- Christianity and Dietary Restrictions
- Question That Needs Answering (#QTNA)
- Possible Answers
- Why is it Important?
- Posts in the Series
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
The most life changing moment in my faith began the Spring semester of my Senior year in college. I was taking a class called "History of the Old Testament" and studying the Bible in the most in depth manner I had ever been taught. I was a little wary of the professor, considering he quoted Wikipedia to summarize Job rather quoting The Book of Job. So, one would think when he dropped the line that dramatically shifted how I looked at things, I would have passed him off for being crazy. Instead, the Holy Spirit convicted me and focused my attention so that I would seek a Biblical answer instead of writing my professor off.
What was this line, you ask? Well, we were in Leviticus—Leviticus 11, to be specific—and the professor explained that this was the reason Jews, Muslims, and Christians don't eat pork. If you attend or attended a typical church, you picked up on the same thing I picked up on: Christians totally eat pork. There are definitely denominations and specific congregations that follow the dietary law as presented in Leviticus, but we make up a minority among Christians. That was the beginning of a detox that fast-tracked my relationship with God...
Christianity and Dietary Restrictions
I'm from the middle of nowhere South Carolina; pork isn't just something you have as an entree, it's also a seasoning, a side, and maybe even a dessert. If you go to the church picnic my childhood church puts on in July, there's a 50/50 chance the rice was cooked in ham broth. There's a 100% chance the greens, string beans, and other vegetables were cooked with fat back (which is also pork). There will be pork ribs and pork hot dogs, maybe even sausages, which of course are also pork. The spoons and pots that have touched these dishes may or may not be passed amongst the dishes that do not have pork cooked into them because absolutely no one is worried about it.
Growing up, the strictest diet for a Christian I'd ever observed was that of a Mormon family I was close to. They abstained from alcohol and caffeine. Most of the churches in the area preach against drunkenness, but the members still drink a little here and there. This family was totally against alcohol and my friend thought I was crazy for drinking caffeinated soda. Yet, like the rest of us, they had bacon for breakfast, pepperoni pizza for lunch, and pork infused veggies for dinner.
Despite having read Leviticus prior to "History of the Old Testament" and being well aware that pork was considered unclean, it never occurred to me that it was odd we ate any and everything put before us. There's a total disconnect there—like some sort of 1984 doublespeak where I'm telling you God said pork is unclean while biting into a pork chop and praising it's flavor. To this day, I'm not sure how I did it, but without having any knowledge of where in the Bible the dietary law was lifted, I could quote that law and break the law without thinking twice about it.
Question That Needs Answering (#QTNA)
When I heard my professor state that all 3 Abrahamic religions abstained from pork, it changed something about the perspective in which I was looking at the situation. I knew that Jews didn't eat pork, and I knew that Muslims didn't eat pork. It wasn't new information, but I think it was first time I thought about these two groups at the same time. You see, most Christians I know reference the law (particular the issue of clean vs. unclean) as being "Jewish" or for the Israelites. The reason most Christians think it's OK to eat whatever they want is because "those laws were written for the Jews and don't apply to Gentiles." Never mind the fact that some "Gentiles" might actually be lost Israelites. The question I have is, if Muslims are also Gentiles or "not Jewish", why don't they eat pork?
A quick and thoughtless answer would have been the fact that they don't have Jesus the way Christians do. In Islam, Jesus is merely a mortal teacher. In Christianity, we can say Jesus abolished or did away with this or that and really we're saying God axed a law. I could have thought this and continued on with my life as is, but I didn't because I thought about something else.
We often read passages of the Bible in sporadic chaos. In sermons, the preacher will jump from one book to another, seemingly tying together the Word, but we rarely just read straight through from page 1 to the end. In this class, that's exactly what we were doing. As such, we had just read about Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael. We had just talked about the rift between the two brothers and the idea that Islam was born from the descendants of Ishmael.
Abraham was not an Israelite. Isaac was not an Israelite. Ishmael was not an Israelite, in fact, Ishmael was half Egyptian. They all predate Israel. Christianity is a continuation of Judaism, but Islam should diverge from from Judaism well before the law was given to Moses... How then, did abstinence from pork find its way into Islam? If it was just for the Jews (or Israelites, really), why does the second largest religion of the world, which was founded by non-Israelites, also abstain?
I knew that the only way I could be sure in my conscious that it was right, was to answer the question of where in the New Testament Jesus gave us permission to eat whatever we wanted. After all, my only concern is what the Bible says not what other people do; so I don't need to understand why Muslims don't eat pork, I just needed to find a place in which Jesus confirmed that this law was done away with.
Naturally, I went to my fellow believers, pastors, and Sunday school teachers to pick their brains for the magical verse that would say we were free to eat pork. The most popular verses given to me were Mark 7:15 and Acts 10. Eventually people got around to Colossians 2:14-18 and 1 Timothy 4:1-7. Google brought me to Romans 14 and Acts 15.
By themselves and at first glance, these verses all seem to do the trick. Unfortunately, people forget that all of these verses have to be put in context to the surrounding passage(s) and the Bible as a whole; the interpretation of the verses cannot contradict other parts of the Bible. In order to properly interpret them, we have to take into consideration the original translation, the author, the context, and the audience. As I dug deeper and deeper, I realized that none of these verses gave us permission to eat unclean animals...
Why is it Important?
Besides the issue of knowing what our Creator has commanded of us, simply because He is our Creator, we should be concerned about this because our bodies are Temples of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Coming upon this issue with a fresh understanding of how holy the Temple was and all the effort and care the Israelites took in constructing this place of worship, helps to put in perspective how we should treat our bodies. Doctors tell us all the time to be careful what we eat. Certain foods put us at risk for illnesses such as diabetes. Alcohol is damaging to the liver. Clorox is poisonous. Cigarettes cause lung cancer. Science has already proven that what goes inside us can kill us from the inside out.
My mom used to tell me I was going to turn into a grilled cheese sandwich because that was all I ever wanted to eat. It sounds crazy, but truthfully the food you eat has a lot to do with how you feel and your overall health. If you eat things that are bad for you, your body will definitely protest. Sometimes it's as simple as stomachache or as inconvenient as a hangover. Other times it might be more troublesome like diabetes or high cholesterol. Of course, there's also extreme cases that lead to organ failure and death! Don't you think God, our Creator and Knower of All Things, would give us a little insight on how to stay healthy? And don't you think our Creator already laid out the best diet for us?
This series, You Are What You Eat, will cover what I discovered as I tried to figure out the Bible's stance on our diet. Each post in the series will focus on a specific verse and place that verse into context to help us answer the question of what the Bible says we should and should not eat.
Posts in the Series
References and Footnotes
- "Ishmael in Islam". Wikipedia; visited September 8, 2017
Other Pages to View