Debunking the Myths- Food

03 January 2009

The previous article of this series addressed common myths regarding Sabbath observance for believers.  This article will focus on addressing common myths Christians have about food.

God never changes

First we should note that G-d does not change.  Ever.

For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. - Malachi 3:6

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. - James 1:17

 

Change requires a time "before" the change and a time "after" the change.  Since G-d exists outside of time and He created time then G-d is not constrained by time.  There is no before and after for Him.  He is the great "I AM".

 

Myth #2: Yeshua changed the food laws.

Some claim that Yeshua [Jesus] changed the food laws in Mark 7:19.  This is covered in detail on our website AnsweringChristianObjections.com but here is the summary of why this is a myth:

1) If Yeshua had ever changed the food laws He would have been sinning since the Law of Moses declares that we shall not add to or take away from the commandments (Deuteronomy 12:32).  We know Yeshua did not sin  (Hebrews 4:15).

2) If Yeshua had ever changed the food laws his opponents would have seen him as violating a clear commandment of Scripture and would have not had to bring false charges against him.  They would have had a legitimate charge to bring: violation of adding or taking away from the commandments.  They never accuse Yeshua of changing the food laws so it was clear to the hyper-legal authorities of his day that Yeshua did not claim to change the food laws.

3) If Yeshua had ever changed the food laws his disciples would have understood this from early on in his ministry.  Yet several years after Yeshua's ministry began Peter declared that "I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean" (Acts 10:14).  It was clear to Peter that Yeshua had never changed the food laws.

 

This leads us to the next part of this myth:

Myth #2a:  Peter's vision changed the food laws.

Some claim that G-d changed the food laws in Acts 10.  This is also covered in detail in a separate article but here is the summary of why this is a myth:

1) We know from the information above that Yeshua never changed the food laws.  Peter affirms this in his words in Acts 10:14.

2) We know from this passage that Peter never changed the food laws.  He would have violated the clear teaching of his Master if he had done so.

3) The interpretation of the visionis given in verse 28 of the same passage:

And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet G-d has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.- Acts 10:28

Any who would interpret this passage to mean G-d has changed the food laws would have to deal with the position inherent to that claim that somehow it is now OK to eat people.

 

Myth #2b:  Paul changed the food laws.

As we found in the previous article there are some who would malign Paul with charges that he somehow contradicted the clear teaching of Yeshua to uphold the Law.  Paul's own words declare this to be false: "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law." - Romans 3:31.

Romans 14:14-20

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of G-d is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to G-d and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of G-d for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.

We can remove errors in our understanding of this passage by examining both the surrounding text and the historical setting in which the passage was given.  This chapter in Romans begins with the following:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. - Romans 14:1

The context tells us that Paul is speaking about the opinions of men… not the commandments of G-d.

When we consider Paul’s words we should not view them within the context of our 21st-century debates about food but within the 1st-century context in which it was written.

What was Paul talking about?

Paul was referring to a common debate in his day among Gentile believers about whether or not meat sacrificed to idols was unclean and thus unsuitable for eating.  The Jerusalem Council provided guidance on this exact issue in Acts 21:25.  In fact, it was the first thing they addressed in their ruling.  Jewish believers were breaking fellowship with the new Gentile believers because of this matter.  The Jerusalem council ruled that Gentiles should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols to remove that barrier to fellowship. In this passage of Romans Paul is offering his own opinion on the matter:  "I know and am convinced..." is how he begins his statement.  When we understand the historical context of Paul’s statements as referring to this debate over opinions then we are relieved from the possibility that someone could use this passage to mislead us into disobedience to the commandments of G-d.

Galatians 2:11-14

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? - Galatians 2:11-14

As always context is critical to understanding Paul. Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to correct their misunderstanding regarding obedience to the commandments for the purposes of salvation.  Paul makes this clear in several places including Galatians 2:15-16.

What was Paul talking about?

Galatians 2:11-14 relates an issue with which Paul confronts Peter: breaking fellowship with Gentile believers because they are not conforming to Jewish tradition.  This directly relates back to Peter's vision in Acts 10 (see above) and Peter's unwillingness to call all men "clean". Nothing in the passage indicates the issue had anything to do with what was on the menu.

Colossians 2:20-23

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

What was Paul talking about?

We should understand the first-century issue Paul is addressing: Colossians 2:20-23 records an issue relating to certain ascetic teachings Paul was correcting for the believers in Colossae.

The ascetics of his day taught that the things of the physical world were evil and the things of the spiritual world were good. The ascetic lifestyle that was being taught stated that any type of pleasurable experience (tasty food, comfortable clothing, a soft bed) were to be avoided hence Paul's reference to "do not handle, do not taste, do not touch". All the classical commentaries on this passage are consistent on this point that the issue was ascetisicm. The issue was not the food laws given in Scripture.   Paul makes this abundantly clear in his reference to the "commandments and teachings of men".  The commandments of G-d are not part of Paul's point.

1 Timothy 4:4-5

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which G-d has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by G-d is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of G-d and prayer. - 1 Timothy 4:1-5

The context is speaking of apostates to the faith who are following deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.  To call G-d's Word regarding food "doctrines of demons" borders on blasphemous if not just simply uninformed in this matter.

What was Paul talking about?

We should understand the first-century issue Paul is addressing: Colossians 2:20-23 records an issue relating to certain ascetic teachings Paul was correcting for the believers in Colossae.

The men this passage speaks of are both forbidding marriage and advocating abstention from certain foods.  This is clearly not speaking of the Jews who see the commandment to be fruitful and multiply (within the context of marriage) to be a significant commandment that is strongly promoted.  Paul is speaking about the ascetics of his day who oppose anything enjoyable or pleasurable  to the flesh in order to strengthen the spirit.

Just as sandal leather, plastic wrap, and cockroaches are not "food" in the eyes of Americans today, "food" to Paul [who says he is (present tense) a Pharisaic Jew as per Acts 23:6] does not include pork, shellfish, or other things G-d has said are not suitable for food.  Paul's point is that men are not permitted to somehow forbid others to eat the beef, chicken, and other foods that G-d has said are permitted (as the ascetics were doing).

Verse 5 is particularly interesting when we consider that G-d has spoken in His Word regarding certain foods.  What food has G-d's Word sanctified?  We should examine Leviticus 11 because, in Paul's day, the only Scripture that existed was the "Old Testament".  The New Testament books had not yet been written or recognized as Scripture.

Once more we conclude with the words of King Solomon, wisest of all men:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. - Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

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