As we approach this text, we must remember our ministerial perspective and hermeneutical completeness (see previous posts). We are ministers of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6), teaching the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints (Ac 20:27; 2 Tim 4:2). Further, we must follow the grammatical-historical-theological interpretation of each text. So, how should we preach Christ in Leviticus 18:5?
1. Grammatically (exegetical theology) – The term “keep” means to “guard,” “watch,” or “observe.” A word study shows that “statutes” refers to the Passover and festivals, the priestly rituals, and other ceremonial laws. “Judgments” refers to the civil laws of crime and punishment, justice and equity. “Live” overwhelmingly refers to earthly life rather than death. The verse means that if an Israelite keeps God’s statutes and judgments, he shall live in them or by them. God will preserve the nation’s or the man’s life on earth. Other cross-references and parallels include Lev 25:18, Ezek 20:11, Lk 10:28, Rom 10:5, Gal 3:12.
2. Historically (biblical theology) - The historical setting is Israel living under the Sinai Covenant, which was added to the Abrahamic Covenant. In the historical context, there are five major interpretations of the meaning of "live" in this text: (1) that this is a promise of a blessed earthly life in the land of Canaan for obedience to God's laws; or (2) that this is a promise of God preserving Israel as a nation or the earthly life of a man on the condition of obedience to God’s laws; (3) that this is a promise of spiritual life (maturity) if a believing Israelite obeys God's laws; or (4) that this is evidence that the Sinai Covenant is a republication of the Covenant of Works, or (5) that this is a re-proclamation of the original Covenant of Works with Adam which drives the hearer to despair of self-righteousness in order to be justified by faith alone.
There isn't enough space here to argue for a definitive conclusion. However, because of the historical-redemptive context of the Abrahamic and Sinai Covenants, in which both required justifying faith followed by faithful obedience, I believe that (1) and/or (2) is preferred (Deut 4:1; 5:33, 6:24, 8:1; 30:20); although I am not opposed to (5). If you take (4) as correct, then you have to overlook the Sinaitic sacrificial system as a shadow of Christ’s redemption as well as the call to faith (the First Commandment) and love toward God as the basis for keeping His commandments (Deut 6:1-25). In all five interpretations, however, something is gained by obedience to God's laws. So, in some way, God promises life to obedience, which is a principle of works-blessing.
3. Theologically (the analogy of faith) - So how should a pastor preach Christ from this text? Does he simply explain the verse in context, argue for which position he takes, draw some applications about obedience to God, but leave Christ out of the sermon until he preaches a text that mentions the gospel explicitly? Or should he merely explain the text and then preach the Gospel at the end of the sermon? He will not do this, if he follows biblical hermeneutics, including the “analogy of faith.”
When we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, there is no question that in Jesus' day, the Jews erroneously interpreted Leviticus 18:5 to mean that a person might earn eternal life by keeping God's laws under the Sinai Covenant (Matt 19:17; Lk 10:25-28; Lk 18:9-18; Rom 10:5-6). So, we must preach this text in accordance with the way it is used in the NT. Paul used it in Galatians 3:11-12 to explain that anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, who seeks to be justified by law-obedience has misunderstood both the OT and the NT. We are justified by faith alone, as both Testaments testify.
Consider these elements of the theological interpretation of the text:
First, God gave Leviticus 18:5 to Israel because Adam fell, broke God's Covenant of Law-works, and passed on a fallen and condemned nature to all his descendants. Therefore, God proclaimed law-obedience to Israel for blessing because Israel stood under the condemnation of the Adamic and Sinaitic law. Leviticus 18:5 teaches that all men need to obey God for life.
Second, Jesus was born under this law (Gal 4:4-5) and kept it perfectly in His life (2 Cor 5:21). So, in whatever interpretation, He fulfilled perfectly the requirement of Leviticus 18:5 that He might be qualified to die a perfect death in atonement for those who have broken this law of God.
Third, the preacher must preach Christ from Leviticus 18:5. He must preach that we have all broken God's law, including Leviticus 18:5. All have sinned against God's law. The wages of sin is death. He must preach Christ's perfect life and show from the Gospels how Christ kept the law of God, including Leviticus 18:5, for us. He must preach that Christ accomplished a substitutionary atonement for we who have violated God's law (Gal 3:10-13).
Therefore, the preacher necessarily proclaims from Leviticus 18:5, “Let all sinners against God's law repent of sin, and trust in Christ as their perfect Savior and Lord. And let the believer rejoice that Christ has met the demands of perfect obedience, making full atonement for them so that they can now pursue obedience to God’s commandments with the assurance of salvation, love, blessing, and care. Through faith in Christ, God promises His blessings upon those who obey Him, in this life and the next.”
We must preach Christ in every sermon from every text because every text somehow teaches either the demand of God's obedience from man, the failure of man to keep God's law, or the provision of a Savior to redeem us from the condemnation of God's law in order that we may obey and please God under grace in Christ. All these truths are connected in the overall "analogy of faith," the whole counsel of God. The overall theology of Scripture must complete our exegesis and frame our exposition. Not to do this is to fail to preach the Gospel as Jesus and the Apostles did. We are ministers of the New Covenant and must proclaim Christ in all the Scriptures and in light of all the Scriptures if we are to be faithful to Him.
Fred A. Malone