Home > ethics, holiness, law > >Unclean food: Do God's commands change at his whim?

>Unclean food: Do God's commands change at his whim?

>Most Christians have no concerns about eating pork. Many Jews do. God clearly forbade the eating of pig meat at Sinai, yet Christians don’t consider it forbidden. Several questions that I can think of or that I have seen asked include:

  • Is eating pork acceptable?
  • Why was it banned at Sinai but acceptable millennia later?
  • Can God give contradictory commandments?
  • Which command takes precedence?
  • What basis in Scripture is there for accepting the later commandment rather than the previous commandment?
  • Why is it wrong for the Hebrews but not for the Gentiles?
  • Is morality or God arbitrary?

The issue here is understanding the reasons for which God sets laws.

Some laws reflect God’s righteousness. Examples of sins directly against God would be murder, adultery, worshipping anything other than the true creator. These laws exist because of the nature of God. These laws are directly determined by the nature of God and his morality. Honouring anyone above the creator dishonours the creator. Unlawfully destroying the image of God in a man steps outside man’s domain and assumes God’s domain; not to mention the source of murder is in hatred which God despises.

The Hebrews had many laws and not all of them were in the above category. The offence against God in breaking these other laws was disobedience. Now disobedience is a major sin which implies that obedience is very important; but this does not mean that the forbidden action in and of itself offends God’s righteousness. Whereas breaking laws like murder are acting in disobedience as God has commanded not to, but they are sinful both in their disobedience and in their intrinsic action.

Parenthood holds an analogy. I forbid my children to do many things. Some verboten actions are always wrong, but others are somewhat arbitrary or temporary based on the child’s age. All broken rules are disobedience but several are also morally wrong.

One could label these 2 types of laws,

  • Moral laws: Breaking these contravene God’s nature.
  • Legal laws: Breaking these contravene God’s commands.

Legal rules can potentially be for a season. They could be for all time on earth but cease in heaven. They could be forever to test our obedience to God.

God forbidding Adam to eat from the tree of the knowledge-of-good-and-evil was probably an obedience rule. Other examples would be eating vegetables pre-Fall versus eating meat post-Flood; not eating pig, rabbit, and camel for the nation of ancient Israel but eating these foods okay for Gentiles and Christians.

So why did God command the Hebrews not to eat pork?

Eating pork was not banned for the same reason as murder. It was in some respects arbitrary. This is seen in the temporary nature of the command.

And [Jesus] said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” ( Thus he declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7)

The sin of eating pork is therefore not intrinsic to the pig meat itself, it is the disobedience of Jews to God concerning this specific commandment.

It is helpful to seek the underlying reason for the ban. This will give us the reason for the temporary nature and give us understanding into God’s character and his reasoning in this example.

I think the commandment was to teach the Hebrews about holiness. They had to think about what food was acceptable and what was not. This is similar to other laws such a the the ban on ploughing with unclean and clean animals yoked together or making cloth with 2 different types of thread.

God made categories of clean and unclean so the Hebrews could learn to distinguish between them. Clean and unclean symbolise holy and unholy. God belongs to the category of holy and he wants the Jews to be holy also.

Of course there was never a ban on Gentile consumption of pork, nor a ban for Hebrews/ Israelites pre-Sinai. However Christians trace their spiritual heritage thru Israel; Christianity was not so much a new religion, more a greater revelation of God, namely thru Jesus his son. Now that now we have a fuller revelation in Jesus these old rules have changed. We have a new and better covenant.

Categories: ethics, holiness, law
  1. Giraffe
    2008 November 20 at 20:35

    I think it may have been for health reasons. Trichinosis for one. As time went on and knowledge increased, it is no longer a problem.
    I had started reading a book called The Maker’s Diet. The author still advises not eating pork. He believes pork is a generally unhealthy meat to eat. I don’t really remember his reasoning. Perhaps pork fat is particularly bad for your heart. I was dubious, and did not finish the book.

  2. 2008 November 21 at 07:09

    Giraffe, I don’t doubt there were health benefits. Having read quite extensively the current research on various diets, the Hebrew restrictions suggest a very healthy diet. They were not to eat offal or animal fat but were to eat lean meat, vegetables, cereals (not as finely ground as ours), vegetable oils (eg. olive) and scaly fish (the oily forms have an excellent oil profile).
    Several of the banned foods are thought to contribute to cardiovascular disease (at least).
    I am not certain how much pig would’ve been an issue, pig fat would have been banned anyway and other animals such as horse were prohibited though they seem to be lean.
    So while I think the diet that God told them to consume was also very healthy (which points to divine origin), I am not certain that is the entire, or even the primary reason.
    A friend lent me a food book, I think it was The Maker’s diet. I browsed it and was unimpressed. I think the West’s problem is partially what we eat but also how much.

  3. 2008 November 23 at 10:16

    I don’t think the bible is any more a diet book than it is an instruction book for home cleaning tips – there is that instruction in Leviticus about how to clean mildew off the inside of a house.
    This discussion is interesting as I have a bit to do with Seventh Day Adventists who of course hold the food laws dear so it is something I think about and am aware of a lot when I am eating around my SDA’s.
    I think the easiest way of settling this is to ask the simple question, who were the commands addressed to? In Genesis, Abraham is given a command to leave Ur of the Chaldes and in Jonah we hear of a command to go to Ninevah and preach repentance. No one in modern Christendom, or in history, contends that this means we today are commanded to leave Ur of the Chaldes or go to Ninevah. This is becuase people recognise that the commands were issued to specific individuals, not to humanity as a whole. A careful reading of the OT shows that something similar is true of the dietary laws, there were commands issued to Israel, the Jews, but not to all human beings, in fact, the Torah teaches that the gentiles were permitted in the covenant with Noah to eat whatever meat they liked and gentiles were exempted from the commands in the Torah.
    Hence, interpreting these scriptures simply means carefully reading who the commands are addressed to.

  4. James
    2009 January 28 at 12:03

    I also think it is for health reason. The ‘credit’ before God will not decrease if we eat unclean meat. God loves us that He gives us the dietary law so that we stay healthy.
    Not All Meats Are Food

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