Whenever I read an article on CNN or Huffington Post dealing with the issue of homosexuality and the Bible there is always someone – whether in the article itself or in the comment section below – who feels like they’ve won a slam dunk by bringing out “the shellfish argument”. The argument goes like this: The Bible says that homosexual practice is wrong; but it also says that eating shellfish is wrong. So if you’re a Christian and you like eating lobster or shrimp, you have no grounds to say that homosexual practice is wrong.
If you’ve ever used this argument before I have one thing to say to you: Stop using this argument! Even if you think that same-sex sexual activity is perfectly okay on other grounds, stop using this argument! There are way better arguments that you could use to support your position (though, I’m sure, I would find problems with them too) so use one of them – stop using this one!
There is one thing I would like to ask people who use this argument: have you ever actually asked anyone who knows church history or the history of Christian theology why the Church has traditionally said that eating shellfish is okay while same-sexual activity is not okay? My guess is that you probably haven’t. You simply found what you think is a knock-down argument and didn’t take the time to actually talk to someone or read someone who actually knows anything about the issues.
The reason why this is so frustrating is that the answer is actually pretty simple. You might not agree with the argument; you might not agree with the conclusion; you might think that the Bible is nonsense; but you can’t deny that this is what the Bible says.
The Old Testament makes a distinction between food that you’re allowed to eat (clean) and food that you’re not allowed to eat (unclean). There’s a lot of debate about why certain foods were considered clean while other foods were considered to be unclean (I have my own opinions on this issue, of course) but that’s not really important at this point. The important thing to note is that these food laws specifically applied to the people of Israel living under the Mosaic Covenant. Later Jewish tradition (i.e. the 7 laws of Noah) makes it clear that these laws did not apply to Gentiles but were specifically meant for Israel (though I wouldn’t use that as an argument in an academic discussion, but it is telling).
Fast-forward to the New Testament. There are several passages that make it clear that foods that were considered unclean under the Mosaic Covenant were not to be considered unclean in the New Covenant. Let me just give a few examples:
Mark 7:19 – In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”
Colossians 2:16-17 – Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
1 Timothy 4:3-5 – They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
The reason why the Church has traditionally said that it’s okay for Christians to eat shellfish is the same reason why the Church has traditionally said that Christians don’t have to be circumcised: because Christians are under the New Covenant, not under the Mosaic Covenant.
So why has the church traditionally said that same-sex sexual relations are forbidden for Christians? Let me give you two reasons:
1. Both the Old and New Testaments say that same-sex sexual relations are forbidden. The New Testament explicitly abolishes the food laws of the Old Testament; you never see the same thing happening with what the Bible has to say about same-sex sexual relations.
2. In Acts 15, when the Council of Jerusalem (so-called) wrote a letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, they made it clear what God required of Gentile Christians. Gentile Christians weren’t required to be circumcised and they weren’t required to abstain from unclean foods; but they were required, among other things, to avoid sexual immorality. For Jewish people writing at that time it would be clear that homosexual practice would be included in that category. In other words, they could forget about the food laws (for the most part) but they can’t mess with what the Old Testament has to say about sexual ethics.
This may sound complicated for someone who doesn’t know a lot about the Bible or a lot about theology but it is pretty straightforward. Christians live under the New Covenant, not the Mosaic Covenant. The food laws applied to people living under the Old Covenant; however, both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant forbid same-sex sexual activity. You might not think that the Bible is the Word of God; you might not think that it’s inspired; but you can’t say that this isn’t the kind of argument that you find in the New Testament.
So, regardless of what your opinion is on same-sex sexual relations, stop using this argument – it’s not a good one. Instead of asking your question about shellfish and thinking that you have a knock-down argument, try asking the question sincerely to someone who disagrees with you: why do you say that eating shell-fish is okay but same-sex sexual relations are wrong? Try hearing what the other side has to say if you want to be treated seriously. And we’ll try to do the same.