What About Leaven?

From time to time, I receive a question about a passage, or a popular idea, based on the Bible. I was recently asked this very good question.

Dear Stan,

Our Master has led me to your site once again to research a doctrine.

In studying to prepare for a study with my ladies of the 7 Feasts of Israel, I came across Leviticus 23:17 where it instructs the use of leaven for that bread.  “Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the first fruits unto the Lord.” This has brought my attention to the need for an explanation of why leaven, and not unleavened bread was used in light of the emphasis that has been made for using unleavened bread.

Do you have an explanation for me?

In Christ Alone,

This was my response.

My Dear Sister in Christ,

It is so nice to hear from you again. As always, you ask a good question.

I am glad you noticed that leaven was required by God to be used in one of the acceptable sacrifices to Him, which leads to an important principle in biblical hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation.

Principle: It is the context that determines the meaning of a word, or symbol, and not a generalized or popular teaching.

Let me give you three examples.

It is commonly taught that leaven is always a symbol of evil, and therefore, it is to be purged. There are passages in Scripture that do teach leaven is a symbol of bad doctrine, and corruption. Consider the following.

The Leaven of the Pharisees. “Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6). “Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:12). The leaven of the Pharisees consisted of promoting legalism and ritualism.

The Leaven of the Sadducees. “Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6). The leaven of the Sadducees was that of rationalism in opposition to divine revelation.

The Leaven of Herod. “And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15). The leaven of the Herodians is the sin of worldliness, and the lust for power and control.

The Leaven of Corinth. “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:6-7). In the church of Corinth, the teaching was promoted that inappropriate sensuality was an acceptable lifestyle, because the Christian is free from the obligations of the moral law.

The Leaven of Galatians. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9). The Galatians were in danger of becoming legalistic, due to the influence of the Judaizers demanding Christian men receive the ritual of circumcision.

In contrast to all of this, Leviticus 23:17 is a passage that teaches leaven is good and acceptable to the Lord in an offering of worship.

In Matthew 13:33, leaven is used as a positive example of the growth of the kingdom of heaven.  Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

Therefore, learn this principle: The context determines how a word, or symbol is to be understood.

Another example is that of a serpent. It is commonly taught the serpent is always a symbol of Satan, or the demonic.

However, we read in the gospel of John how the serpent on a pole is a type of Christ symbolizing faith, hope, healing, and life itself.

“And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num. 21:9).

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14).

Principle: The context determines how a word or symbol is to be understood.

There is another example. Adam is often presented as the arch antitype of Christ. Yet, in one passage, the First Adam is a figure of Him that was to come, meaning, the Last Adam, Jesus Christ.

“Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude [Gk. homoioma, [hom-oy’-o-mah], a form; resemblance) of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come” (Rom. 5:14).

How was that possible? How did Adam, who sinned and condemned all of his posterity in the Fall, be a resemblance of “Him that was to come”?

Part of the answer might be this. Just as Adam deliberately ate of the forbidden fruit to enter into the sinful world of Eve, so Christ deliberately became man and was made sin for us that we shall have eternal life.

Principle: The context determines how a word, or symbol is to be understood.

I hope this helps,

Because I Care,

Let the Church be careful how it handles the Word of God.

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