Aim of the Thesis
The aim of my research was to provide a canonical theology of the Levitical priesthood and from there assess their role within God’s mission.
The Levites have either been neglected by evangelical theologians or misunderstood by their liberal counterparts. Liberal theology beginning with Wellhausen chose to see the priestly theology as the aftermath of a post-exilic political struggle which the Zadokites eventually won. It’s unnecessary to here go into the many reasons for refuting such a reading; but to say that my supposition is that a theology of the priesthood shows that far from being a political power seeking to justify their superiority, we see that their service was only acceptable when administered in humility.
With regard to the neglect shown by the evangelical church, the Levitical order is often labelled as the legalistic other, or dismissed as redundant now that Christ’s priesthood has superseded it. I seek to show the inaccuracy of these statements in my study primarily by pointing to the perpetual nature of God’s covenant with Levi, which is repeatedly affirmed. In seeking therefore to offer a canonical theology of the Levitical priesthood, I emphasise that God requires the priesthood to suffer humility; a ministry which is affirmed, continued and embodied in Christ’s priesthood.
More than just providing a canonical theology of the priesthood, my conviction is that such a reading must be ‘missional’; that is, it must place itself within the narrative of God’s mission to the world. My study seeks to achieve this in two ways; firstly by outlining the relationship between the Levites’ and the wider Israelite society. By viewing Israel from a sociological standpoint we can see that the Levites were to be an outward sign of a spiritual reality grasped by the nation as a whole. This is clearly observed in Ex. 19:6 where God calls the Israelite nation ‘a royal priesthood’; we see then that the function of the Levites is to inform the nation’s identity amongst and in relation to the nations which surround them. I am not of course the first to offer such an exposition of Ex. 19:6, however such expositions have previously been limited by the lack of a developed theology of the Levites.
Secondly, in addition to the Levites’ missional function towards the people, is their representation of a missional God. God, while being all powerful, chooses to suffer and humble himself due to his love for the world and consequent desire to reveal himself. To participate with God in his mission is therefore also to imitate God in suffering humility, and the Levites’ being central to Israel’s cultic life are a prime example of this fact.
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