Cash and Shellfish

The third book of Scripture, Leviticus, has some wonderful passages. The Jubilee laws outlined in chapter 25, for example, provide an inspiring vision of liberty and justice for all which are an inspiration for us all.  Unfortunately, these Jubilee laws and the ideals they embody, are nearly wholly neglected and forgotten. Much of Leviticus was written for a different time and a different context: a nomadic people seeking to settle into an already populated land which they claimed their God had chosen for them, seeking to ethnically clense it and establish clear differentiation between “us” and “them”. So perhaps it is right that they turn away from many of the things forbidden or advocated by Leviticus

With some notable exceptions: some teachings are still regarded as unwavering and binding.

One such passage is Leviticus 20:13, says  If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (ESV)

That passage is frequently cited by those who hold that the Church is no place for anyone LGBT, that orientation is a bar to Church participation. This is the Daily Mail at prayer. However, the book of Leviticus condemns a lot of things as “abominations.” The 11th chapter is overflowing with abominations. For example, from verses 10-12:

And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

So it is claimed that Leviticus says that the LGBT are an unclean “abomination,” yet they have no problem eating Prawn Cocktail.  There is that image going round of someone (probably in the USA, of course) with a tattoo citing Leviticus 18:22 (see)


but ignoring Leviticus 19:28 “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”

Since many observers have satirically noted this apparent inconsistency (see, for example, I wonder why it is that so many contemporary Christians reject gays while embracing shellfish (and tattoos).

To understand why God is no longer considered a hater of shrimp you have to see the Acts of the Apostles, the account of the early days of the Christian church.

Acts chapter 10 finds the apostle Peter on a rooftop in Joppa, praying at noon before heading down to lunch.

The impulsive former fisherman has grown into a genuine leader in the early church. At Pentecost, he preached the gospel to people from every corner of the Roman Empire and he is slowly appreciating that this new community is supposed to transcend any ethnic or cultural boundaries. But the goyim still seem to still grate with him. Especially the Romans.

So God gives him a vision. Peter falls into a trance and sees a vision of a giant tablecloth descending from heaven. The tablecloth is covered with honeybaked hams, cheesesteaks, crab cakes, calamari and lobster.

“Eat up, Peter,” a voice tells him

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter says. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

“Don’t call anything unclean that God has made clean,” the voice says. “And try the angels on horseback, they’re like butter.”

This happens three times.

This is generally regarded as an instance in which a New Testament passage seems to set aside a prohibition from the Old Testament. And that’s why our friends on the religious right do not feel compelled to eat kosher and do not consider shellfish to be “an abomination.”

Fair enough, but there’s something else going on in this story. The main point of Peter’s rooftop epiphany has nothing to do with diet. The main point of this vision had to do with the people who were about to knock on Peter’s door.

Peter is about to meet Cornelius. Cornelius is a gentile. Worse than that, he is a Roman. Worse than that, he is a Roman centurion. Cornelius is about as kosher as a bacon double cheeseburger.

But give Peter credit — he understood the vision. “Don’t call anything unclean that God has made clean.” Don’t call anyone unclean that God has made clean.

Peter does not treat Cornelius as an unclean outsider. He travels to the centurion’s house, where he says, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”

Peter understands: in this new community that God is building, this church, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. No one is excluded as unclean. The church embraces Jews and gentiles, Roman soldiers and slaves, men and women, Africans, Greeks and even a token white European.

In our fondness for Easter Gammon, we Christians have fervently clung to the surface-level meaning of Peter’s vision. But we haven’t been as enthusiastic about embracing the larger, more important lesson God was teaching him there on the rooftop. When the “unclean” outsiders knock on our doors, we don’t like inviting them in.

That, in a nutshell, is why some Christians happily dismiss one “abomination” while still behaving abominably out of allegiance to another.

Oh, and what about Leviticus’ Jubilee laws? Those were never set aside by anything in the New Testament, but Christians no longer treat them as authoritative because, um …

Scripture is not a Haynes Manual which can be dipped into for a key solution, ignoring the context which results in that text. Neither should it be read from cover-to-cover like a novel; however, it is a document of our continuing walk with God, and it isn’t finished yet: those who limit their faith to that which is contained in the little book are falling foul of idolatory (and we can guess what Leviticus thinks about that! 19:4, look it up) and raising it up as an idol. Christ completes the Scriptures – look to him and see what God really intends for us all: Jew, Gentile, Straight, LGBT, White… the whole world


(with thanks to an original thought by Fred Clark)