To Sanctify, or Not To Sanctify

All the firstling males that come of thy herd and of thy flock thou shalt sanctify unto the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work with the firstling of thy bullock, nor shear the firstling of thy sheep.

Deuteronomy 15:19 (KJV)

Only the firstling of the beasts, which should be the Lord’s firstling, no man shall sanctify it; whether it be ox, or sheep: it is the Lord’s.

Leviticus 27:26

So which is it? Should you, or shouldn’t you sanctify the firstling of beasts? If you take these two verses verbatim as they’re written, this is an obvious contradiction in the text. Deuteronomy states that you should sanctify the firstling, but Leviticus states that you should not.

One of the reasons I absolutely love Judaism is because the Jews embrace these contradictions. They recognize the many contradictions apparent in the Bible, but they begin with the notion that there are no real contradictions, just text that seems to contradict. And with this, they openly dive into how these verses might be resolved. The Talmud is largely a series of comments aimed to explain these contradictions. Their time in the synagogue was spent discussing these nuances in Scripture. They dug into the text deeply and gained vast amounts of wisdom from it. Take Apostle Paul, for example, who visited the synagogue on the Sabbath to debate the word with others.

14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.
15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.

Acts 13:14-15

Imagine if we did that today in church. After the sermon, or speech is read and presented to the people, the people then debated the text with each other and the elders. Imagine the growth that would stem from such an event. But instead, if one were to suggest a contradiction in the Bible, the church would mock them and possibly shun them. It would be considered near blasphemy to verbalize a problem in the Bible. This is because, today, there are very few who have the knowledge to debate and justify such discrepancies. There are few who have deep Biblical knowledge and understanding.

One common rabbinic reasoning for this is that the book of Leviticus was written primarily for the priests. There are many Levitical laws for the priesthood to follow. All animals, including firstborns, under the ownership of the priests are already considered God’s. These animals belong to YHVH so there is no need for the Levites to sanctify them.

However, the book of Deuteronomy was written to the lay-people. Their animals belonged to them and their families. So it was important for them to sanctify the firstborn from their livestock.

The laws are addressing two different audiences. It could be as simple as that. Not every law applies to you or me. Laws for women cannot be fulfilled by me because I’m not a woman. Laws for farmers don’t apply to me because I’m not a farmer. And finally, laws for Levitical priests don’t apply to me because I’m not a Levite. What about you? Which laws can apply to you? Most likely there are only a handful, and that handful can easily be kept.

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