Jesus' confirmation that his coming will not abolish God's laws in the Old Testament are worth remembering!
Two basic, fundamental rules of Bible study are:
God's words (in the Old Testament) and Jesus Christ (in the New Testament) carry more scriptural authority than the words of anyone else.
One must interpret vague scriptures in light of the meaning of clear scriptures, not vice versa.
Applying both these rules, any vague passages in New Testament books must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the clear declaration of Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:17. Given the vehemence of Jesus' support for God's Old Testament laws in Matthew 5:17-18, we must insist on finding very explicit evidence in the New Testament that something was "done away" before we abandon the practice. This is particularly true in the case of Paul's writings as Peter warned that Paul's writings were easy to misunderstand (2Peter 3:16). It is noteworthy that while God canonized many of Paul's writings, Peter's warning about their difficult doctrinal application was also canonized. If Paul's words were easily misunderstood in his own time and in his own culture , how much easier might it be for us to misunderstand Paul's writings when we not only read Paul's words in a different language but are also two millennia removed from his historical context?
Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is:
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines . . ." (Hebrews 13:8-9)
Here the apostle Paul warns against following false doctrines by reminding the reader that Jesus Christ's doctrines not only "did not change" but also "will never change." Does this scripture sound like Jesus Christ was one to radically alter the Old Testament laws? Quite the contrary, the scriptural evidence is that Jesus supported and practiced them faithfully during his entire life.
It is apparent that Jesus Christ and his disciples obeyed the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. The fact that there is no mention of any controversy about this point between Jesus and the Pharisees makes this evident. The Pharisees were EAGERLY looking for grounds to accuse Jesus on religious grounds to undermine his popularity with the masses. If Jesus (or his followers) had ever eaten unclean meats, the Pharisees would have made it one of their central accusations against him. Likewise, if the early New Testament church had eaten unclean meats, it would have been popular in the book of Acts. The fact that there were no controversies in the gospels about eating pork, shellfish, etc. argues that Jesus, his followers and the Pharisees were all in agreement on this matter. Paul's defense to his Jewish accusers also indicates that Paul had maintained a devout obedience to the Old Testament laws (which including the dietary laws) throughout his life:
"I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia . . . Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." (Acts 22:3, 23:1)
Nowhere in the scriptures is Paul accused by his detractors of eating unclean meats.
Were Old Testament dietary laws HUMAN commandments?
Let us examine some New Testament verses that address the issue of "unclean meats." These verses are erroneously understood by many to mean that the Old Testament dietary laws are no longer valid. The first is Colossians 2:
"Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations - 'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-22, NKJV)
Whatever Paul was referring to in his comment "do not eat that" he was not referring to the divine laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. Paul was arguing against "principles of this world" and commandments and doctrines which were "merely human." Such human meat regulations could have been a secular rule in Colossae (a Gentile city with pagan gods and temples) that no meat be eaten unless it was first sacrificed to idols. Paul made it clear that he was discussing a human meat regulation known to his readers in Colossae, NOT the divine meat laws of the scriptures. This leads us to a second scripture to be considered found in the first book of Timothy.
Is EVERYTHING good to eat?
"For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (1Timothy 4:4, NKJV)
What makes a food "holy" and acceptable to eat? An attitude of thanksgiving, prayer and the word of God. What was his word for the early Christian church? The only word at that time was the accepted canon of the Old Testament! Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 are the portions which list the meats approved for human consumption. Rather than permitting the consumption of unclean meats, Paul's instructions to Timothy actually affirmed that food must have PRIOR APPROVAL in the Bible (the Old Testament) in order to be eaten. Therefore, in this passage, Paul is actually affirming the applicability of the Old Testament dietary laws.
By examining 1Timothy 4 in its overall context, we see that Paul was addressing the subject of enforced vegetarianism, not the subject of "unclean meats." Paul warned that:
"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith . . . speaking lies in hypocrisy . . . forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving . . ." (1Timothy 4:1-3, NKJV)
Paul's argument was that it is permissible to eat animal flesh as long as the meats were approved in the Bible. Now consider that 1Timothy 4:4 is contained within a prophecy about the latter days (which many regard as our current modern times). Paul was telling those living "in latter times" that they should ignore those who say it is wrong or immoral to eat animal flesh. Paul prophesied that people could continue to eat animal flesh in the latter days as long as the meats were "approved" for human consumption in God's Word. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 are those sections of the Bible known to Paul that specified what types of animal flesh were permitted by God for human consumption. So this passage of 1Timothy actually uphold the clean and unclean foods laws as being applicable to the New Testament (and latter day) Christian church!
Eat food sacrificed to an IDOL?
Portions of 1Corinthians 8 are also taken by some to permit the eating of unclean meats:
"Therefore concerning the eating of things OFFERED TO IDOLS, we know that an idol is NOTHING in the world . . . However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their CONSCIENCE, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.
"But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak." (1Corinthians 8:4, 7-11, NKJV)
The eating of unclean meats is not the subject of these passages. In fact, Paul makes it clear he is discussing whether ANY meats can be consumed if they have been "offered to idols."
There was evidently a difference of opinion on this subject in the Corinthian church. Some believed they had the "freedom" to eat such meats because they knew that non-existent "gods" could not "bless" anything. While Paul concedes that fact, he warns such Corinthians that they needed to be careful about where and what they ate lest they trouble those with weaker consciences. Paul warned those with "knowledge" that it would be a sin to trouble another's conscience in this matter so it would be preferable to avoid eating meats altogether in a public eating place associated with a false god's temple rather than risk troubling a "weak" brother's conscience who might, by chance, witness this act of eating and offend themselves.
In conjunction with what he wrote in 1Corinthians 8 Paul writes later on:
"Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience . . ." (1Corinthians 10:25, NKJV)
We must remember Paul was not addressing the subject of eating unclean meats, but rather the eating of meats sacrificed to idols (1Corinthians 10:28). By lifting 1Corinthians 10:25 out of its limited context, some assume Paul meant it was alright to eat any unclean meat sold in the marketplace. Paul's statement must be understood within its context: he was saying that people shouldn't bother asking whether a cut of meat was "sacrificed to idols" before buying it. Paul's other writings make it clear he did not sanction the eating of unclean meats by early Christians, so he was telling Corinthian church members it was best to not even ask whether their "clean" meats had been "blessed by idols" because if the issue was not brought up, it did not even have to be addressed.
We must also remember Paul was writing about this issue to converts living in a Gentile, pagan city. This question would have been irrelevant in a Jewish community because the Jews would not have offered their meats to idols as part of their food preparation process. Paul's writings show that he is clearly wrestling with this issue: upholding the freedom to eat "clean" meats while ensuring that the greater need (not to offer reasons for others, weak in the faith, to offend themselves and weaken their faith) took precedence.
Did Peter's vision permit the eating of pigs?
Peter's vision in Acts 10 is also cited as sanction for eating unclean meats, but a literal reading of the text does not support that view. Peter had a vision (verses 9-16) in which he saw a sheet full of many animals whose flesh was "unclean" to eat. This sheet of unclean meat was offered to him three times with the words "Rise, Peter, kill and eat." In the vision, Peter refuses to do so with the words:
"Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean." (Acts 10:14)
This statement affirms that it was the practice of the Apostles and the early New Testament Christian church to avoid eating unclean meats! In the vision, Peter is told:
"What God has cleansed you must not call common." (verse 15).
Many assume this means clean foods were "cleansed," but they neglect to read on to see if that assumption is correct. Verse 17 says:
"Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate." (verse 17)
Note that Peter himself did not attribute to his vision any meaning that God had cleansed unclean meats; he simply didn't know what it meant. He didn't have long to wait to determine the meaning as it became clear as soon the men sent by Cornelius arrived . Cornelius was a Gentile (a Roman officer) who had sent three men to Peter after receiving a vision of his own to do so. Peter quickly realized that his vision meant that he "should not call any MAN (not meat) common or unclean" (Acts 10:28, NKJV). Peter understood the unclean meat in the vision had a symbolic, not a literal, meaning.
The Jews of Peter's time (including Peter) had such an unreasonable fear or hatred of those considered foreign or strangers that they avoided contact with Gentiles as much as possible and regarded them as "unclean" to be with. Peter, because of his beliefs, in all likelihood would not have accompanied these Gentiles unless God had revealed to him in the vision that this is what he wanted him to do. Later, He gave the Holy Spirit to these Gentiles in the presence of Peter and his delegation. What was their reaction? Verse 45 states:
"And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also." (Acts 10:45)
The racism of the early Jewish converts was so strong that even though Peter and his group met with the Gentiles, there apparently was no chance that they would have baptized these Gentiles and accepted them into the church unless God had performed a MIRACLE by giving them the Holy Spirit before baptism.
A careful evaluation of the vision given to Peter reveals that it contains no message permitting Christians to eat "unclean meat." Indeed, we have Peter's strong affirmation that he had "never" eaten anything unclean. The whole purpose of the vision was to convince the early Jewish Christians to accept Gentiles converts into the church.
Did Jesus permit eating unhealthy foods?
Another passage sometimes cited to defend the eating of unclean meats is Matthew 15 wherein Jesus stated:
"What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean." (Matthew 15:11, NJB)
When the verse is considered in its overall context, it becomes clear that Jesus isn't discussing the subject of eating meats at all. The Pharisees nitpicked Jesus by saying:
"Why do your disciples break away from the tradition of the elders? THEY EAT WITHOUT WASHING THEIR HANDS." (Matthew 15:1-2, NJB)
Notice that the subject being discussed is not the eating of unclean meats, but rather why the disciples were not washing their hands according to the TRADITIONS of the Pharisees ("the elders"). Jesus then snapped back with:
"He answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God BECAUSE OF YOUR TRADITION? For God commanded, saying, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death."
"'But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God' — then he need not honor his father or mother." Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect BY YOUR TRADITION.' " (Matthew 15:3-6, NKJV)
Jesus was telling the Pharisees that failure to observe all the ritualistic, rigid Jewish traditions was not a violation of his Father's law. He identified the Pharisees' subversion of the law as the REAL transgression. In fact, Jesus was affirming the necessity of putting Old Testament laws above ANY tradition or requirement of ANY man or group of men. By the time Jesus concludes his denunciation against the hypocritical Pharisees it is clear that Jesus is stating that it DID NOT MATTER if some foreign particle (dust, a fleck of dirt, etc.) is accidentally eaten because of insufficient hand-washing:
"When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, 'Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth (his attitude, his character, what goes on in his heart), this defiles a man.' ” (Matthew 15:10-11)
To summarize thus far, a careful examination of the scriptures indicates that the early New Testament church continued the Old Testament practice of observing the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. The words of Jesus Christ and Peter as well as the writings of Paul all support this conclusion. Before we examine physical, empirical evidence on this question, let us look closer at Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 to see what meats our Creator actually permits for consumption and which he forbids us to eat.
Which animals does the Bible consider clean or unclean?
Besides giving the Israelites a list of which animals, fish and birds were meant to be eaten by man, he also gave them general guidelines for recognizing those animals which would be acceptable to eat. In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 God stated that any cud chewing animal with parted hooves would be clean to eat. Also, all fish that have fins and scales can be used as food.
Animals, birds and sea creatures considered unclean or unhealthy to eat generally are those who either kill other animals for food or who eat the dead, putrefying flesh of other animals regardless of how they died. For example, pigs are capable of eating (and thriving) on diseased or decaying flesh. Predatory animals (lions, raptors, etc.) often prey on weak (and sometimes diseased) animals. In regard to unclean seafood, bottom-dwelling shellfish (clams, lobsters, oysters, etc.) eat decaying organic detritus which sinks to the sea floor. When humans eat such unclean animals and sea creatures they are partaking of a "food chain" that lived off things that are ultimately harmful to humans.
List of Common
Clean and Unclean Foods
CLEAN ANIMALS AND BIRDS
Buffalo - Cattle (Beef, Veal) - Chicken - Deer (Venison) - Duck
Goose - Sheep (Lamb, Mutton) - Turkey
Anchovy - Bass - Bluefish - Bluegill - Carp - Cod - Herring - Flounder
Grouper - Haddock - Halibut - Mackerel - Minnow - Mullet
Perch - Pike - Red Snapper - Salmon - Sardine - Smelt - Sole
Sucker - Trout - Tuna - Whitefish - Whiting - Yellow Perch
Pig (Swine) - Rabbit
Catfish - Clams - Crabs - Crayfish - Lobster - Oysters - Scallop
Shrimp - Sturgeon (includes most caviar) - Swordfish
Comprehensive List of
Biblically Clean and Unclean Foods
In Leviticus 11 God concludes his instructions on unclean foods with these words:
"You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps; NOR SHALL YOU MAKE YOURSELVES UNCLEAN WITH THEM, lest you be defiled by them. For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
"This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.’” (Leviticus 11:43-47, NKJV)
Humans were regarded as "defiled" or "unclean" if they ate the flesh of unclean animals. He expected the Israelites to refrain from unclean meats to maintain a state of holiness in his sight. As noted previously, the early New Testament church obeyed his instructions in Leviticus 11. The Apostle Peter recoiled at the thought of eating unclean meats and the Apostle Paul wrote that animal flesh had to be sanctified in the word of God before it could be eaten.
How can a believer continue to be HOLY?
Paul's instructions in 2Corinthians 6 are worth considering. After commenting on the importance of being separate from the sinfulness of the world He writes:
"And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? FOR YOU ARE THE TEMPLE OF THE LIVING GOD. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.' Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN, and I will receive you.' " (2Corinthians 6:16-18, NKJV)
While writing to a congregation in a Gentile (non-Jewish) community, Paul quotes the Old Testament instructions to " touch not the unclean thing " as part of a commentary on maintaining Christian holiness. In citing these scriptures Paul was likely referring to forbidden meats as "unclean things," especially since his fellow Apostle, Peter, specifically used the word "unclean" to describe forbidden meats (Acts 10:14). Even as the Israelites were forbidden to eat unclean meats as part of their holiness obligation, Paul told early Christians the same thing. In other words, Paul was telling Corinthian Christians they would be defiling their bodies if they "touched unclean things." This passage indicates that Paul, considered the primary apostle to the Gentiles, affirmed that the animal meat restrictions of the Old Testament were BINDING on New Testament Christians. Somehow, this fact has been overlooked by virtually all of modern Christendom!
Is there any evidence about the risks of eating unclean foods?
If God made this physical world (as the Bible asserts), then we should also be able to see physical, empirical evidence that unclean foods are somehow harmful for human beings. Conversely, if he "purified unclean foods," the physical world should reflect an absence of risk in consuming them.
It is well known that the flesh of animals dubbed "unclean" for human consumption pose unique risks to humans who eat them. Webster's Dictionary definition of "trichinosis" states:
"a trichinas disease marked by fever, diarrhea, muscular pains, etc. and usually acquired by eating undercooked, infested pork." (Webster's New World Dictionary, Second Concise Edition, Avenel Books, 1975, see "trichinosis," page 798)
The Encyclopedia Americana adds this warning:
"Hogs may be infested by parasitic roundworms called . . . (trichina), which are lodged in muscle tissue. The trichina can be transferred to humans if raw or inadequately cooked pork is ingested, and serious, sometimes fatal, illness may result . . . There is more likelihood of pork being contaminated by trichina in the United States than in Europe. In Europe, hog carcasses are inspected microscopically for evidence . . . of trichina." (Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 22, 1988 Edition, see Heading entitled "Pork," page 416)
The mortality of symptomatic cases runs from 5 to 40% . . . Once the trichinae are encysted in muscle tissue they cannot be dislodged . . . Death is usually from cardiac or respiratory failure in the acute phase." (ibid., see Heading "Trichinosis," p. 99)
Note that in SPITE OF of widespread measures to protect the public from pork-related trichina infections, Americans become infested anyway! Consider the following about shellfish poisoning:
" . . . any of a group of disorders that develop following the eating of oysters, clams and other shellfish harvested from polluted waters. Nearly all the disorders are caused by disease organisms or the toxic substances ingested by the shellfish. The disorders range from diseases such as cholera and infective hepatitis to attacks of diarrhea and vomiting caused by unidentified organisms. (ibid., see Heading "Shellfish Poisoning," p. 697)
It is a scientific fact that the flesh of pigs and shellfish pose special infection risks to humans. If 15% of Americans are infested with trichina as a direct result of eating pork, one wonders how many unexplained cases of "cardiac or respiratory" problems could be a result of trichina infestations. One also wonders how many cases of unexplained diarrhea or vomiting attributed to mysterious "bugs" are actually caused by eating shellfish.
It is worth noting that while the health risks of eating pork and shellfish are so well known that they deserve their own listings in encyclopedias, there are no such special diseases inherent within Biblically clean foods. Is it any wonder that Deuteronomy 5 says:
"Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, THAT IT MIGHT BE WELL WITH THEM AND WITH THEIR CHILDREN FOREVER!
"Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, THAT YOU MAY LIVE and that it may be WELL WITH YOU, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess." (Deuteronomy 5:29-30, 32-33, NKJV)
God did not give his laws to ARBITRARILY assert power over human beings. He gave his laws that it might be WELL with us!
We have seen that there is NO basis for believing that the Bible diet found in the Old Testament was abolished or ended in New Testament times. Instead, we have seen that the early church obeyed Old Testament laws. Somewhere between the early church and today Christians stopped obeying God's laws. Countless people have died since the time of the first century church because those who claim their faith rests on what the Bible teaches foolishly forsook God's food, sanitation and hygiene laws. If we believe in an all-wise Creator as well as a loving Father, it follows that we should believe that his Biblical instructions represent the sound instructions of a caring parent who wishes only the BEST for their children.