A Slack Defense of the Shellfish Argument
Yesterday I posted this article by Dr. Al Mohler in which he briefly but effectively deals with the “shellfish argument”. The shellfish argument, for those who don’t know, is what lies behind accusatory questions like: “If you really believe what the bible says, why are you eating that bacon?”
It’s the kind of question only someone wholly ignorant of great swaths of the New Testament or an Episcopal bishop (but I repeat myself) could ask. Al Mohler deals with it like this:
“An honest consideration of the Bible reveals that most of the biblical laws people point to in asking this question, such as laws against eating shellfish or wearing mixed fabrics, are part of the holiness code assigned to Israel in the Old Testament. That code was to set Israel, God’s covenant people, apart from all other nations on everything from morality to diet.
As the Book of Acts makes clear, Christians are not obligated to follow this holiness code. This is made clear in Peter’s vision in Acts 10:15. Peter is told, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”
You can read the full text of chapter 10 here. Peter’s vision marks a major turning point in the book of Acts, the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles. Before this time most law-abiding Jews - Jewish Christians like the apostle Peter included - believed that they could not enter Gentile homes without violating the divinely revealed holiness laws Dr. Mohler describes above. But in Acts 10, God changes everything when he gives Peter a vision and a command. The vision basically involves the descent of a giant picnic blanket filled with animals that the holiness code forbids Jews to eat. Then a voice commands, “Rise Peter, kill and eat.” Peter objects saying, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice responds with the words Dr. Mohler quotes above: “What God has made clean do not call common.”
One is left to ask, when did God make these things clean? He was, after all, the one who told his people not to eat them. What did God do between the revelation of these laws to Moses and Peter’s vision? Almost certainly the voice in the vision refers to the death of Jesus Christ. God made the unclean things clean by the blood of his Son shed on the cross (as Jesus anticipates here).
The earth shattering significance of this vision is that because of the work of Christ the holiness code, the “law” as Paul calls it, no longer stands between Jew and Gentile. Jewish Christians are free to be united with Gentile Christians in the Body of Christ. And, sure enough, just as Peter wakes from his vision, emissaries from a Roman centurion named Cornelius, a Gentile, arrive inviting Peter to preach the gospel under Cornelius’ roof to his entire household. And the mission to the Gentiles is under way.
So far this is all standard New Testament theology.
But if you’re a revisionist activist devoted to normalizing homosexual behavior in the church, Acts 10 isn’t a moving account of the gracious and merciful hand of God extending salvation to the Gentiles - it’s a threat that must be neutralized.
Acts 10 is a threat because it directly undercuts the shellfish argument. When confronted by an angry Episcopal bishop saying something like: “If you oppose same sex marriage because the bible says it’s a sin, you’d better not eat shrimp” all you have to say is: “Acts 10.” Granted it might take the bishop some time to figure out that you’re referencing a passage from the New Testament and not a scene from the latest broadway musical, but once he gets it you’ll have him/her stumped.
The threat of Acts 10 and the fact that Al Mohler’s piece was published on CNN’s popular “Belief Blog” is why Nicholas Knisely over at the Lead is so anxious to direct his readers to this blog post by “Slacktivist” Fred Clark.
Before going on, let me just say “Slacktivist” is an awesome name for a blog. I wish I’d thought of it myself. But it’s not a great blog name for Fred’s blog since it so aptly describes the effort that he put into his exegesis.
Here’s the key section of Fred’s response to Al Mohler:
“...while popular, this view utterly contradicts Peter’s own interpretation of his vision. If Mohler is right, then Peter was wrong. If Peter was right, then Mohler is wrong.
For Peter, his rooftop vision wasn’t about kosher dietary laws — it was about people. He says this explicitly: “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
That’s a very different conclusion from the one Mohler draws. Mohler says this story — this scripture — is about purity laws. Peter says this story is about God’s commandment that no people should be excluded as impure.
I’m going to have to side with Peter on this one. Peter was right. Mohler is wrong.
Mohler’s case for his interpretation of Peter’s vision only looks plausible if you extract a tiny portion of the story from the rest of the chapter, but if you read all of Acts 10, you’ll see that the story doesn’t allow that.”
So here’s what Fred wants to do. Fred wants to set Peter’s recognition that the holiness code no longer stands between Jew and Gentile because God has made all things clean in Jesus against the vision in which Peter was told that God has made all things clean. The “tiny portion” of Acts 10 that Fred wants us not to pay attention to is the vision itself - the part where God declares the unclean animals clean; the part where God sets aside the first to establish the second (Hebrews 10:9). The holiness code is the reason Peter would not have gone to Cornelius’ house before the vision. The removal of that code is precisely what leads him to say yes and go with his visitors.
Like most revisionist activists the Slacktivist is a selective reader. He loves the part where Peter affirms that (in Fred’s words) “no people should be excluded as impure” because he thinks that orthodox Christians believe that homosexual people are “impure” but the part about the removal of holiness code is terribly inconvenient so he simply pretends that the obvious connection between the two isn’t there and trusts that his readers have as much interest in actually reading the bible for themselves as episcopal bishops do.
And he’s probably right.
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