The Dietary Laws of the Bible
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1974
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, April 2004
Read the accompanying Newsletter for April 2004
The Bible teaches that all people are sinners — even Christians who have a relationship with Christ. Anyone who studies the Scriptures even superficially should understand this point. Among the many verses which illustrate it is one from the apostle John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). This simply means that no Christian is a “keeper of biblical law.” And true enough, most denominations are aware of this fact. But this well-understood principle is not what we wish to discuss in this article.
Our interest involves those who say they try to keep the law and at the same time violate some of its simplest precepts. In fact, the Dietary Laws of the Bible could absolutely be fulfilled in one’s everyday affairs of life, but “lawkeepers” (in almost all cases) deliberately trespass those very laws even when they say they are trying to keep them.
The Israelites were given a set of Dietary Laws at Mount Sinai. These were recorded by Moses and are found in Leviticus chapter 11 and Deuteronomy chapter 14. 2 God told Moses certain animals were “clean” to eat — those with cloven hoofs which chewed the cud such as cattle, goats, sheep, deer, and so forth. All fish with fins and scales, and insects of the locust family were also “clean.” The pig and the camel, however, were “unclean” and were not to be eaten. All carnivorous birds, sea creatures without fins and scales, most insects, rodents, reptiles, and so forth were “unclean.” This is the essence of the Dietary Laws which came from God, and because of their divine origin, many Christians wonder if these laws are still to be observed.
Most “lawkeepers” insist that the “clean food laws of the Bible” are to be observed today. The laws are simply stated and they are possible of being kept by any human who wishes to take them up. There is nothing ambiguous about these food laws. Certain animals were “clean”: while others were “unclean” (Hebrew: tameh) animals.
These are biblical laws that anyone could observe perfectly if one sets his mind to do it. But, most Christian “lawkeepers” are not willing to obey the plain teachings of the Bible concerning these “unclean” foods. They have taken it upon themselves to utterly disregard the biblical legislation — and most of them do it without the slightest feelings of remorse for their open resistance to biblical authority. How is their disobedience manifested? It is done in the plainest of ways.
The fact is, no one claiming to keep the clean food laws of the Bible could go into any ordinary restaurant to eat and come away as a lawkeeper. If he wanted to obey the law, he would have to limit himself to eating in a strict Jewish (kosher) establishment or possibly a vegetarian one which was very meticulous in its vegetarianism. To buy food in any other place of service (a cafe, meat market, a neighbor’s home), one could almost be assured that all the food would be utterly contaminated and unable to be consumed by the lawkeeper of Leviticus chapter 11.
Most think nothing of going into a fine restaurant in most American or British cities (or anywhere, with the possible exception of Israel) and ordering a beefsteak, a lamb chop, a veal cutlet, etc. They usually make sure the vegetables are cooked with vegetable oils and that the soup not contain ham or bacon. In fact, if they find a few flakes of bacon in the soup, they diligently put them to the side so that they will not get any contaminated meat in their stomachs. This may seem good on the surface, and they may think they are trying to keep the food laws of the bible, but nothing could be further from the truth. They are blatantly violating the food laws of Leviticus. They are complete lawbreakers.
It is abundantly clear that any “clean” food that comes in contact with a grill, an oven, a pot, a utensil, or a stove that has ever had an “unclean” carcass on it, the so-called “clean” animal has become as tameh (as “unclean”) as if it was pork or shrimp or snake! This is the very law of Leviticus and it is without dispute:
“And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, does fall, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment [clothes], or skin, or sack [storage container], whatsoever vessel it be, wherein any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the even; so it shall be cleansed. And every earthen vessel, whereunto any of them falls, whatsoever is in it shall be unclean; and you shall break it. Of all meat which may be eaten, that on which such water comes shall be unclean: and all drink that may be drunk in every such vessel shall be unclean. And every thing whereupon any part of their carcass falls shall be unclean; whether it be oven, or ranges for pots, they shall be broken down: for they are unclean, and shall be unclean unto you.”
However, most Christian “lawkeepers” do not want to be hampered by such restrictions. Such things interfere with their lifestyles too much. Such inconvenience has prompted them to devise ways to avoid the rigorous discipline of the biblical laws. They want to go and do as they please, but still have what they call a “clean conscience.” To accomplish this, almost all Christian “lawkeepers” have presented their interpretations to alleviate the matter. Their “way out” of the dilemma is to divide Leviticus chapter 11 into two parts. One is to them the law “of God,” and the other the law “of Moses,” a ritualistic part Christians no longer need to observe. They say Leviticus 11:32–35 (about an unclean carcass coming onto an oven, a pot, etc.) is only ritual, but the earlier part that represents an “unclean” animal is the law of God and must be kept.
What nonsense! Who gives them, or anyone, the authority to divide the word of God in that fashion? The fact is, Leviticus chapter 11 is one complete teaching about clean and unclean animals, and what makes them unclean. Who has the right among humans to disallow some parts in favor of others? If one does that in Leviticus chapter 11, it could be done in the Ten Commandments too. Fancy this: such an interpretation allows one to say the weekly Sabbath has to be altogether observed by one’s son or daughter, but that one’s maidservant or manservant (the latter part of the command) was only ritual and it does not apply. Such dealings with the Bible are not being fair with its teachings. This means it is not God who is allowed to decide the matter — it is man who justifies.
Is it necessary for the Christian to follow the law of clean and unclean foods mentioned in the Old Testament? Many Christians have wrestled with this question over the centuries. There would be no major problem with it except that some feel that God gave the Dietary Laws for hygienic purposes and that the unclean animals were not intended for human consumption. If this were true, then it would be far better for everyone to avoid eating any “unclean” animal. But there is a problem with this belief: the Scripture gives no real evidence that this is the reason why God reckoned certain animals as “unclean.” The Jewish authorities clearly recognize that the Old Testament says nothing about the food laws being given for health purposes. Michael Friedlander, in his authoritative book The Jewish Religion, says:
“We must take care that we do not consider these precepts exclusively as sanitary regulations, however important such regulations may be. We must not lose sight of the fact that Holiness is the only object of the Dietary Laws, mentioned in the Pentateuch.”
Friedlander, Jewish Religion, p. 456 3
This appraisal is quite true. There is not a syllable in the Old Testament which states that God had the health of His people in mind when He gave the Dietary Laws.
Some Christians wish to dispute this. They point to the word “unclean” (Hebrew: tameh) and state that the word itself could denote a sanitary unfitness. But this is not Biblically true. The word really signifies “ceremonially unclean or defiled.” 4 This proper meaning of the word is demonstrated within the text of the Dietary Laws itself. If a “clean” animal died of itself and the Israelite ate of it, he was told to “wash his clothes and be unclean until the even” (Leviticus 11:40). If hygienic uncleanness were meant, how could the man be hygienically decontaminated simply by the setting of the sun? This would mean he was in a completely unhealthy state just before the going down of the sun, but at the exact moment the sun went below the western horizon, the man became perfectly healthy in a physical way. This cannot be true!
The truth is, the term “unclean” (tameh) signifies “ceremonially unclean” in Leviticus 11, as it does in scores of other occurrences in the Old Testament (87 occurrences in all 5). A man was ceremonially clean at sunset, but the state of his physical health was not under discussion. The meaning of the word itself shows that the Dietary Laws given to Israel were for ceremonial, religious purposes, and there is no way to prove they were given with human health in mind.
The whole of the food laws of the Old Testament is ritualistic! If it were not, then Paul would never have told the Corinthians to eat what was sold in the meatmarkets (shambles) at Corinth, or to consume whatever food was set before one on a neighbor’s table (1 Corinthians 10:25–28).
“Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: ‘For the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.’ If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and you be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, ‘This is offered in sacrifice unto idols,’ eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: ‘for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.’”
1 Corinthians 10:25–28
In no way would ordinary Corinthian Gentiles have subscribed to the strict “kosher” laws of the Bible either as to types of animal flesh or the manner, in which they were prepared or the utensils in which they were served. The only prohibitions for Gentiles in the matter of foods in the early New Testament period was concerning strangled animals — which had to do with the consumption of blood (Acts 15:29). All the other food laws of the Old Testament were simply ritualistic.
How many Christians today, who claim to follow the Dietary Laws of the Old Testament, do in fact observe them? Even those who claim to keep them violate the laws. This can be proved without a doubt. Take the following illustration as an example. Let us say that a Christian minister (who claims to keep the Dietary Laws) enters a quality restaurant and orders a sirloin steak. The steak is grilled to his liking and put on his plate. Knowing that the meat is from an animal that chews the cud and has cloven hoofs, he is satisfied that he is following the Dietary Laws of the Old Testament when he eats it. But really, in over ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, he will be eating meat classified by Moses as unclean as pork itself. He will be violating the Dietary Laws. Why? Moses is very plain on this point.
The Dietary Laws state that if the carcass of any unclean animal comes into contact with an “oven, or ranges, or pots,” those household receptacles “shall be broken down: for they are unclean (Hebrew: tameh), and shall be unclean (tameh) unto you” (Leviticus 11:35). There is hardly an ordinary restaurant in the United States that does not serve bacon or ham. Such meats are fried on grills, baked in ovens, stored in refrigerators, eaten with utensils, and without the slightest discrimination by the restaurant owner concerning the “clean” and “unclean” laws.
The Dietary Laws, however, require any oven, range, stove, refrigerator, serving tray or utensil that comes in contact with such meat to be broken down and destroyed. The slightest touch by unclean meat thoroughly contaminates, no matter if it is later scrubbed with lye soap. Even a beefsteak coming in contact with such kitchenware is as unclean (tameh) as pork. This is what the Dietary Laws teach, and there is no way to thwart this clear instruction. As a corollary to this, it also means that a person could never buy a used stove, oven, or even a refrigerator; for most would have been touched by pork or some other unclean (tameh) animal flesh.
In truth, that Christian minister could never eat at a public restaurant unless he is certain it follows the dietary rules of the Old Testament, unless it was a strictly kosher establishment. The Christian minister who ordered the sirloin steak, however, would undoubtedly go ahead and eat it. He would probably reason that the Dietary Laws concerning the ovens and ranges are nothing but finical ritualism. Where would he get his authority for deciding arbitrarily that one part is ritual and the other is not? There is no such authority given to anyone within the text of the Dietary Laws. Really, all of Leviticus 11 is one law, and no one is allowed to break any part of it. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). There is not the slightest hint in the Dietary Laws that one part is to be kept, while another part can be disregarded.
Still, if people want to observe the Old Covenant Dietary Laws, it is time they begin to keep them precisely. This means they will no longer be able to eat food which comes from ordinary restaurants; they will buy no more used stoves, refrigerators or ovens; they will not buy beef or lamb from ordinary meatmarkets, or almost any supermarket, because the cleaver which the butcher used, or the block on which he chopped the meat, most likely came in contact with the carcass of unclean meat at some time in the past. All such beef and lamb would be UNCLEAN (tameh) and the Dietary Laws render it as unclean as pork, shellfish, rabbit, or octopus.
The apostle Paul told the Corinthian Gentiles it was legal for them to eat food which Jews would have considered an abomination. He said: “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles [meatmarkets], that eat, asking no question for conscience sake” (1 Corinthians 10:25). This was contrary to the Dietary Laws of the Old Testament. Gentile markets did not subscribe to kosher regulations. They did not kill animals the way Jews were required to do. They used the same knives, cleavers, blocks, and other implements to kill rabbits, pigs, octopus, as they did to kill cattle, goats, and sheep. To the Jews, who kept the Dietary Laws, all Gentile meatmarkets were unclean (tameh). But Paul said Christians could go ahead and eat meat though it was butchered and sold in Gentile markets. Paul even went so far as to say:
“I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean [common] of itself; but to him that esteems anything to be unclean [common], to him it is unclean [common].”
Paul said this teaching came from the Lord Himself. Christ said, “there is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him” (Mark 7:15). One thing for certain, Paul did not subject his Gentile converts to any ceremonial taboos concerning food. Indeed, he told them plainly: “All things indeed are pure [clean]” (Romans 14:20).
When Paul said “all things ... are pure,” what was he talking about? His subject was food — flesh, vegetables, and wine. Paul was saying all foods were indeed pure (clean). There was to be no ceremonially unclean food to the Christian. Paul did admit, however, that there were some brethren who were very finical over what they ate. These were weak brethren who did not understand the mature teachings of Christ concerning food (Romans 14:1–6). To reiterate:
“If your brother be grieved with your meat, now walk you not charitably, destroy not him with your meat, for whom Christ died.”
“For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is an evil for that man who eats with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak.”
Even though all things were pure to Paul, and one might eat “whatsoever is sold in the shambles [meatmarkets]” (1 Corinthians 10:25), Paul said it was not good to eat such things in front of a brother if the brother would be offended. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
At this point in our discussion, let us clearly understand what Paul is not talking about. He is not discussing the hygienic fitness or unfitness of foods. The question of health is nowhere discussed in the context of Romans or Corinthians. He is talking about meats which some considered taboo in a religious sense. For example, some were reckoning meat which had been offered to idols as being “unclean.”
“For some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commends us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.”
1 Corinthians 8:7–9
Some were feeling that meat could become “unclean” through religious contamination. 6 It is not that they considered the meats to be physically unfit for human consumption. It was the ceremonial or ritualistic contamination that concerned them. But Paul was not interested in such ceremonial uncleanness. Indeed, if the Corinthians went to a feast at the home of an unbeliever (an unconverted Gentile), Paul told them: “Whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake” (1 Corinthians 10:27). No ordinary Jew, or scrupulous Christian in Paul’s day would dare eat such food offered to idols. They thought it spiritually contaminated.
Even the apostles in Jerusalem recommended that Gentiles not eat meat offered to idols, and Paul agreed to this early decision. The Gentiles were told: “Abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication [immorality]” (Acts 15:29). These decisions were made because the Jerusalem apostles feared that the newly converted Gentiles, who were reared in idolatry and had participated in all its social and religious evils, might have the natural tendency to slip back into the evils of idolatry. But if a Christian became thoroughly educated in the fullness of the Gospel of Christ, Paul knew there was no longer any tendency to revert to paganism.
Paul continually worked among the Gentiles, and he was able to see the real Christian growth in many of his converts. With these mature Christians, Paul admitted that one could even eat “meat in the idol’s temple” (1 Corinthians 8:10) and not receive any spiritual contamination from it. Why? Because, as Paul said, mature Christians “know that an idol is nothing” (1 Corinthians 8:4). However, for the Gentiles who were spiritually weak and newly out of paganism, they would not know how to interpret a mature Christian eating meats offered to idols. 7
The original decree from the apostles which said not to eat meat offered to idols (Acts 15:29) was a general decision giving advice to Gentiles just newly converted to Christ who were still weak in the faith. Since many of the Gentiles to whom the apostles were writing would still “with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol,” it was judged by the apostles as a measure of prudence to enjoin them not to take of such meats. Blood was also prohibited. The eating of blood was considered an idolatrous observance both by Jews and Gentiles (Ezekiel 33:25). Animals which were strangled would also retain the blood within their carcasses, and the blood taboo applied to eating them as well. All are aware that many idolatrous rites were accompanied by fornication (immorality).
Weak Gentiles recently in the faith were encouraged by the apostles to abandon any connections that appeared idolatrous or immoral. This was a wise decision because the apostles knew the general habits of ordinary Gentiles. Because of this, James never gave up thinking it was wise to require Gentiles to keep the decrees (Acts 21:25). Besides, there was always a steady stream of new Gentiles coming into the faith. Paul himself acknowledged that it was better to forego eating any meats offered to idols if any weak brother might be offended. Still, Paul was quick to point out to the educated Christian that “we know that an idol is nothing” (1 Corinthians 8:4). This is what he taught the mature Gentile Christian who was so thoroughly weaned from paganism that he would not be influenced by any material things associated with idols.
There were also other Christians weak in the faith who would not eat meat on certain days of the week (Romans 14:1–6). They considered it a religious defilement. But for the Christian, Paul said: “Meat commends us not to God: for neither if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse” (1 Corinthians 8:8). What Paul shows is that the Christian has no “clean or unclean” food laws in a ceremonial sense. “All things are indeed pure” (Romans 14:20).
The mature Christian should realize that all foods are pure from a religious standpoint and that no religious sense of right or wrong should be had over them. The Dietary Laws apply to Israel and the Jews only. To the Colossians, who were mature Christians, Paul gave this reminder:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat [food] or drink, or in the respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.”
Note the context in which Paul mentioned the matter about eating and drinking. It was that of holydays, new moons, and sabbaths. He was discussing Old Covenant matters. This Old Covenant connection is made even clearer when the overall context of Colossians chapter 2 is considered. The regulations concerning eating and drinking were a part of the “rudiments [elements] of the world” (Colossians 2:8, 20) and Paul identified such “rudiments” in Galatians 4:3 with the law of Moses. Certain men began to tell the Colossians to observe Old Covenant rudiments, “Touch not; taste not; handle not” (Colossians 2:21); but Paul said we are now dead with Christ “from the rudiments of the world” (Colossians 2:20).
Those who taught that such a renewal of the rudiments was necessary were considered by Paul to be teaching “the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:22). And though the teachings were based on the Old Covenant (teachings that Jews were interested in), Paul told Titus that he should not be:
“giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. [For] unto the pure all things are pure [clean].”
Paul made it clear that the Christian had no “clean and unclean” regulations concerning food and drink because he had already mentioned in Romans that “all things indeed are pure” (Romans 14:20). For that reason, he admonished the Colossians to “let no man judge you in meat or drink” (Colossians 2:16).
The apostle Paul said that in the latter days some would depart from the faith:
“giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”
1 Timothy 4:1–3
Does Paul mean that a complete abstention of meats (flesh) will be erroneously taught? Not really. The Greek actually says “foods,” and it simply means foods in general, of which flesh would only be a part. What Paul is saying is that in the latter days teachers will be making distinctions over foods and commanding their followers to abstain from some of them. To Paul, this teaching was evil. He retorted: “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). The fact that he used the term “every creature” means he included animals as permitted food.
Why is “every creature” (including animals) good for food? Paul continues: “For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:5). Paul said it was the word of God which sanctifies (or allows) that “every creature of God is good and nothing to be refused.”
Did the Dietary Laws given to Moses allow “every creature” as good to eat? No. There were many ceremonial distinctions given to Moses. Where, then, is there a sanctification (or allowance) in the word of God that “every creature” is good? There is Genesis 9:3. The wording of the scripture is remarkably similar to that of Paul in Timothy. “Every moving thing that lives shall be meat [food] for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” God gave this sanctification (or allowance) to Noah and his descendants long before the Dietary Laws were given to Moses. This was the scripture, no doubt, to which Paul referred in showing that God allowed “every creature” for food without any ceremonial distinction. In the latter days, however, such distinctions would again be taught. He asks Christians to avoid them.
There are some who feel, however, in spite of what the Bible says, that not “every creature” was intended for food. They notice that God said animals were only meant for food “as the green herb have I given you all things.” They make an issue of an earlier statement in Genesis that man was only given “every herb bearing seed” (Genesis 1:29). Some feel this means that plants which bear seeds are fit to eat, but those which do not bear seeds God disapproves for food. Really, though, what plants grow without seeds? There may be a few such primitive plants, but almost all plants are reproduced by seeds. God makes little or no distinction between plants which are fit to eat and those that are not.
One thing must be said, however. Even though man was allowed “every herb bearing seed,” does this mean he was supposed to eat every one? Hundreds of plants which grow from seeds are highly toxic to man. Does God mean from Genesis 1:29 that man should eat of every plant? Of course not! The verse simply means that God has no religious restrictions concerning the eating of plants and that “every herb bearing seed” may be eaten without ritualistic distinction. It is likewise with the animals. When God said “Every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you” (Genesis 9:3), he did not mean that man should eat every animal. God was only showing Noah that there was to be no religious or ceremonial restrictions on which animals man could eat.
Some wish to dispute even this, pointing to the fact that Noah brought into the ark seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean. They say the seven pairs were to provide the eight persons in the ark with clean animals for food. This, however, is theory and it cannot be proved from the Bible. Indeed, it is a lame theory, because in Genesis 7:3, the Scripture says all varieties of fowls were brought in by sevens. This means, if taken literally, that seven pairs of vultures, ravens and owls were also taken on board. Would proponents of this theory say these “unclean” birds brought in by sevens were also to be eaten?
Really, as far as the Bible is concerned, the reason that animals in Noah’s time were singled out as being clean or unclean had to do with their fitness for sacrificing. Notice: “And Noah built an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Genesis 8:20). There is no other Biblical reason why animals in Noah’s time were “clean” or “unclean.” This fact is further strengthened because God went on to tell Noah that “every moving thing that lives shall be meat to you” (Genesis 9:3). This shows that the “clean” and “unclean” must refer to sacrificing, not to food. Paul reaffirmed this by saying that “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).
Mention also ought to be made about another reference to food in the New Testament. There are some commentators who feel that Christ himself said all meats were clean and fit to eat when he talked about “purging [cleansing] all meats” in Mark 7:19. No matter how attractive this belief may be, it cannot be sustained. It would make no sense of Peter’s statements, given about eight years after Christ’s resurrection, when he said: “I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). Surely, if Jesus, whom Peter recognized as the Christ, the Messiah, had said that all meats were fit to eat, Peter would not have answered with such utter dogmatism on the matter.
A comment also needs to be made about the vision of the unclean animals that Peter was commanded to eat (Acts 10:12–13). This event, of itself, was not intended as a sanction for Peter to eat unclean animals from that time forward. Many people have said that it was such permission; but really, the unclean animals were merely a symbol for Gentiles, whom the Jews considered unclean (Acts 10:28). One would be stretching the meaning of the vision to say it was teaching the cleansing of all animals for Jews and Gentiles to eat.
Look again at the Dietary Laws of the Old Covenant. If people feel they should observe these laws, then they should keep them perfectly. This could be done if people would eat only properly prepared Kosher foods. They would have to abandon the eating of any foods in ordinary restaurants, because those foods would most likely be contaminated with ovens, ranges and grills which have become “unclean” by contact with “unclean” meats. Those people who continue to eat restaurant beefsteaks would be arbitrarily “sanctifying themselves” by violating the very laws they claim to keep. If they want to uphold the Dietary Laws and still eat such “unclean” foods, along with “swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse” (Isaiah 66:17), God says he will consume such hypocrites with severe judgment.
The mature Christian, however, should realize that the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant are no longer relevant for him, and he should let no man judge him on what he eats or drinks (Colossians 2:16).
“Let not him that eats despise him that eats not, and let not him which eats not judge him that eats: for God has received him. Who are you that judge another man’s servant? to his own master he stands or falls.”
Finally, what is the purpose of this paper? Are we attempting to prove that every animal and every vegetable is fit for human consumption? No, we are not. The nutritional value of foods is another subject altogether. God simply says that “every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you” (Genesis 9:3) and whether the nutritional value of all animal flesh is worthwhile must be determined by means other than the Bible. All we wish to show here is the Biblical teaching that the “unclean” meats of the Dietary Laws in the Old Covenant were only “unclean” in a ceremonial sense, and Jewish religious authorities admit this to be true. We also wish to point out that the Christian has no such ceremonial Dietary Laws to observe like those of the Old Covenant. To Christians, there are no religious distinctions concerning flesh, vegetables or wine. “All things indeed are pure” (Romans 14:20).
Ernest L. Martin, 1974, 1979
Edited by David Sielaff, April 2004
1 This article also contains material from Dr. Martin’s 1979 article, “Checkpoints for Lawkeepers.”
2 The laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 differ somewhat because the conditions and animals in the wilderness differ from conditions and animals in the promised land that to Israel was about to enter. God specified the changes by providing an updated list of laws in Deuteronomy chapter 14.
3 Michael Friedlander, The Jewish Religion, 7th ed. (London: Shapiro, Vallentine and Co., 1937).
4 See Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon (Hendrickson Pub., Inc.; Reprint edition March 1, 1996), p. 379. DWS
5 Tameh occurs in: Genesis 34:5, 13, 27; Leviticus 5:3; 11:24ff, 31ff, 39f, 43f; 12:2, 5; 13:3, 8, 11, 14f, 20, 22, 25, 27, 30, 44, 46, 59; 14:36, 46; 15:4ff, 16ff, 27, 31f; 17:15; 18:20, 23ff, 27f, 30; 19:31; 20:3, 25; 21:1, 3f, 11; 22:5f, 8; Numbers 5:3, 13f, 20, 27ff; 6:7, 9, 12; 19:7f, 10f, 13f, 16, 20ff; 35:34; Deuteronomy 21:23; 24:4; 2 Kings 23:8, 10, 13, 16; 2 Chronicles 36:14; Ps. 79:1; 106:39; Isaiah 30:22; Jeremiah 2:7, 23; 7:30; 32:34; Ezekiel 4:14; 5:11; 9:7; 14:11; 18:6, 11, 15; 20:7, 18, 26, 30f, 43; 22:3f, 11; 23:7, 13, 17, 30, 38; 33:26; 36:17f; 37:23; 43:7f; 44:25; Hosea 5:3; 6:10; 9:4; Micah 2:10; and Haggai 2:13. DWS
6 This is an entirely different issue than that of Old Testament ritual uncleanness (tameh). This has to do with dedicating food to idols (even if the food itself was “clean,” however unlikely that was). DWS
7 This is similar to the opinions of some Christians today regarding Christmas. Since certain holiday celebrations are of pagan origin, they will not eat with their families because it would be partaking in what they consider to be idolatry. Of course, the mature Christian knows that physical things in themselves are nothing and he or she could eat meat offered to idols even “in the idol’s temple” (1 Corinthians 8:10) and it would not make him the worse. But immature brethren may not know this truth, so mature Christians must be careful what they allow in front of weak brethren. ELM
This does not, however, give excuse to participate in pagan rituals (and many so-called Christian rituals may well so qualify). Let your own conscience decide, while understanding the biblical information about such matters. DWS
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