When I was a child my parents taught me and my brother and sister the distinction God made between clean and unclean animals. I still recall their saying the names of animals and asking whether God said we could eat them or not. Beginning with the most common creatures people eat, we learned that cows, sheep, deer, chickens and turkeys were on the allowable list, while pigs, rabbits, squirrels, horses, shrimp and lobster were not.
Once we learned the basics, our childhood curiosity led us to consider exotic animals like tigers, elephants and giraffes. Since these animals were not specifically mentioned in Leviticus 11 or Deuteronomy 14, we learned to look for the identifying characteristics that showed which animals were acceptable for human consumption.
An oft-misunderstood subject today is that of the dietary laws. What exactly is the Bible talking about when using terminology such as clean and unclean foods? In this article, we examine the biblical definitions of this concept, its use during the time period of both the Tanach and the Brit Chadasha, as well as its practical application for us today. Some of the texts that we will examine in this study include Leviticus chapter 11; Deuteronomy 17:8-13; Mark 7:1-23; and Acts chapter 10. One aim of our study is to define, from the Scriptures, "What is food?" and "What is not food?
Served a delicious-looking pork roast, or a plate of mussels or oysters, or a tasty ham sandwich - has it ever crossed your mind that there could be anything wrong in eating them? A strange question, perhaps, in a world where anything that moves is eaten somewhere! But it's one that sometimes puzzles Messianic Believers.
Sooner or later a Messianic Believers will encounter the Bible's "dietary laws". These are a list of meats which God instructed Israel not to eat, found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. Do these restrictions of Torah on what may be eaten apply to Messianic Believers today? Are they merely 'ceremonial' - and "done away in Messiah"? Or is it still wrong to eat them?.
Did Yeshua adjust God's Torah of clean and unclean foods? The answer shouldn't be hard to find. It should be right there in the four gospels.
In Leviticus, chapter 11, God detailed exactly which animals were edible and which were not. He did so, not as an arbitrary test of obedience, but for the benefit of His creation. God knew long before modern science that pork is bad for your heart. He knew that shellfish are the garbage-disposals of the sea and have their own unique place in the food chain, separate from human consumption...
The Roman Centurion Cornelius, a "God-fearer" (a technical term describing a Gentile that keeps most of the Torah, but stops short of ritual circumcision), is visited by an angel to inquire of Shim'on Kefa (Simon Peter) for instruction. Kefa is staying with a man also named Shim'on. One day Kefa also has a vision from HaShem (God) concerning a four cornered sheet containing all manner of animals on it. He is instructed three times to "Rise, kill, and eat". All three times he refuses, explaining that he will not eat something treif (literally torn, or not fit for consumption), for he has remained kosher (a Torah-based diet) all of his life. HaShem tells him not to call "common" what He has called "cleansed" (KJV). The vision fades.
Meanwhile, Cornelius has sent men to inquire of Kefa. They meet him and request that he accompany them back to their master, which he does, along with a few of his own acquaintances. They reach Cornelius a few days later and upon seeing Kefa, Cornelius prostrates himself before this Jewish fisherman. Of course Kefa, being just a man, does not accept this unworthy accolade, and asks Cornelius to stand and talk with him....
Many believe Romans 14 says that Christians are free from all former restrictions regarding the meats they may eat. They cite as proof verse 14, in which Paul wrote, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean."
This approach, however, fails to consider the context of Paul's letter as well as the specific Greek words he used.
Many Bible resources agree that Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians around A.D. 55 and that he wrote his epistle to the Romans from Corinth in 56 or 57. The food controversy in Corinth (reflected in chapters 8 and 10) was over meat sacrificed to idols.
Since Paul was writing to the Romans from Corinth, where this had been a significant issue, the subject was fresh on Paul's mind and is the logical, biblically supported basis for his comments in Romans 14.
Understanding Paul's intent
Those who assume the subject of Romans 14 is a retraction of God's law regarding clean and unclean animals must force this interpretation into the text because it has no biblical foundation. The chapter itself shows that the discussion concerned meat sacrificed to idols.
Verse 2 contrasts the person who "eats only vegetables" with the one who believes "he may eat all things"— meat as well as vegetables. Verse 6 discusses eating vs. not eating and is variously interpreted as referring to fasting (not eating or drinking), vegetarianism (consuming only vegetables) or eating or not eating meat sacrificed to idols.
Verse 21 shows that meat offered to idols was the underlying issue of this chapter: "It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak." The Romans of the day commonly offered both meat and wine to idols, with portions of the offerings later sold in the marketplace.
The Life Application Bible comments on verse 2: "The ancient system of sacrifice was at the center of the religious, social, and domestic life of the Roman world. After a sacrifice was presented to a god in a pagan temple, only part of it was burned. The remainder was often sent to the market to be sold. Thus a Christian might easily—even unknowingly—buy such meat in the marketplace or eat it at the home of a friend....
It is a well-known fact that God forbade the Israelites to eat certain types of animal flesh. While the Israelites frequently disobeyed God's instructions, it was quite clear that God's law prohibited the consumption of pork, shellfish and other types of animal flesh. Therefore, if a person ate "unclean"; food in Old Testament times, it was because they were choosing to disobey God's instructions, not because they felt they had a divine authorization to consume such meats
In the modern world, most Christians consume "unclean" meats not out of rebellion, but because of a belief that New Testament scriptures permit them to do so. The belief that Old Testament instructions on the consumption of animal flesh are no longer applicable is often referred to as "Christian liberty" ("freedom " from the "restrictions" of the Old Testament). This article will examine the subject of "unclean meats" from biblical and scientific viewpoints in an effort to determine what the "New Testament" Christian viewpoint on this subject should be. The answer will reveal whether modern Christians are (A) exercising "liberty" to eat unclean meats or (B) ignoring God's guidance on the subject.
In the Torah, the issue was clear: God said to avoid eating the flesh of certain animals . It is in New Testament times that the issue has become blurred. The Old Testament meat instructions are still found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 in our Bibles. Clearly, anyone who eats forbidden animal flesh is disobeying those scriptures. However, do they have the "liberty" to do so as a result of New Testament scriptures? A deeper question is: if God really has abolished his Old Testament dietary laws, is there any empirical physical evidence to support that conclusion?...