Exercising what they consider their “freedom in Christ,” many — if not most — who profess faith in Christ eat flesh of all animals, regardless of some animals being labeled by the Old Testament as “unclean” (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14; etc.). There are even some who go as far an extreme as to say that “Pork is Christian food!”
There are a number of Scripture verses which those who profess Christianity use to justify their supposed freedom. [See: Freed From Bondage and God’s Spirit and Obedience.] But let us consider here some Scripture passages which have been applied, more directly, to the question of eating all kinds of meat freely.
An outstanding Bible text used to prove our supposed freedom to eat all kinds of meat is Acts 10. This tells of the incident involving two separate visions which God gave, on the one hand, to the Roman centurion in Caesarea (Cornelius) who believed in the God of the Jews; and, on the other hand, to the apostle Peter, who was staying in Joppa with one Simon the tanner. This incident is obviously very important because it is retold in Acts 11.
The crux of the narrative is where, in his vision of a sheet with all kinds of animals (obviously including “unclean” animals), Peter is told: “Rise, Peter, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13, NKJV throughout, unless otherwise stated). At this Peter protested: “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (Verse 14). And the Lord’s reply: “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Verse 15). This was done thrice, after which Peter puzzled over the vision’s meaning.
Peter’s hardheadedness a reason why?
Some see Peter’s dilemma as a supposed carry-over of his hardheadedness, slowness to believe, or losing faith. We can find evidence of these “flaws” of Peter in episodes such as those recorded in John 13:1-11; 20:1-10, etc.
This remark about Peter’s dilemma stems, apparently, from the assumption that, earlier in His earthly ministry, Jesus had supposedly “cleansed all meats.” This is how many — erroneously! — interpret Jesus’ conclusion in Mark 7:18-19, “…Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods.”
The error lies in jumping to the conclusion that, by so saying, Jesus has now purified “all foods” (or meats), including what had been previously declared as “unclean” meats. That the ancient law on clean and unclean animals [ancient, because it had been revealed as early as — or before — Noah’s time (Genesis 7:2; 8:20), and later commanded as a holiness statute to Israel (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14)], is now abrogated. [See: Law Added to Law Transgressed, The Law of Christ, and Moses and Jesus — Are They Contraries?]
This conclusion will at once confront what the divine Jesus Himself declares as one of His major purposes in coming to earth as a human: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Either Jesus was contradicting Himself — or the interpreter has misread Jesus’ intent in Mark 7:18-19.
It will be evident that the latter is the case! [See: Spiritual Dyslexia.]
Firstly, the context of the incident in this narrative: Here were the Pharisees and the scribes criticizing Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands according to the manner [or ritual] prescribed by the Jewish leaders’ traditions (Mark 7:1-4). This is the issue — not the eating of unclean meats, which among Jews (as is the case here) is out of the question! No religious Jew would countenance touching (Leviticus 11:24-28), let alone eating, the carcass of an unclean animal!
The issue here is whether not washing the hands according to the Jewish elders’ tradition, before eating a meal, defiles a man. [Jews ritually wash their hands in a prescribed manner, including washing up to the elbows.] Jesus is not considering here the uncleanness of the meat that is ingested. Rather, He is referring to any dirt (such as grime or grit) which may be ingested through eating with hands not washed according to Jewish tradition. Such dirt, Jesus says, merely goes through the digestive system and out to the toilet.
In Matthew’s parallel account, Jesus Himself clearly declares what He really meant by this episode: “…to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:20). Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus teach that eating unclean meats does not defile a man! To conclude otherwise is to violate one of the important rules of Biblical hermeneutics (proper interpretation of the Bible): consider the context of the Scripture passage, as I have just explained.
Let’s not bring in an issue which, in context, the passage is not concerned about. Nor should we read into the passage a meaning not intended by the context or, especially, by the speaker of the passage. To do so would lead us to a wrong conclusion! Matthew 15:20 thus nails the proper conclusion to this whole question — that “…to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
As Paul cautions, let us learn “…not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other” (1 Corinthians 4:6). When we ignore this warning, we can be prone to thinking of and following heresies!
A test of attitude
It is erroneous to conclude that Peter was merely being hardheaded for protesting against the Lord’s command to go “kill and eat.” In the first place, how can one kill and eat a virtual animal? After all, what Peter saw was merely a vision — not a material reality; there were no actual live animals for him to kill and eat!
Let’s also remember this: at this stage in the life of Peter, he had received God’s Spirit (see Acts 2). He was, as Jesus had prophesied of him (Luke 22:32), thus “converted” (KJV) or had “returned to Him” (NKJV) and could thus strengthen his brethren. True, Peter had his moments, he misunderstood things — just as all real Christians still do; but Peter had a converted heart.
As a “work in progress,” Peter was here being tested by Christ. As we will see, any inclination to being “hardheaded” that remained in Peter was more on how he, as a dyed-in-the-wool Jew, regarded Gentiles. I will explain more on this later.
Now, let’s consider why God would issue Peter with a command that, clearly, contradicts the Old Testament statute on clean and unclean meats. The way to understand this is to see it as a mere test of Peter’s attitude.
Like God’s test on Abraham’s attitude
We might compare this with God’s supreme test of Abraham’s obedience when God asked him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Clearly, for Abraham to have killed his son would have been contrary to God’s command “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, KJV) — more horribly so, as it was his very own son! [God alone has the power to give life and the prerogative to take life (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6) — even the life of His very own Son, Jesus Christ, of whom Isaac served as a type.] Also, God specifically forbade His people to sacrifice their children to idols (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). [See: The Divine Prerogatives and The Children of Abraham.]
Precisely because God didn’t mean for Abraham to literally kill his son Isaac, God at the last minute stopped him short and provided a ram instead, to sacrifice. (For the full story, see Genesis 22). Interestingly Paul, in Hebrews 11:19, shows that Abraham figuratively received back Isaac “from the dead” — as though he had slain him. [See: Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews?]
In a similar manner, God lifted from Peter’s sight the sheet bearing all kinds of unclean animals, so that Peter didn’t have a chance to kill and eat (if he could have killed and eaten a mere vision of an unclean animal). God didn’t mean for Peter to eat unclean meat.
Through His Spirit, the Lord cleared up the puzzle in Peter’s mind. By the vision Peter just saw, God meant for him not to call “common or unclean” those people whom God had cleansed. Peter explained: “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
Who said so?
Who said it was “unlawful” for a Jewish man to keep company with Gentiles? Not God! True, God commanded the men of Israel not to marry heathen women, lest they be drawn away from worshiping the true God to worshiping idols (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). The same applied to women of Israel marrying heathen men. But to merely keep company (as in doing business together) with Gentiles was never prohibited by God.
For example, the servants of Solomon freely worked together with the servants of Hiram king of Tyre in building the temple in Jerusalem and Solomon’s house (1 Kings 5-7). Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman by the well (John 4), healed the sick among the Gentiles (Matthew 15:21-28; Luke 7:1-10). What Jesus and Solomon did was not forbidden by God’s law. Rather, it was mere human tradition by the Jewish leaders to declare it “unlawful” for a Jew to keep company with Gentiles (see John 4:9).
Defying a Jewish no-no
Understanding this, Peter boldly defied a Jewish no-no by receiving Cornelius’s Gentile messengers into his host’s house, even giving them overnight lodging there (Acts 10:23) and going with them to Cornelius in Caesarea the following day (Verse 24). Not only that: Peter came into Cornelius’s house — and stayed there a few days (Verses 24, 48)! [Watch for: What it Means to Live as a Jew or as a Gentile.]
Confirming that Jesus did not come to destroy the Law — including that in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, regarding clean and unclean meats — Peter was obedient to his Lord when he wrote, in 1 Peter 1:13-16 —
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation [second coming] of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy for I am holy.”
“It is written” refers, among others, to Leviticus 11:43-45. Here God shows how His people are to be holy as He is holy — by not making themselves “abominable with any creeping thing” — that is, by eating unclean animals (Verse 41) — “lest you be defiled by them.” [See: “Be Holy for I am Holy.”]
This holiness law is serious enough for God to add a temporary law [foreshadowing the cleansing of sin through Christ’s blood] of washing one’s clothing when one happened to handle the carcass [the meat] of an unclean animal (Leviticus 11:24-28) — let alone eating its carcass. [See: Law Added to Law Transgressed.]
Prayer alone sanctifies meat?
The apostle Paul’s testimony in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, about our “latter times,” has also been used by some to prove that all meats are now good for food. “For every creature of God is good and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
Some Bible readers believe that one can eat any food — even if God’s Word calls it “unclean” — as long as one prays for or over it. But in the above-quoted verse, Paul says every creature of God is good and to be received with thanksgiving because it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer — not prayer alone!
As we have already explained, we cannot use Mark 7 and Acts 10, 11 as the “word of God” that has now “sanctified” (set apart for right or holy use) every creature of God for food. Rather, it is the word of the holy God in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 that has sanctified or set apart the meats that are to be eaten by a holy people! (After all, the gospel of Mark and the Book of Acts had not yet been officially declared as “holy Scripture” or part of the Word of God during Paul’s time.)
The vegetarian issue
In another sense, people may reject eating meats for reasons of health, philosophy, or some religious scruples.
Paul accurately foretold of our times today as being especially marked by vegetarianism — the rejection of all flesh foods or meats, including even those meats God has approved for consumption. Vegetarianism (or, more accurately, “vegan-ism”) had already been an issue in Paul’s day (see Romans 14:1-2). Paul contrasted Christians who practiced this with Christians who “ate all things.”
Some have seized upon the phrase “all things” to mean all meats — both clean and unclean. They capitalize on what Paul further said, in Verse 14: “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” However, the word “unclean” here is better translated as “common” (the Greek word in the original manuscript is koinon, not akatharton, which latter word means not purged — unclean).
The issue here is that the vegetarians or vegans considered meats as “common” or not up to their standard of acceptability. One reason proposed by some is that certain meats (“clean” meats) may have been offered in ritual sacrifice at some pagan temple before they were sold in the market. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-13 Paul taught the brethren to consider the scruples of those who could not eat such meat without feeling somehow defiled in their weak conscience. To avoid eating this meat, some supposedly had chosen to go vegetarian or vegan.
Paul says that some of these Christians (the fully vegetarians or vegans) in Rome were weak in the faith (Romans 14:1-2), not having really understood God’s true teaching on meats (as mentioned in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14), nor Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 8.
Sadly, some have misapplied — or even twisted — the above saying of Paul to include those Christians who, in addition to vegetables, eat only clean meats as being “weak” in the faith. In contrast, they imply that those “Christians” who eat all meats — whether clean or unclean — are thus “strong” in the faith.
As I will show, in no uncertain terms — based on the sure word of Bible prophecy (2 Peter 1:19) — this is a damnable heresy!
Paul declared that he did not get his gospel message from any man but directly through a revelation (or more) from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12; 2 Corinthians 12:7; Acts 22:14-15; 22:16). Would Paul preach something contrary to what Jesus had declared? — that He did not come to abolish God’s law (Matthew 5:7), including that on clean and unclean meats? Hardly can anyone truly call Jesus “Lord” and overturn what He has declared! [See: Is Jesus Your Lord — Really?]
Yet this is what many who profess to call Jesus their “Lord” and “Master” have done with the Bible’s true teaching about God’s law on clean and unclean meats — as well as other matters. A day of reckoning is just ahead! It is time to heed God’s true word and avoid God’s coming dire judgment on sinners! [See: “I Never Knew You!”]
God’s food law still in effect at Christ’s return
True to His word that He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets (Matthew 5:17), Jesus upheld — and still upholds — Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah’s return to earth and His judgment on all those who will practice idolatry and not follow God’s food law. Notice Isaiah 66:15-17 — a prophecy to be fulfilled yet in the future — at Christ’s return:
For behold, the LORD will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire [clearly this is referring to Jesus’ return in great power]. For by fire and by His sword the LORD will judge all flesh [both Israelite and Gentile]; and the slain of the LORD shall be many. “Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, to go to the gardens after an idol in the midst, eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and the mouse, shall be consumed together,” says the LORD.
That’s how serious God considers His law on idolatry — which Paul equates with covetousness (Colossians 3:5). It is covetousness — and idolatry — to desire to eat foods that God has forbidden in His Word. To paraphrase Jesus (Matthew 5:27-28), by lusting after unclean food, it’s as though one has already, in one’s heart, eaten unclean food.
If Jesus had indeed “cleansed all meats” when He came the first time, why would He still judge people, at His second coming, for eating meats that He has supposedly already cleansed? This simply would not make sense! It would make out Christ to be inconsistent with, or flip-flopping on, His word!
And to those who have erroneously — perhaps ignorantly — taught that Christ has “cleansed all meats,” there is God’s grim warning not to add to or take away from God’s law and prophecy, what God intended to be obeyed — at the cost of one’s name being removed from the Book of Life (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18-19). [See: The Book of Life.] One who wants to be in a right relationship with God had better learn to “tremble” at His Word (Isaiah 66:2)! We need to handle God’s Word in such a way that we — and those who hear or read what we teach from God’s Word — do not blaspheme or speak evil of it (Titus 2:5; 2 Peter 2:2).
To those who think God’s law on clean and unclean meats is a minor, minor one that can simply be ignored, here is what our Lord says: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven [whether they enter it or not]; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
Of course, Jesus taught about the major or “weightier” matters of God’s law (Matthew 23:23). He taught that the evil desires in man’s heart are what ultimately defile a man (Matthew 15:18-19; Mark 7:15).
Not a mere physical law
Come to think of it: how different is God’s law about not eating unclean meats from God’s original command to Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17)? In the middle of the Garden of Eden was this tree which, although symbolic of man’s moral choice, was presumably also an actual, physical tree whose fruit could be eaten like the fruit of the other trees in the Garden (Genesis 2:9).
God warned Adam and Eve not to eat that forbidden fruit, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Because they listened to the temptation by the devil (in the guise of a serpent) to disobey God in this matter, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and, eventually, they did die. [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 Moses, at God’s command, listed clean animals (the flesh of which the people of God could eat) as well as unclean animals (the flesh of which they were not to eat). In these chapters, God says to His people not to make themselves “abominable” [hateful — to God] and “unclean” by eating these unclean and “detestable” meats lest they be “defiled” (Leviticus 11:43; 20:25).
While there is no mention here of the death penalty for eating unclean meats, let’s consider why Jesus — at His return — will judge “all flesh” [all human beings, not just the Jews or the people of Israel] with the death penalty [being “consumed” by “fire and by His sword” ] for “…eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and the mouse” (Isaiah 66:15-17).
How does God regard “abominations?”
In Leviticus 20:13, for example, we have this stern judgment of God on homosexual acts: “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall shall surely be put to death.”
How differently would God judge a person who eats unclean meats and thus makes himself abominable in God’s eyes? Isaiah 66:15-17 should show us unmistakably what God’s view on this is! “Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, to go to the gardens after an idol in the midst, eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and the mouse, shall be consumed together“!
The apostle Paul wrote: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 2:16-17). In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul elaborates: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”
Clearly, one way we defile our body is by eating unclean meat — a “detestable thing” (Leviticus 11:43; 20:25; Deuteronomy 14:3). God’s Word — both the Old Testament and the New — clearly commands God’s people to thus “be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy” (Leviticus 11:45; 20:26; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8).
Prophesying against Israel’s leaders, in the context of the coming “day of indignation” — God’s wrath, which will be poured out at Christ’s return — Ezekiel was inspired to write: “The conspiracy of her [Israel’s] prophets in her midst is like the roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and the unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them” (Ezekiel 22:24-26). [See: What If the Sabbath Is Still Holy? and God’s Feasts in the Book of Acts: Mere Time Markers — or to Be Observed?]
The same may be said of the erring leaders of the Church of God — “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) [see: God’s Kingdom and Israel] — during these end times! By failing to teach the difference between clean and unclean meats — and between others of God’s “holy things” and things “unholy” — these leaders are destroying the people of God! They will have much to answer for (James 3:1) when our Lord Jesus returns to judge the whole earth! [See: “I Never Knew You!” and The Law of Moses at Christ’s Return.]
A call to repentance
Paul’s exhortation gives us assurance and comfort: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man [Jesus] whom He has ordained…” (Acts 17:30-31).
God is more than willing to hear and accept a person who recognizes his or her sin, repents of it, asks for God’s forgiveness, and moves on to live a holy and righteous life as God has intended for everyone (1 John 1:8-10; 3:7-10). God will pardon such a man, for His mercy triumphs over His judgment (James 2:13)!
God’s Spirit which God gives to those who repent and receive a new heart empowers them to obey all of God’s statutes and judgments (Ezekiel 36:26-27). And this is not just for Israel but for all mankind, for “there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:1-11). [See: Transgressions Under the First Covenant, God’s Spirit and Obedience, and The Higher Law of the Spirit.]
Do yourself a favor! Spare yourself from the dire consequence of transgressing God’s law on clean and unclean meats (Isaiah 66:15-17). [For more on clean and unclean meats, click on this link: http://www.ucg.org/booklet/what-does-bible-teach-about-clean-and-unclean-meats/.]
By obeying this and the other holy commandments of God, we please God and show our genuine love to Him. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). Psalm 146:8 promises: “The LORD loves the righteous.” As Luke 1:6 testifies, Zacharias and Elizabeth “…were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, [so] that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the [holy] city [the New Jerusalem]” (Revelation 22:14).
Let’s eat only those things which God allows in His Word. In due time, we will have the right to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and live forever (Genesis 3:22) — something that Adam and Eve missed because they ate the wrong fruit.
Let’s learn the lesson from them!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.