The Meaning of Leaven
February 23rd, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
THE MEANING OF LEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-23-58 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message on typical colors and substances. Last Sunday morning was the first part of that message, Typical Colors and Substances – what these things mean. And last Sunday morning, we left off in the second chapter of the book of Leviticus speaking of the five substances in the meat offering. We’d call it today "the cereal offering, the food offering, the bread offering." We found in that second chapter of Leviticus that there are five substances which are spoken of, three of them commanded and two of them interdicted. The three that were commanded are oil, and frankincense, and salt; and then we discussed what those things meant. All of these things have a meaning in the Scriptures – a color, a substance.
Then we found that there were two things interdicted in this second chapter of the Book of Leviticus, and the interdictions are found in the eleventh verse of the second chapter of Leviticus: "No meat offering," no meal offering, "which ye shall bring unto the Lord, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the Lord made by fire" [Leviticus 2:11].
So here are two substances which are prohibited: leaven and honey. Now the reason honey was interdicted was because it was used in the olden days as an instrument of fermentation. They never had big sugar mills a long time ago, and when they made things ferment with something sweet – today you go to a big winery and a big brewery and they’ll use sugar, but in an olden day, they used honey, and it was used as an instrument of fermentation. The great interdiction here is in the thing that is fermented, that is corrupted: leaven. So the message this morning is The Meaning of Leaven in the Scriptures.
Now, we’re going to take every reference in the Bible to leaven and see what it means. The only references that I shall not read this morning are those that are parallel. For example, there’ll be a reference in Matthew, and in the Synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke], the same story will be recorded in Mark and the same story recorded in Luke. I shall read it only in, say, Matthew. Now, the same thing will obtain in the Old Testament: there will be the story of the Passover in Exodus; there’ll also be the same story and its commandments and all of the details repeated in Deuteronomy. There’ll also be stories of offerings made before an angel in Genesis; then that same kind of a thing will be told in Judges or in Samuel. So I’ll not read parallel stories; but every reference in the Bible made to leaven, we’re going to look at this morning. And the subject is, "What is the Meaning of Leaven?" When the Bible uses the word "leaven," what does it mean?
Now, we shall turn first to the New Testament and look at all the meanings in the New Testament. In the sixteenth chapter of the book of Matthew, beginning at the sixth verse, Jesus says, Matthew 16:6: "Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.’" And Mark 8:15 adds: "And of the Herodians."
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "It is because we have taken no bread." –
We’ve forgotten bread –
When Jesus perceived that, He said unto them, "Ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because you forgot to bring bread?
"Do you not understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up?
"Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, how many baskets you took up?
"How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees and of the Herodians?"
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 and of the Herodians.
[from Matthew 16:6-12, Mark 8:15]
Evil in religion in its threefold form: Pharisaical, externalism in religion; Sadduciacal, skepticism in religion; Herodian, worldliness in religion. The leaven referred to the doctrine, the teaching, the evil corrupting of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees and of the Herodians.
Now, Paul uses it in the fifth chapter of First Corinthians, beginning at the sixth verse – First Corinthians 5, beginning at the sixth verse:
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
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:
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
[1 Corinthians 5:6-8]
Then Paul uses it in one other place – in the fifth chapter of the book of Galatians beginning at the seventh verse:
Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
This persuasion cometh not of Him that calleth you.
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear His judgment, whosoever he be.
Now, in the use of the word "leaven," there is a plain and simple doctrinal presentation. It represents evil doctrine, evil teaching.
Now, we’re going back to the Old Testament and look at the use of "leaven" in the Old Testament. The first time it is referred to is in the nineteenth chapter of the book of Genesis. Genesis 19:
And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;
And he said, "Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways." And they said, "Nay; but we shall abide in the street all night."
And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.
Now isn’t that a strange thing? Entertaining angels, making a feast for angels, two angels, and he laid before them unleavened bread.
Now, the next instance will be in the twelfth chapter of the book of Exodus which is the story of the institution of the Passover and the Feast of Days, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. "And the blood shall be," beginning at the thirteenth verse in Exodus 12:
And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from this first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. –
seventeenth verse –
And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.
Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land.
Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations there ye shall eat unleavened bread.
Brother, he sure does emphasize it, doesn’t He? Over and over and over again: "Ye shall not eat anything leavened. You’re to go through your house and scour it and cast out of it everything that is leavened." I would suppose that is why, in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of John [John 18:28-29], the high priests of the people in Israel refused to go into the house of Pontius Pilate because it was this feast, the Passover feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread; and for them to go into a Gentile house would be to be defiled because in a Gentile house you would find leaven. Very much emphasized.
All right, in the thirty-fourth chapter of the Book of Exodus and the twenty-fifth verse, you have a long series of precepts there concerning the sacrificial offerings. And in the twenty-fifth verse, He says this: "Thou shalt not offer the blood of thy sacrifice with leaven . . ." [Exodus 34:25].
Now, this next instance we have read in the second chapter of Leviticus, speaking of the meat offering: "No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto the Lord, shall be made with leaven . . . " [Exodus 2:11]. Now the next instance is in the sixth chapter of the book of Leviticus, beginning at the fourteenth verse: "This is the law of the meal offering" [from Leviticus 6:14]. And He speaks of it and says in the sixteenth verse:
And the remainder thereof shall Aaron and his sons eat: with unleavened bread shall it be eaten in the holy place; in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation . . .
It shall not be baken with leaven . . .
[from Leviticus 6:16-17]
Now, another instance of it is in Amos: Amos 4, beginning at the fourth verse. Amos is preaching to the sinners of Israel, and in irony and in scorn, he says: ‘"Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression . . . offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven . . . O ye children of Israel, for this liketh you,’ saith the Lord God" [from Amos 4:4-5].
What he’s preaching to them is in scorn and in irony: "Come, you Israelites who have departed from God, come to Beth-el and transgress. Come to Gilgal and transgress. Come and offer sacrifices with leaven unto the Lord." In irony, scorn: "You sinners, this is the way you sin: you violate God’s law and God’s ordinance and God’s judgment in every way that you can imagine. Well, just keep on transgressing God’s law; offer your sacrifices with leaven here at this holy place" – in scorn, in irony.
All right, we have seen in the Old Testament and in the New Testament whenever that thing is mentioned, leaven, it always refers to evil – to the working of evil doctrine and evil teaching and evil ways. Now, when you apply that to three other instances where it is used in the Scriptures, you have quite an askance on the part of many, many people. But the reason lies in our failure to see what it is that is being taught and being represented.
Now, there are two places in the Old Testament where leaven is used, is commanded of the Lord, in the sacrifices. And the first one is in the seventh chapter of the book of Leviticus. Now, you turn to Leviticus seven, and this is the commandment of the Lord concerning peace offerings, thanksgiving offerings. Leviticus 7:11:
This is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which he shall offer unto the Lord.
If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried.
Besides the cakes –
along with those cakes of unleavened bread –
he shall offer for his offering leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving . . .
And of it he shall offer one out of the whole oblation for an heave offering unto the Lord, and it shall be the priest’s that sprinkleth the blood of the peace offerings.
Now, what does that mean? If you’ve been listening to these early morning services, immediately you know what that means. About two or three Sunday mornings ago, I preached a sermon: carfully prepared it, did it the best I could – don’t know whether anybody caught its significance or not, but I certainly tried.
On the forehead of the high priest was to be always the golden plate, and on it was written, "Holiness unto the Lord" [Exodus 28:36-38]. And the Bible said every time Aaron the high priest enters into the holy place, he is to have that golden plate on his forehead in order that he might bear the iniquity of the children of Israel in holy things [Exodus 28:38]. That is, there is always failure, and lack, and shortcoming, and frailty, and sin in everything that we do. Our prayers are not perfect, our offerings are not perfect, our thoughts are not perfect, our songs are not perfect, our hearts are not perfect. In everything that we do, even when we come to Christ by faith, our faith has in it an element of weakness and of shortcoming. And our great Intercessor is to bear the iniquity of God’s people in holy things. Even in our finest moments, there is the element of lack and frailty.
Let me illustrate it personally. You bring to me the holiest saint in this church, there will be elements of weakness in him. I suppose people would say our best Christian is the pastor, or he ought to be – or maybe Dr. Fowler. But I could find in Dr. Fowler even – and how much more so in me – elements of tremendous weakness and frailty. In all of us, there is that shortcoming of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. Now, that is what that refers to here, the identical and the same thing, as the priest bore on his forehead a sign that he was bearing the iniquity of the people in holy things even. So in this sacrifice that we bring to God, this leaven is a sign that in our worship of God and our sacrifice to the Lord there is the element of shortcoming, of weakness, of sin, of depravity. And that’s why you have leaven in it.
Now, look at that thing again. By the side of the unleavened cakes and by the side of the unleavened wafers, there is also this offering made with leaven [Leviticus 7:13]: a type, a sign, a confession of the weakness and the sin in our life, but it is covered by the blood. In the next verse [Leviticus 7:14], that is offered with the sprinkling of the blood of the peace offerings – covered by the blood.
All right, there is one other instance in the Old Testament. In the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Leviticus, you have one of the great, great, great meaningful types of all of the Holy Scriptures. The twenty-third chapter of the book of Leviticus presents the ritual for the Passover with its Feast of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost. Now, look first at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Passover, and then the Feast of Unleavened Bread of which the Passover was a part. It says here in the tenth verse of the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus:
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, "When ye come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:
"And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it."
"And the offering" – here in the thirteenth verse: "And the offering, a flour offering mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the Lord for a sweet savor" [from Leviticus 23:13].
Now, this was it: on the morrow after the Sabbath of the Passover, that’s on Sunday of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the sheaf of the firstfruits was waved before the Lord. In the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul tells us that that sheaf of the firstfruits is a figure of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus [1 Corinthians 15:20]. And He was raised, according to this type here, "on the morrow after the Sabbath of the Passover," that is, on Sunday. The exact day of our Lord’s resurrection is foretold here in type: "on the morrow after the Sabbath of the Passover, the sheaf of the firstfruits" [from Leviticus 23:11]. "Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming" [1 Corinthians 15:23]. There’s no leaven offered. There’s never leaven in anything that typifies Christ. Leaven is a type of sin, of lack, of evil, and there’s never any offering of leaven where Christ is typified.
All right, now let us look at the fifteenth verse, at Pentecost:
And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: –
Ye shall count seven sabbaths, forty-nine days –
Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days . . .
And the Greek word for "fiftieth" is pentekostos, and that’s why you call it "Pentecost." "Even unto the morrow after the sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord" [Leviticus 23:16]. All right, you’re going to change the offering, He says. "You’re going to offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. 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 firstfruits unto the Lord" [from Leviticus 23:16-17] at the Pentecost. Then it goes on: "Ye shall offer with it . . ." [Leviticus 23:18]. Now, look at the nineteenth verse: "Then shall ye sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings" [Leviticus 23:19]. Now, that’s the other instance in the Bible where in that sacrificial ritual they are commanded to use leaven at Pentecost.
Well, what does that refer to? In the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the waving of the firstfruits, the sheaf of the firstfruits, and the offering – all of it without leaven – that refers to the resurrection of Christ "on the morrow after the sabbath of the Passover" [Leviticus 23:15], the firstfruits unto God [1 Corinthians 15:20], the first who was raised, immortalized from the dead.
Now, Pentecost is a picture, a type, of the church, and they are to change the offering: "Ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. Ye shall bring out of your habitation two wave loaves," and they are to offer those two wave loaves unto the Lord; and they are made with leaven [Leviticus 23:16-17]. What does that refer to? This simple fact: that in the church, however fine your church may be, however wonderful your congregation may be, there is sin; there is evil. There is shortcoming in the church – never without it. I suppose we have the most glorious church in all this earth. I do not know of another comparable to it, but, in our church, there is also shortcoming, and failure, and staggering at the promises of God, weakness where there ought to be strength, lack of faith where we ought to be wholly committed to the Lord.
And in the wave loaves, Pentecost, which are types of the church, God’s people, there is still iniquity in us. We’re sinners still saved by grace. So in the two instances you have in the Old Testament, you have pictures of evil, in God’s people even, and it is covered by the blood. "Then shall ye sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering . . ." [from Leviticus 23:19]: God’s blood washing away our sins.
All right, you have one other instance in the Bible. Turn to the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew – Matthew, the thirteenth chapter. In the midst of the parables of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells this parable. Matthew 13:33: "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.’"
Now, what does that mean? It means a very plain and simple thing and one that you can see if you will look on every hand and through all of the Christian centuries. He began by saying He was going to speak to the disciples of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven – that is, things that are known only to the initiated [Matthew 13:10-16]. Now, the uninitiated would not know, but the initiated will – those that are taught of the Spirit.
The kingdom of heaven: now what is the kingdom of heaven? The kingdom of heaven is everything that you see down here in this world that has an outward profession of Christ – all of it. In the kingdom are wheat and tares [Matthew 13:24-30]. In the kingdom net is good and bad [Matthew 13:47-50]. It’s all of it that you see down here.
The Christian Scientists, they say they’re Christians. The Mormons, they say they’re Christians. The theosophists, they say they’re Christians. Even this new Baha’i religion, it’s based, it says, on the great teachings of the Christian religion; the Catholic denomination – all of it, everything, the whole thing. The kingdom of heaven refers to Christendom: to the Italians, and the Frenchmen, and the Englishmen, and the Brazilians, and the Americans – to all of it. The kingdom of heaven is the whole thing – everything that you see.
Now, the kingdom of heaven "is like," not "is leaven," but the kingdom of heaven – this thing that you see down here in this world, this manifestation of the working of God in this earth, this thing that you see down here among the Mormons, and the theosophists, and the spiritualists, and the Catholics, and all of the people of this whole world – "it is like, it is like," and then He’s going to say what it’s like: "It is like unto leaven, which a woman took . . . " [from Matthew 13:33].
Now, a woman – a bad woman, an evil woman in Scripture used religiously is very plain in its type. In the second chapter of the Revelation, in Thyatira, they have a prophetess there that he calls Jezebel. She’s an evil teacher and seducer. She corrupts the church and the doctrines of the faith [Revelation 2:18-21]. In the seventeenth chapter of the book of Revelation [Revelation 17:3-13], you have the scarlet woman, riding on the beast; and he declares, delineates very plainly who that is. The beast is the government. She sits and presides over a city that is built on seven hills. Just read it. You have the Catholic church there in the scarlet woman.
Did you ever think how many of these doctrinal corrupting aberrations come from women? Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy [1821-1910], just whichever one of the three husbands that she has you want to call her by, she is the founder of Christian Science. Madame Besant [Annie Besant, 1847-1933; Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, 1831-1891] is the founder of theosophy. The Fox sisters [Leah (1814-1890), Margaret (1833-1893), Kate (1837-1892)] is the founders of Spiritualism.
A woman. A woman: "I suffer not a woman to usurp authority over the man or to teach" [from 1 Timothy 2:12]. Women in the Scriptures: how much refers to the aberration.
"A woman took and hid" [Matthew 13:33] – that’s diametrically opposite to the way that God has given us in the proclamation of the gospel. To hide it? No, sir! You’re to proclaim it on the housetops, says Jesus. "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," says Jesus [from Mark 16:15]. You’re not to hide it.
Look where it’s hid. Is it hid in the world? No. It is hid in three measures of meal – meal, that’s – they didn’t have any corn in those days. Flour: that always refers to good, always. There’s no exception to it. Meal: that is flour. Bread is a type of all things that are precious in God’s sight: manna from heaven [Exodus 16:15], the Bread of Life [John 6:35]. The saving message of the church this woman took and hid it in the meal [Matthew 13:33]. And what happened? Well, look around you and see what happened: the corrupting of the evil influence and doctrine in this gospel age. Oh my soul, it kills your heart.
I was in Canada not long ago, and just before I got there, the Baptists, the liberal Baptists – the modernistic Baptists of Canada – had finally given our great McMaster’s University away. The corruption of the leaven in our great Baptist institution. You could weep; you could cry. And some of the people who knew the family, the McMasters family – great, devout, holy Baptist family – loved God and gave his fortune [William McMaster, 1811-1887] for the establishment of that wonderful Baptist university. And the evil of corruption doesn’t come openly. It comes hidden, and it works and it works and it works until finally it became so liberal and so modern that the modernistic, liberal Baptists of Canada themselves gave it away. They can’t support an institution. They can’t build an institution. They take what is built by fundamental, godly people and finally corrupt it and corrupt it until finally it is destroyed. I say just before I came there, they had given it away.
Chicago University: devout, humble, God-fearing, praying Baptist people took their Morgan Park Theological Seminary, used as a nucleus, and built there Chicago University, and the heart of it, our Morgan Park Baptist Theological Seminary. And they took up collections among the poor people of our Baptist churches to build a great evangelistic center for the conversion of the heartland of America. And the leaven began to work, and the corruption began to work, until finally, who would say that Chicago University is anything other than those great, humble, fundamental, Bible- loving, God-fearing Baptist people who built it, and founded it, and lost it. It’s gone, gone. Why you could stand here all day long and speak of the corruption of that inward, hidden working that made the Catholic church what it is: just a little here, and a little there, and a little there. These things never come outwardly and openly. They come furtively, clandestinely – just a little. It’s hard to find. It’s hard to put your hands on it.
For example, in some of our institutions, I have talked to presidents and I’ve talked to leaders. You had might as well try to put your hands on will’o-the-wisps. You’d might as well try to chase the wind as to find the stuff and lay your hands on it. For when you do, there is open denial, and there is – oh, deep depths – of criticism and feeling. You can’t help it. It’s just here.
Well, why did Jesus tell us that? All right, for two reasons and I must close. He told us that first for a warning, for a warning. You’re not above it. You’re not free from it. In the latter days shall perilous times come [2 Timothy 3:1] heap to themselves teachers having itching ears [2 Timothy 4:3]. These things are revealed to us that they might be warnings to us. God’s people ought to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints [Jude 1:3].
In our churches, in our denomination, in our schools, in our institutions, God’s people ought to do their best, earnestly, to keep our people close to the Lord and close to the Book. First, it is given as a warning. Second, it was given as an inspiration. When you see an institution gradually corrupt with evil leaven like Chicago University, like McMasters University, like Brown University, like a thousand others I could name of our own institutions that we have lost, when you see it, don’t be discouraged; don’t be discouraged. He told us about it before it came to pass. We’re not defeated. This isn’t the end for us. Jesus saw it; Jesus knew it; and He told us about it – that evil will work [Matthew 10:16-23]. It will continue to work until he that lies back of it is forever chained in the bottomless pit [Revelation 20:3]. But we’re not to be discouraged. Preach the truth, stand for the truth, do your best to build up the true faith and gospel of the Son of God, and we’ll leave the issues in His gracious hands. No doubt who finally will be triumphant and victorious. It will be the One up there, our Savior; not the one down here who’s the father of all corruption and lie and evil [John 8:44] and who some day will be utterly destroyed [Revelation 20:10].
Now, we’ve gone way over our time. While we sing this song, the first stanza of the first verse, somebody you, put his life in the church, somebody to follow the Lord in faith or in the fellowship of this blessed congregation, into the aisle and down here to the front, would you stand by me? Somebody you, anybody you, a family to put your life in the church or one somebody to take Jesus as his Savior, while we stand and sing, would you come and make it now?