by Lawren Guldemond
A fortnight ago, Scott McClare posted a blog here on the topic, “God Hates Shrimp?
” In that blog, he discussed the allegation that Christians arbitrarily obey some Biblical commands and ignore others. In Leviticus, the Bible declares shrimp, and a multitude of other animals, to be forbidden cuisine, and commands the people to hold them as an abomination. Why, the sceptic asks, don’t Christians abstain from eating shrimp, if they hold the Bible to be true, and its commandments binding?
Are they not genuine?
Scott did a fine job of laying out some general hermeneutical principles for determining whether a given Biblical precept is applicable to all people at all times, or has a limited scope of application.
I liked his blog so much, I took it upon myself to write a sequel.[i]
Building on the groundwork that Scott has already set down, I will endeavour to contribute some additional contemplations on God, shrimp, and the Christian life.
Upon reading the Biblical text in the eleventh chapter of Leviticus,[ii]
it does seem that God did express a strong hatred for shrimp, plus a lot of other creatures, too. He commanded His people to abstain from eating them, and to avoid touching their carcasses. This revelation was given in the fifteenth century B.C.
Fifteen centuries later, in the first century A.D., and shortly after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, God rescinded these commandments. He told the apostle Peter in a vision that he should now go ahead and eat these animals, declaring that He had cleansed them.[iii]
Does that seem odd? Why would God declare so many creatures unclean, abominable, inedible, and untouchable, and then to a later generation declare them clean and good to eat? Since God ultimately declared that it doesn’t matter what you eat, for all foods are fine and good, then why, in an earlier age, did He declare that it very much matters what you eat, for some foods are unclean and forbidden? Was God being fickle? Did He just ban all those foods on a whim, and then later change His mind? Not at all. He had definite purposes for those regulations, and when His purposes were fulfilled, He made an end of them.
In his post, Scott said the purpose was “to maintain a visible, ceremonial distinction between the Israelite and Gentile nations.” This observation is accurate, but there’s much more.
At the end of this chapter in Leviticus, after enumerating the taxonomy of forbidden meats, God makes a few concluding statements. He states, “…you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.”[iv]God hates and detests every unholy thing, and will not allow it to have anything to do with Him. He casts every unholy thing from His presence. He does not tolerate unholiness, not even a little bit. He is pure and holy, and He wants everything in His universe to be pure and holy. He wants His people to be pure and holy, and He wants them to eschew all sin, not tolerate it or dabble in it. To drive this point home, to make it indelibly stamped into the collective Hebrew consciousness, God instituted a regime of object lessons.
For the pious and conscientious Hebrew, observance of all the Old Testament laws would have had a profound impact on daily life. Abstaining from non-kosher foods and avoiding all sources of ritual uncleanness would require diligence and vigilance. If there was a lapse in the foregoing, purifications would need to be performed to atone for it. In addition to this, sacrifices had to be made again and again upon the altar, to atone for everyone’s sins. Keeping all these regulations, day by day, generation upon generation, would make a collective impression. To keep yourself from being defiled, you had to be attentive and industrious. You had to strive daily, constantly, to keep yourself pure. You had to treat every unclean thing like it was detestable, like you hated it, and wanted it thrust far from you. You had to regard and eschew every unclean thing the way God regards and eschews every unholy, sinful, wicked thing. Stop. There’s the lesson. The way the Hebrews had to regard and eschew every unclean thing is the way God wants all people everywhere to regard and eschew every unholy, sinful, and wicked thing.
The lowly shrimp, along with other crustaceans and creatures, was branded unclean in order that it might play its part in this grand object lesson. The Hebrews were divinely ordered to live out this object lesson, for generation upon generation. Then the Messiah came, and everything changed.
Jesus Christ came to accomplish the work that the Old Testament rituals symbolized and foreshadowed. They were all mere shadows of things to come, illustrations of what needed to be done, but without power to perform any of it. The atoning sacrifices could never accomplish atonement;[v]not ingesting unclean animals could never prevent uncleanness of heart;[vi]the ritual washings and purifications could never cleanse the soul. Jesus Christ accomplished all these things and more – atonement for sin, and cleansing and purification of the heart, soul and mind. His work being done, there remained no more purpose for the symbolic rituals that had foreshadowed His work.
During His ministry, Jesus taught His disciples that it is not foods that defile you, but rather the wickedness that is within you. He said to them, “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man.”[vii]The time was drawing near when God would abolish the laws of uncleanness, and the disciples needed to grasp and live by the spiritual truths that these rituals had been foreshadowing.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, God gave the apostle Peter a vision of a collection of unclean animals, and told him to butcher and eat them.[viii]Silencing Peter’s protests, God declared that He had cleansed all these creatures. God called an end to the object lesson. Ever since, shrimp have been legitimate cuisine for the believer. From then on in the New Testament, the apostles taught that no food is unclean of itself,[ix]that what one eats is of no spiritual consequence,[x]and that the defilement that the follower of Christ must strive to avoid is that which comes from joining in the debauchery and unholy lifestyle of their society.
God never did hate shrimp. He always hated unholiness and ungodliness, and He still does. The moral of the lesson is this: Go on and eat shrimp to your heart’s content, and have nothing to do with anything unholy, ungodly or impure. That is the will of God regarding shrimp and the Christian life.
[i] This is not a co-authored or co-ordinated piece. The statements I make here might not be perfectly aligned with Scott’s views.
[ii] Leviticus chapter 11.