Homosexuality and Shellfish

Recently Dan Savage gave a grossly biased anti-Bible talk at a high school which has received much attention. I do not pretend the man knows what he is talking about when it comes to Biblical law. Indeed, anyone who has studied the smallest bit history and backgrounds of the Ancient Near East could demolish his arguments in no time. Just recently, on his webcast, Dr. James White did just that. However, I am concerned about something that keeps on coming up. Whenever people point to the obvious prohibition of homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22, using the strong Hebrew term תועבה, they always get the response, “Yes, but the Bible says that you can’t eat shellfish; yet, we do. If you have gotten past the Bible’s prohibition of shellfish, then why can’t you get past the Bible’s prohibition on homosexuality?”

The problem with this argument is that it is a naive and simplistic reading of scripture. As I have mentioned many times, one of my concerns is the almost complete rejection of Pragmatics on the part of many people today when they read the Bible. The notion of language as intentionality and action is something that gets completely lost in any discussion of scripture, especially amongst people who have an axe to grind against the Bible. This can lead to grossly biased and unfair readings of scripture, which is what we see from those who try to defend homosexuality. As Greg Bahnsen said in his debate with Edward Tabash, these folks are criminals in God’s universe, and criminals never think the police have done well by them. Hence, when they read the scriptures, they read it with an axe to grind, rather than trying to understand why God commanded what he commanded.

With regards to shellfish, Deuteronomy 14:10 is the specific reference where the eating of shellfish is condemned:

Deuteronomy 14:10 but anything that does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.

The problem is that a discussion of how the discourse affects the intentionality of this text is important, and yet, it is totally missing from any meaningful discussion of this passage. For example, take the introduction to Deuteronomy 14:

Deuteronomy 14:1-2 “You are the sons of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead. 2 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Notice the distribution of the pronouns here. Notice how the text says that the Lord has chosen *you* from *all* the peoples on the land. With the distribution of the pronouns and the “all” here, the text is a setting up of a dichotomy between the people of God and the rest of the nations. It is in this context that you have the continued repetition of “to you” after all of the prohibitions against eating certain meats:

Deuteronomy 14:7-10 “Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these among those which chew the cud, or among those that divide the hoof in two: the camel and the rabbit and the shaphan, for though they chew the cud, they do not divide the hoof; they are unclean for you. 8 “The pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, it is unclean for you. You shall not eat any of their flesh nor touch their carcasses. 9 “These you may eat of all that are in water: anything that has fins and scales you may eat, 10 but anything that does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.

Notice the repetition of the “for you.” “For you” in distinction to whom? In distinction to the rest of the nations. In fact, the Israelites are called “holy” in verse 2. While the Hebrew concept of holiness certainly does entail moral purity, it also entails the concept of separateness. Everything in this discourse indicates a separation between Israel and the rest of the nations. The point would then be that these foods are to be unclean for God’s people, to remind them that they are to be a people separate from the rest of the nations. A person who looks at Deuteronomy 14:10 and sees a command against the eating of shellfish is missing the point of the law itself. The point of the law had nothing to do with the inherent immorality of eating shellfish, but it had to do, instead, with the reminding of Israel that they were not like the other nations. They were called to be different and set apart for the Lord.

Hence, ironically, rather than being a legitimate excuse to ignore the Biblical prohibition of homosexuality, ironically, it becomes a strong support for not engaging in homosexual practice. The reason is that Jesus, although he did not change the law, he did come and provide his sacrifice which is able to change the heart. Hence, we do not need these daily reminders in our diet that we are not like the other nations, because we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts convicting us of sin, and teaching us day by day that we are not like the world around us. Hence, the intent of the law remains the same. We are to remember that we are not like the other nations and other people who engage in immoral practices such as homosexuality. We are called to be separate from them. Consider how Jesus applies the dietary laws in the Gospel of Mark:

Mark 7:14-19 And after He called the multitude to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. 16 “If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.” 17 And when leaving the multitude, He had entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)

This would have been a real shock to his Jewish listeners who had strictly kept the dietary laws their whole lives. How can Jesus say that no food can defile a person? Mark even says that, in saying this, Jesus declared all meats clean. Is Jesus here denying the dietary laws of Deuteronomy? Notice what he goes on to say:

Mark 7:20-23 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

Notice that Jesus is applying the intent of the dietary laws. What he is pointing out is that the dietary laws were meant to remind us that we are not to have evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, etc., because we are called to be different from the rest of the peoples around us. The intent of these laws was not to say that eating shellfish is inherently wrong, but, instead, to use such a prohibition to remind his people that they were not like the other nations. They were to be separate and distinct in the heart, and the outward distinctions in diet were a daily reminder of that fact. As we can see, far from overturning the dietary laws, Jesus goes right to the heart of these laws. Even better, he gives us the Holy Spirit as a living reminder day by day of who we are. Thus, we do not need dietary laws anymore.

Hence, as I said, if we understand the intent of these dietary laws, then, ironically, they argue against the practice of homosexuality. Homosexuality was not condemned on the basis of the fact that Israel was to be different than the nations around them. Indeed, in Leviticus 18, the Bible says that their unrepentant homosexuality was one of the reasons why God was executing his judgment on the nations that Israel kicked out:

Leviticus 18:24-30 ‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 25 ‘For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. 26 ‘But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you 27 (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); 28 so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. 29 ‘For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people. 30 ‘Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the LORD your God.'”

Notice how God says that he is treating his people as well as the nations surrounding them by the exact same standard when it comes to homosexuality. Unlike the dietary laws in which there is a clear separation between the practices of Israel and the other nations, God does not put up with homosexuality from either Israel or their neighbors. Both will be punished for doing these things. As Jesus said, sexual sin is an issue of the heart, and the whole point of the dietary laws was to remind Israel that they were to be different in their heart. Hence, when we see the pagans around us starting to stoop to such incredibly immoral levels as homosexuality, are we to follow them? The dietary laws of the Hebrew Bible should remind us that, no, we are not to follow them. We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, and we must be different with our hearts and our minds always in submission to God and his word. Hence, ironically, far from being an argument against the Biblical prohibition on homosexuality, when we understand their intent, the dietary laws are actually an argument *against* homosexual practice. If we keep this in mind, I believe the dietary laws of the Hebrew Bible can be a great witnessing tool to those who have been deceived by the secular culture’s acceptance of homosexual behavior.

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One Response to “Homosexuality and Shellfish”

  1. Nadi Subramanian Says:

    The question always comes back to the heart, the mind, the soul, the image of a life, the fullness of that life, its dedication. There are matters that seem distractions, superficial in comparison with the great demands of faith. We look back and wonder whether it was God who laid down in human hearts the conviction that men and women should be tortured and killed over intricacies of theological scholarship. It makes sense to believe that God laid down ethics in human hearts, but theology has all the marks and signs of a human creation. Where theology departs from ethics, and from the immediate signs of oneness with God and His love, why do we find loyalty to the letter of these ruminations so much more worthy than the virtues to which we are enjoined? And here we have one word, “homosexuality,” that gathers around it all the prejudices that beset mankind and keep all of us from Grace. The violence of the heart that seems to inspire speech about superficial signs, and distracts us from considering the soul as God’s true place within us, does not come from God, and should not seek justification in the letter. We are granted the light of the Spirit, and should always walk in that light, each one of us, each day.

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