corner graphic

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

LEVITES.—According to one line of tradition, the Levites were appointed to assist the priests (Numbers 3:9; Numbers 8:19; Numbers 18:1-6), but were not themselves, like Aaron and his sons, to approach unto the most holy things (Numbers 4:19); yet according to another representation the priesthood belonged to them as an inheritance (Deuteronomy 33:8-11, Joshua 18:7). Whatever may have been the origin and date of the distinction between priest and Levite, it existed in the post-exilic period, since it was recognized in NT times. The Levites are to be classed among the Temple officials, and to their office with its specific duties (Numbers 1:50-51; Numbers 3:8) they were formally set apart (Numbers 8:6-7). Among their duties was the instruction of the people* [Note: Schürer, HJP ii. i. 306 ff.] (Nehemiah 8:9, 2 Chronicles 30:22; 2 Chronicles 35:3) and ‘the killing of the passovers for every one that was not clean,’ as also the handing of the blood to the priests to be sprinkled by them according to the Law† [Note: Keim, Jesus of Nazara, v. 276.] (2 Chronicles 30:16-17).

The relation of assistantship which associated the Levites with the priests was similar to that which connected deacons with bishops in the Christian Church; and it is not improbable that that connexion was suggested by the arrangement of the functions of the Temple officers with which the Jewish converts to Christianity were familiar.‡ [Note: Hatch, The Organization of the Early Christian Churches, 52.]

In the Gospels there are only two places where the word ‘Levite’ is found. In the first of these, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35), a priest and a Levite, representatives of the religion of Israel and at the same time examples of Jewish traditionalism, are unfavourably contrasted with a Samaritan, one of a people with whom the Jews had no dealings. The parable is the answer of Jesus to the lawyer who asked, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ and it seems evident that the Levite, described by Jesus, when he looked on the wounded man and passed by on the other side, recognized that he was not a Jew, and therefore not a neighbour to be humanely treated according to the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18). The Levite, it may be concluded, accepted a Jewish traditional conception of ‘neighbour’ which excluded all those who were not of Israel. Clement of Alexandria wrote that Jesus, ‘on His interlocutor inquiring, “Who is my neighbour?” did not, in the same way with the Jews, specify the blood-relation, or the fellow-citizen, or the proselyte, or him that had been similarly circumcised, or the man who uses one and the same law.’§ [Note: Ante-Nicene Christian Library, xxii. 205.]

In the Fourth Gospel (John 1:19) the distinction between priest and Levite is made by naming together the representatives of these classes, who were sent from Jerusalem to ask John the question, ‘Who art thou?’ The Levites, as teachers of the people, would be deemed qualified to judge of claims of Messiahship (so Hengstenberg and Godet, but see B. Weiss, ad loc.); but it is significant that the mission to John of priests and Levites, who were officially connected with the Passover ceremonies, is recorded, and in it alone, in the Gospel which, according to the theory held by many critics, identifies Christ with the Paschal lamb. They were told by John that he was not the Christ; and immediately after the account of their interview with him there is the statement that he, seeing Jesus, said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29).

Literature.—Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. i. 223 ff., 265 ff.; Milman, Hist. of the Jews, ii. 408; Kautzsch, Lit. of the OT, 90, 117; Schultz, OT Theology, i. 337; K. Budde, Rel. of Israel to the Exile, 80; and the art. ‘Priests and Levites’ by Baudissin in Hastings’ DB. [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.]

J. Herkless.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Levites'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Search for…
Enter query in the box:
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

Prev Entry
Next Entry
Lewd Lewdness
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology