Stop Using the Shellfish Argument!

Lobster With WatermarkWhenever 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.


9 thoughts on “Stop Using the Shellfish Argument!

    • Acts 10:15 and the surrounding context definitely has something important to say on this subject. However, I hesitated using it as an example because the main point isn’t so much that all foods are now clean but that Gentiles who earnestly seek after God and are receptive of the gospel (like Cornelius) shouldn’t be considered unclean. That’s the way Peter understood the dream (Acts 10:34-35). However, when you look at Acts 15, Peter makes it clear that God accepts Gentiles as Gentiles through Christ – that is, he accepts them apart from the requirement to be circumcised, to obey the food laws, and to celebrate Jewish feasts, etc. So it supports the point that Christians aren’t required to obey Old Testament food laws but it’s not as straightforward as some other texts..

  1. There is a video going around where a pastor asks a question regarding homosexual practice to an Australian politician running for election, his response was something like the shell fish argument and he smugly smiled as he clearly thought he had put that poor “dumb” pastor in his place.

    • I saw that video too. I saw a clip from the show “West Wing” where they did something similar. It was ridiculous. It would be one thing if they said, “I’ve heard the traditional argument about why Christians can eat shellfish in the New Covenant but can’t engage in same-sex sexual relations but I don’t buy it.” At least that kind of answer would show that they have thought through the issues. But it’s rare to hear anyone say something like that.

  2. Your arguments from Scripture against homosexual relations would be a lot stronger if you used a KVJ Bible. The NIV had homosexuals (at least one lesbian, anyway) on the translation team, and the wording against it is much more ambiguous. It doesn’t define ‘sexual immorality’, whereas there is no confusion in the term ‘fornication’.

    FORNICA’TION, noun [Latin fornicatio.]

    1. The incontinence or lewdness of unmarried persons, male or female; also, the criminal conversation of a married man with an unmarried woman.

    2. Adultery. Matthew 5:32.

    3. Incest. 1 Corinthians 5:1.

    4. Idolatry; a forsaking of the true God, and worshipping of idols. 2 Chronicles 21:11, Revelation 19:2.

    (Webster’s Dictionary 1828)

    Just sayin’…

    • Thanks for the comment. From what I can see from the post there weren’t any passages quoted from the NIV specifically having to do with homosexuality. The passages that were quoted have to do with the food laws from the Old Testament no longer applying to God’s people under the New Covenant. The issue in the post isn’t really about how to translate passages about homosexuality but with showing why Christians aren’t being inconsistent by not following Old Testament food laws while still maintaining that homosexual practice is sinful.

      No translation is perfect, of course, which is one reason why I took the time to study Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic (as well as a few other related languages) in my post-secondary education. So if the NIV or any other translation mistranslates something, it’s not difficult for me to point out where they went wrong and why.

      Thanks again for the comment.

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