Here’s something I taught the youth in my church recently as we were dealing with various issues related to Christianity. I hope this is helpful to folks who have struggled with this question!
Christians who appeal to the Old Testament in conversations about homosexuality are often (crudely) accused of hypocrisy because the regulations regarding sexuality are part of the Old Testament Law. The “Shellfish Objection” popularly comes up like this:
The Argument: Since the Bible condemns eating shellfish but Christians don’t obey the laws against eating shellfish, then they’re hypocritical when they quote other laws as binding. In other words, Christians hypocritically pick and choose which rules they follow.
Here are standard examples of laws that Christians apparently choose to ignore:
Leviticus 11:7-8 – “And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. 8 You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.”
Leviticus 11:12 – “Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you”
Leviticus 19:19 – “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.”
Leviticus 19:27 – “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.”
Leviticus 19:28 – “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”
Exodus 21:7-11 – “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”
Exodus 31:14-16 – “You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever.”
A categorical answer to all accusations of hypocrisy regarding the Old Testament law:
In the early church, there was a question as to whether or not Gentile converts had to keep the law of Moses. When Paul and Barnabas were in Syrian Antioch, some Jews came and taught the Gentiles ” It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses ” (Acts 15:5). There was a council assembled in Jerusalem to figure out what to do about this (Acts 15:6-21), and the council decided to give the Gentiles only four rules: “abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20).
As a point of consistency, homosexuality would have been condemned by the council in Acts 15 since that would fall under the umbrella of “sexual immorality”. The Old Testament was clear on the morality of homosexuality (among many other sexual practices), and that sexaul morality was upheld at the Jerusalem council.
So that’s it? That’s all Christians have to do?
Not really. The New Testament repeats plenty of commands in the Old Testament, and those are all binding on Christians. Also, Christ gave a new command that was synonymous with the sum of the law:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35.
– Paul restated this in Romans 13:8 – “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
What? So do Christians keep the law or not?
– The Christian is not judged by whether or not he keeps the law; Christ kept the law on our behalf (Galatians 2:15-16).
– Christians who love Christ should want to obey his commands (John 14:15, 21-24) and we should labor to understand and uphold the principle behind each law (Matthew 5-7).
– The summation of the law (“love one another”) does not, and can not, override the specific content of the law (i.e. the specific commands regarding this or that). A person cannot recognize that the law forbids adultery, bearing false witness, murder, etc. and then suggest the summary teaching about all those actions (“love your neighbor”) somehow allows for the endorsement of their practice. That’s utterly illogical and nonsense.
Some specific helps with previously listed passages:
Leviticus 11:7-8, 11 – The Food Laws
The food laws were explicitly overturned in the New Testament.
In Acts 10:1-8, Peter was summoned to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion (and Gentile).
Until this time, Peter didn’t really understand that the Gentiles were going to be included in the church, equally with the Jews.
In Acts 10:9-16, Peter has the same vision three times where God presented him with a bunch of unclean food (i.e. pork) and told him ” Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 15:13). When Peter protested, God said “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 15:15).
Jesus had taught this very thing in Mark 7:14-19, though the apostles didn’t necessarily realize the significance of his words when he said them.
Leviticus 19:19 – Cotton-Poly Blends and 2 types of Seeds
The mixing of fabrics would be wool and linen, not synthetic fabrics like polyester:
When this command is restated in Deuteronomy 22:9-11, this is spelled out: “You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited, the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.
The priestly garments were made of linen and dyed thread, which would have been wool (Exodus 28:6-8, 39:4-5). This was the only garment allowed to be made from multiple fabrics. This may help understand the possible meaning when one looks at both Leviticus and Deuteronomy:
The first condemnation in Leviticus seems to be one of corruption (don’t breed your cattle with something else), the second (when restated in Deuteronomy) seems to suggest that the entire crop would be corrupted (some sort of defilement) and the third condemnation in Leviticus likely involved something religious, as the only other mention of linen and wool in the Old Testament involves making the priests’ garments.
I cannot be sure, but it’s quite possible that interbreeding animals and crops was some sort of pagan fertility magic. Pagans would often do “sympathetic magic”, meaning that they’d do something and hope that the gods would copy them. Interbreeding animals would be an effort to increase their performance and inter-planting crops would be an effort to increase yield.
This may also suggest that a person may dress in some sort of makeshift priest gown in order to confuse the gods into blessing them.
This is admittedly speculation: we don’t have the necessary information to definitively say what Leviticus 19:19 is condemning.
Either way, it’s not condemning wearing cotton and polyester at the same time.
Feel free to buy the newest fashions in cotton-poly blended fabrics…well, except for the current “clamdigger suits”.
Those are just horrible.
Leviticus 19:27 – Getting a Haircut
Leviticus 19:26 & 19:28 talk about divination and ceremonies involving the dead, and Leviticus 19:27 is set in the context of cutting hair or one’s beard in a way required by pagan superstition that would placate or honor the dead.
This is made more clear in Deuteronomy 14:1 where Leviticus 19:27-28 are combined into a single command: “You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead“.
19:28 – Getting Tattoos
The term (qa’aqa) in is actually a word that means “incision” or “gash”, and it’s not talking about tattooing, but rather cutting.
We see the prophets of Ba’al doing this in 1 Kings 18:28.
Also, like the previous haircut example, it’s something done “for the dead”.
The Pagans did something to change their appearance so that when the dead would return, they would either be warded off or honored by the markings on the body.
This is typical paganism. It’s not about getting a tattoo with the logo of a band or anything like that.
A proper application of this would be to not copy the way the pagans in your land treat, or think of (i.e. revere, fear, or even worship), the dead.
Exodus 21:7-11 – Selling your daughter into slavery.
The morality of Exodus 21:7-11 is widely misunderstood:
There is a faulty assumption that slavery in the Bible was the same as the “slavery” in America and fueled our Civil War. That is entirely false. In reality, the “slavery” described in Scripture is an indentured servitude designed to maintain the dignity of a person or family in extreme poverty or debt. A good portion of ancient slavery was that kind of servitude, and the sort of “kidnap people and sell them into slavery for life” that happened during the European slave trade was condemned in the Bible. Exodus 21:2 and 21:16 explicitly forbid this.
The indentured servitude in the law, as well as in this instance, is only for 7 years ( Exodus 21:2).
Vs. 8 (“if she does not please her master) does not suggest that there is already a sexual relationship.
Also, vs. 10 doesn’t mean that the slave master has 2 wives; the slave woman is already rejected as a possible wife in vs.8. When it says ” he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights“, the passage means that the slave master shouldn’t keep the young woman from finding someone else to marry.
The idea is that a slave owner has no right to force a young woman in a perpetual state of chastity.
When you’re dealing with someone who is bringing up questions and accusations about slavery, the easiest way to shut them down is to force them into a biblical text and ask them to explain it.
Guys who attack the Bible usually haven’t paid any attention to the details. The minute you ask them a few questions, the wheels fall off their cart.
Beyond what I’ve written here, Fred Butler has a great response to this objection here.
What about slavery in general?
That’s a whole other topic that cannot be adequately addressed now. Still, there’s a good reason why the majority of people opposing the European slave trade were Christians.
When you look at history, there were people arguing for slavery and appealing to passages like Exodus 21, but the opponents of the slave trade rightly pointed out that the specific biblical rules about slavery overtly condemned the manifestation of slavery practiced in Europe and the Americas (i.e. Exodus 21:1, 21:20, 21:16, 21:26-27).
Also, Christians capitalized on the fact that men are all equal creatures, made in the image of God. Because of this fact, the entire slave trade was a horrible institutionalizing of the idea that some men were inferior to others, and even sub-human. The Christian opponents of the slave trade spoke out against this wicked thinking. In the late 1700’s slaves were legally categorized as “goods and chattel”, meaning that they were considered to be animals who could be beaten and killed without any legal recourse.
Slavery, as practiced in Europe and the Americas over the past several hundred years, was a horrid evil that was rightly abolished.
Exodus 31:14-16 – Keeping the Sabbath
The Old Testament commands the keeping of one day aside from the others for the purpose of rest and worship.
In the New Testament, the early church changed which day they would meet on in order to coincide with the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2).
There was some disagreement in the early church about which day was to be taken as a special day for worship and rest. Choosing which day was a matter of conscience for the early Christians (Colossians 2:16-17).
Therefore, Christians don’t have to treat Sunday as a special day for rest and worship, but many do.
– Any Christians who don’t worship on Sunday aren’t sinning.
So that wraps up a quick look at the “Shellfish Objection”.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “enjoying my lobster in good conscience” Unger