Tough Passages #14: Blemished and Unholy (Leviticus 21:18-21)

Tough Passages #14: Blemished and Unholy (Leviticus 21:18-21)

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article included a sentence near the end that was poorly written; a flaw which made it sound ableist and gross. I apologize for causing harm with that sentence. It’s been reworded now.

• • •

In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way.  In January, we looked at a strangely-specific law about women fighting their husbands’ fights for them.  But we’re turning our eye toward men this month with this passage about who’s allowed to give the sacrifice at the Temple.

The Verse

For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the LORD’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God.

Leviticus 21:18-21, ESV

The Secular Response

Christians are always saying God loves everyone but this list of “or”s excludes a whole group of people who actually have no control over what they look like most of the time.

Ivana Wynn,

Our Reply

This does admittedly sound pretty harsh.  I struggled for a while with this verse, about a God who professes His love but discounts an entire class of people from His congregation.

But let’s dig a little bit deeper.  First of all, let’s pay attention to the context of the verse; Here, God wasn’t giving a directive to His people about who was and wasn’t allowed in the gathering of believers; the book of Leviticus is actually a law in the code for priests of Israel, regarding who was allowed to come before God and offer a sacrifice on the altar.  In it, God excludes everyone who is not of the line of Aaron, which clearly means that these aren’t guidelines for the general laity of the church.  And, in fact, the men who were excluded from giving the sacrifices by this law were not intended to be cast out of the church; they were still beloved members of the family and instructed to be cared for and valued.  They just weren’t allowed to be the priest who offered the sacrifices.

Furthermore, the line of the priests of Aaron was completed and fulfilled by Jesus on the Cross.  When He was sacrificed for us, He fulfilled the sacrificial system of the Old Testament and made it unnecessary for the Old Testament format of temple sacrifices to continue.  Which means that this law, which never applied to the general congregation, doesn’t apply to the modern Church at all.

But let’s go deeper.  There’s still a principle here that we can learn from.

First, the physical pain and disabilities in this passage that keep people from God are meant to point forward to the sin and suffering that Christ takes away on the Cross. To be clear, the blemishes talked about in this law (and the pain & disabilities that millions face today) are not sinful or the result of individual sin; rather, while we were made in the beginning to be perfect, spotless, and without blemish, our sin has scarred and deformed our hearts spiritually.  We are damaged by its effects and wounded by our participation in them.  This isn’t a difficult thing to understand; we’ve all felt the pain of sin before.

But the difference here is that God is saying that those who have deformed, scarred hearts are not worthy to approach Him.  Though we still love and care for those who are wounded by sin, they (and we) are not allowed to approach the altar of God because of our blemishes.  We are alienated by our wounds, and we cannot approach the altar of Jesus when we’re deformed by our sin. We need a healer.

Thankfully, second, Jesus was completely unblemished when He came to the world!  He may not have been beautiful in His earthly body, but He was sinless.  He died as the sacrifice so that we could approach the altar, and rose again to be the completely perfect, unblemished, spotless priest who mediates between us and God.  He in fact fulfills ALL of the requirements in Leviticus (and everywhere in the Bible); and because of Him, we can – no matter how blemished and stained and deformed we might be – be a part of God’s congregation and draw near to Him.

God does love all His people, regardless of how they look.  And He sent His perfect son to prove it.

• • •

Next month, we’re looking at the responsibilities of widows and brothers.

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture; we hope you stick with us. If this isn’t a satisfying answer to you, please comment below. I’d love to talk it out.

Want to write for Redeeming Culture? We would love to have you!


Being disabled or chronically ill does NOT reflect the ‘sin on our hearts.’ This is ableism, cruel and untrue. It specifically speaks about bodily deformities, not the condition of the heart. I’m disabled and in acute suffering for decades and I know God. My father had polio. Do better.

Yeah I definitely didn’t get a spiritual concept of it being the heart but like you said, physical ailments is how I interpreted this passage. But this being restricted to who is able to carry priestly duties within the priesthood of the Levite’s made a little bit more sense for me. Originally I was thinking this applied to everyone and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Thank you. I stopped reading after the author said this. How dare they say this. They should repent of their ableist sin!

I mean, yeah. I wrote this six years ago, and if I had written it today it would’ve been much different. Please note that I didn’t intend the ableist meaning even then; what you’re seeing is a product of poor writing and even worse editing. I’m very sorry for the harm I’ve caused; please look at my reply to the other comment for one way I might have phrased it today.

That’s not what I said and not what I meant, but since that’s what you heard, the paragraph clearly failed. What I meant by “reflect” is that the reality of physical suffering and the reality of spiritual suffering are connected by the reality of sin; not our individual sin, but the fact that sin exists in the world at all. I wrote this six years ago, but if I were to write it today, a lot of things would be different.

What I think I would’ve said if I had written this today would be that “the physical pain and disabilities in this passage that keep people from God are meant to point forward to the sin and suffering that Christ takes away on the Cross.”

I’m sorry that I caused harm with the original phrasing.

I think that the priests offering the temporary sacrifices were a foreshadowing of Jesus and His permanent sacrifice. Since Jesus had to be without spot or blemish, the priests also had to be. Jesus is referred to as our high priest in Hebrews 8:1.

It was stated…disfigured faces…were not allowed to participate in the sacrifices…. And then it was left without explanation. It’s a tough pill to swallow…but if God said he was a jealous God…what makes you think he isn’t capable of discriminating? One thing I learned from reading the bible from the beginning is that God is not concerned with being good or bad, he is being holy. And he is not all forgiving. Plenty of passages support this. Look in the beginning of Leviticus he smiled Aaron’s son’s with fire because they were eager to participate in the holy congregation, all because they put strange incense on the fire. In this same chapter Leviticus 22 he states that strangers are not allowed to participate in the holy sacrifices because they carry corruption of sin? And it’s never said during the atonement process that strangers are atoned, only Aaron, his sons and the children of Israel. I don’t like what I’m reading in the Bible so far. It looks UGLY.

Oh and I forgot to mention how he killed all the firt born children of the Egyptians because pharaoh wouldn’t free the Israelites “AFTER THE LORD HAS HARDENED THE HEART OF PHARAOH”. those newborn children didn’t have a chance. And the families of the deceased were involved UNWILLINGLY. Now that is UGLY.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *