Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What's kosher?

Brother Bob;
Where can I go to find out more about what is right to eat according to the Bible? I have read Leviticus chapter 11. I have been told by others that is just for the Jewish faith and I have been told by others that I talk to that we should follow the new testament, which I have not myself looked at yet (couldn’t find where).

--Cindy Goodson

Thank you for giving me permission to post my reply to your question on my blog.
Leviticus 11 does give food restrictions to Jews for ritual cleanness. Some Christians feel that these dietary laws no longer apply to Christians, while others feel that these laws do apply. I agree with the first group, that these laws do not apply to Christians. But let me give you both viewpoints.
Those who feel Leviticus 11 does not apply to Christians point out that Leviticus 11:2 gives the command to Israelites, and unless you are Jewish, you are not an Israelite. Also, notice several New Testament passages. Jesus said that what goes into the mouth that makes a man unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is, his words. (Matthew 15:11). Jesus also said that what goes into the body does not defile, but what is in the heart (Mark 7:18-19). Taken together, these verses seem to say that Jesus did not consider the dietary laws necessary for his followers. Does that mean Jesus rejected Leviticus as inspired scripture? Not at all. The point of the Leviticus 11 commands was holiness. Leviticus 11 never says to avoid these foods for health reasons, although there can be health benefits to avoid some of them. Instead, Leviticus 11 says to avoid them in order to be holy. Why avoiding certain foods makes one holy is not explained, but that's the reason Leviticus 11 gives. Jesus was applying that principle of holiness, and showing how we can get so legalistic with such things that we miss the main point, which is a holy life by saying the right words and having a right heart. Jesus often did that, where he took an Old Testament law and applied the principle and spirit of it. He did that a lot in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said the law said not to murder but he said not to hate and call people names, and the law said not to commit adultery but he said not to lust.
Also, Acts 10:9-16 records a vision that the apostle Peter received telling him to eat the very foods listed in Leviticus 11. This vision was given to show him he should accept Gentiles (non-Jews) into the faith, because later in that chapter a delegation came and asked him to share the gospel with a Gentile. (Up until that point, all Christians were Jewish believers, but soon it was to spread to Gentiles.) Setting aside the dietary laws was a symbolic way to show Peter to accept non-Jews into the faith, but it also seems to show that Christians no longer need to seek holiness through dietary laws. The apostle Paul criticized legalists who said to abstain from certain foods, and Paul said that we should receive all foods created by God with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:3-4).
It is interesting to note, however, that some of the animals prohibited to eat in Leviticus 11 do transmit disease or poison. For example, pigs carry trichinosis, scavenger birds pick up diseases from the carrion they eat, and many fish without fins and scales are poisonous. (This does not explain every animal in Leviticus 11. Arabs consider camels a delicacy and there seem to be no health risks with eating camel, except the thought of it might make you sick to your stomach!). It is also interesting that Daniel chapter 1 tells the story of Daniel's decision not to eat the rich foods of Babylon, but instead to concentrate on water and vegetables, and how he was more healthy later. For this reason, there are some Christians who believe in following the dietary laws of the Old Testament.
I think all Christians would agree that the guiding principle should be 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which reminds the Christian that his or her body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and our bodies belong to God, so the body should be treated with holiness. This verse alone should motivate us to exercise and eat healthy foods. Unfortunately, we Baptists are bad about church pot-luck suppers that aren't healthy at all!


Todd Rogers said...

Very well put! I couldn't agree more, big brother! I like the way you explained both sides, but gave a solid opinion backed up by scripture.

Your brother,

Brother Bob said...

Thanks, Todd!