TO EAT OR NOT TO EATA Study of Kosher Food Laws in light of New Testament Teaching
Kashrut(or kosher) isthe body of Jewish law dealing with what foods we can and cannot eat and how those foods must be prepared and eaten.From a Christian perspective, Kosher Law refers to the classification “clean and unclean” foods in the Old Testament (esp. Leviticus and Deuteronomy) including prohibitions regarding intake. Kosher foods are allowed foods.
Of the "beasts of the earth"(generally referringto landmammals),you may eat any animal that has cloven hooves and chews itscud (Lev11:3;Deut 14:6).Anyland mammal that does not have both of these qualities is forbidden.Lev/Deut specifythat the camel, the rock badger, the hare and the pig are not kosher because each lacks one of these two qualifications. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer and bison arekosher (allowed).
Example: forbidden food
The word "kosher" is the Anglicized form of the Hebrewkasher, which literally means "good" or "proper," but came to indicate an item "fit for ritual use."Kosher thus describes food that meets these standards. The word "kosher" can also be used, and often is used, to describe ritual objects that are made in accordance with Jewish law and are fit for ritual use.The Hebrew word for non-kosher istrayf, from the wordterayfa, "torn" (from the commandment not to eat meat that has been "torn" by other animals).
Likethe Jews, the Samaritans looked for a final judgment with rewards and punishments in charge of the Messiah. Both Jews and Samaritans emphasized circumcision, the Sabbath, and the Kosher law. Thus Jesus could stay in a Samaritan home for two days, eating their food and drinking water from Jacob’s well (John 4:1-42).
Jews and Samaritans
Modern Jewswill say that theTorah does not specify any reason for these laws, and for a Torah-observant, traditional Jew, there is no need for any other reason. Some have suggested that the laws ofkashrutfall into the category of "chukkim,"laws for which there is no reason.Yet, from a Christian perspective, we may understand these laws from a holistic view of Scripture, having received both the Old and New Testaments.
1. PRACTICAL REASONS -to protect them fromdisease, since they lived in a backward society (compared to ours)andmedicine was scarce. Thus,eating animals that died of natural causes was dangerous and forbidden (Leviticus 17:15). A number of disease-carrying animals were prohibited in Leviticus 11, such as pigs, gulls, and many insects.2. SPIRITUAL REASONS - to make them holy, dedicated, separatethem from the nations.Pork, for instance was not simply a heavy meat (difficult to digest and less healthy than fish or fowl), but a pagan food, associated with Egyptian andCaananitecult.
Why these laws?
God knew that neglecting these laws could result in disease, both physical and spiritual. The latter was more serious, since imbibing foreign pagan culture was sure to have negative impact on His people.How should we view these rules today? Let’s look at some principlesfrom Scripture.
Lev 7:36On the day they were anointed, the LORD commanded that the Israelites give this to them as their regular share for the generations to come.During the Exodus, God was continuously directing his people, “calling the shots” as he brought them closer to his fulfilled vision for them as a people.
Principle #1: God gives directives to his people with perfect timing.
Jer31:31“The time is coming,” declares the LORD,“when I will makea new covenantwith the house of Israeland with the house of Judah.Jer31:32It will not be like the covenantI made with their forefatherswhen I took them by the handto lead them out of Egypt,because they broke my covenant,though I was a husband to them,’”declares the LORD.
Looking forward from Lev/Deut
HEB 7:12For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place achange of lawalso. (AB)Jesusreplaces Aaron with a priesthood that is both different and better. And with theAaronicpriesthood went the law that had been erected with that priesthood as its basis. So the author says there must be a change of law.Jesus actually “changes” the law from one perspective when he raises the bar of purity in Matthew 5, and when he enlightens their understanding of food laws in Mark 7.
Principle #2: The New Covenant supersedes the Old Covenant.
Heb 8:13By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. (NIV)“Fromthe idea that the covenant is a relationship existing between God and His people maintained through atoning sacrifice, it is clear that the high priest becomes the central figure in it. He is the minister of atonement. The covenant relationship, therefore, is only as good as the high priest who administers it. The ministry of the ancient high priest wasimperfect. Thus the old covenant also was imperfect and hencetransitory(8:13)”—F.F.Bruce,New International Bible Commentary
Mk7:14-7AgainJesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.Nothingoutside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’’”Afterhe had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.Mk7:18-20“Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’?Forit doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”)Hewent on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’
Principle #3: Jesus declared all foods clean in the New Covenant.
MK7:18-20And 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,becauseit does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)AndHe was saying, “ That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. – Amplified Bible
The dietary laws distinguishing clean and unclean foods served to mark out God’s people as holy – separated from all others (see Leviticus 20:24-26). By declaring all foods clean, Jesus removes a major boundary marker that separated Jews from Gentiles. He signals that this ancient distinction is disappearing in His Kingdom.Avoiding sin is much more than just eating right! Thethings which defile a man issue forth from the heart.
Jesus called the crowd around him because he wanted them to hear the crux of his teaching about what is clean. He prefaced his statement with a prophetic call to hear his words and then stated clearly what does and does not make a person unclean. What is external cannot defile a person.Food, for example, cannot do this--even if it is eaten with unwashed hands or declared unclean by kosher food laws. What really makes a person unclean comes from within, out of the heart and the will--what one thinks, says, desires, and does.- Walter Wessel,ZondervanInternational Bible Commentary
On Mark 7
“Animalproducts such as milk (usually sheep and goat),butter and cheese weremore common than meat as the former were continuing products. The pig and the camel were forbidden meats to the Jew in the OT, but pork was afavoritewith Greeks andRomans. Inthe NTdispensation theywerelegitimate food. Allkosher laws disappearedafter Peter’s vision and Paul’s missionary work.” - MerrillTenney,ZondervanEncyclopediaof the Bible,s.v. “Foods”
Paul had this problem when he was dealing with the Christians in Colossae.It seems that they were struggling with regulations and prohibitions from theirJudaisticpast.Once focused on Christ, it is easier to mind the more important matters of the faith and not be caught up in minor judgments.
Principle #4: The Cross frees us from Old Covenant Regulations
Col2:13-15When you were dead in your sins and in theuncircumcisionof your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,havingcanceledthe written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.Andhaving disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.Col2:16-17Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.Col 2:17These are ashadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
The Cross removes judgment
TheLeviticallaw did prohibit certain foods,andthe observance of certain times was obligatory. But Christ by His death has abrogated these legal demands, and to look to these is to prefer the shadow to the substance which is Christ Himself.What are we focused on, the shadow of Christ (Old Covenant) or the substance of Christ (New Covenant)?
In light of what Christ did, the Colossians were to let no one "judge" their standing before God on the basis of their observance ornonobservanceof the regulations of the Mosaic law.Insuch matters the principle of Christian liberty comes into play (cf. Gal 5:1).
The false teachers atColosselaid down rigid restrictions with regard to eating and drinking and with regard to the observance of the religious calendar.Paul points them to the more important matters regarding Christ, allowing them to practice Christian liberty.They were not to impose on their fellow Christians something which God did not impose.
Principle #5: Christians are to respectfully practice their freedom.
Ro14:1-2Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.Oneman’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.Ro14:3-4The 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.Whoare 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.
The tension among Romans
The “weaker”brethren at Rome should probably be identified with the Jewish element in the church, those who had avoided certain foods because of the dietary laws of the OT. Information may have reached Paul that with the return of Jewish Christians toRome.The point is that Christians should accept each other’s differences when it came to opinion matters.
Practical: If “all foods are clean” one should be free to eat whatever food he/she prefers, taking responsibility for one’s own health. For instance, one is free to eat pork, but one should know that a porcine heavy diet brings much bad cholesterol to the body.If eating one kind of food is an aversion to you, then you are free to avoid such food. Others should not impose their tastes on you.
Some related questions
Isa 66:16-17For with fire and with his swordtheLORD will execute judgment upon all men,andmany will be those slain by the LORD.Thosewho consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the midst ofthose who eat the flesh of pigs and rats and other abominable things—they will meet their end together,” declares the LORD.
Q. Does Isaiah 66:16-18 prohibit forever the eating of pork?
This is concernedwith the fate of rebellious Jews, especially those guilty of degrading and idolatrouspractices; as well as Gentiles.This is in the context of idolatry, and simply borrows the image of the food prohibitions in the Pentateuch. You cannot conclude from this text that eating pork brings the curse of God. What about for us today?“Jesusdeclared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), and Hebrews 13:9, Colossians 2:21 and other passages warn us about the legalism of regressing to the kosher laws.“ - Douglas Jacoby
In 1 Timothy 4:3-4, Paul makes note that there would arise false teachers who would prohibit several things, including the eating of meat. But, notice that in verse 4, Paul makes it expressly clear that ALL animals were to be considered as food if they were received with thanksgiving. Thus, meat eating has always been permissible for man since creation.
Tensions were being resolved regarding the church in Antioch. At the Jerusalem Council, James shared his piece in Acts 15:13-21.Ac15:19-20“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.Insteadwe should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
Q. What about the “blood prohibition” of Acts 15?
In Leviticus 3:17, God forbade the Jews from ever eating fat or blood. In Lev. 7:26, 27, God again reminds His people that they could not eat blood lest they be separated from the house of Israel. In Lev 17:11, 14, God again speaks to the children of Israel and forbids them to eat of the blood of any animal and makes other restrictions regarding the eating of flesh that has been killed by another animal.
Remember that the purpose of the Council’s letter was to lessen the friction between disciples of different backgrounds in the Antioch church.In Acts 15:1-2 the main issue had to do with circumcision and the Law of Moses.The letter of the Council was not to impose more rules on an already rigid theology (15:28-29). Besides, Paul already learned Christian freedom from Jesus’ teaching.
Purpose of the Council’s letter
Ac15:28Itseemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden youwith anything beyond the following requirements:Ac 15:29You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.The prohibitions were more abouthelping Gentile Christianscome into the faith while at the same time respecting Jewish freedoms (and not make the Jewish Christians stumble).
We can say that sexual immorality is wrong in any age because there are many verses in the New Testament that support it. But wecannot say the same for the food laws. The New Testament does not support this.“Even on the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols, Paul later modified this teaching by saying thatyou could eat itif you didn’t know it had been sacrificed in an idol temple, and in fact, you shouldnot ask(1Cor10:25-30).” – Gordon Ferguson,Revolution: The World-Changing Church in the Book of Acts
Which is binding teaching?
1Co10:25-26Eatanything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience,for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”1Co 10:27If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.1Co 10:30-31IfI take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?Sowhether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Food and meat issues (Acts 15)
Paullays down three principles: (1) Though Christianshave the rightto do all things, such as eating sacrificial meat, it may not be beneficial to them. (2) Such practices of liberty may not in fact build up a fellow Christian. (3) In summary, Christians arenotmerely to seek their own good but to promote the goodof their fellow Christians and the glory of God.
Freedom within limits
We cannot lump the three food laws (food sacrificed to idols, blood, meat of strangled animals) as a matter of sin in the New Covenant.Paul as a matter of principle declares in 1Cor10 that foods may be eaten freely, while responsibly thinking of the conscience of others.Note also that Colossians (which tells us not to judge based on “what you eat”) was written around 58AD,afterthe Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Remember that Acts 15 represents an unusual time in the learning curve of the early church.
Doctrine + conscience
Thus, it is fine to ingest the items mentioned above as the stipulation in Acts 15 during an unusual transitory time of the church from Old Covenant rules. The letter was a concession, not a doctrinal treatise.At the same time, one (in modern times) should not be forced to eat anything against their preference.
Some food laws are truly queer(e.g. “cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk”). God must have a reason for putting them there.Research in the area of Ugarittestifies to the depraved nature of Canaanite religionaround the time of the Exodus.including the boiling of a goat kid in its mother’s milk, a practice warned against in Exodus 23:19 and 34:26 and which probably lies at the heart of the kosher laws.Again, these are not binding on those who participate in the New Covenant.
Q. What about queer food laws?
Gen 9:4 But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.Thelife of the creature is its blood; so the spilling of the lifeblood is the giving of its life as the atoning sacrifice.(SeeDt12:23)
Lev 19:26“ ‘Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.“‘Do not practice divination or sorcery.‘The emphasis and frequent prohibition of blood suggest that in this context eating blood or the flesh with the blood was a common heathen practice.It had to do with false religion in Canaan during that time.The Israelites were to resist the influences of the Canaanite culture and were not to conform to Canaanite religious practices.
In the Torah, thecriteria is lessclear for fowl meat than for others. We are provideda list of forbidden birds (Lev11:13-19;Deut14:11-18), but does not specify why these particular birds are forbidden.
Q. What about those not found in the kosher lists (e.g. turkey meat)?
All of the birds on the list are birds of prey or scavengers, thus some Jewish rabbis inferred that this was the basis for the distinction. Other birds are permitted, such as chicken, geese, ducks and turkeys. However, some people avoid turkey, because it is was unknown at the time of the giving of the Torah, leaving room for doubt.Again, we must return to the principle that Jesus declared all foods clean, supported by the superseding of the Old Covenant.
God has perfectly planned for the institution of the New Covenant which supersedes the Old Covenant.Jesus declared all foods clean, and Paul reiterated that no one should judge others on food preferences.Paul saw the importance of Christian liberty. For further study: Romans14:1-15:7, 1 Corinthians8:1-11.We can practice Christian freedom to eating anything, while at the same time not causing others to stumble if they shun certain foods.The Crosshelps us focus, not on the things that divide us, but on what we have in common as Christians.