Shrimp is a widely accepted food among Christian communities today. I personally haven’t met any Christians who have argued that eating shrimp is sinful. However, some may point out that shrimp is considered unclean in Leviticus 11:9-12. Here’s what the Bible has to say about this topic.
Can Christians eat shrimp? Yes, Christians can eat shrimp because that is under the old covenant in Leviticus. We are now under the new covenant with Christ, since his sacrifice on the cross has set us free from the old covenant. Moreover, Jesus proclaims all foods clean in Mark 7:19.
If you’ve ever questioned whether it is okay to eat shrimp or not, here’s a little history on this subject.
The Old And New Covenant
All of the questions about eating shrimp today stem from the old law in Leviticus that forbids eating anything from the water that does not have fins and scales. This doesn’t apply to Christians in the New Covenant. Here’s why.
The Old Covenant
The Old Covenant is spread through the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The passage about not eating shrimp is found in Leviticus 11:9-12.
“These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. Everything in the waters that has not fins and scales is detestable to you.— Leviticus 11:9-12
God’s people were originally under this covenant to not eat anything that didn’t have fins and scales, which includes shellfish and shrimp. God gave this law to the Israelites when they were delivered out of Egypt as part of their covenant with Him. The Lord established this relationship with them, whereas long as they followed and kept the law, He would protect and bless them in return.
The New Covenant
It is important to note that we are not under the old covenant anymore. When Christ died on the cross for our sins, that took away the old law that governed the people and created the New Covenant. The New Covenant is that through Jesus Christ, God promises to forgive humanity of their sins, and restore our fellowship with him.
Before the New Covenant came, we were “held in custody under the law” (Galatians 3:23). God’s people were stuck in the Old Covenant, relying on a sacrificial system that looked forward to the coming of Christ and justification by faith (verse 24). “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son . . . born under the law to redeem those under the law” (Galatians 4:4–5). When the Son of God died on the cross, God “canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).— Got Questions
Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are free to eat any foods we wish. Christ confirms this in Mark 7:18-19 when he says, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?‘ (Thus he declared all foods clean)
Reasons God May Have Condemned Eating Shrimp
It is not certain why the Lord set up a law for not eating shrimp, but some ideas include health and setting Israel apart from other nations.
Though it is unknown, there are some who suggest that God banned eating seafood like shrimp to protect the Israelites at that time and to keep them healthy.
Shellfish are scavengers which by nature will have a high toxic load… Shrimp are bottom dwellers which eat all sorts of dead animal remains along the ocean’s bottom. Actually, there is a higher level of cannibalism in shrimp possibly evident of certain parasites they contain… Unfortunately there is no process used to determine which shrimp are infected by parasites and which are not.— Natural Living Family
It’s possible that since shrimp has this high toxic load from eating dead animals, the Lord was trying to keep his people safe from these toxins, as well as parasites. Modern medicine was not readily available at this time; if someone was sick or had an allergic reaction, there may have been no way to help them. The Lord has other laws in Leviticus that are directly related to health, which are clean and unclean practices. He sets these up to protect his people.
Set Apart From Other Nations
The Lord also created these laws to set Israel apart from other nations. God wanted to separate Israel from other nations so that they could see the benefits of the Lord’s ways (Leviticus 20:24-26). One of the benefits could be that the Israelites would have been healthier from their specifications of food intake, which ties in with the last point. The neighboring nations may have had questions on why their neighbors were different or not eating the same food as they were, and Israel would be able to give all the glory to God since he was the one who gave them their laws and guidelines.
Some Rules In The Old Covenant Are Void Now, But Not All
While doing research for this topic, I came across numerous articles that compared the old law about not eating shrimp to the laws about homosexuality. Many are arguing that if it is okay to eat shrimp and other foods under the new covenant, then why isn’t homosexuality okay? The short answer is that homosexuality is distinguished as immoral in the New Testament in Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, whereas all foods are declared clean in the New Testament in Mark 7:19. Since both of these have been addressed in the New Testament, they are still statutes that remain to this day. If the law is confirmed or restated in the New Testament, it absolutely still applies to us now.
How This Applies To Christians Today
As previously stated, we are not bound to follow many of the laws of the Old Covenant. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no knowledge to be gained from these old laws. Especially in regards to God setting Israel apart from other nations, we are also called to be different and separate from the world.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:2 ESV
We must continue to seek out the Lord to gain wisdom for which of these laws we should continue to follow. Pray continually, read the words of Christ often, for He will give you discernment on the confusing passages. Whether it is determining whether eating shrimp is okay or not, or other old laws, seek the Lord for the answer.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him,— Proverbs 3:5-6
and he will make straight your paths.