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? (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

The Lord’s Teaching. Jesus chided the Pharisees and the scribes on their neglecting the commandment of God to hold on their tradition, in this particular instance ceremonial washing, but in passing pronounced a principle on food:

Mk 7:19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) See also Mt 15:11, 17-18

What’s external does not make a person unclean. It’s the internal evil that defiles a person. So why insist on following OT laws re what’s ceremonially clean or unclean?

Peter’s Vision. When God wanted to break down Peter’s prejudice against Gentiles and evangelize them, He gave him a vision of four-footed animals, crawling creatures, and birds, and asked him to kill and eat. Critics claimed that the objective was only to teach Peter not to call any man unholy or unclean (Acts 10:28), and has nothing to do with setting aside food laws.

Acts 10:15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

Of course the object was v 28, which Peter realized on his own after three times (v 16). My question is, “Would God have told Peter v 15 if it were not true? Would He have used this as an object lesson if it weren’t relevant?” Even biased Peter caught on, but apparently not the critics.

Paul’s Teaching. Paul used food as an illustration to teach principles of conscience in Rom 14, in particular vegetables (v 2) versus meat (v 21). In 1 Tim 4 he touched on food again, but in the context of apostasy in the last days, when liars seared in their own conscience forbid certain foods:

Romans 14:14, 20 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. … Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
• 1 Tim 4:3-5 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

The issue is not whether the food is ceremonially clean or unclean, as all are intrinsically clean, but whether we are causing our brother to stumble (Rom 14:13, 21) and hurting him (v 15). What’s important is love, not food laws. This is reinforced in 1 Tim 4.

So my conclusion after looking at who the laws are addressed to in the OT and NT, the Lord’s, Peter’s and Paul’s teachings, is that I do not have to eat kosher foods. I understand the opposing view’s arguments as to why they think the dietary laws are still binding, but I disagreed that we should put ourselves under the yoke of the law when God had delivered us to live under grace. I can legitimately eat the seafood that I like, only not to excess. After all, all things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable or edify (1 Co 6:12; 10:23).

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)