Food for Thought
And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.
— the Apostle Matthew
Is all animal flesh food from God? According to the Holy Bible the answer to this question is NO; all animal flesh was not designed or intended by our Creator to be food for us. SOME animals were given to us by our Creator as food, but most were expressly forbidden.
Most Americans and, indeed, most professing Christians throughout the world have for many generations been reared to believe and have been taught by their ministers, preachers, pastors, elders, deacons and priests that God’s rules on food are no longer in effect. As professing Christians, most of us deem ourselves to have become “New Testament” Christians, and to a large degree we, as a group, ignore all the writings of the “Old Testament.” And, of course, we know that there are passages of scripture in the “New Testament” that SEEM to change God’s rules for food consumption. In this chapter we will examine and fully explain and expose each of those troubling passages.
The Apostle Paul was actually of the tribe of Benjamin, but the term “Jew” in common reference includes the tribe of Judah (Jews), the tribe of Levi, and part of the tribe of Benjamin. Thus, in common terms, and in religious practice, the Apostle Paul was a Jew.
But before we examine those passages, let’s first establish some background information. Let’s first establish and remember that Jesus was a Jew. ALL of Jesus’ apostles were Jews. Practically all of Jesus’ followers in his lifetime were Jews. Jews – and in particular Jesus and his Apostles – kept the instructions of God as given to Moses. Moses instructions included several dietary rules including that “unclean” animals should not be eaten. Jesus did not eat pork (or any other “unclean” animal). Neither Jesus, nor his Apostles, nor his followers, ate “unclean” animals. In fact, there is no example from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21 of any prophet, any person of God, any Apostle, or any Christian ever eating any “unclean” animals. NOT ONE EXAMPLE!
And lest we believe, as most professing “New Testament Christians” believe, that the idea of “clean” and “unclean” animals were instituted at the time of Moses, let’s please re-think that. Noah – long before Moses – took with him on the ark SEVEN pairs of all “clean” animals (Genesis 7:2). Abraham and his descendents prior to Egyptian bondage ate only “clean” animals. Moses did not institute these rules related to food, nor were the Ten Commandments instituted at the time of Moses. They were already in effect! For example, Cain killed Able which was wrong because of the Sixth Commandment, which was already in effect. Even Abimelech the pagan king of Gerar knew that adultery was forbidden by the Seventh Commandment – witness the king’s repulsion when he discovered that Sarah was already married to Abram (Genesis 20:2-10). The Sabbath day commandment was already in effect prior to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, as God demonstrated with the giving of manna to the Children of Israel for weeks prior to the giving of the stone tablets to Moses. These examples demonstrate that what Moses instructed was not new from God, but that these rules were made for man from the beginning. But they were new to the recently freed Children of Israel who had been slaves in Egypt for over 400 years, and had forgotten God’s instructions.
To demonstrate his Sabbath to the Israelites God gave them manna to gather every day of the week except the Sabbath. They were given a double portion on the sixth day. If kept overnight during the middle of the week, the manna rotted, but it did not rot when kept over from the sixth day until the Sabbath.
Among what Moses was instructed to write down for us, God included instructions concerning the eating of animals. And what did Jesus say about the instructions of Moses? He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19). We should remember here that all sacrifices pointed to the ultimate Passover sacrifice of Jesus. Thus the animal sacrifices saw their culmination when Jesus was tortured and murdered on the cross. This was not a “change” in the law, but it was the ultimate plan of the law. So Jesus – who was, indeed, the God of the “Old Testament” said that the rules were not changing.
There is one other point we need to grasp prior to delving into the “seeming” problem passages of the “New Testament.” We need to know and understand that “UNCLEAN” is not the same as “DEFILED.” Only “clean” animals could have been “defiled” by improper butchering or preparation techniques. “Defiled” is a ceremonial term, and is not synonymous with “unclean.” All the writers and original readers of the “New Testament” were familiar with these Jewish terms and traditions. Perverse teachings through the centuries have led to the misunderstandings and mistranslations which we have today. The “New Testament” writings were generally clear to those readers of scripture in the first century.
Now, let’s look at those problem scriptures. From Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, we get the list and the description of “unclean” animals. The list includes: pork, shellfish, catfish, squirrel, etc. “Unclean” animals were not to serve as food according to our Creator. Indeed they were not food. But then in the “New Testament” we see several scriptures which cause some to think that God has changed his mind. These scriptures are listed below.
MARK 7:18-19 – And He said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) (NASB)
ROMANS 14:14 – As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. (NIV)
ACTS 10:10-15 – He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (NIV)
Hmmm….it would appear that perhaps we have a problem! Has God changed his mind about something that was important enough to include twice in the first five books of the Holy Bible? No, God has not changed his mind. Let’s look at these passages a little closer. Let's look first at the seventh chapter of Mark. In order to fully understand Jesus’ words, let’s start at the beginning of the chapter.
MARK 7:1-5 – Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled [Gr. koinais], that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" (NKJV)
This passage is the background context for what Jesus states afterward. As it shows, the problem or the issue was related to Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands. The reason for this washing was for ceremonial purity only and was a tradition of man. The word translated "defiled" in verse 2 is a form of the Greek word koinos. In this context, the passage is contrasting that which is "holy" with that which is "common" or "defiled." This contrast is the sense in which koinais is used in Mark 7:2.
Jesus here used the Pharisees' criticism of his disciples over a non-biblical ritual to demonstrate that the Pharisees were concerned with human traditions and were using their own traditions above the scriptural commandments of God. Jesus then made a statement to those present to illustrate his point. The statement he made, though relatively short and simple, was a parable of sorts. Even though this was a simple enough parable, Jesus does provide an interpretation of the parable. Let’s read Jesus’ words.
MARK 7:14-16 – When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!" (NKJV)
As with most of Jesus’ parables, the above statement was not readily understood by the listeners. The disciples later asked Jesus for an explanation of what he meant.
MARK 7:17-23 – When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man." (NKJV)
ACTS 10:1-8 – There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!" And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, "What is it, lord?" So he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do." And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa. (NKJV)
Here we see that Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman centurion, saw a vision of an angel. The angel told him to send for Simon Peter. Cornelius then sent THREE men to get Peter. Let’s remember that number three. Now let’s read about Peter’s vision. Let’s remember that it is only a VISION. Let’s remember that almost invariably Biblical visions require an interpretation; let’s be careful about providing our own interpretation.
ACTS 10:9-16 – The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter said, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common [Gr. koinon] or unclean [Gr. akatharton]." And a voice spoke to him again the second time, "What God has cleansed [Gr. ekatharisen] you must not call common [Gr. koinou]." This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. (NKJV)
Okay, Peter went to the rooftop about noon (when he was hungry) to pray, while at the same time the three men from Cornelius were about to arrive. Peter while on the roof had a VISION. In this VISION, he saw a sheet being let down from above with all kinds of animals in it, including cockroaches, dung beetles, spiders and skunks. When Peter was told to “rise, kill and eat,” we see that even though he was hungry he certainly did not jump up and grab anything, did he? Peter, an Apostle of Jesus the Messiah, to whom the vision was given, said NO to this directive three times! Peter was a zealously religious Jew of the first century, and a zealous APOSTLE of Jesus the Christ. Peter stated that he had NEVER eaten anything "common" (koinon) or "unclean" (akatharton). That statement by itself is interesting, considering that it had probably been at least ten years since the resurrection of Christ (this frustrates those who teach that Jesus changed these things at the cross!). And let’s get this – Peter OBVIOUSLY did not take Jesus’ words recorded in Mark 7 (examined above) to mean that any animal could legally be eaten. (Hmmmm?)
Why did Peter use both "common" ("defiled") and "unclean" in his reply? “Unclean” specifically refers to those animals prohibited from being eaten in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. But "common" refers to a different group of animals altogether. Only “clean” animals designated as food sources in the “Old Testament” could become "common" or "defiled" in such a way that they were not to be eaten. Peter said that he had never eaten any "unclean" animals nor had he eaten any “clean” animals that had been "defiled" ceremonially. The angel's response to Peter would seem to indicate that food is, indeed, NOT the subject of this VISION. What did the angel say? The angel told Peter not to call "common" that which God had cleansed. The angel said nothing about anything "unclean". And please notice that the statement was repeated three times before the vision ended.
ACTS 10:17-20 – 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. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are seeking you. "Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them." (NKJV)
We see that Peter did not immediately understand the VISION (he certainly jumped to no conclusions in the manner of many modern day professing Christian teachers). As Peter sat contemplating what the vision meant, the three men from Cornelius arrived. Peter was told that he was to go with these men. About this point in time, Peter perhaps began to understand the VISION’s meaning and the reason that the angel had repeated his message three times (this was perhaps once for each of the three “common” Gentiles sent by Cornelius to fetch Peter).
ACTS 10:21-29 – Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, "Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?" And they said, "Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you." Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I myself am also a man." And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any MAN common [Gr. koinon] or unclean [Gr. akatharton]. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. . . ." (NKJV)
Verse 28 clearly shows us that at this point Peter understood the purpose of the VISION given to him on the rooftop. Let’s note that Peter, to whom the VISION was given, did not at any time think that it was meant to allow the eating of “unclean” animals, but he eventually figured out that the VISION was meant to teach him that no MAN is common or unclean. We see that this was to show Peter that God was calling people clean that Peter had until then considered to be defiled. Peter was shown by this VISION that no longer should Jews abide by any “tradition” of avoiding keeping company with a Gentile.
Peter was told by the angel in Acts 10:15 that what God had cleansed he was not to call "defiled." When we review the usage of the Greek root word katharizo ("cleanse") in the Gospels, it illustrates the point God was making. This word is used in several instances to describe the cleansing of leprosy by Jesus and his disciples (Matt. 8:2-3; 10:8; 11:5; Mark 1:40-42; Luke 4:27; 5:12-13; 7:22; 17:12-19). Just as Jesus physically cleansed many lepers of their disease, perhaps God was showing Peter that He was spiritually cleansing the Gentiles of their impurities through the sacrifice and blood of Jesus. This passage absolutely does NOT teach that we are to eat “unclean animals.”
No first century Jew would ever consider a pig to be “food.” Thus, if a first century Jew were talking about all “foods,” then that first century Jew would be addressing “food” as defined in the “Old Testament.” Consider that even though cockroaches could be consumed and digested by humans, very few Americans would ever give any thought to cockroaches when discussing “food.” Paul, being a first century Jew, had this attitude about pig – it was never considered by him to be in the “food” category. Orthodox Jews have the same attitude today – pig is not “food.”
Now let's look at Romans 14 in detail. This letter to the Romans is a compilation of instructions and explanations to help two groups of Christians (Jews and Gentiles) to become as one group. The entire chapter deals with food customs that were causing divisiveness in the Roman congregation. Food and drink are mentioned 16 times in this chapter. Each of these 16 times, Paul is addressing one of two specific problems related to eating and drinking. These two problems were WHAT to eat or not eat, and WHEN to eat or not eat. Let’s read.
ROMANS 14:1-4 – Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (NIV)
We see here that the first issue mentioned is that the Roman believers were judging each other (meat eaters versus vegetarians). Romans 14:14 tells us why this was a problem.
ROMANS 14:14 – I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean [Gr. koinon] of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean [Gr. koinon], to him it is unclean [Gr. koinon]. (NKJV))
Let’s be clear that the Greek word here translated as "unclean" is koinon. We note from our discussion above on Mark 7 and Acts 10, that this word should be translated as "common" or "defiled." So, when properly translated, verse 14 reads: "I know and am convinced by the Lord Yeshua that there is nothing defiled of itself; but to him who considers anything to be defiled, to him it is defiled." Upon reading a correct translation of the above we are offered a major clue to understanding why some Christians in Rome would not eat meat. There were seemingly some folks in the group who considered the meat sold in the meat markets to be ceremonially "defiled." Meat sold in first century Rome had most often been offered in sacrifice to idols. Thus, Jews would have considered it “defiled.”
We can see that Paul also addressed this same problem in Corinth (I Corinthians 10:18-28). He told the Corinthians' that they should eat whatever is sold in the market without raising questions of conscience about whether the meat had been sacrificed to an idol (I Corinthians 10:25), unless they knew that the meat had been sacrificed to an idol. (I Corinthians 10:28). We can discern that Paul is here telling the Romans very much the same thing. He said he was convinced that nothing was “defiled” of itself. Thus, he told the Romans not to assume that meat purchased in the market had been sacrificed to idols. However, he said, if anyone could not in good conscience eat such meat because they could not be certain it had not been sacrificed to an idol, perhaps then to that person the meat was “defiled” and they should not eat it. We must conclude that Romans 14:14 does not address eating “unclean” meat. It is speaking of “defiled” meat.
Let’s now look at the second eating problem which was addressed by the Apostle Paul in this passage. We find this second concern mentioned in verse 5.
ROMANS 14:5-6 – One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. (NKJV)
We might ask – what is this about??? We can notice that whatever exactly the problem may be, is not immediately manifest. But let’s do notice in verse 6, Paul talks about "he who eats" and contrasts this to "he who does not eat." We also note that the question about WHEN (a day is observed) is seen here. Perhaps it is that this passage has to do with fasting. When Paul speaks of "one who esteems one day above another," he is most likely addressing the issue of fasting days which was at times a delicate issue in the early church. Let’s regard the passage below which is quoted from Bryan T. Huie’s article ”Are All Foods Clean.”
“The very issue of setting aside particular days for fasting was a contentious one in the early church. The Didache (also known as The Teaching of The Twelve Apostles), written sometime between 80-150 A.D., addresses this exact controversy.
8:1 Be careful not to schedule your fasts at the times when the hypocrites fast. They fast on the second (Monday) and fifth (Thursday) day of the week, therefore make your fast on the fourth (Wednesday) day and the Preparation day (Friday, the day of preparation for the Sabbath- Saturday). (The Didache, 1998 translation by Ivan Lewis)
"The hypocrites" mentioned here refers to the Pharisees. The author of The Didache urged believers in Yeshua to fast on days other than those chosen by the Pharisees. In agreement with The Didache, the Mishnah also indicates in tract Taanit that the Pharisees fasted on Monday and Thursday. This is also alluded to in Luke 18:12.
LUKE 18:11 "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' (NKJV)
Paul's point in this passage (Rom. 14:5-6) is that no particular days of the week had been sanctioned by God for fasting. Those who chose to fast regularly on days such as Monday and Thursday (or Wednesday and Friday) would be accepted if they did it to honor God. Likewise, those who didn't view any particular day as mandatory for fasting would be accepted if they ate in the proper spirit and gave thanks to God.”
Finally, in verse 21 through 23 below, we see that Paul sums the matter of chapter 14 and puts it into context: Don’t offend your brother and do all things through faith. We note also that verse 21 again seems to be contrasting meat with no meat (vegetarianism).
Let’s not forget that Paul was zealous in the observance of God’s word. Paul was a Jew. Paul did not eat pork, nor did he teach others to do so. We can find nothing in this chapter which instructs us that it has become acceptable to forego God’s instructions on the types of animals we may eat.
ROMANS 14:21-23 – It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (NIV)
There is yet one other passage in I Timothy that “seems” to some people to say that all animal flesh is acceptable for consumption. Let’s remember that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter also.
I TIMOTHY 4:1-5 – Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 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. (NKJV)
To those with only a rudimentary or “New Testament” background, Paul seems to say that anything is okay to eat. But let’s please read verse five again. We are told that "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving" (I Tim. 4:4). But let’s not stop reading there. Verse five places a qualification on what was just read. It must be “sanctified by the word of God”. We know that “sanctified" in the original Greek translates literally to mean "set apart", or to “make holy.” Let’s ask ourselves this question: In the first century, prior to the canonization of the “New Testament”, what constituted the word of God, and what did the word of God “set apart” as food? We know that in the first century, the “Old Testament” was the word of God, and the “Old Testament” set apart “CLEAN” animals for food! We know that God did indeed “set apart” the animals to be used for food in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14? So here we see that the Apostle Paul is stressing the instructions of the “Old Testament.”
Let’s now discuss an item from the “Old Testament.” Isaiah was a prophet of God and he wrote a book of prophecies. In Isaiah chapter 66, where he is prophesying of the time of the return of the Christ, Isaiah says…….
Isaiah 66:15-18 – See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the LORD. "Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the midst of those who eat the flesh of pigs and rats and other abominable things—they will meet their end together," declares the LORD. "And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory. (NIV)
Here we see that Isaiah is prophesying of the eating of pigs by people at the time of the return of Jesus the Christ. We can also note that Isaiah does not paint these people in a good light. Since the return of Jesus is yet future, and in that future the eating of swine is condemned as it was in the time of Moses and of Jesus, we can logically conclude that the scripture above should apply as an admonition to us today.
Prior to completing this subject, let’s note the quote from Matthew at the heading of this chapter. This quote was concerned with an incident where Jesus allowed a large number of evil spirits to enter into a herd of pigs. The pigs then immediately ran over a cliff into the water and perished. We certainly cannot prove anything concerning the eating or not eating of pigs with only this incident and no other information. But we can find it interesting, and we can surmise as to why Jesus allowed the pigs to perish. Would he have done the same thing with cattle or with sheep? We cannot be certain, but it is interesting that he allowed a herd of pigs to perish in a region where Jews formed a significant percentage of the population, and where it was certainly common knowledge that the Torah taught against the consumption of swine. There is every likelihood that someone was raising the swine for food; there is the possibility that Jesus used this incident to demonstrate his attitude about such an operation. This is just a thought.
Okay, let’s now iterate just once more. Nowhere in scripture does God sanctify the eating of pork (or any other “unclean” animal). Nowhere in scripture is there any example of any person of God eating pork (or any other “unclean” animal”). Jesus’ original followers were Jews: Jews did not eat pork (or any other “unclean” animal). Hopefully this chapter will help to clear up the perverse ideas that have been taught by professing Christians for centuries.