July Bible Reading Plan
Books: Luke, Leviticus
Authorship and Purpose:
The Gospel according to Luke was written by Luke, a doctor and traveling companion of Paul in Acts, who also wrote the book of Acts which together comprise a two-volume work. There are many different views on when the Gospel of Luke was written, ranging from as early as 63 AD to as late as the early second century. Assuming Luke wrote the book and depending on when one dates the book of Mark and Paul’s death, the book could have been written from 63 AD to sometime in the early 70’s AD. Either way, dating is not necessary for understanding what the book is communicating.
Luke tells us that he is writing the book to Theophilus (not much is known about him) in order to provide him with certainty regarding everything he has been taught (1:1-4). Luke grounds everything Jesus ever did in the Old Testament, especially poignant in his inclusion of the “Road to Emmaus” story in which Jesus teaches two of His followers that it all points to Him (24:27). Beyond this, Luke has a special emphasis on the societal outcast, emphasizing that they too belong to the kingdom of God.
It might seem odd that there are four different Gospel accounts in the Bible, but each book is highlighting specific themes which together paint a holistic picture of Jesus' life and ministry. Due to this, there are sometimes differences in how each author recounts certain stories. For example, in Luke’s account of the beatitudes, Jesus simply says, “Blessed are the poor,” while in Matthew, He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” These differences are not mistakes; what Luke is doing is highlighting a theme which Matthew does not focus on as much. Luke is concerned with addressing the social outcast and is radically proclaiming that they have a place in God’s kingdom, thus “blessed are the poor.” Matthew, on the other hand, is describing the heart of a true disciple, thus “blessed are the poor in spirit.” These ideas are not contradictory. In fact, these differences complement each other beautifully and paint a more complete picture of Jesus’ teaching. When encountering differences in how Luke recounts Jesus’ life, ask yourself why might Luke tell the story in this way?
Keeping the key themes in mind will help in seeing how Luke presents his Gospel account. Tracking with repeated ideas will also aid in noticing the key themes. If you have a Bible which footnotes references and allusions to the Old Testament, this will also provide a great way to see how Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture.
The Kingdom of God has come in Jesus — Jesus is the long-awaited King from the line of David (1:32-33, 69) and is the fulfillment of the Old Testament (24:27, 44).
The societal outcast has a place in God’s kingdom — Salvation is for all people, regardless of social class or people group (ex. 2:32, 6:20-26, 7:36-50, etc.)
- Birth & Childhood — 1-2
- Jesus’ Baptism & Temptation — 3-4:13
- Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee — 4:14-9:50
- Jesus on the Road to Jerusalem — 9:51-19:27
- Jesus in Jerusalem — 9:28-24:52
Authorship and Purpose:
The book of Leviticus is traditionally held to be written by Moses and continues where Exodus left off. At the end of Exodus, after the tabernacle was constructed and God’s presence filled it, Moses was unable to enter the tent. The overarching narrative being told from Genesis to this point has demonstrated that God desires to be with His people, but His people are still sinful. As it turns out, God’s holiness means that sinful, “unclean" people cannot safely enter His presence. How then is Israel to live safely with the holy God who desires to be with them? The book of Leviticus answers this question. By following the rituals and holiness codes laid out in Leviticus, the people of Israel would be able to safely live with God and be His chosen people.
Leviticus is the third book of the Bible, found in the section called the Pentateuch or the Torah. The books of the Torah, Gen. - Deut., were written as instruction to teach Israel about God, themselves, and the world around them. The book of Leviticus is composed primarily of law codes, though there is a small section of narrative where the priests are consecrated for their duties.
Famously difficult to read in our contemporary setting, Leviticus can be left unappreciated by even the most dedicated Bible reader. The book of Leviticus seems irrelevant for the present-day Christian who is free from the law (see Rom. 7-8 & Gal. 5), so why read the book? Besides the fact that the whole Old Testament was incredibly important to Jesus, Leviticus offers important truths about God and humanity. God wants to dwell with His people, but humans are unable to be in God’s presence because of sin. God’s holiness radiates around Him and eliminates that which is unclean, similar to how the sun radiates heat and melts anything that strays too close. God is aware of this and so graciously provides a way for unclean people to become ritually clean.
It is important to note that being unclean is not inherently sinful nor is a clean person inherently more righteous than anyone else. It is inevitable that the Israelites will become unclean by simply living life as a human. Becoming ritually clean entails setting oneself apart from the fallen realities of the broken world and humanity. Once clean, it is safe to enter God’s presence without being struck down by His holiness.
Also, remember that the individual laws are not arbitrary or meaningless. Laws reflect the character of the lawgiver, so these laws are the reflection of a merciful yet holy God providing a way for a sinful humanity to live in relationship with Him. Though these laws are set in a context far removed from contemporary Christians, they reflect God’s character. Jesus quotes from Leviticus when He commands His followers to love their neighbor as themselves (Lev. 19:18). Though many of these laws do not directly apply to us now, they tell us important truths about God and are worth our time to study and understand. The underlying principles which inform the law and point to God’s character are of value to all followers of Christ.
God is a holy and merciful God — God is wholly set apart from all creation, and the mere presence of His holiness eliminates impure humans. In His mercy and grace, God provides a way for impure humans to become ritually pure and enter His presence safe from His holiness.
Sin prevents humans from dwelling with God — Due to our fallen condition, humans are impure and cannot enter God’s presence. To enter God’s presence, the Israelites had to become ritually pure. The ritually pure are not more righteous than others, but are in a symbolic state where they have set themselves apart from sin and death and are able to enter God’s presence. On the cross, Jesus makes it possible for us to enter personal relationship with the holy God.
God desires to dwell with His people — This theme is seen throughout the Bible, but here we see how God provided a way for Israel to dwell safely with God and are pointed toward the future sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Structure of Leviticus:
- Sacrifices — 1-7
- Consecration of the priests — 8-10
- Clean & unclean — 11-15
- The Day of Atonement — 16
- The holiness of God’s people — 17-22
- Feasts — 23-25
- Blessings, curses, and dedication — 26-27