Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dietary Restrictions In The New Testament?

  • Defining The Issues:
           -Professing Christian groups such as the Seventh-Day Adventists and Hebrew Roots Movement maintain that the New Testament does not abolish the Mosaic distinction of eating clean meats verses eating unclean meats. Those restrictions are listed in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. What needs to be understood, however, is that these dietary laws were strictly applicable to Israel. They were not meant for anyone else. These dietary restrictions served as a means to make the Jews a different people from neighboring countries.

           Notice especially the language found in Scripture passages discussing Jesus Christ's fulfillment of the Old Covenant such as Romans 10:4, Galatians 3:24-26, Ephesians 2:14-15, and Colossians 2:13-16. He very clearly terminated mandatory observance of Mosaic customs by His crucifixion at Calvary. That in and of itself eliminates any possibility of us being under compulsion of adhering to dietary regulations. Moreover, the gospels record Christ declaring all foods clean:

           "because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man." (Mark 7:19-20)

           That would logically include meat as a category. He was speaking in very broad terms. Christ's point is that corruption stems not from outside us, but from within. The inference to be made from this is that eating meat cannot defile us spiritually. No man has the authority to declare unclean anything that God Himself has deemed to be clean. 

           God gave Peter a vision prior to sending him over to the household of Cornelius to preach the gospel:

           "But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy. This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.” (Acts 10:10-16, emphasis added)

           In the vision that the apostle received, God commanded Peter to kill four-footed animals and eat their flesh. The point being made is that Peter was to be accepting of Gentile converts into the faith.  His reaction was one of shock, since he was a Jew. This was obviously something new to him. This text is relevant in that Gentiles do not observe Jewish dietary laws, nor are they to be forced to do so (Galatians 2:13-14).

          The Apostle Paul would frown upon groups who speak out dogmatically against others in the church who eat meat. One may individually choose to forgo eating animal flesh for the sake of conscience, but cannot legitimately impose such convictions on others. God has given us liberty to choose on this matter. Those who persist in condemning the consumption of meats are doing so not on the basis of divine commandment, but human tradition:

         "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him." (Romans 14:1-3)

          "I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died." (Romans 14:14-15)
          "Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense." (Romans 14:20)

          Obviously, in Paul's mind, there are more important matters in the church than what one eats. He focused more on preaching the gospel and godly living. He also says:

          "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." (Romans 14:22-23)

           "But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." (1 Corinthians 8:8)

           In fact, the New Testament calls doctrines such as commanding that others abstain from eating meats heresy: 

           "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

           Why is this so? It calls into question the goodness of God, who created the things that we eat. He called His creation good, and so did Paul (this gives authority to his teaching because it shows that he upheld the Old Testament as authoritative). Rejecting things such as meats that He gave to us to use shows a lack of thankfulness on our part. That is an insult to God. Things are made even worse when people's arrogance is dressed in pious language.

           Moreover, those who desire to reinstate customs of the Old Testament are failing to consider that they are threatening to undermine the gospel. If we are going to adhere to dietary laws, then why not also revert to performing animal sacrifices, as well? After all, the Law demands perfect obedience (Deuteronomy 27:26; 32:45-47; Galatians 3:10-11), which is why it condemns us in the first place. If Mosaic dietary restrictions are still in effect, then why do the New Testament epistles never warn us against eating certain kinds of food?

1 comment:

Marshal Art said...

I agree that the food restrictions were meant for the nation of Israel before Christ appeared. As with how the Jews were to dress, how they were to cut their hair and beards, and other such outwardly noticeable behaviors, they were meant to distinguish them from all others who were not "God's Chosen People". But Christ erased distinctions between people and what made all "Chosen" was their acceptance of Christ.

I know of one person who asserts that foods which were prohibited also happened to be the least healthy of foods one could eat. I think that's debatable, and likely at best of minor concern health-wise.