes many, many verses explaining the realities of the copies and shadows. They are revealed most clearly in Jesus’s sacrifice and his priesthood in the heavenly, eternal sanctuary.

Further, Peter explicitly makes the water of the flood during the time of Noah symbolic:

And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. (1 Pet. 3:21)

Paul writes that food and festivals are but the shadow, while Christ is the substance:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)

Even the lives of the people in the OT serve as exemplary warnings for us:

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11)

With their permission, so to speak, I apply their typological and symbolic method here.

For a general overview of the interrelations between the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, click on:

What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?

How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19

One Decisive Difference Between Sinai Covenant and New Covenant

The Church Fulfills and Replaces Old Testament Temple

The NIV is used here, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to go to, choose their own translation, and open another window to follow along.

Now let’s begin.

Leviticus 21

Priests are not allowed to do the following:

1.. Touch a dead body, except close relatives. He is still unclean, but he is allowed this temporary uncleanness.

2.. Shave their heads or trim the edge of their beards–which may explain why ultra-orthodox Jews have long beards.

3.. Cut there bodies–one commentator says this is what pagans did. As a general application of the prohibition, teens are cutting themselves, and they need salvation and deliverance.

4.. Profane the name of God. He must not make God’s name common. I wonder if modern American Christians do this a bit too much, with “God is my buddy / mate” routine. No, let’s not make God seem remote and unapproachable, but the pendulum seems to have swung too far the other way.

5.. Marry a prostitute, which means a man of God cannot be distracted by the dysfunctional past of his wife. If a leader in the church (or anyone else) does this, he must be sure she is completely healed in her soul and has been a Jesus follower for a long time.

6.. Approach the curtains or the altar, if the priest has defects. This means that God accepts their ministry, but not quite completely.  No dwarf or hunchback or anyone that has a festering sore or damaged testicles or blind or lame or disfigured in some way. Thank God that leaders in the church don’t have this restriction put on them.

7.. Eat any of the holy things, which means they are dedicated to the Lord during the offering, while the priest is unclean. This could apply to priests who made themselves unclean out of necessity, like caring for a dead relative, or by accident and he came to realize it later.

8.. Sacrifice a defective animals. In other posts about how Jesus fulfills the sacrifices, he is the high priest and the sacrifice himself–he offered himself. He was with defect / sin. A great passage illustrating the point:

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)

9.. Kill a cow and her calf on the same day. That does seem excessive and improper somehow.

10.. Keep a sacrifice of thanksgiving for more than a day. The family who offered it could eat the meal, but they had to do it that day, and another passage says by three days at the most. No refrigeration back then, so on a practical level, it kept foods “clean.”

11. Unkempt hair–keeping up appearances is a good thing. Looking sloppy should be reduced.

12.. Tearing clothes. I urge Millennial platform speakers and worship leaders to stop wearing “holey” jeans, but of course they won’t. It’s too cool to stop.

13.. Not marrying a widow, but he must marry a virgin. This means that he must not be distracted with issues of family from his wife’s previous marriage.

14.. Entering a room with a dead body, even a close relative. Rule no. 1 says the priest may take care of a dead body of a close relative, but he is still unclean.

15.. Desecrating the sanctuary of God. He must himself be holy and consecrated, so he must not make the tabernacle seem profane or common.

Leviticus 22

Aaron and his sons (and all priests after them) may do these things but not do other ones, as follows:

1.. They must treat the offerings of the people with respect.

2.. He may not offer an animal from an Israelite, if the priest has a defiling skin disease or bodily discharge or touches a corpse or has a discharge of semen in normal sexual relations, or touches a crawling thing, until he is clean. He must take a bath and wait until sundown.

3.. The priest must perform their service respectfully and not with contempt. They could die.

4.. Only the priest can eat the portion of the sacred offering reserved for him, not a household servant or hired workers. A slave, who is considered part of his family, may share in it. This is one more small piece of evidence that a slave had rights and was not to be mistreated.

See my post:

Slavery and Freedom in the Bible

5.. If a priest’s daughter married anyone outside of the priesthood, she may not eat of any sacred portion. But if she becomes a widow or a divorcee and returns to her father’s household, she may eat of it.

6.. Priests must not offer unacceptable sacrifices, but must follow the prescriptions in vv. 17-33. Please see the posts about the sacrifices (Leviticus 1-7) and how Jesus fulfills them.

Here’s one:

The Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 from a NT Perspective

Here are the reasons for these rules:

31 “Keep my commands and follow them. I am the Lord. 32 Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord, who made you holy 33 and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord.” (Lev. 22:31-33)

These laws were for the purpose to show the Lord holy before the people. Do preachers show the Lord to be holy before the people? How far is too casual?

I like the clause in v. 32: “I am the Lord who makes you holy.” This has relevance for the Christian walk. God leads us and makes us be holy, after our salvation.

Please see a few of my posts on sanctification or the “act or process of making you holy.”

Bible Basics on Sanctification and Holiness

What Is Sanctification?

How Is Sanctification Done?

How does Jesus full these laws for priests?

Jesus was the great high priest who is perfect for this office.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)

His high priesthood is final and full. There is no need for another one. He fulfills Aaron’s role. We can now enter the very throne room of God–not just the holiest place where the ark of the covenant sat in the tabernacle. His throne is “of grace,” which contrasts the ark of the covenant, where the law was kept inside it. We can enter the presence of God because his high priesthood allows all of us access. Now we can approach God with confidence to receive mercy and grace in our time of need.

Further, he does not need repeatedly to offer sacrifices, first for himself and then for the people. He is the final and ultimate and best offering:

but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Heb. 7:24-28)

Now what about us? God is in the process of redeeming everyone to become a kingdom and priests to serve God in the heavenly tabernacle:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:9-10)

Peter wrote that we are a royal priesthood:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Pet. 2:9)

Do we have to keep all the rules listed in this chapter in Leviticus? No, but there is a principle of leadership. Please show the Lord to be holy by your being holy. How is this done? It is done the moment you repented and surrendered to his Lordship. Then he accepted you and united you with him. You are now in union with him.

It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30, emphasis added)

In that verse Christ became our holiness. He qualifies us for service. Now all we have to do is walk in holiness, righteousness and redemption. We do that by the power of the Spirit. Crucify your sin nature each day by surrendering to his Lordship. Your submission to him without your being the lord of your own life is the best way. “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

How does this post help me grow in Christ and know him better?

Those two chapters in Leviticus did not allow people with physical defects to approach the Lord most intimately. The next verses talk about social and spiritual defects, but I believe they can be applied to physical ones and how God accepts them too:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

The world may look down on people with physical defects and call them foolish, but God doesn’t, and neither should his church. God called them to put to shame those who think they know best, but they really don’t. Recall that Zacchaeus was short and a hated tax collector (Luke 19:1-9). He didn’t let his short stature stop him. He just climbed up a sycamore tree, and then Jesus saw him and invited himself to dinner. Zacchaeus gladly opened his house to the Lord, who accepted him.

Jesus also touched a leper (Mark 1:40-42) and allowed a woman with an issue of blood to touch him without fear of becoming unclean (Mark 5:24-34). Compassion over legalism.


Ordination of Aaron and Sons in Leviticus 8 from a NT Perspective

First Worship and Inauguration of Tabernacle in Leviticus 9 from a NT Perspective

Death of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 from a NT Perspective

The Church Fulfills and Replaces Old Testament Temple


Works Cited

I also used the NIV Quickview Bible (Zondervan 2012), pp. 109-10.

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