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Monday, November 21, 2011

God Hates Shellfish

Whenever Christians trot out the Scriptures that say things like "A man shall not lie with a man as with a woman", there is almost a collective response. "Oh, yeah? What about shellfish?" Okay, it may not be shellfish. It may be "What about the prohibition to cut your beard?" or "What about the command not to mix threads?" or things like this. The assumption appears to be that if there is something in God's Law that is clearly not applicable, then neither is "A man shall not lie with a man as with a woman." I'd like to look at that theory from two angles.

First, it is, quite simply, irrational. If we're going to say that the presence of a law that is not applicable nullifies this one, then we're going to have to do so rationally. That is, if it nullifies "A man shall not lie with a man as with a woman", it will also nullify prohibitions of rape, incest, adultery, murder, theft, and child sacrifice laws. Since this particular law is not tucked in amongst the shellfish and thread stuff, nullifying one from the other is nullifying all. And I'm not at all sure you're ready to do that ... are you? So, while it sounds like a reasoned argument to say, "Well, God prohibits touching pig skin, so are you going to rule out football?", it's actually, well, pretty stupid to choose instead to dismantle all of God's instructions.

The second angle is generally missed. I think it is important. As I've demonstrated in the past, it is necessary to evaluate the text and context of what any Scripture is saying and to compare it with the rest of Scripture. We know, for instance, that while the Old Testament forbids certain foods, Jesus "declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:19). So comparing Scripture to Scripture, there is reason to question whether or not we still need to be concerned about eating pork, as an example. But the concern I have is this idea that seems to say, "How much of God's Law can we nullify?" The intent, it seems, is to minimize God's instructions. So we'll try to find ways to eliminate "mixed threads" or "cutting hair" or even "a man lying with a man as with a woman". We don't seem to be working very hard toward the goal of "How much more can I do to please God?", but rather, "How little can I do and get away with it?" Along these lines, we tend to bring our skills of reasoning and evaluation to try to make Scripture align with what we know and believe rather than to try to figure out what it says. "There is information in the Bible about slavery. We know that can't be right, so let's set that aside." We lay down any sort of objectivity in favor of personal preference. What we need to do is approach God's Word as the final say. We already know that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. We already know that Natural Man is futile in his thinking. We already know that our first condition is a blinding by the god of this world. We already know that we have a seared conscience in the sins that we have practiced. So why are we expecting to be able to define reality (read "God's view of things") by our natural means?

Here's what should happen. We should ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Then we should read the text and figure out what it says. Next we should read the context and see how it colors what the text says. We should see where else in Scripture this is discussed and see what that says. It is a large effort here, but God's Word is worth it. But, in the final analysis, what we need to determine in advance and all along the way is "If God's Word says it, I'll agree" rather than "I don't see it, so God's Word likely didn't say it." We may think that eating shellfish or mixing cloth is pointless, but that's the wrong starting point. If, after prayer, careful reading, and evaluation of context and comparison with the rest of Scripture we conclude, "Yep, this passage is saying that we should not cut our beards", then we should not cut our beards. It's as simple as that.

It's God's Word we're talking about here. His ways are not our ways. And we are sinners at the core, in need of renewal. If it turned out that God thought just like we do, that would be a problem. I would suggest, then, that we agree with Paul when he said, "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom 3:4). God doesn't suffer from a deceitful heart or a futile mind. Perhaps we ought to be more concerned about seeing things His way rather than attempting to see His Word our way.

12 comments:

Dan Trabue said...

Stan...

it is, quite simply, irrational. If we're going to say that the presence of a law that is not applicable nullifies this one, then we're going to have to do so rationally. That is, if it nullifies "A man shall not lie with a man as with a woman", it will also nullify prohibitions of rape, incest, adultery, murder, theft, and child sacrifice laws.

Stan, I'd ask that if you're going to talk about the argument being made, you'd touch on the actual argument being made. No one - believe me: NO ONE - is arguing, "This moral rule is obviously not universal, therefore ALL the moral rules herein are not universal."

That is not the point being made. The point being made is the exact inverse.

The point being made is that we can't cherry pick verses from an ancient text and say that, because one rule is a universally true moral rule, ALL the rules therein are universally true moral rules.

And everyone in your camp should be able to agree with the point that is actually being made, because you all believe it, as well.

The thing is, the OT (and the NT, as well) are not to be considered "rule books whereby if we JUST obey each rule correctly, we'll have understood God's will for humanity." That would be a poor and shallow approach to serious biblical exegesis. It's a natural temptation to think, "Well, here are some rules that appear to be from God, let's just hew to them mindlessly and gracelessly and we'll be okay," but that is the argument and understanding of the Pharisee or the child. We are to move beyond childish things.

More later... (Post or not, this is for your consideration, in hopes that you'd address our actual argument...)

Dan Trabue said...

Continuing...

Since this particular law is not tucked in amongst the shellfish and thread stuff, nullifying one from the other is nullifying all.

You began this segment with the note: "It's irrational." And indeed, IF ANYONE was making the argument, "This law is not universally true, therefore none of the other laws are universally true..." that WOULD be irrational. IF anyone was making that argument.

NO ONE is.

On the other hand, we ALL AGREE that one can't say, "Because RULE A is universally true, ALL the rules here in are universally true."

THAT would be an irrational argument to make, too, IF anyone was making it. But no one is.

I think we can agree on that much, can we not? There's nothing controversial or false in these basic tenets I've just laid out.

The question is NOT "Are all these rules in this section or that section universally true?" We all agree that they're not.

The question is, "HOW do we best ascertain a rule's validity?"

Agreed?

Here, we come closer to agreement, in your statement...

Here's what should happen. We should ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Then we should read the text and figure out what it says. Next we should read the context and see how it colors what the text says.

Indeed, at least for Bible lovers and believers, we SHOULD seek God's will, God's understanding. THAT is the goal, not blind adherence to woodenly literal text. THAT would be idolatry and legalism, not good for anyone.

So, we can agree that seeking God's will and striving to understand the text in context is key. We just disagree on where the Holy Spirit is leading from that point and what the context is.

What then, I would wonder?

Dan Trabue said...

On to your second point...

the concern I have is this idea that seems to say, "How much of God's Law can we nullify?" The intent, it seems, is to minimize God's instructions.

No, there is not the intent to nullify "God's Law." That does not happen in the real world in any significant degree (oh, I'm sure there are some hedonists out therewho might want to do so , but I don't think this post is directed towards the outlier hedonists).

No. The INTENT (for at least those "more liberal" than you within the church) is NOT to nullify God's Word, nor to seek a sort of Christian libertinism. The INTENT is to be TRUE to God's word.

Which leads us back to the question, "How do we do so? How do we seek the Holy Spirit's guidance and God's will and interpret these passages aright?"

Can we agree that, at least in Christian circles, that...

1. The INTENT is seeking God's Will, not libertinism.
2. The point is NOT the irrational "one law isn't universal, therefore none of them are..."
3. The point is NOT the irrational "one law is universal, therefore, they all are..."
4. The point is, we can't cherry pick verses and try to presume that all moral teachings in the OT are universal ones
5. The point then, is, HOW do we do so?

Can we agree on that much and dispose of any false/strawman argument presumptions on the Other side?

Stan said...

Three comments at a time. Makes it impossible to address, you know.

You missed the point. I did not say that anyone was making the argument that nullifying "A man shall not lie with a man as with a woman" nullified anything else. Of course no one (or not a lot) says that. My point was "If we're going to say that the presence of a law that is not applicable nullifies this one, then we're going to have to do so rationally." And, of course, there was a higher point (or more fundamental?). I wasn't addressing your arguments on the topic (which, by the way, are in an extreme minority). I was addressing the common arguments. There are many sources from skeptics that are happily pointing out that since we readily eat shellfish and God hates shellfish and since we allow football and God forbids touching pigskin and such, that clearly none of that stuff is relevant or real. Obviously that's not your argument, Dan. But it is the argument I was addressing.

Back to your arguments. I would, of course, have to disagree with your argument. I would say that all the instructions God gave are universally true moral rules as long as God did not alter them. Some He clearly altered (e.g., Mark 7:29). But that's the primary point. God gets to make the rules. Our job is not to rifle through them and say, "Well, we don't allow slavery anymore so those are no longer moral requirements and we've decided that egalitarianism is far better than complementarianism and that whole patriarchal thing is a relic of the past, so those don't matter anymore." Our job is "What does it say? What does it mean? How do I obey?"

I know you are opposed to a "rule book" mentality. Frankly, 1) so am I, and 2) you've completely missed the point. Here, let me illustrate. At Christmas time (theoretically) I ask my kids, "What would you like for Christmas?" They give me a list. "Aha!" I say. "Here's a list of rules of what I must accumulate to gain the favor of my children!" No, not at all. I say, "Here are the things that would make the them happy and, wanting to make them happy, I'll try to obtain those things." Your view would say, "Yeah, well, sure, that is what you asked for, but I'm pretty sure that I know better what would make you happy." And, to be honest, in the case of parent/child gifting, that might even be true. But when God makes a list of what would make Him happy, you can be quite sure that it would not be the case that you would know better. So when God calls something an "abomination" to Him, to me it is, and to you it might not be.

4simpsons said...

Good points as usual, Stan.

The "God hates shellfish" sound bite is full of holes but is appealing to many because so few bother to study the passages. I address five serious problems with it in flaws of the shellfish argument. http://tinyurl.com/l2qjtc .

It is bad when non-believers use the argument, but I figure that misusing the Bible is part of their job description. It is really irritating when Christians and "Christians" use it, so I'm glad to see you address it here.

Stan said...

Dan Trabue: "On the other hand, we ALL AGREE that one can't say, 'Because RULE A is universally true, ALL the rules here in are universally true.'"

And, of course, I would beg to differ. This is not something on which we can agree. First, "because Rule A is universally true" is not the premise. "Because God said it" is. Second, unless God changes (and He specifically stated that He doesn't), all universal rules remain universal. The aim, then, is not "Is this rule universally true while that one is not?" It is "What did God say?" You would consider that an irrational argument, apparently.

Stan said...

Dan Trabue: "Can we agree that..."

I don't know. I'll have to be careful here.

1. In terms of "Christian circles", do you mean "Those who classify themselves as Christians"? Then I cannot agree. I know of specific groups of "Christians" who seek absolutely libertinism. They deny all laws, plant their feet firmly on "grace", and staunchly oppose anyone (including Peter, James, and Jesus) who would suggest otherwise. But, then, I'd have to question the accuracy of their self-classification. So, perhaps I'd agree that those who have a genuine, functioning relationship with Christ do not seek to be free of His Laws.

2. You missed the point of the reasoning. If "Rule B" (for the sake of discussion) is nestled in among "universal" rules against things like adultery (Rule A) and bestiality (Rule C) and someone decides arbitrarily (not you -- you've simply changed its meaning) that Rule B is not applicable, but Rules A and C are, then while they are not making the argument that Rules A through C are not applicable, they are not making the argument rationally. Text and context. Their failure to cancel Rules A and C is an irrational failure.

3. I've addressed this.

4. This point appears internally contradictory. "We can't cherry pick verses" seems to contradict "and try to presume that all moral teachings in the OT are universal ones." If you are cherry picking, you're asserting that not all moral teachings are universal. I, of course, would argue that all of God's moral requirements are universal. Thus, in my piece on shaving, I stated that it is still the case that we must not shave our beards for the dead as an act of idolatry. Still.

So, I would argue that while you do not necessarily make the arguments I addressed in this post, they are indeed made by some. I have addressed their arguments. Conversely, my goal to ask the Holy Spirit, read the text, and figure out what it actually says is not to determine what is and isn't universal, but to figure out what God said. And, of course, you and I will disagree on that point (what God said) because all we have is hunches, right?

Craig said...

"We don't seem to be working very hard toward the goal of "How much more can I do to please God?", but rather, "How little can I do and get away with it?"

I had a similar discussion with previous accountability partner. His approach was "What is the line and how close to the line can I get without crossing the line." This is an attitude I tend to see from those who are more liberal in how they approach scripture (as he was).

It seems like a more appropriate approach is "What is the line, and how far away from the line can I stay." The scriptures tell us to flee from temptation, and there are multitudes of laws/rules designed to point us closer to God and protect us from sin. I don't understand why anyone would intentionally push the envelope when it comes to what separates us from God.

It's hard enough not to sin when we try to stay away from temptation, why make it any harder?

Stan said...

Craig, I'd be happy with "This is what God says to do, so I'll do it." One of the original "We need to stay as far away from the line as we can" advocates was Eve. God said, "Don't eat it." She said, "Don't touch it." I think it got her into trouble.

It might be easier to say (for instance), "Well, the Bible doesn't say not to drink any alcohol at all, but it does say that drinking alcohol can be a problem, so no one should drink any at all." It is much harder to say, "What does God actually say about drinking alcohol and what does that mean?" Sometimes taking the easy way makes us closer to Pharisees than faithful believers.

Of course, when being near the line is a problem for me, staying far away for me is the right thing to do.

Craig said...

Stan,

I agree. It can work both ways to some degree, but I still think that the more time you spend close to the line the easier it is to cross. I would also say that there may be slightly different lines and distances for everyone. In your example of drinking for some the line might be zero ,and the best plan for them is to stay far away from any alcohol. For others it may be different. This doesn't mean that there aren't some non negotiables, but there is some room for conscience also.

Stan said...

"I would also say that there may be slightly different lines and distances for everyone."

Exactly. On top of working hard at knowing what God actually says, I need to know my limitations -- my weak spots -- and live accordingly. That, however, is a matter of personal requirement, not universal moral law. The Bible, for instance, says, "Do not be drunk." That would be a command. How far I need to stay from "drunk" (drink wisely to teetotaler) would depend on how much of a problem it would be for me. But the line is clear.

Craig said...

Stan,

My point exactly. I do see a correlation between how you look at scripture and how you treat the line.