The Theological Basis of Eating Lobster
September 3, 2015 | by: Dave Maniquis | 1 Comments
Posted in: Theology
I love lobsters. Let me rephrase that. I love to eat them. I find lobsters to be fascinating creatures. Recently I was in the seafood section of a large grocery store and there they were. A crowd of them in a huge bubbly holding tank of water, each sporting those industrial strength pink rubber bands on their claws; essentially declawed while still waving them for the discriminating lobster lover and saying “pick me.” What once were weapons had become lip-smacking meat by the pound. If you look closely at these crustacean warriors the natural variegated coloring of their armor is actually marvelous. Oblivious to their culinary fate, some were just hangin’ out, others kind of levitating around while being light on their feet. It was like being in a pet store, with a difference. Here, you take the animal home and eat it.
The scene took me back to some of the interesting food laws for the Israelites in Leviticus 11. You know, that book in Old Testament (OT) we have a tendency to “skim” or even skip over in order to get on with the juicy stuff in the Bible? There were many laws about what animals the Israelites could and could not eat. Some were considered clean to consume, others were unclean. For instance, animals that were cloven-footed and chewed the cud could be eaten, but not those who chewed the cud but didn’t have a hoof that was parted. For instance, a camel had paws so that’s a no-no. Same went for certain badgers, rabbits, etc. And, of course, Miss Piggy. A pig, although cloven-footed, didn’t chew the cud. In short, an animal may have had a cloven-foot. But if it didn’t have its mouth constantly moving like it was having a good chew on tobacco it was verboten; no matter if it didn’t spit out a glob like a Major League pitcher. Israelites were to detest certain kinds of birds. There were all kinds of insects that God permitted as common fare such as locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers (yum!). However, any winged insects that traveled on four legs were detestable.
Now let’s return to seafood. All was permitted with scales and fins; without them toss it back! God had an implied “catch-and-release” law. That law included my beloved lobsters.
The question naturally arises: Why did God make all this fuss about clean and unclean animals in OT Israel? It can seem obscure to the modern Christian. However, theologically, it really isn’t.
There’s actually a coherent theology if we take a close look at these OT laws on clean and unclean foods that is fully revealed in the New Testament. In Leviticus the partitions of animals serves as a symbolism of division between peoples. Every day food laws were to remind Israel that God had chosen them to be a pure people living in an unclean world. The experience of this symbolism would be reinforced in their corporate minds as they came into contact with the pagan culture around them. It set them apart. All of life was therefore an occasion to show loyalty to their God up and against the false gods of the gentiles. As a result, these elaborate food regulations were to remind them of their freedom gained by God’s grace. God had redeemed their lives from slavery and their gratitude for his redeeming love was to be acknowledged by them even by what they ate.
The Gospel transforms all that. OT Judaism was “universalized to embrace all mankind.” Dropping the food laws was therefore a “step in theological logic.” If the separation between Jews and Gentiles (Gal. 3:6-29; Eph. 2:11-16) was eliminated as a result of the Gospel, and there were now only one people of God, then the distinction between clean and unclean food would similarly need to be abolished. (Gordon J. Wenham, “The Theology of Unclean Food,” Evangelical Quarterly 53.1 (January/March 1981): 6-15.)
God’s revelation to Peter in Acts 10 clearly undergirds this theological logic. His vision of the “great sheet descending” and, “In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “by no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:10-15) Later in the narrative Peter goes to the gentile house of Cornelius where he falls at Peter’s feet in homage. Peter lifts him and says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)
With the Incarnation, the OT foreshadowings of Christ are made clear by the reality of who they pointed to---Jesus Christ. So it is that the symbolism of the OT food laws is also abolished since all God’s people in Christ are redeemed through Him and he has completely “fulfilled the law.” As Christians, we are set apart as holy and are to be morally pure, for sure, yet while also being among the unholy and morally impure.
God’s people are now free to participate in those things that are neutral, whether it's food or cruises or surfing. All those who enjoy a genuine relationship in Jesus now have the special status of being God’s people, like the status of OT Israelites under the Mosaic Law. It’s a matter of what we do with these neutral things. Are they more significant than Jesus and His church?
It’s wonderful that I have the freedom to enjoy my beloved lobster, even if it is without its pleasing variegated colors transformed into a uniform hot red. However, my most wonderful freedom of all is knowing that I have been accepted by God, like any person of any race, through His Son and have the freedom to be all that I’m meant to be in Him.
Dave Maniquis is a Teaching Elder at Restoration Church. He holds a BA in History from Rutgers University and an MA in Biblical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. He enjoyed a 23-year career in the U.S. Government, working and traveling extensively in Western and Eastern Europe. He has been a Christian for most of his adult life and has been involved in church planting, overseas as well as here in Port Orange, teaching the Bible and speaking into others’ lives with the Gospel. He is married to Maureen and they have two wonderful sons, Dylan and Evan.