In today’s society, Christians are often divided when it comes to the opinions of what should be considered a sin, and what shouldn’t. Many like to quote verses from the New Testament, specifically those red-colored words which came from the lips of Jesus himself, others like to quote the Ten Commandments, some prefer other Old Testament books, like Leviticus. What it really comes down to, though, is context.
The “True Purpose”
The Bible is NOT meant to be a full set of strict rules that everyone must follow, or else they’ll be “damned to hell.” Although sins are listed in both the Old and New Testaments, and God’s laws are usually found nearby, it’s meaning is much deeper than just that. The Word as a whole has the ability to show Christians who they are (children of God who are called to live purposeful lives), what they are called to do (the Great Commission), explain who God is, describe the life of Jesus, and help Christians understand what sin and sacrifice really are.
Sin is not the focal point of every single verse, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that we wouldn’t need the Bible if we hadn’t been introduced to sin itself. Most of the Old Testament tells the story of how we as people fell into sin and strayed from God. The New Testament is the “rescue story” which shows God’s sacrificial love. Put together, the Bible is made up of sixty-six books that are filled with wisdom, courage, power, strength, grace, mercy, sacrifice, and love. All verses about sin were written out of love. As humans, we were designed to be in relationship with the Lord. The penalty of sin must be brought to attention because He loves us. And because of this focus on the penalty of sin, it makes the sacrifice that Jesus made for us so much more impactful. This brings us to the question:
What Is A Sin?
Sin is complex. The word itself doesn’t have just one simple definition or explanatory statement. In Galatians 5:19, sin is described as “the acts of the flesh.”
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21, NIV)
Acts of the flesh, worldly patterns, detestable actions… the list of synonyms for sin is long. You get the point.
Those Old Testament Sins
As I mentioned earlier, lists of sins can be found anywhere in the Bible. Some Christians think that sins listed in the Old Testament are no longer sins for various reasons, one being that this modern era is much different than what people of that time were living in. One example of this is the “shellfish sin.”
It’s VERY important to look at the context of every verse you read, whether that be sin-related or not.
For the case of the “shellfish sin”…
When I was in eighth grade, I had a habit of debating anyone willing, especially my friends who were not Christians. One person specifically brought up that I was sinning because I eat shrimp. I didn’t even know that the Old Testament even said that Christians couldn’t eat shellfish.
Here’s the thing: Eating shellfish is not a sin. IN CONTEXT, God told Moses and Aaron to tell the Israelites that they couldn’t eat shellfish because they were “unclean.” Scientifically, shellfish were considered unclean, like pigs (pork), because these animals don’t have the ability to flush out the toxins that they consume, inhale, or intake. Also, it’s never written in the Bible that eating shellfish is a “sin.” The Bible just claims that the Lord said not to do it. But, as Christians, we know that going against what God says is a sin of omission, meaning failing to obey God’s specific laws.
Crazy enough, Jesus himself said that no food should be considered “clean” or “unclean”. Let’s put it in context.
In Mark 7, Jesus is found being questioned by the Pharisees who claimed, just like in Leviticus, that certain foods are clean and unclean and that the disciples were not following tradition through the “ceremonial hand washing” which was performed before every meal.
Mark 7:17-19 says,
After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”
(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)So, basically, some weird “sins” aren’t sins anymore.
The Other Sins
The Old Testament, specifically in Leviticus also mentions other actions which are “forbidden” by the Lord which range from planting two different types of seeds in a field to not using “dishonest” standards when measuring length, weight, or quantity. An interesting and controversial action mentioned can be found in Leviticus 19:28:
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”
Many use this verse to justify their idea that Christians shouldn’t get tattoos. There also isn’t much context for this verse since it’s surrounded by other verses, one of which says that you shouldn’t cut the hair on the sides of your head or your beard. This makes it even more confusing if you look at it from surface level.
During the time that these instructions were given to the Israelites, pagan practices and false religions included these actions that were stated in the verse. All of the rules that are listed in Leviticus were solely meant to set the Israelites apart from the world.
Tattoos themselves are never forbidden in the Bible. Certain tattoos and practices associated with false religions were and are forbidden.
If you want to get a tattoo, remember that your body is still a temple for the Lord and is meant to glorify God. Your tattoo, which will be a permanent marking on your body, should not go against who you are as a Christian, but rather reflect your faith.
Looking at context and finding other verses to support or contradict a certain idea is necessary when it comes to analyzing the Bible and living in a way that glorifies God.
So, although eating shellfish and getting a tattoo is not a sin, other actions which are listed in Leviticus are. Also, just because these two actions are not sins DOES NOT mean that they aren’t relevant! We can learn more about the Old Testament through in-depth research, and learn more about our history as Christians.
Alyssa Shipman is a full-time student, with a passion for writing and sharing the Word. You can find her on Instagram (@honeyblondefaith)