Christians and Food Laws

Sometimes I see images like this on Facebook or wander into discussions/arguments and can’t believe we are still at odds over food laws. The early Christians in the first century couldn’t come to a consensus so it should surprise no one that all of us do not agree today.

First off, as to the meme, God did not kick Adam and Eve out of the garden because they ate a piece of fruit. (Props to the unnamed author for not saying apple). Genesis 3 spells out the provisions when God cursed the man, the woman, the animal kingdom and even the ground itself. After they had eaten from the tree of knowledge, he kicked them out of the garden so they did not then eat from the tree of life.

Secondly, and more to the point, God did tell Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from a particular tree. He did not tell Christians not to eat pork. There are two types of law given in the Old Testament. The laws pertaining to morality – law concerning murder, adultery, lying, stealing – are carried forward into the New Testament. The laws that made the Hebrews uniquely Hebrew – rules about clothing and food for example – apply only to the Children of Israel. Sometimes well meaning Christian teachers wander into the Kosher food laws and remind us that eating shellfish, pork and creepy crawly things are forbidden. Oddly enough they never tell us not to round the corners of our beards, wear two different materials in the same garment, stand when an elder enters the room, etc. If you keep any part of the Law (Galatians 5:3) you are bound to the whole Law.

The Judaizers were a group of Jewish Christians that believed Gentiles – anyone not Jewish – needed to learn the Law and be circumcised before becoming Christians. Paul often contends with them as they come along after he has preached the Gospel and tell new believers they need to add the Law to the Gospel message. The Gospel plus anything does not equal the Gospel anymore. Paul’s letter to the Galatians deals with this topic at length. Some have claimed that Peter’s vision in Acts 10 is about Gentiles receiving the Gospel but has nothing to do with actually eating food. My go-to scripture for clear and concise understanding is in 1st Timothy. Responding specifically to some requiring the abstinence from certain foods Paul writes:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 TImothy 4:4-5

Yes, the Law teaches us what God requires. Much of the Old Testament is an object lesson in how it is not possible to keep those laws. What is required is perfection and what we really need is an all sufficient sacrifice, which God also provided in his Son. Jesus did not come into the world to show us that keeping the law is possible, as some have argued. He kept the Law and we are offered the credit for that righteousness while he received the due penalty for our transgression. Paul never said the Law is bad; it was given by God to his people. The Law is like a school master, a tutor, that informs us but does not and cannot redeem us.

There are good Christian men and women that disagree with what I have written here. Show from scripture – New Testament scripture – the keeping food laws is required of believers. To make that case you have to ignore a lot passages from various writers. Jesus himself said that is not what goes into one’s mouth that makes one unclean but what comes out, because out the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Mark adds a little commentary after the fact that by writing thus he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:18-19). So while there are many laws given in the Old Testament about what is clean and unclean to eat, we are not the recipients of those commands. You cannot make a (reasonable) New Testament case for food laws that ignores Acts 10, 1st Timothy 4, Jesus’s words in Mark 7 and the entire book of Galatians.

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