Homosex and Shrimp

A reader writes:

I know you are a very busy person, but if you could humor me by helping me out with this, I would appreciate it. I keep reading over and again, on FB and blogs that “Sure, the Bible condemned homosexuality, but it also condemned the eating of shellfish. If you think homosexuality is wrong, then you are a hypocrite if you eat shrimp.” I think an entire episode of The West Wing was centered around this argument. (I have seen similar arguments about certain fabrics being used together.) Did I dream this, or is there a difference between moral and practical imperatives in the OT? Could you bring clarification to this discussion? When people wield this brilliant argument, what should our response be? Thanks.

Happy to help.  This much-beloved chestnut overlooks the fact that the Christian tradition distinguishes between the moral laws of the Old Testament and the ceremonial and ritual law.  The former obtain (though sometime perfected by the Christian tradition) while the latter do not.  So, for instance, the moral law also forbids murder and adultery and other things contrary to the good of the human person.  The fact that the new covenant does not require us to be circumcized or keep kosher does not mean we are free to murder and steal too.

The Old Testament doesn’t make hard and fast distinctions between what is morally defiling and what it ritually defiling.  The latter is an image of the former, as Jesus makes clear first in his teaching on unclean food and finally in Acts 15, when he reveals that it is the reality of moral defilement, not the image of ritual defilement, that matters.  For a detailed discussion of that, go here and here.

Homosex is not understood by Jesus or the apostles as ritually defiling, but as morally defiling, since it is contrary to the sexual nature of the human person.  For Jesus, sex is for marriage, period.  And marriage is for one man and one women in lifelong union.  All other forms of sexual expression–including homosexual expression and the ever-popular sin of heterosexual fornication–are right out.  It’s not complicated.  It’s just extremely difficult for fallen human beings.  One of the favorite strategies we have is that old chestnut from The West Wing, which already had whiskers on it when Aaron Sorkin stole it from the interwebz.

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  • Andy, Bad Person

    Aaron Sorkin frustrates me because his zingers usually only have their effect because he doesn’t write anyone to contradict them.

    • dasrach

      My brother once described the West Wing as what the world would be like if conservatives only had liberals to write their scripts for them.

      • chezami

        Actually, what generally struck me about the show was how fair it tried to be to conservatives and how much smarter conservatives talked in that show than they do in the mouths of people like Hannity, Savage, or Levin.

  • Andy

    A priest friend once explained that some the ritual laws had to do with health issues, sanitation and the like. Is this true or was it his understanding that was incorrect? It struck me as logical, but my wife would tell you in her mind saying logical and my name in the same sentence is sometimes an oxymoron.

    • Anna

      I’ve heard that too and it makes sense. They could hardly be expected to know about germs and such centuries early, but they understood ritual impurity and God kept the small group of Chosen People from being wiped out by requiring hand-washing and forbidding foods that inherently carry dangerous germs and such laws like that.

      • I’m not completely sold on that point. The prohibitions on mixing fabrics seem to have no health implications whatsoever, for instance. I think the ritual bits of the mosaic law also but not exclusively served to forge them into a distinctive, set-apart people. It’s ascetically instructive to learn to say no to morally neutral things (like meat on Fridays, for instance) to strengthen our capacity to say no to morally wrong but strongly tempting things (like fornication, murder, theft etc.)

        • Diana

          That’s always been my take on those aspects of the ritual law, too. The Jewish people were to be set apart for God’s purposes, and there’s a sharp limit to how much true friendship can develop between two people forbidden to eat together, for example.

        • Josephine Kelly

          Uh.. Jumping in here to point something out. When you consider the different cleaning methods for different fibers it all makes sense. Lice, for instance, carry heart worms which could deadly and are carried by one animal fiber while fleas, are carried on another type of fiber. Even now you wouldn’t use flea powder to kill lice. When you put the fibers in hot water the felting process starts as the hairs fan open up like a feather, think massive split ends. I don’t know the specifics of Jewish cleaning methods but if you put a hair/ fiber prone to fleas in with hair/ fibers prone to lice but only treat for the fleas then the lice would remain. It would be unliky they would treat for both. You would wind up with a matted hair rug instead of yarn.

          So you mix the fibers,, treat for fleas, make yarn then the fabric, someone make clothes from it and sometime in there the lice eggs are hatching. Person wears garment, village now has lice and some have heart worms.

          Now of coarse we have chemicals to make it safe but back then I would guess they didn’t.

          • Josephine Kelly

            Wanted to add that the fibers fanning out is what allows you to make thread. They cling onto each other. And sorry for extra commas and such. Tried to fix it but ipad keyboard kept disappearing every time it tried

        • Anna

          Sure, I’d agree that the “setting-apart” is a factor too (and other factors went into Mosaic Law as well, including trying to keep a lid on human sinfulness by making laws about *everything*, and legalism to get handy work-arounds like with the divorce/concubinage laws), but it also makes sense that God’s protection of his people was part of his plan with the OT Law.

  • Dave

    One could also argue (with some merit) that prohibitions against homosexuality also had to do with health issues and sanitation. I am not sure that is an argument that the homosexual apologists would dare to use, though.

  • Paul H

    Jimmy Akin has a good video about this:


    Whenever I hear this argument myself, I always wonder why the person making the argument (who usually is not a Christian) seems to think that I should listen to *his* interpretation of the Old Testament, rather than listening to the interpretation of saints, bishops, popes, church fathers, and theologians too numerous to list (though the list would include St. Paul, for one!).

  • Tom

    The prohibitions against homosexual behavior are also repeated multiple times in Paul’s letters, and Jesus never mentioned them. Of course, plenty of people bring this up as a reason why it’s not actually prohibited, but Jesus made it clear when the practices of the Jewish people were incorrect, and he certainly wasn’t influenced by “social pressure” (this goes for women priests/apostles as well) because he got himself killed for defying the Jewish leaders.

    • Jared Clark

      He did, however, talk about marriage, and He revealed that marriage is the whole reason we were created male and female. He was answering a question on divorce and remarriage, but His answer can address everything from same sex marriage to masturbation.

  • orual’s kindred

    I suppose treating the Bible as a Big Book of How-to’s would lead some people to think that stuff like the shrimp thing is a gotcha trap for Christians.

  • IRVCath

    Of course, Sorkin completely ignored the fact that while the New Testament explicitly declared unclean food clean for Christians, while homosexual acts, of course, were condemned therein, in the Epistles.

    Of course, the thing is Protestants (who are the majority of social conservatives, because they are the majority of this country) seem to emphasize the Old Testament angle more, even though there is a much stronger argument based on the New Testament.

  • Dave P.

    The prohibitions regarding diet and fabric are binding only on those eho are bound to follow the Mosaic law. However, the prohibition on homosex is stated in the Noahidic law, which is binding on all humanity (according to Judaism traditionally understood)..

    • Liza

      That is Talmudic question. Arayos, is a Nohide law. The Torah says: you will cleve to your wife (no the other guys). But you should check your source I think it is incorrect. So I am not sure it was in fact a Noahide law as far as Jewish Talmudic interpretation. The prohibition for men having sex is from the laws given to Moses. It is not at all stated in the Noahide laws