Posts Tagged eat
Did Jesus recommend the eating of unclean meats?
[Or: Did Jesus tell His disciples they could eat anything and everything?]
Jesus was of the tribe of Judah,1 and He grew up as a Jew, and hence He would only eat the meat of animals which God had declared clean in His law.2
For Him to eat the meat of any other animals would have meant that He was breaking God’s law, and to do so meant He would have sinned, because sin is lawlessness,3 and Jesus never sinned.4
As Jesus knew that it was sin to eat unclean meats, He would not have wanted others to sin in that way either. That’s the short answer to our question, but there is more.
The disciples of Jesus were Jews, too, and while they were sinners like every other human being,5 they would not have eaten unclean meats. If they had, we would know about it, because fellows who didn’t like Jesus – such as Pharisees and others from the Jewish establishment – would have kicked up such a racket we would be reading about it in one of the four Gospels at least. Those fellows seemed to be watching Jesus and His disciples wherever or whenever they could, and we do read about an occasion when they picked on Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands before a meal. That incident must have been important, because God inspired Mark to record it in detail.
The Pharisees and their comrades followed all kinds of customs that you wouldn’t find anywhere in God’s law, and washing their hands before a meal was one of them, so they asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t go along with what they called ‘the tradition of the elders’, and ate bread with dirty hands. Jesus didn’t pull any punches and told them what a bunch of hypocrites they were, and how they followed their own rules rather than the commandments of God. Then He spoke to the crowd that was there, and later to His disciples, and explained that it didn’t matter what went into your mouth – obviously referring to any dirt on your hands when you don’t wash them before a meal, because that’s what it was all about – and that of itself wouldn’t make you dirty, because it goes into your digestive system which gets rid of all the dirt.
He went on to explain what really makes a man dirty, namely that which comes out of his heart, things like evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.
When you read Mark 7:1-19 in the New International Version, you will notice eight words in brackets at the end of verse 19, (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”), trying to tell the reader that it’s ok by Jesus to eat anything and everything.
The first five words in brackets, (In saying this, Jesus declared) are not in any Greek text of the New Testament; what may be rendered ‘all foods’ is there, but instead of ‘clean’, the Greek has ‘purging’,6 all of which means that the translators, rather than doing what they are expected to do, namely to translate, have put their own interpretative slant on the end of verse 19.
So, if the translators’ interpretation of the end of verse 19 were correct, do we read that the disciples of Jesus – or any other Jews for that matter – began to eat unclean meats, either during Jesus’ time on earth, or after?
Let the New Testament answer our question.
One of Jesus’ disciples, Simon Peter, comes across as being a leader, and God gives us valuable clues concerning Peter’s encounter with unclean meats many years after the incident described in Mark 7.
In Acts 10 we read about him going up to a roof to pray; many houses in that part of the world had flat roofs, ideal for getting away on your own for a while. Continuing with verses 10 to 14: ‘He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
There we have it, straight from the inspired word: Simon Peter had never eaten unclean meats – and we could safely add – all his life, because he was a Jew, and Jesus had never told him that he could, or that it was alright for anyone to eat the meat of animals which the LORD had declared unfit for human consumption since the giving of the law to Moses, and, as far as he knew, all the way back in the days of Noah.7
Now verses 15 to 22: ‘The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”
Peter knew full well all along that the voice from heaven was trying to tell him something with the threefold appearance of unclean animals in the sheet, and when he saw the three men – obviously Gentiles whom the Jews regarded as equally unclean – he began to see the significance of the vision, all of which was reinforced by what the Spirit had said to him.
Have you ever wondered why God used such dramatically elaborate imagery to get through to Peter that Gentiles were acceptable to Him? You would think God could just as easily have said to Peter something like: “I am sending three men to take you to the house of a centurion, because I am about to give My Spirit to the Gentiles also.”
Well, with Peter’s steadfast refusal to ‘get up, kill and eat’ when he saw the great variety of unclean creatures, God seems to be telling us loud and clear that unclean animals are not on the menu of the followers of Jesus, be they Jews or Gentiles, and when the three Gentile men came looking for Peter, He shows us that He is calling people of other races besides Jews to become His disciples, and that Peter was not to call Gentiles impure whom God had made clean.
God is also a great one for augmenting something He wants us to understand through repetition. Acts 11:1-12 is a wonderful example:
‘The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again. “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. The six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.”
God makes sure we are reading Peter’s point blank refusal to kill and eat unclean animals a second time. It bears repeating: nothing impure or unclean had ever entered his mouth – and it wasn’t going to now! There had to be an explanation. So when the Spirit told him to have no hesitation about going with the three men, he knew what the vision had been all about.
We can also be certain that there was no unclean meat served up at the house of Cornelius.
‘He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.’ (Acts 10:2) A perfect description of Gentiles who lived like Jews in as many ways as they could.
A few years later, Peter was at what we would call a ministerial conference in Jerusalem. It was all about the question: should Gentiles be circumcised to be saved.
After some lengthy discussion and reports from Peter, Barnabas and Paul, James spoke up:
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20)
Again, God wants us to read it a second time, namely in the excerpt from a letter they decided to send to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.’ (Acts 15:28-29)
The mention of food sacrificed to idols should tell us that much of it would have been the meat of unclean animals8 which their neighbours would have had for sale following pagan sacrificial rites.
To this day, in addition to unclean meats, many people, including Christians, eat blood in the form of what they call Black Pudding, or prepared in many different ways, as well as the meat of strangled animals,9 which means that the apostles’ teachings (Acts 2:42) have not been passed on by many denominations.
Indeed, we read about the early stages of their development in the book of Revelation.
Jesus Christ inspired the apostle John to write to the seven churches in the province of Asia, with Jesus Himself speaking to them, as it were, directly. Addressing the church in Pergamum, Jesus begins by mentioning their good points, and then continues:
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:14)
Isn’t it amazing, Jesus says it was a sin in the days of ancient Israel to eat food sacrificed to idols, and it is still a sin in one of the early New Testament churches. And eating food sacrificed to idols seems to go hand in hand with sexual immorality, as we again read in the church in Thyatira:
“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teachings she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20)
In a letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul sheds some more light on what sacrifices offered to idols are all about:
‘Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.’ (I Corinthians 10:19-20)
You bet he wouldn’t, and it should serve as a warning for all Christians, whether we live in an idol-worshipping society or not.
After all, God’s rules about clean and unclean meats are part and parcel of His law, and Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms, recorded for us in Matthew 5:17-19:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
That’s right. When He came to live among people, He did not abolish the law concerning clean and unclean meats, but He fulfilled it by setting an example of abiding by that law.
Jesus goes on:
“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Have you ever thought about what Jesus is saying here? Not even what many Christians call a small, insignificant matter like what we might eat will disappear until heaven and earth disappear. And when Jesus adds, “until everything is accomplished”, He may well be saying until He has taught every human being that ever lived what is good for them to eat and what is not. Paul was inspired to write along these lines about God our Saviour, ‘who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’ (I Timothy 2:4)
Jesus also knew there would be some who would not like His teachings, because He continues:
“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,”
Then there are always those who respect and live by the rules in the law laid down in Leviticus 11, and look what Jesus has to say about them:
“But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Simon Peter was one of them. He practised and by his example taught the commands God gave about clean and unclean meats. When he was on that flat roof in Joppa, he full well knew that the voice from heaven was not urging him to sin by killing unclean animals and eating them. He may have been a sinner in other ways, but he called out that he had never sinned by breaking that particular law: “Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”
And don’t forget, Jesus has had just that kind of people throughout history, and He still has – Jews as well as Christians of all races10 – and He will have until heaven and earth disappear.
By Ernie Klassek
1. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, (Hebrews 7:14)
See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed. (Revelation 5:5)
3. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. (I John 3:4)
4. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (Hebrews 2:22)
5. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
6. καθαριζων παντα τα βρωματα
purging all the foods
or: removing all the dirt
The verb καθαριζω also has the meaning “remove”, A POCKET LEXICON TO THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT by Alexander Souter, M.A. Matthew 8:3, “And immediately his leprosy was removed” (εκαθαρισθη), Walter Bauer’s GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT and Other Early Christian Literature.
J.B. Phillips: “And at once he was clear of the leprosy”.
The noun βρωμα, in the plural βρωματα, occurs once in Matthew 14:15, “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” It occurs once in Mark (see above), and many translators have rendered it here as “food” or “foods”also.
However, βρωμα occurs with two distinct genders, one neuter το βρωμα which means “the food”, the other one feminine η βρωμα which means “the dirt”. Matthew does not feature the article, and Mark has the article in the plural τα βρωματα, so it’s up to the translator to render it in line with the context. In Matthew the context is obvious: food for the crowds. In Mark it’s all about the dirt.
7. Genesis 7:1-3 The LORD then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.”
8. The Knox Translation, I Machabees 1:46-50, “Both in Jerusalem and in all the cities of Juda the king’s envoys published this edict; men must live by the law of the heathen round about, burnt sacrifice, offering and atonement in God’s temple should be none, nor sabbath kept, nor feast-day. And, for the more profanation of the sanctuary, and of Israel’s holy people, altar and shrine and idol must be set up, swine’s flesh offered, and all manner of unhallowed meat;”
Josephus, THE WARS OF THE JEWS, Book I, Chapter I, 2. “Now Antiochus . . . compelled the Jews to dissolve the laws of their country, and to keep their infants uncircumcised, and to sacrifice swine’s flesh upon the altar;”
Walter Bauer’s GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT and Other Early Christian Literature: το ειδωλοθυτον meat offered to an idol, an expression, which was possible only among Jews and Christians. It refers to sacrificial meat, part of which was burned on the altar, part was eaten at a solemn meal in the temple, and part was sold in the market for home use. From the Jewish viewpoint it was unclean and therefore forbidden. Acts 15:29; 21:25; I Corinthians 8:1, 4, 7, 10; 10:19, 28; Revelation 2:14, 20.
9. Every year during what Tasmanians call the mutton bird season, people – including Christians – go to the islands off the North-West tip of Tasmania to drag the plump Shearwater chicks out of their burrows, kill them by strangulation, and take them home to eat them.
10. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. (Revelation 14:12)
Scripture quotations are from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, unless noted otherwise.