What Does the Bible Say About Eating Shrimp?

Eating shrimp is a controversial topic among some Christians. Shrimp are one of the many animals that the Old Testament labels as “unclean” and prohibits God’s people from eating. However, in the New Testament, Jesus declares all foods clean. So what’s a Christian to believe about shrimp? Let’s dive into the Bible and see what it really says about eating shrimp.

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Old Testament Prohibitions Against Eating Shrimp

In the Old Testament, God gave many dietary restrictions to the Israelites to set them apart from other nations as God’s holy people. Several times God specifically prohibited the consumption of shrimp and other shellfish.

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Leviticus 11

The clearest prohibition against shrimp is in Leviticus 11, where God lays out rules about clean and unclean animals:

“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.” (Leviticus 11:9-10)

God allows the consumption of fish with fins and scales, like salmon, tuna, trout, etc. But prohibits the consumption of shellfish, like shrimp, lobster, oysters, crabs, etc. which do not have fins and scales.

Later in the chapter, God specifically calls out shellfish as being off-limits:

“Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you.” (Leviticus 11:12)

Deuteronomy 14

The book of Deuteronomy reiterates the dietary laws, prohibiting the consumption of shrimp and shellfish:

“Of all that are in the waters you may eat these: whatever has fins and scales you may eat. And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.” (Deuteronomy 14:9-10)

So according to the Old Testament, shrimp was clearly prohibited by God for the Israelite people. Why did God institute these dietary restrictions? The Bible does not explicitly say, but some speculate it was for health reasons, to teach self-discipline, or to make Israel distinct from the surrounding nations. Regardless, eating shrimp was against God’s laws for His people.

Jesus Declares All Foods Clean

The New Testament brings radical change in regards to diet and food regulations. Jesus Himself declared that no foods are off limits or unclean anymore for God’s people.

Mark 7

In Mark 7, Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about His disciples eating food without washing their hands properly according to ritual tradition. Jesus chastises the Pharisees for letting their traditions override God’s commands. Then Jesus says this:

And he said to them, “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.) (Mark 7:18-19)

By saying there is no food that can defile a person, Jesus set aside the Old Testament food laws and effectively “declared all foods clean” (v. 19). This was a radical departure from Judaism which strictly adhered to Mosaic dietary regulations. But Jesus asserted that what matters is the heart, not ritual cleanness.

Acts 10

In Acts 10, the apostle Peter has a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven containing all kinds of animals considered unclean:

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.” (Acts 10:13-14)

God tells Peter to “kill and eat”, but Peter protests since the Old Testament forbids it. God responds:

“What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:15)

Right after this the Holy Spirit tells Peter to go to the house of the Gentile Cornelius, proving that the Gospel is also going to the Gentiles and all people are now welcomed in the Church.

The context makes it clear that God was telling Peter that the Old Testament dietary restrictions were no longer in effect – nothing is “unclean” now or prohibited from being eaten. The New Covenant brought freedom in this area.

1 Timothy 4

Paul the Apostle also affirms that Jesus set aside the old Jewish food laws and believers can now eat anything:

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4)

Paul says every created food is acceptable and “nothing is to be rejected.” He says Christian prayer and gratitude can make any food holy, overriding the Old Testament rules.

Colossians 2

In Colossians 2:16-17 Paul specifically mentions food laws as something not binding on Christians:

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

Dietary laws were part of the Mosaic system that were shadows pointing to Christ. But now that Christ has come, keeping these food laws is no longer required or necessary. The New Covenant brought freedom from these restrictions.

Hebrews 13

The author of Hebrews also confirms that Mosaic dietary laws do not apply anymore for Christians:

“Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.” (Hebrews 13:9)

The Old Testament food laws are now labeled as “diverse and strange teachings” that Christians should not be led astray by. Instead, God’s grace strengthens the heart, not rules about foods.

Conclusion: Christians Are Free to Eat Shrimp

Based on the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament, Christians are fully free to eat any foods, including shrimp. The dietary restrictions found in the Old Testament were set aside as part of the temporary Mosaic Covenant. Under the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus, all foods are permissible for consumption.

The Apostle Paul addresses the Corinthian church on this exact issue, as some members were getting hung up on Old Testament dietary rules:

“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” (Romans 14:14)

Paul says no food is intrinsically unclean or forbidden. The only reason not to eat certain foods is out of concern for a fellow believer’s conscience, not because the food itself is prohibited.

So in summary, according to the Bible, eating shrimp and shellfish is absolutely permissible for Christians. The dietary laws of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Christ and nullified under the New Covenant. As Psalms 34:8 declares, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” Christians can taste and see the goodness of our Savior through any food He has created for our nourishment and enjoyment, including delicious shrimp!

Key Takeaways:

  • The Old Testament prohibited eating shrimp as part of the Mosaic food laws
  • Jesus Himself explicitly declared all foods clean and abolished these restrictions
  • The Apostles and New Testament authors affirmed believers’ freedom to eat any food with thanksgiving
  • Jewish dietary laws were a temporary part of the Old Covenant, fulfilled by Christ
  • Nothing is intrinsically unclean or forbidden to eat under the New Covenant
  • Christians can enjoy shrimp and other shellfish with a clear conscience according to Scripture

1 Corinthians 10:25 “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience.”

Colossians 2:16 “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”

1 Timothy 4:4 “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

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