In the last number I wrote in general about the moral law of the Old Testament. In this paper I should like to address the subject of Food, simply because it was an important issue to the Hebrews under Moses, and persists today in what the Jews call Kosher foods, those allowed under Mosaic legislation, and checked by local Rabbis. In a word, does any of this apply to Christians? Let’s investigate.
Some years ago, when our three girls were in their late teens/early twenties, our fellowship did some intensive study of the O.T. laws. We found that there were 613 separate pieces of legislation! By no means were all areas covered. The task was too great. But we studied a number of issues, and decided to act in accordance with the 4th commandment, namely a Saturday Sabbath. In the Youth Group, our girls decided to be more sensitive to the opposite sex in their manner of dress, which took on a more modest appearance. And as for the food laws, we found some very interesting facts. As a result, some friends from another church dubbed us with mocking alliteration, “the Eedle Church, with its Gospel of Sabbaths, Sausages, and Skirts.” We tried to take it all in good part! But our motives were guided by a single desire, that of pleasing the Lord, NOT to come under any bondage of legalism.
In the land of Israel in O.T. times, quite the majority of people were ordinary artisan folk, with little to spare. Their diet was largely vegetarian. Just occasionally they would have a meat meal, but it would have to be a special occasion, and often involved sharing an animal with neighbours.
In contrast, the typical Englishman’s dinner is “meat-and-two-veg,” and if no meat is served up, he is inclined to pull a face. But for breakfast he would have had bacon, egg, and sausage. And for tea, he would quite likely have more protein, perhaps ham and salad. In other words, in a typical day he might well have had portions of meat three times over. Herein is the great contrast with the ancient Israelites. The Mosaic code specified which species of protein-based foodstuffs were allowed. Not all the creatures’ names are meaningful to us today, (When did you last see a pygarg?) and have to be conjectured, but even so, we can obtain a fairly good idea of what was meant. It is therefore possible to draw up a list of “clean foods” and “unclean foods”. It is worth while looking at the list, as follows.
|Clean Foods||Unclean Foods|
|Lamb||Dog, Cats of all kinds|
|Goat||Weasel, Ferret, Rock Badger|
|Dove||Lizards, Snails, Frogs, Snakes|
|Partridge||Eagle, Hawk, Falcon, Buzzard|
|Quail||Vulture, Owl, Crow|
|Fish with Scales||Stork, Heron, Pelican|
|Locusts||Seagull, Cormorant, Hoopoe, Bat|
|Pig, Rabbit, Hare, Turtle, Lobster, Prawn, Scampi|
By certain ingenious manipulation, some expositors have taken selected verses from the New Testament to prove that the food laws no longer exist. But they fail to realise that (in the Western World, at least) man has adhered to the Mosaic legislation without even acknowledging it, often without even realising that it exists. Look at the list of forbidden foods in the above table. It is not our practice to eat any of them!
However, modern man has made certain exceptions to the food laws, by eating Pig meat (as Bacon, Pork, Ham, Gammon, Pork Sausages), and the other items in italics at the end of the list. Why therefore boast that we are free from the restrictions of the Law, when we create our own law, almost exactly the same as that of Moses’ day?
It is said that Peter received a vision of a sheet let down from heaven containing “all manner of four-footed beasts, creeping things, and fowls of the air”, thus to indicate the abolition of the food laws. But the signification was made clear to Peter, that it referred to the entrance of the Gentiles to the household of faith, not to food at all. If the Lord had intended the vision to apply to food, then why don’t people eat the items that Peter saw, such as rats and mice, dogs and cats, creepy-crawlies, and so on?
What was the purpose of the food laws? Two aspects come to mind – (a) the health of the nation, and (b) certain ceremonial functions connected with sacrifice. Of these, the second has no modern significance. The first still applies. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and to neglect the factors relating to healthy living is to dishonour the Lord.
So what about all the multifarious varieties of pork on the market? Can we eat them today? I think the answer must be found within the conscience and intelligence of each individual. The original food laws were set for the Middle East, and related to the animals found there, and the climatic conditions obtaining. If we transfer the whole concept to Britain and America, for example, and decide that pig meat, and sea foods are now harmless to our constitution, then we shall find no inner prohibition to their consumption. But some may still find that the original legislation would be “safer” for the sake of our health, and therefore wish to continue respecting the whole spectrum of the ancient Mosaic law.
It must be emphasised yet again, that this is not a matter of straitjacketing, but to be in tune with common sense, and healthy living. There is so much to learn from all the sundry laws of the O.T. They are full of wisdom, and hidden significances. But all the ceremonial aspects of the Law have been fulfilled in Christ, and therefore have no place in modern spiritual living.