August 20, 2003

The Eating of Shellfish

Kevin Drum asks why modern-day Christians do not fear the wrath of The One Who Is whenever they commit the abomination of eating shellfish:

CalPundit: Traditional Marriage: POSTSCRIPT: On a serious note, Alex's post reminds me of a theological question I'm curious about. Anyone who actually knows anything about Christian theology should feel free to jump in. Here's the question: what part of the Bible — in the New Testament, I assume — removes the obligation of Christians to obey the million and one rules in Leviticus and elsewhere? You know, the dietary stuff, the sexual restrictions, etc. etc. And have all the Old Testament rules been superseded by the New Testament, or only some of them? What's the deal?

There are two sources for what went on. The first is the account of the man formerly known as Saul of Tarsus: St Paul writes in the second chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians:

Then after the space of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus.... I laid before [the Jerusalem church] the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but [I did so] privately before those [of the Jerusalem church] who were of [high] repute... not even Titus... being a Greek was compelled [by the Jerusalem church] to be circumcised.... They, I say, who were of repute imparted nothing to me: but contrariwise... saw that I had been intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the gospel of the circumcision... and when they perceived the grace that was given unto me, James and Cephas [i.e., Peter] and John, they who were reputed to be pillars [of the Jerusalem church] gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision; only they would that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him... because he stood condemned. For before that certain [other Christians] came from James [to Antioch], [Cephas] ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away...

But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Cephas before them all, "If thou, being a Jew, livest as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, how compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we sought to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ a minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor."

For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me. I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nought.

And then there is the account in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:

[Paul] went forth with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and to Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.... And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all things that God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith unto the Gentiles. And they tarried no little time with the disciples.

And certain men came down from Judaea and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved. And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. They therefore, being brought on their way by the church, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.

And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church and the apostles and the elders, and they rehearsed all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter.

And when there had been much questioning, Peter rose up, and said unto them, "Brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why make ye trial of God, that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they." And all the multitude kept silence; and they hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them.

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, "Brethren, hearken unto me: Symeon hath rehearsed how first God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 'After these things I will return/ And I will build again the tabernacle of David/ which is fallen/ And I will build again the ruins thereof/And I will set it up/ That the residue of men may seek after the Lord/ And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called/ Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old.' Wherefore my judgment is, that we trouble not them that from among the Gentiles turn to God; but that we write unto them, that they abstain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood."...

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: and they wrote thus by them, The apostles and the elders, brethren, unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting... For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Fare ye well.

So they, when they were dismissed, came down to Antioch; and having gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle. And when they had read it, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas, being themselves also prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them...

These are two (somewhat different) descriptions of the same events: Paul preaches that you can become and be Christians without first being (or becoming) Jews. "Certain men" and "certain of the sect of Pharisees" disagree, and say that you can't become a Christian unless you first become an (observant) Jew, and Paul wins. Whether Rocky (Peter: also called Cephas here) and James the Brother of Jesus were Paul's enthusiastic supporters (as Luke writes) or were two-faced weak and somewhat malevolent underminers of Paul, agreeing with him to his face but then sending messengers to make sure that Peter followed the party line while visiting Paul's church in Antioch and treated the uncircumcized as ritually-impure second-class Christians (as Paul writes), is a matter for debate.

What is clear is that Paul won: at the end the demands from the Hebrew Bible placed on non-Jewish Christians were minimal: to "abstain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood."


UPDATE: The King of Misrule, in Says Rex ..., says that of course the non-Jewish Christians weren't bound to obey the 613 rules and rituals of Leviticus--they weren't Jews. I think this misses the point: according to Paul (and Cephas/Peter, and perhaps James), they were Jews in every sense that mattered--the New Israel, the Jews as the Jews should have been and would have been had they recognized the True Messiah: they were the stones that John the Baptist had foretold would be raised up as Children of Abraham. Thus the gentiles of the Galatian Church thought: their decision to all march off to get circumcized was the occasion of Paul's letter to them.

Paul's victory in this theological battle is one of the strangest and most remarkable things in the incredibly strange and remarkable parade that is human religious history. But I prefer Daniel Boyarin's view of Paul to Hyam Maccoby's...

Posted by DeLong at August 20, 2003 07:30 AM | TrackBack

Comments

(may be a duplicate)

From Acts:
10:10 He became hungry and desired to eat, but while they were preparing, he fell into a trance. 10:11 He saw heaven opened and a certain container descending to him, like a great sheet let down by four corners on the earth, 10:12 in which were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild animals, reptiles, and birds of the sky. 10:13 A voice came to him, "Rise, Peter, kill and eat!"

10:14 But Peter said, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean."

10:15 A voice came to him again the second time, "What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean."

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on August 20, 2003 12:16 PM

(may be a duplicate)

From Acts:
10:10 He became hungry and desired to eat, but while they were preparing, he fell into a trance. 10:11 He saw heaven opened and a certain container descending to him, like a great sheet let down by four corners on the earth, 10:12 in which were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild animals, reptiles, and birds of the sky. 10:13 A voice came to him, "Rise, Peter, kill and eat!"

10:14 But Peter said, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean."

10:15 A voice came to him again the second time, "What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean."

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on August 20, 2003 12:19 PM

Man, their wives must have hated them. "Whaddya want for dinner" could just send these guys off for days, couldn't it?

I guess there wasn't much else to do back then, so anything you could make a big deal out of you did. Thank god we finally invented football.

Posted by: a different chris on August 20, 2003 12:31 PM

Man, their wives must have hated them. "Whaddya want for dinner" could just send these guys off for days, couldn't it?

I guess there wasn't much else to do back then, so anything you could make a big deal out of you did. Thank god we finally invented football.

Posted by: a different chris on August 20, 2003 12:34 PM

Well that just confuses that matter more.

You see, I fatally injured my servant and the local-yocal elders are bent on punishing me. I contend it was with a gun, not a "rod". Plus, he got up a bit and died after 3 days. They counterd that he died after 2 days since the day of the injury is not included in the calculation of days.

Exodus 21:20 "If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property."

Posted by: SOC7 on August 20, 2003 01:28 PM

and before he died, the brother of jesus was thrown out of the church as a heretic

Posted by: big al on August 20, 2003 02:18 PM

The kosher and circumcision laws symbolized the separateness of Jewish society from the rest of the world. In the original mission of the Hebrew nation, that separateness was both geographic and spiritual: they were to occupy one corner of the world and, while not being completely insular (there was no divine command to refrain from trade or from coopting ironworking technology from the Philistines), the neighboring religious and moral practices contrary to Judaism were off-limits. When Christianity changed the mission from that of building a separate society to one of influencing the societies of all the world from within, the kosher and circumcision laws became moot.

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson on August 20, 2003 03:00 PM

Anyone besides Brad think that the demand to abstain from fornication is a "minimal" one?

Posted by: joe on August 20, 2003 03:32 PM

How does one abstain from what is strangled and from blood, and do modern Christians so abstain?

Posted by: nameless on August 20, 2003 05:15 PM

The translation I have is slightly different. Instead of fornication, it says unlawful marriage, and an explanatory note says it deals with marriage between close relatives.

Which shows how many problems can arise when people do not obey the greatest commandment: “He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Posted by: northernLights on August 21, 2003 06:17 AM

Blood: Mark Kleiman notes at Calpundit that these are the Noachite commandments layed down in the Old Testament for all gentiles, not the more punctilious Mosaic Law of the People of Priests (Leviticus, etc.). There are seven (Acts lists fewer), and IIRC they come just after the Flood. Eating beef au jus breaks this commandment, but I think we eat few strangled animals. I doubt wringing a chicken's neck would count. I've never heard of a Christian sect preaching the Noachite commandments, despite Acts.

Posted by: John Isbell on August 21, 2003 08:30 AM

Now, was Jesus brother cast out from the church in a way that he would have noticed, or merely in the writings of somewhat taken by later generations as the true tranmitter of Jesus' teaching? Was the casting out of James just another instance of apostolic self-promotion? Was James cast out of a church he of which he considered himself a member?

Posted by: K Harris on August 21, 2003 11:28 AM
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