Does God hate shrimp? The Old Testament as a basis for morality
One of the most frustrating and yet amusing characteristics of the New Atheists is that they are religious illiterates. Of the “Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse,” only Daniel Dennett is a professional philosopher and none of the members have any background in theology or religious studies. Richard Dawkins almost seems to revel in his ignorance of Christianity in The God Delusion, mockingly responding to allegations that he misrepresents Christian theology by stating that someone who does not believe in fairies does not need to listen to “fairyologists.”
From this position of ignorance stems the taunting secularist question “does God hate shrimp?” The implication is that because such activities as wearing mixed fabrics (Deuteronomy 22:11) and the consumption of shellfish (Leviticus 11:10) are forbidden as “abominations” in the Old Testament, commands which can appear absurd to the modern Western mind, condemning homosexual behavior on the basis of the Old Testament is both laughable and hypocritical. As satire website God Hates Shrimp states:
The point we’re trying to make is that by using the Old Testament (specifically the book of Leviticus) as a basis for protesting gay marriage, you run into a couple of problems. The first is that in the New Testament, Jesus established the New Covenant, which stated that the old Mosaic laws about unclean things were invalid (Jesus in his own person said nothing specifically against homosexuality, although Paul later attributed some remarks to him). The second reason is that if you still want to quote from Leviticus, despite Jesus’ doing away with Mosaic law, then you better be prepared to enforce the whole thing, not just the parts you like. This includes not only the injunction against shellfish and mussels and such, but also against wearing fabrics made of blended fibers, cutting or shaving your beard, sowing mixed seed in a field, and a slew of other things nobody but Orthodox Jews take seriously anymore.
This line of thought can be persuasive even to a Christian if he or she has a poor understanding of the Old Testament’s relationship with the New. Dispensational theology has taught believers to regard the first thirty-nine books of the Bible as somehow non-applicable to the Christian life. Paul certainly had harsh words for those who trusted in the Law for salvation, but that does not mean that it is to be entirely discarded. Jesus himself explicitly stated that his purpose on the earth was not to abolish the Law but to become its fulfillment (Matthew 5:17).
If we examine the Law we see that there are two kinds of commands: those with punishments prescribed for their violation and those without. The latter are customary and dietary laws that separated Israel from the pagan culture of her surrounding neighbors, whereas the former deal with morals. As a global community, Christians have no need to and in fact cannot distinguish themselves culturally from their neighbors in the way that the Hebrews did. Many Christians choose to follow the dietary and customary commandments, not as necessary for salvation but because they believe that there is wisdom to be found in the entirety of the Law. While full obedience to the Law is not necessary for orthopraxy, this is an important attitude to have regarding God’s commands.
Giving up bacon may not be right for you, but following the moral law is not a matter of conscience. Once we begin to see the value of the Israel-specific laws, we should extend that same value to the universal moral laws. Professor Alden Thompson, an expert in Old Testament studies, argues that the moral law was merely an external manifestation of what should now be internally manifested in the hearts of Christians. The need for the written Law should be diminished in the life of Christian, but only because the actual message of the Law has become central to his life. In the book Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?, Thompson says:
With increasing maturity, the need for explicit law becomes less and less necessary. Conversely, as degeneration occurs, the need for explicit application of the great principles becomes more and more necessary. One of the more notable instances where Scripture actually defines this process involves the law on divorce. Jesus said that the law on divorce became necessary because of “your hardness of heart,” but originally it was not so (Matt. 19:8).
Christians’ rejection of the Law as a moral guidepost is actually a sign of spiritual immaturity and a drifting away from God’s plans for mankind.
Examining the Hebrew for the words that we translate as “abomination” in Leviticus 11:12 which deals with shellfish) and Leviticus 18:22 (which deals with homosexual relations) confirms the idea that the moral law is to be taken seriously by Christians and strengthens the dichotomy between it and the customary law. In Leviticus 18:22, the Hebrew word toiveh (תּעבה תּועבה) is used. Toiveh has a strong connotation of repulsiveness from a moral or ethical standpoint, and God uses it when describing his attitude towards such things as idolatry, deceitfulness, and the killing of innocents. In contrast, Leviticus 11:10’s sheketz (שֶׁ֫קֶץ) carries nuances of mere filthiness and personal meaning, indicating that the Jews (and not God) are to find shrimp repulsive in the sense that they are dirty animals. Newer Bible versions often translate this word as “unclean” rather than “abomination.” Rather than justifying homosexuality, examining the original Hebrew in Leviticus reinforces the idea that the customary law is Israel-specific and that the moral law is taken extremely seriously by God.
God’s immutable nature is the embodiment of holiness, and the Law was a communication of his will to us. Christians who do not believe this run the risk of viewing morality as fluid, as something that God can modify to the culture and the circumstances, reducing God from a “righteous judge” (Psalm 7:11) to an arbitrary lawmaker. It may not be necessary to take the theonomist position of wishing to make the exact commands and punishments part of our legal system, but all Christians should recognize and obey the timeless principles behind the Mosaic Law.
“God, Shrimp, and Homosexuality” by Samuel Silver – OrthodoxyToday.org
Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God? by Alden Thompson