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Are Shrimp Lovers Doomed To Hell?

By James Donahue

There is a troublesome verse in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus that a lot of Christian shrimp lovers either want to pretend doesn’t exist, or they have gone out of their way to rationalize their way around it.

Leviticus, which is one of the old Hebrew books of law, forbids eating anything from the sea that doesn’t have scales or fins. And this appears to mean that shrimp, lobster, crab legs, clams, frog legs and all other shellfish should be off the menu.

Leviticus 11:9-12 reads: “Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales – whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water – you are to regard as unclean. And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean."

The King James version of the verses uses the word “abomination” instead of “unclean.” Thus it is clear that the writers of the New International Bible attempted to tone down the wording of this law. It was possible that they also enjoyed an occasional shrimp or lobster dinner at the local Red Lobster restaurant as much as the rest of us. The word abomination means something that is abhorred and considered vile and looked upon with loathing.

Those of us who enjoy seafood know that shrimp, lobster, crabs and all of the other “vile” things on the Leviticus list make delicious meals. Before the seas were polluted with crude oil and other chemicals, these creatures of the sea also were found to be safe to eat.

So why would God hand down such a severe law for the Israelites to follow?

One Old Testament analyst suggested that the law was only meant for the Israelites at the time the law was given. Apologists argue that Jesus appears to have lifted this ban on “unclean” foods when he said in Mark 7:18-19: “Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the body, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?”

But Jesus was arguing with the Pharisees when he made this statement, and it appears out of context. That debate was over washing the hands before sitting down at the table to eat.

While unwashed hands can cause trouble during the consumption of food, Jesus was saying that nothing a man eats results in an unclean, or sinful heart. He was explaining that nothing a man eats can cause evil thoughts or behavior.

What Jesus was not doing was changing the Old Testament law forbidding the consumption of forbidden and “unclean” food.

So if Jesus wasn't lifting the Old Testament rule forbidding the consumption of seafood lacking fins and scales, then we must assume that if the Bible is really God's holy law, covering all humans on this planet, and Jesus was really the Son of God, we have all been living in sin everytime we enjoy a baked clam dinner or drop an oyster between our open lips.

Perhaps we can find solice in the thought that the rule was really meant only for the Jews, and that the rest of us, not being especially "chosen" by God to be his special people, are free do do what we damned well please.