Tuna is one of the most popular fish consumed around the world. However, some Christians wonder if eating tuna goes against biblical dietary restrictions regarding clean and unclean foods. This article will examine what the Bible says about tuna and provide an overview of the key points in the debate over whether Christians can eat this fish.
What Does “Unclean” Mean Biblically?
In the Old Testament, God gives instructions to the Israelites to distinguish between clean and unclean animals. For example, Leviticus 11:9-12 states:
“These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever has fins and scales, in the seas or in the rivers, that 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.”
Creatures considered “unclean” were forbidden to be eaten under biblical law. God used these dietary restrictions to set apart his people Israel and teach them holiness.
Some key principles from the Mosaic Law regarding clean and unclean animals:
- Land animals must chew the cud and have divided hooves to be clean (Leviticus 11:3).
- Water creatures must have fins and scales to be clean (Leviticus 11:9).
- Birds of prey and scavengers were unclean (Leviticus 11:13-19).
- Insects and rodents were unclean, with a few exceptions (Leviticus 11:20-23, 29-31).
So according to these biblical categories, an animal’s physical traits determined whether it was permissible to eat or not.
Does the New Testament Change the Requirements?
With the coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant, some argue that the dietary restrictions from the Mosaic Law are no longer binding. Several New Testament passages address this topic:
“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)
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4)
“One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” (Romans 14:2-3)
Based on these passages, Christians have differing views on whether the Old Testament dietary restrictions continue to apply. Some believe Jesus “declared all foods clean” and abolished the distinctions between clean and unclean animals. Others argue the restrictions still provide wisdom, even if not strictly required, about what foods God designed for human consumption.
There is evidence on both sides of the debate, which leads to disagreement among believers over the status of certain animals like pork, shellfish, and tuna.
What are the Arguments For and Against Eating Tuna?
When it comes to tuna, those who believe Christians are permitted to eat it make the following case:
- Tuna has fins and scales, meeting the biblical qualifications for a clean fish (Leviticus 11:9).
- Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7, removing Old Testament dietary restrictions.
- Neither Jesus nor the apostles prohibited the eating of tuna in the New Testament.
- Tuna is considered an acceptable food in modern Jewish kosher dietary law.
On the other side, some Christians argue tuna should be avoided for these reasons:
- While tuna have fins and scales, they do not keep scales as a permanent covering, which some argue violates the intent of the biblical law.
- Jesus’ statement in Mark 7 referred to spiritual purity, not removing dietary standards that provide health benefits.
- We should follow God’s original ideal for human diet from the Garden of Eden, which did not include fish consumption (Genesis 1:29).
- Though not forbidden outright in the New Testament, the principle to avoid unclean animals remains wise to follow.
This shows how sincere believers aiming to honor God’s word can arrive at different conclusions about eating tuna based on their biblical interpretation.
Species of Tuna Covered in the Bible
To shed more light on the tuna debate, it is helpful to look at the species the Bible mentions and their characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Thunnus alalunga
- Appearance: silvery blue back, white underside, yellow fins
- Average Size: 5 feet long, up to 140 pounds
- Range: temperate and tropical oceans worldwide
- Notes: Migratory species with distinct light and dark meat colors. Considered a premium sushi fish.
- Scientific Name: Thunnus albacares
- Appearance: metallic blue or blue-green back, yellow sides, yellow fins
- Average Size: 5 feet long, up to 400 pounds
- Range: tropical and subtropical oceans globally
- Notes: Can swim up to 75 km/hr. Prized by sport fishermen.
- Scientific Name: Thunnus thynnus
- Appearance: dark blue back, silvery sides, blue and yellow fins
- Average Size: 6 feet long, up to 1500 pounds
- Range: Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, Black Sea
- Notes: Can swim up to 80 km/hr. Highly prized for sushi and sashimi in Japan.
These species match the descriptions of tuna found in biblical times. They all possess fins and scales and belong to the same genus Thunnus. So those arguing tuna is acceptable for food have biological evidence on their side that tuna meets the biblical qualifications for “clean” fish.
Tuna’s Use in the Bible
Looking at how tuna is directly referenced in the biblical text also sheds light on this question:
Job and the Leviathan
In Job 41, God describes a fearsome creature called the Leviathan, often considered to be a whale or giant sea monster.
“Can you fill its hide with harpoons or its head with fishing spears? If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again!” (Job 41:7-8)
Some propose Leviathan could refer to tuna, whose large size made them almost impossible to catch without modern reels and rods. If God allowed Job to battle this mighty fish, it suggests tuna was not off limits for food.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
When Jesus miraculously feeds over 5,000 people from a few fish and loaves, it is possible some of this fish was tuna:
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.” (Mark 6:41)
As a common fish in the Galilee region where this took place, tuna could have been among the fish Jesus multiplied to feed the crowd. If so, this indicates Jesus condoned eating tuna.
Jesus and the Fish’s Mouth
In Matthew 17 when the temple tax collectors ask Peter if Jesus pays the temple tax, Jesus instructs Peter:
“Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:27)
Tunas are saltwater fish that do not live in freshwater lakes. So this incident likely did not involve a tuna. But it illustrates Jesus’ acceptance of fishing for food and his use of fish.
Overall the Bible paints tuna as an abundant, common fish. Beyond the passages above, there are no verses that explicitly prohibit tuna or label is as unclean. So the main biblical support for avoiding tuna stems from inferences about its scales rather than clear textual commandments.
Nutritional Value of Tuna
Beyond the biblical evidence, tuna’s health benefits also factor into this issue:
- Excellent source of lean protein
- Rich in omega-3 fatty acids that support heart health
- High in selenium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and other nutrients
- Lower mercury levels than many fish (still should limit intake)
- Potential for high mercury contamination in some species
- Higher sodium from canned tuna
- Overfishing of tuna damaging marine ecosystems
So while tuna provides lean protein and omega-3s, its long-term sustainability and mercury levels should be considered. Eating tuna in moderation can be part of a biblical diet, though some may choose to avoid it.
Current Christian Views on Eating Tuna
Among current Christians, there is a diversity of opinion regarding tuna consumption:
- Roman Catholicism
- Eastern Orthodoxy
Most Christian denominations place no restrictions on eating tuna. It is considered acceptable along with other fish that have fins and scales.
- Seventh-Day Adventists
- Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)
- United Church of God
- Living Church of God
- Some Messianic groups
Some Christians avoid tuna and certain other fish based on their interpretation of clean/unclean laws or abstinence from meat. But most still permit tuna’s consumption.
- Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent, but fish like tuna is permitted.
- Orthodox Christians follow periodic fasts that restrict meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil.
- Some Protestants avoid tuna specifically due to mercury concerns.
So tuna consumption is widely accepted across Christianity with only a few groups prohibiting it outright based on biblical interpretation. Many consider health, sustainability, and ethics today when deciding whether to eat tuna.
In summary, there is no universal consensus on tuna’s status in the Bible or whether Christians should eat it. The Old Testament does not specifically forbid or restrict tuna based on texts about clean and unclean animals. The scales versus no scales debate rests more on inference than explicit biblical statements against tuna.
Tuna meets the biological qualifications for a clean fish in Leviticus 11. And there are no verses in the New Testament overturning tuna’s acceptability. Most Christian groups permit tuna, though some discourage eating it based on biblical reasoning or health concerns.
Overall, each Christian must examine the evidence, biblical principles, and their conscience and come to their own conclusion. While a possible case can be made to avoid tuna, there is no definitive biblical command declaring this fish unclean. So tuna’s status ultimately remains disputed among believers.