Food Laws

One of the major differences between our beliefs and mainline Christians is our adherence to God’s food law (Leviticus 11). A scripture often cited as proof Christians no longer need to observe the food laws is Mark 7. A close observation of Mark 7 and other New Testament scriptures will prove God’s food laws are still enforced.

The context of Mark 7:1-23 addresses eating food with unwashed hands. The Jew’s tradition was to not eat food unless they first washed their hands. The controversial verse is 19. In some Bible translations verse 19 states in parenthesis, “in saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’” Many Christians today believe because of this scripture the food laws are no longer binding on Christians. The only problem with this, is the part of the verse in parenthesis is not in the oldest texts of the Bible. Two sources that support my statement are Jay P. Green’s Pocket Interlinear New Testament and Alfred Marshall’s Greek English Interlinear New Testament. More evidence the statement in parenthesis was not in the original can be found by looking at Matthew 15:1-20. Matthew is giving the same account that we read in Mark 7. There is no mention in Matthew’s account of Jesus declaring all food “clean.” By reading the whole chapter of Mark 7 it is easy to see the point Jesus was making had to do with your heart defiling you, not dirt that you might ingest.

Another scripture that is often cited as evidence the food laws are done away is Acts 10. Here we read Peter had a vision of unclean food and a voice told him to kill and eat the food. Peter was confused by this vision because he stated he had never eaten anything unclean before. This is a very important point because this episode occurred after Christ’s resurrection. It proves that Jesus never told the disciples to disobey God’s food laws while He was alive. Peter was not yet sure what this vision meant. Later in the chapter (Acts 10:28) Peter realized the vision was for him to understand he should not consider Gentiles to be unclean. The Jews thought the Gentiles were unclean. God used something Peter was familiar with (food law) to help him see what he thought was an unclean thing (Gentiles) was not unclean. Peter reiterates the meaning of the vision in Acts 11:1-18. It is important to note nowhere in any of these scriptures does it say the food was now clean.

Look ’em Up
Mark 7:1-23
Matthew 15:1-20
Acts 10
Acts 11:1-18
Romans 14:1-23
I Corinthians 10:25
Colossians 2:16
I Timothy 4:1-5

Romans 14:14 is another controversial scripture. It states there is nothing unclean of itself. This might lead some to believe the food laws are no longer binding. But the Greek word used for unclean here is koinos, usually translated common. If this scripture is talking about the unclean of the food law, it would have used the Greek word akathartos. Reading Romans 14:1-23 we see Paul was most likely addressing vegetarians (verse 2), fasting (verse 5) and meat and wine sacrificed to idols (verse 21). In those days offerings of meats and wines were made to pagan gods. In other words, he was saying if some Christians don’t want to eat meat, that is okay. If some want to fast more days than others, that is fine. And if others don’t want to eat food or wine that was first offered to pagan gods, that is their prerogative.

I Corinthians 10:25 the issue relates to meat sacrificed to idols. After a sacrifice was presented to a pagan temple the remaining meat was sold in the marketplace. Some Christians thought they should not eat that meat. The book of Romans was probably written after I Corinthians so some feel the same idea is being addressed in Romans 14.

Colossians 2:16 is merely dealing with “eating and drinking.” There were many cults at this time that practiced asceticism. The cults believed abstaining from food and drink could make you holier. Paul is telling the Colossians not to listen to those preaching cultic practices.

One final scripture to mention is I Timothy 4:1-5. Notice right at the beginning, the topic of discussion relates to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons. There is no way this relates to God’s food law. The warning here is likely related to Gnostic philosophy that taught the physical world was evil. The Gnostics had rules against eating certain foods. Paul emphasized that any food is okay to eat if it is sanctified by God’s word (verse 5). Rather than do away with God’s food law this scripture emphasizes it.

God’s food laws are still important for Christian’s today. Observing these laws can protect us against many diseases that come from food. The laws also constantly remind us of our relationship to God each and every time we eat something because we are conscious of whether or not the items we are ingesting are allowed by God.