Thursday, November 29, 2012

Answering the "Shellfish" Argument

I am continuing my response to common arguments against the Biblical teaching on human sexuality.

Claim: The O.T. also says it's sinful to eat shellfish, to wear clothes woven with different fabrics, and to eat pork.

This is easily both the worst and most common argument against Biblical sexuality that I hear. It is repeated ad nauseum by atheists, gay rights activists, internet memes, television shows, etc. The argument is so bad, and so easily refuted, that anyone with even a basic understanding of either the New Testament, or Christian theology, would not attempt to make such claims. The argument is that the book of Leviticus condemns homosexuality but also condemns eating shellfish and wearing certain types of clothing. If Christians were consistent, they would follow either all of these laws, or none of them. Therefore when Christians point out homosexuality as a sin but not eating shelfish, they are hypocrites who simply pick and choose what they follow in the Old Testament and what they don't.

This claim can be refuted on two fronts. First is the theological. Christian theologians have historically distinguished between three aspects of the Mosaic Law. There is the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the civil law. The ceremonial law refers to various institutions and instructions that the Jews would follow regarding the priesthood, sacrificial system, and purity. These laws served two purposes. First, they separated Israel from the surrounding nations, demonstrating their unique status as a nation. Second, they serve as pictures for the coming messiah. Jesus fulfills both the priesthood and sacrificial system. These institutions are therefore no longer necessary. The civil laws are those laws which govern the nation of Israel. Israel was a theocracy, something which is not normative for nations today. Therefore it had specific laws which were used to govern the Jews which do not apply to contemporary societies. Again, this was fulfilled by Christ who came as the embodiment of Israel and fulfilled Israel's mission, and created a "spiritual Israel", the people of God scattered throughout the earth. The moral law is that which reflects God's own moral nature. These laws are immutable and are not historically determined. They are eternally valid. These are best summarized in the Ten Commandments. The sexual laws of the Old Covenant (not the required punishment which was an aspect of the laws of theocratic Israel)are part of this moral law. They are inherent in creation itself, and cannot be overturned.

This distinction was expounded upon especially by Thomas Aquinas (13th century) but has roots in Irenaeus (late 2nd century) who distinguished between the moral Law (specifically the Ten Commandments and) and the other aspects of Torah. It has been adopted by the Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic Traditions.

The second way in which this argument can be refuted is to looking at the New Testament texts which explain the distinction between the law which is eternally valid and that which is purely ceremonial. The book of Acts describes a vision that St. Peter has where he is told that the food restrictions of the Old Covenant law no longer apply.

"The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven." (Acts 10:9-16)

This story involves the passing away of the ceremonial laws as well as the inclusion of the gentiles within the covenant community. This is demonstrated as the story continues with Peter's meeting with the gentile Cornelius, and the Pauline mission to the gentiles later in the book. Thus those laws which were ceremonial (such as food restrictions) and distinguished Jews from gentiles (such as the civil laws) were abolished. They served their purpose and had been fulfilled in Christ. The books of Galatians and Hebrews expound upon this extensively.

So how do we know that the laws about homosexuality are part of the abiding moral law rather than the civil or ceremonial? Sexuality is an aspect of creation. God created male and female for one another, as Jesus himself affirms. Human sexuality is given a proper place in the Ten Commandments, wherein adultery, sex outside of its God-given context, is forbidden. The context of Leviticus 20, which forbids homosexuality, is an in-depth explanation of the commandment against adultery. It is in the same context as beastiality, and incest which are also opposed to God's moral law. Moreover, the commandment against homosexual practice is repeated in the New Testament (Romans 1), assuring its place as part of the moral law.

The shellfish argument is thus completely irrelevant and meaningless when it comes to the discussion of Biblical sexuality.


Anonymous said...

I wish there was a "like" button for this post.

Andrew said...

Cooper hit a drive! Way back, waaaaay back!! HOMERUN!!!!!!

J. Dean said...

A very good treatment of this point, Jordan. Again, well done. This is a very frustrating point to discuss with unbelievers, and even when this distinction is demonstrated to them they can be very unreasonable about it.

Anonymous said...

Good post but how do you reply to the objection that the civil laws and associated punishments are not viewed as acceptable following NT but were nevertheless ordained and approved by God in OT and thus a reflection of his character to a degree? For example, stoning as punishment for various sin was acceptable in a theocratic context but no longer only because of circumstances?

Jordan Cooper said...

Yes, all of the Torah is a reflection of God's character to a degree. However, that fact does no negate the differences between various eras of redemptive history.