True meaning of food laws

God gave several food laws in Scripture which provides a complete list of living things what Israelite can and cannot have for meat. We also saw in a previous post that Christians can eat unclean living things but not the meat sacrificed to idols. In this post, we will explore their true meaning and why it is better to keep the food laws even though it is not given to gentiles.

Neglecting justice, mercy and faith

This [is] the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.’ ”

Lev 11:46-47

God mentioned in law what animals are clean and unclean and calls nearly all unclean animals as an abomination. The kosher law covers all living things.

  • Living organisms in sea and rivers (Lev 11:10)
  • Birds of the sky (Lev 11:13-19)
  • Animals (Lev 11:26-27)
  • Flying Insects (Lev 11:20-23)
  • Creeping things (Lev 11:43-45)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier [matters] of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Matt 23:23-24

Jesus Christ in the New Covenant used the kosher laws differently to explain how the scribes and Pharisees perfectly follow it even to very little things like filtering out a little insect but He considers them to be swallowing a camel which is an unclean animal. In the above passage, neglecting justice and mercy and faith is equal to eating abominable things.

Not fearing God and practicing unrighteousness

In the context of food laws, Peter’s dream explains a bit more of what is referred as unclean and abominable living things.

and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice [spoke] to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. … But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Acts 10:11-16, 35

The identification of unclean living things in the sheet from heaven are well explained in Peter’s dream which refers to gentiles who fear God and practice righteousness like Cornelius. As Peter later explained, all gentiles who fear God and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Can Christians under new covenant eat unclean things?

Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are [the things] which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”

Matt 15:17-20

When Jesus was addressing eating with unclean hands, He wasn’t declaring unclean foods as clean. It is not only very clear from His last statement that he was referring to unwashed hands, He also wasn’t addressing a non-Jewish audience to think otherwise.

Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, [from] sexual immorality, [from] things strangled, and [from] blood.

Acts 15:19-20

In Jerusalem council, it was suggested that not to trouble gentiles with all the food laws except to not eat things scarified to idols which is also echoed in the book of Revelation (Rev 2:14, 20).

Does that mean we can eat unclean living things that are referred as an abomination by God? While the law of Moses wasn’t given to gentiles and Jesus used it to explain differently, with Jerusalem council doesn’t want to trouble gentiles, it seems gentiles doesn’t have to follow kosher laws. It may be true that we don’t have to follow kosher laws but I would like to quote one prophecy in Isaiah which may say otherwise which wasn’t discussed in the earlier post.

For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the LORD. Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one who is among those who eat the flesh of pigs, rats and other unclean things—they will meet their end together with the one they follow,” declares the LORD. And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.

Isa 66:16-18

In the above prophecy, we can see how God will judge all people and how He is against those who eat the flesh of pigs and rats.

I don’t think eating a rat is common in western world but you may need to think twice before going for a hamburger or bacon products.

Scribal Error in the story of Noah?

Every moving thing [H7431 רֶמֶשׂ remes (reh’-mes)] that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.

Gen 9:3

It is worth noting that Scriptures actually say that God gave Noah reptiles as food. If you read any modern translations, it simply suggests as ‘moving things’.

So I went in and saw, and there–every sort of creeping thing [H7431 רֶמֶשׂ remes (reh’-mes)] , abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed all around on the walls.

Ezek 8:10

As we can see in Ezekiel, it is the same exact word for reptile or creeping things. If you read literal translations or Septuagint, it clearly mentions as reptiles or creeping things.

  • Gen 9:3 Every creeping thing that is alive, to you it is for food; as the green herb I have given to you the whole; (YLT)
  • Gen 9:3 And every reptile which is living shall be to you for meat, I have given all things to you as the green herbs. (LXX)

As we saw about Genesis, it was written during the time of Samuel and possibly a scribal error considering other passages in Scripture and Noah even knew about clean and unclean animals.

Summary

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Mark 7:21-23

I would like to end the post with what Jesus taught. All we discussed regarding eating unclean things must be viewed from what Jesus taught.

But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? … But if you had known what [this] means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Matt 12:3-4,7

Eating unclean animals is an abomination to God as we defile ourselves because of them according to the law of Moses given to Israelites. There are obvious good reasons why they were given by God to Israel. It is always best to follow what God wants and avoid what He considers as an abomination even though the laws were not given to gentiles, out of respect for our God and His words. If we are starving like David and his men, and have no other options of allowed food to eat, and the only food available is a hamburger, it is not God’s nature to condemn us. Hence, it is the intent of the heart of why we do matters more than what we do according to God.