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Leviticus 3: Fellowship Offering

I’m moving through this fairly quickly, paced by the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  (See the last entry.)  The pace of reading is an interesting issue.   In order to study Leviticus with Milgrom’s Anchor Bible commentary, I spent time nearly daily for more than a year.  Now I’m covering about a chapter a day. [Note:  Links to all sources are at the end of the post.]

The temptation, after having spent the longer period of time, is to be a bit dismissive of the faster reading, but I’ve found that various levels of detail in study are very helpful.  In the Pentateuch or Torah, I have read it through with individual major volumes, such as Milgrom’s.  Well, there really isn’t another commentary such as Milgrom’s in my experience.  That one remains a high point of all my studies.  But at least I have used commentaries that dedicate a full volume to a book.  I have also read along with commentaries that cover the whole Torah at once.  Each pass through has its own blessings.

As I read chapter 3 and the comments on it in the three sources I’m reading through right now I was again impressed by the difference in viewpoint of the person whose focus is Biblical studies as opposed to the person whose focus is pastoral or on daily living.  I could easily get stuck on the technical terms.  Today I was playing around with the Greek words used to translate Hebrew technical terms.  I didn’t go far, as I quickly remembered my purpose, but I could cheerfully spend some hours playing with that topic.

Ordinary church goers, including very intelligent and educated people, are often not going to be very interested in such things unless they are specialists.  What they want to hear is what connects and applies.  That seems to be the strength of Baker’s commentary.  Given two and a half pages of comment, I’m sure you can tell he doesn’t detail the technical terms.  What he does is bring the material home.

Now I’ve used the term “fellowship offering” which, like pretty much every other term, is a bit weak as a translation.  It will do, however.  The fellowship offering again emphasizes how much of the sacrificial system did not have to do with atonement for specific sins.  Rather, it had to do with all aspects of worship, such as praise, celebration, thanksgiving, community, reconciliation, and indeed fellowship.

Now while Baker is more Christological than your average critical commentary, he is not quite so much so as the OSB, which unabashedly connects everything with Jesus.  In this case, the fellowship offering illustrates the freely offered fellowship with God and connects to the service of communion in a different way than the preceding grain offerings.  We often ask why Jesus had to die.  One of many good answers is that he became one of us, like us, in fellowship with us, and that fellowship was complete.

I think western evangelicalism often manages to be both excessively Christological, and not Christological enough.  What do I mean by such a contradictory statement?  First, in the west we try to connect rationally between specific predictions in the Old Testament and events in Christ’s life.  If we can’t rationally connect them, and assume that they were in the mind of the original writer (and not just in the mind of God), we don’t really want to assert them.  In this rational connection, prediction and accomplishment sense, we are often too quick to draw the connection, and we force the rational explanation.

On the other hand, concepts like “sacrifice” and events like the Eucharist were formed by people who were well acquainted with passages such as the ones I’m reading right now.  Their minds were fertilized by these words and ideas.  There were connections in the way they understood these things that we will miss if we don’t have the same concepts fertilizing our own minds.  To say that Jesus is our fellowship offering does not necessarily mean that Moses or the Priestly writer were thinking, “Wow!  This points to the future Messiah who will die on the cross.”  What it does mean is that the two ideas are related.  Both are part of God’s interaction with his people in history, and both show these various principles.  How much you think God planned it all out may differ, but the ideological connection can be real in any case.

All of my sources write in similar ways on this passage.  The NISB does not make the Eucharistic connection.  The OSB makes that most strongly.


OSB – Orthodox Study Bible

NISB – New Interpreter’s Study Bible

Milgrom – Milgrom, Jacob.  Anchor Bible:  Leviticus 1-16.

Baker – Leviticus portion written by David H. Baker, of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

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