Saturday, July 15, 2006

Why Can I Eat Pork, etc…
No one can doubt that Jesus and His disciples all kept the dietary laws of the Old Covenant. To my knowledge that has never been questioned by any Christian. But Christians who are the followers of Jesus Christ do not keep the dietary laws of the Old Covenant.

Why is this?

Many Christians point to Peter vision in Acts where a sheet is let down. On the sheet were “footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.” God says to Peter “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” but Peter responds “Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.” Then Peter hears a voice from heaven say, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

This text by itself is not a good argument for the end of the dietary Laws of the Old Covenant. It can play a part but all by itself, it is not a strong argument for the passing away of the dietary laws. So, while the passage is often used by Christians to explain why we are not under the dietary laws, it should not be used as the definitive argument, because food is not what the passage is really about. It is really a passage about bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles.

During the first century the Gospel went from Israel, to Samaria and then to the pagan Greek and Roman World. There was a great cultural divide between Israel and the pagan world then, because God had put that divide in place by means of the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant. The laws were. As we learn in Hebrews, during the life time of the Apostles passing away. In Hebrews 8:13 we read, “In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” The Old Covenant Ceremonial laws were coming to an end.

Those vestiges of the Old Covenant that were “shadows,” which pointed to the reality that is fulfilled in Christ, were then passing from the scene and were finally done away with when Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD.

During the Apostolic age, as the Gospel went into the Pagan world, there was a good deal of tension between Hebrew and Gentile Christians. They were culturally very different people, because God had caused Israel to be different. Many Hebrew Christians thought Gentile believers should become fully Hebrew and come under and observe the “laws” of the Old Covenant as most of the Jewish Christians still did.

Paul vehemently opposed those that promoted that idea. Eventually there was a Council in Jerusalem of the apostolic leaders of the Church. The Council, headed by James the brother of Jesus, was to decide the matter. Many Jewish Christians believed the Gentile Christians should observe the ceremonial laws as they themselves did, this included the dietary laws.

In the Roman/Greek world of the first century pigs were commonly used in sacrifices and as food. This is why the decision of James at the Jerusalem Council is so telling. He instructs Paul, who is accused of doing away with the law, to go through the Jewish purification rites, which were even then “becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” The reason for this was “many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses…

James tells Paul to keep the ceremonial laws to placate the Jews (Christian and non-Christian). Next he says, “But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

James, and all at the council, knew that pork was a common part of the Gentile diet and yet he limits his decision affecting food to things offered to idols, blood, and things strangled (because the blood would not be drained from the meat as it usually is).

It should be noted that the restriction against eating blood predates the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant. This law goes back to Noah. It is to Noah that God first gives permission to eat meat. In Gen. 9 we read “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” So James in his statement at Jerusalem reaches back before the Ceremonial law is given and stresses what God said to Noah in Gen. 9. Notice that there is no restriction against pork in the pre-mosaic statement on meat and that is what James repeats for the eating restrictions of the Gentile Christians.

It is clear in the second century that the Church had no aversion to Christians eating pork. A number of the church fathers comment on this fact, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and St. Augustine.

This understanding was true for the whole Christians era even until our own time, but there are today “Messianic Christians” and cults that have arisen lately that try to deny these things. Such people are putting people in bondage. If any Christian wants to bind himself to the ceremonial restrictions of the Old Covenant -that is between him and the Lord - but if he tries to bind his neighbour then he is committing a grave sin that Paul addressed in his writings.

Coram Deo,

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