Today we begin reading from Leviticus in Morning Prayer, according to the Daily Office Lectionary in the 2019 Prayer Book. But we aren’t reading the whole book. Now, now, don’t show that sigh of relief too obviously; all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, and that includes even the weirdest laws in Leviticus. But the fact is that no Anglican lectionary has ever actually covered the whole book. Leviticus and Numbers have always been truncated, presenting only the highlights or key samples from those books for the reader, thus saving space in the lectionary for other readings that will be more immediately beneficial to the reader, and fitting the reading plan as a whole into a single year.
But let’s see you’re a “completionist” like I am, and want to to read everything, even the weird, obscure, boring, or otherwise challenging material that lectionaries tend to skip. This Customary’s Supplemental Midday Prayer Lectionary picks up the omitted chapters from Leviticus, starting this weekend, and gives you the opportunity to read every last verse of this book.
Why are parts of Leviticus omitted in the first place?
It comes down to the nature of Old Covenant law. As our Article VII of Religion explains, there are different aspects to the Law of Moses – religious and ceremonial, civil, and moral. Only the moral law is binding upon us under the New Covenant. The religious laws expired with the Old Covenant and the civil law ended with the destruction of the Israelite kingdoms. Those forms of laws are still useful for Christian instruction – they may model good civil laws for other countries or they might prefigure religious rites and ceremonies in the Church – but they are not binding for “what is right and wrong” the way moral laws are.
The Book of Leviticus deals largely with religious law, and to a lesser degree with civil law. And therefore, for the average Christian reader, large chunks of this book are not as immediately useful as other parts. So rather than bogging the reader down in the hard slogging experience of sifting through the complexities of Old Covenant religion, only the highlights that will profit us most are provided, and the rest is passed by. It is not a suppression of Scripture, as some have argued, but a strategic move to deliver the Bible to people in a way that will most benefit them. And so, different Anglican lectionaries through the course of our history have handled Leviticus in slightly different ways, but to my knowledge, none have ever simply appointed the book wholesale in its entirety.
If you want to read the omitted portions of Leviticus, feel free to join me in doing so at Midday Prayer over the course of this month. Just see that you don’t condemn those who satisfy themselves with what the Church hath appointed.