Tuesday, July 4, 2017

No Shellfish?

Part 3 of Chapter & Worse

Text: Leviticus 11:9-12; Mark 7:14-23

“Anything in the seas or rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you” (Lev. 11:10).

Selective Obedience?

One of my traditions is to take my kids to John’s Lunch on their last day of school. I always get the clams. But according to Leviticus 11, clams and every other type of shellfish are not to be eaten. Why don’t I obey this command? Am I guilty of selective obedience—picking and choosing which laws of God I want to obey?

Not All of the Bible's Commands Are for Us

In Leviticus 11, certain animals are said to be “unclean” and are forbidden to be eaten by the people of Israel. [1] A person who ate an “unclean” animal would become “unclean.” [2] “Uncleanness” was meant “to instill an awareness of God’s holiness and of the reality of sin as a barrier to fellowship with God.” [3]

So why don’t Christians follow these laws today? It’s often argued that Christians are being inconsistent: “If you can ignore the Bible’s commands about not eating shellfish, why do you say that other commands (e.g., the commands regarding sexual behaviour) need to be followed?”

The Bible was not written all at once. It was written over a long period of time. Not all of the Bible’s commands are for us. For example, we aren’t expected to obey the very first command of Scripture—the command given to Adam and Eve forbidding them to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). It's not uncommon for laws to change over time. Margarine was banned in Canada until 1948. And it was illegal to sell buttered-coloured margarine in Ontario until 1995.

There were three kinds of laws given to Israel in the OT: civil, ceremonial, and moral. The laws regarding clean and unclean food were ceremonial laws. These laws were fulfilled in Christ’s death on the cross, which is able to take away all of the sin that makes us unclean. Jesus declared, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). 

What Really Defiles Us

In Mark 7, the Pharisees confront Jesus because some of his disciples hadn’t washed their hands before they ate (vv. 1-5). Jesus responded by telling the Pharisees that they have a heart problem: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the command-ments of men’” (vv. 6-7).

In verse 15, Jesus says, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Mark interpreted Jesus’ words as meaning that all food is clean (v. 19). [4] What really defiles a person is not what goes into the stomach but what comes out of the heart (see v. 18-23).

Be Holy as God Is Holy

Why did God give the dietary laws to the people of Israel? He wanted them to be holy (i.e., different). After giving these laws, God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). This command is repeated in the NT: “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). We are to be different—not because of what goes into our stomachs but because of what comes out of our hearts.


[1] Jews and Muslims still refrain from eating “unclean” food (e.g., bacon).
[2] In Mark 7:14-23, the word “defile” is used.
[3] ESV Study Bible, 1907.
[4] This was a big issue among Christians in Marks’ day (Acts 15).

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