Unclean Foods

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Q. I understand your point about Christians not being subject to Jewish food laws. But why would God give the Jews the laws in the first place and lift the restrictions later? Why bother? What’s the point?

A. Lev 11 and Deut 14 give only the criteria for determining which land and water animals and insects are clean, and list clean and unclean birds without giving the rule. They did not give the specific reasons why God declared certain foods clean and others unclean. Some commentators believe the purpose is in v 44, to set the Israelites apart:
Lev 11:44 For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth.

This was certainly the case for Daniel and his 3 friends:
Dan 1:8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.
but then shouldn’t Christians be set apart too?

Others believe certain animals e.g. pigs are used as sacrifice in pagan worship and God forbade the Jews to follow their example and eat the meat. This may be true for some animals, but does not explain the prohibition for many other land, sea and air creatures not used in pagan sacrifices.

In hindsight, we can make some educated guesses based on hygiene:
• Some land animals are hosts for parasites e.g. pigs; others are disease carriers e.g. rodents;
• Some water creatures are bottom feeders e.g. shellfish and have high cholesterol bad for our health;
• Some birds are predators e.g. eagles, kites, falcons etc. or scavengers e.g. vultures, buzzards, ravens etc. and carry all kinds of bacteria.

In general the restrictions protected the health and welfare of the Jewish people. But if there are intrinsic health concerns about the unclean foods, why would God lift the restrictions for Christians? Why didn’t He continue to ban them?

Some scholars suggest the principle of progressive revelation. Just as we provide lots of rules for children for their protection but gradually relax them as they grow up, God kept His people from certain foods until they learned to discern for themselves. Others believe the foods are clean in themselves provided you cook them properly. God placed the restrictions on the Jews to teach them to obey even though they may not know the reasons behind the prohibitions. He wanted them to trust Him, not the reasons. Or it could be all or none of the above. The Bible simply did not spell it out fully.

Kosher Foods? (1 of 2)

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Q. I like seafood – lobster, crab legs, mussels, clams, scallops etc. But Lev 11:9-10 says, ‘These you may eat, whatever is in the water: all that have fins and scales, those in the water, in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you’. Some told me these laws still apply today. So can we eat lobster?

A. Your subject is about the dietary laws in the Bible. You can find a lot of debates on the internet arguing for or against whether God had abolished such laws for today, with both sides quoting the same passages I cited below, saying how the opposing view had misinterpreted the verses. Many of the papers on either side are authored by people with PhD. I can only give you my opinion. You have to decide whether my reasoning is correct for yourself.

OT Audience. The food laws are given in Lev 11, which distinguished the clean (fit for food) versus the unclean (ceremonially unfit for food) land and water animals, birds and insects. An important note is who is God addressing. Vs 1-2 tells us:

Lev 11:1-2 The LORD spoke again to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth.

God was addressing the sons of Israel i.e. Jews, and the laws do not apply to Christians in the first place.

NT Audience. When Gentile Christians appeared in the NT, some Jewish Christians (former Pharisees) insisted that they must be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:2), and that they must observe the Law of Moses (v 5). The Council at Jerusalem was called to decide on this issue. The conclusion was that Gentiles are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (v 11), in the same way as Jews. The essential requirements in terms of conduct are recorded in v 23-29:

Acts 15:20, 29 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. … that you abstain from (1) things sacrificed to idols and from (2) blood and from (3) things strangled and from (4) fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.

The Jerusalem Council determined that Gentile Christians do not have to observe Moses Law to be saved. The only behavior requirements were moral, not ceremonial. It re-affirmed that dietary laws do not apply to Gentile Christians.

(To be continued)