Explaining Leviticus To An Atheist

Q. Lately I’ve been conversing with a lot of rather vehement atheists–which tend to come with my line of work–and they’ve frequently confronted me with arguments that I know are weak, but I don’t have a good, biblical response and I don’t know where to look for one really. They are referring to Leviticus and Deuteronomy and all the laws within them about how to live, what to wear, what to eat, who to stone, and on and on. They call Christianity (and Judaism) barbaric for calling for the death sentence for these seemingly mild crimes.

What do I tell them? They would never accept a “God knows better than we do” sort of answer and they want more than a “You’re taking the verses out of context.” I know they’re just basing their argument on anti-religion websites, but there are unfortunately fewer good apologetic sites than there are anti-Christian ones.

In short: How do I explain Levitical law to an atheist?

A. It’s hard enough to have a logical discussion with people whose opinions are based on misinformation, but when they also have ulterior motives it’s next to impossible. It sounds like the people you refer to aren’t seekers in search of truth, they actually want to believe the lies they’ve been told.

Explaining to them that the dietary and sanitation laws had enormous health benefits that gave the Jews average life spans up to 3 times those of their pagan neighbors, and that the Lord’s clothing requirements were meant to teach them the importance of remaining separate from the world won’t make any sense to them because theirs is not a logical position and can’t be countered with logical responses.

The Jewish people developed a higher regard for human life than any culture around them, so when the death penalty was required, it was either to teach them, and us, important lessons about sin or about God’s plan for the salvation of man. The issue of working on the Sabbath, for instance, has enormous theological ramifications concerning salvation by grace that a non-believer can’t begin to understand.

The best advice I can give you is to remind you of Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 2:14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

In short, it’s best to save your energy for those who come to you truly seeking to understand God’s ways, rather than beat your head against the wall arguing with someone who has made a conscious decision to remain ignorant of them.

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