How to Read Leviticus

The Book of Leviticus


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Leviticus lists laws and procedures for the Israelites to follow. This video  from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Leviticus, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 




Now that you have an overview of  Leviticus in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Leviticus. Read God's instructions about the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:29–34. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Leviticus 16:29–34.  

Leviticus 16:29-34 (ESV)

29“And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.30For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments.33He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.34And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: The Day of Atonement is a Sabbath day.


Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Leviticus 16:29–34? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) The Day of Atonement is a Sabbath day. (Interpretation) God wants His people to take time to rest.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Leviticus 16:29–34? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Leviticus? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 
Example: God rested on the seventh day after He created the world. He commanded the Israelites to observe the Sabbath as part of the Law so they could be a holy people. In the New Testament, Jesus often withdrew to rest and pray as well, so rest still applies today.

Contextualize: What themes does Leviticus 16:29–34 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Leviticus? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to Genesis and Exodus?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: In obedience to God's law, I need to set aside time to rest. That might play out as saying "no" to a sport or activity that consumes my time or accomplishing a task today so I can rest tomorrow. 


Apply: How does the truth from Leviticus 16:29–34 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Leviticus to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Leviticus, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Leviticus this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.