Are the Levitical Clean and Unclean Meats Laws
Required For Believers Today?
PART I― Why A Law Of Clean And Unclean Meats?
Beginning in about 1960 I began to comply with the Levitical dietary kosher laws as a member of the Worldwide Church of God. The clean and unclean meats doctrine was a major doctrine of that organization. It was so important, in fact, that some members could be heard to say when someone left the church, "The next thing you know they're going be eating pork," not, "The next thing you know they're going to be lying, stealing, taking God's name in vain, committing adultery, or committing murder." The worst thing they could think of was that the prodigals were probably going to start eating unclean meats, putting the consumption of unclean meats on a par with the Ten Commandments. However, you cannot put this topic on a par with the Ten Commandments. The Kingdom of God does not consist of meat and drink (Rom.14:17)..
First of all, we read in Genesis 1:29-30,
"And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food"; and it was so."
God made this declaration to Adam and Eve at the time of creation! Notice that it is not a command or prohibition but rather an assurance or allotment whose purpose is fixed in the statement "to be to you for food." God did not give Adam and Eve a strict prohibition against the eating of flesh but there seems to be an awareness that the killing of a living being for food was not right and not in accordance with the will of the Creator in the beginning. We shall see that the food allotment is changed after the Noahic Flood to include the flesh of animals (Gen. 9:3). However, here there is no specific prohibition against the consumption of meat. We can never really know whether man ate meat before the change in the allotment in Gen. 9:3. It is evident that God provided Adam with garments of skin in Gen. 3:21, that Abel kept and sacrificed sheep in Gen. 4:2-4, and that Noah distinguished between clean and unclean animals in Gen. 7:2. It may be that, according to Wenham (Genesis, 1987), "Gispen is correct in suggesting that 9:3 is ratifying the post-fall practice of meat-eating rather than inaugurating it. However, there is an important point here that many people gloss over because they do not fully comprehend the significance of this statement "to be to you for food." Do you not realize what this is saying? The implication is that from the creation man and creature did not eat meat for at least 1500 years even though there was no specific prohibition against the eating of it.
It says in Acts 3:20-21,
" . . . that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began."
There is going to be a restoration or a reversal of all things that exist in this present world. It is described for us in the book of Isaiah, Chapter 11, and verses 6-8.
"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea."
God will restore man and animal to the pre-flood condition of, if you will, "vegetarianism." He will take the carnivore, e.g., the lion, and make him an herbivore. What you see when you see the description of these wild animals eating herbs, is a part of the restitution of the way it was at creation. Prior to the Noahic Flood, there is every indication that man and animal were herbivorous. There is no reference to man or animal eating meat before the Noahic Flood. That is an important point to keep in mind.
When we get to the seventh chapter of Genesis, we find something that is significant in the instructions to Noah, who is building the Ark. He is told, in verse 2,
"You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female."
The Hebrew word designating "clean" and "unclean" is tâhôr.(Pure in a physical, chemical, ceremonial, or moral sense). Although the Levitical laws were not in place at this time, this definition is true in the Levitical sense in that these designations applied to the ceremonial use of these animals not the dietary use. Admittedly, there may have been a secondary dietary sense in which they were clean and unclean with reference to physical and chemical properties, but, as we shall see later, that is not the main thrust of the passage.
The point is that God made a distinction between clean and unclean animals. Why did He make the distinction? Many assume that it was because Noah and his family were going to eat the clean and not eat the unclean. However, we have seen that up to this point they weren't eating meat, so the physical and dietary aspects of cleanness or uncleanness do not apply. I challenge anyone to find in those scriptures any evidence to show that God made any change from giving man herbs and fruits to eat. There is none. Why, then, does God make the distinction? Well, if you believe that God created the "clean" animals to be consumed, and, therefore, they are "fit for human consumption," and that the unclean animals were not created to be consumed, and, therefore, not "fit for human consumption," you could say that the distinction applies to the food man would eat after the Noahic Flood, and, therefore, he would need more of the clean animals to eat. On the other hand, if you believe that the clean and unclean distinction refers merely to what animals could be used for sacrifices, then you could say the Noah had to have more of the clean animals so that when he emerged from the Ark and began to sacrifice there would be an abundant supply. We see that this is the case, for the first thing that Noah did was offer sacrifices to God, and the sacrifices had to be made with clean animals. The "clean" animals pointed to the unblemished, sinless life of the coming Messiah Jesus.
Thus, we see in Genesis 8:20,
"And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar."
This verse indicates clearly that God applies the distinction to ceremonially clean animals because He had not yet established a dietary change. He makes that change in Genesis, the ninth chapter, and verse three.
The first evidence that man becomes carnivorous or omnivorous shows up in Genesis 9:2-4.
"And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."
The only restriction God placed upon the eating of meat was that they were not to eat it with the blood still in it because the life was in the blood or, the blood was the life. In Deut. 12:23-24 we see,
"Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh. Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water."
The ancient Hebrew, and later the Israelites, believed that the blood represented the life, and therefore the spirit of the person or animal to whom it belonged. To the Israelite in captivity in Egypt, it represented, in the Passover celebration, the life-giving salvation of Jesus Christ who was to be the sacrificial lamb. The blood of the lamb sprinkled on their doorposts saved them from the death angel the night before they left Egypt. The prohibition against eating or drinking blood was not a part of the so-called dietary laws of Leviticus 11. It came before the establishment of those laws and in fact, goes all the way back to Noah (Gen.9: 4).God made no distinction between "clean" and "unclean" animals with regard to dietary considerations and to read anything else into it is utter nonsense and bad exegesis.
In Leviticus 17:10-13 we read,
"And whatever man of the House of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. And whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust; for it is the life of all flesh."
If we did not understand the prohibition against eating blood before, we should now. It shall not be eaten or drunk because the blood is designated to make atonement for our souls. The word "soul" is the Hebrew nephesh. Properly, a breathing creature, that is, an animal. It simply means the flesh. The blood, then, makes atonement for us, our fleshly bodies. The prohibition against eating of drinking blood applied then, not only to the Israelites, but also to the stranger or heathen who lived among them. The eating or drinking of blood had nothing to do with "dietary" laws but, rather, involved the use of blood in ceremonial worship and ritual. It was not a physical or chemical matter, but was, rather, a spiritual and moral matter for it pointed to the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Prior to Genesis 9:2-4, in the Garden of Eden, God gave man herbs and fruits to eat and dominion over the animals, but nowhere was he told he could not or should not eat them. But now, after the Noahic Flood, the relationship between man and animal changes—and this is a significant turning point—for we are told that,
"every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you, even as the green herb have I given you all things."
Let's just accept that for what it says for now. Let's don't read anything into it that isn't there. All it says is that every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you. Now you might say "Wait a minute! There are a lot of things that move around here that I wouldn't put in my mouth." I say here, here! I will not argue with you! Common sense dictates otherwise. However, it simply states—and the major point here is that now God gives man meat to eat—"every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you." But then it goes on to qualify the statement with the only restriction coming in verse 4. "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. " The only stipulation given here, when man is told that he can now eat meat is—and I cannot overemphasize this—that he cannot eat meat with its blood in it.
God Establishes Criteria
Let's move on to Leviticus 11, because this is where God gives us explicit criteria for establishing what is clean and unclean, and this is the first appearance of such a list. We have read the reference to clean an unclean meats in Genesis 7:2, but that's all it is, just a reference. It does not stipulate why they are clean or unclean, and it does not stipulate what makes them clean and unclean. Now, however we get some instructions. Let's look at Leviticus 11, beginning in verse 1.
"Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth . . ."
Notice that God is not dealing with the Gentiles or the rest of the world, just the children of Israel. This is important, and there is a very good reason for this. Why these instructions were given to Israel and Israel only, will become apparent later. There are some very powerful New Testament Scriptures we will look at later that cast some doubts on the observance of clean and unclean meats for believers today. If there is any doubt we must carefully examine anything about which there is a question.
In Leviticus 11 God is speaks to Israel and says, "These are the beasts . . ."
In verse 24 He says,
"By these you shall become unclean; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until evening . . ."
Notice that it says that if you even touch one of these animals, let alone eat it, you become unclean. This condition, however, only lasts until evening. Why did God say that? Well, He said that because He wanted Israel to understand that the uncleanness was something that could be transferred from one thing to another. What does this tell us about cleanness and uncleanness? It tells us that the defilement is ceremonial, not physical, and has nothing to do with physical health or diet. Well, you might say, what if the animal was diseased? Wouldn't that be a health concern? I would say to you, Yes; but if there were no cuts or abrasions on your body that would allow entrance of a disease organism, you could wash yourself and be relatively certain that there would be no side effects. However, it doesn't matter whether the animal is diseased, you still become unclean. Then, what does God mean by "unclean"? Does He mean it stinks, smells, and is not fit for consumption. Not at all! God is not talking about a dietary health-related condition here, but a ceremonial, ritual condition; a condition involving one's religious standing before God within the nation of Israel. It involves a condition describing the approach to the altar for sacrifices or going to the priest for sacrifices. In those days under the Mosaic system, if you were unclean ceremonially and ritually, you could not participate in the worship of the God of Israel.
In verse 26 we read,
"The carcass of any animal which divides the foot, but is not cloven-hoofed or does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches it shall be unclean."
This has nothing to do with diet or health. This has to do entirely with ritual, ceremony, and the Mosaic covenant.
We read further in verse 32, 33
"Anything on which any of them falls, when they are dead shall be unclean, whether it is any item of wood or clothing or skin or sack, whatever item it is, in which any work is done, it must be put in water. And it shall be unclean until evening; then it shall be clean. Any earthen vessel into which any of them falls you shall break; and whatever is in it shall be unclean . . ."
Notice that it says that anything which falls on the dead carcass whether it is wood, clothing, skin sack, or earthen vessel, becomes unclean. We do not knowingly eat any of these things. There may have been health issues here but they did not pertain to the eating of the flesh of animals. One question that comes to mind is, if you are in your house and you swat a fly and it falls on one of your dishes, must you break it? Well, if you are going to observe the clean and unclean laws, you must break the dish (vs. 33). If you are going to observe any part of the law, you must observe all of it (James 2:10). James alludes to the whole law, including the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law, which includes every commandment, statute, and regulation found in what is called the Torah comprising the first five books of the Bible. He destroys the notion that any part of the law is more important than any other part. Even showing favoritism of the rich over the poor destroys the unity of the law and makes the person guilty of sin under the law because it is discrimination that demonstrates the lack of love on the part of the perpetrator.
Again, in verse 34 we read,
"in such a vessel, any edible food upon which water falls becomes unclean, and any drink that may be drunk from it becomes unclean."
The interesting point here is that there is transference of uncleanness. The simple eating of an unclean animal does not constitute transference of uncleanness. It only affects the person involved because his conscience is defiled. Here, however, though the food is not eaten, where before it was deemed clean, it now becomes unclean. Too many assume that what determines an animal clean or unclean is strictly dietary regarding what God created to be eaten or not to be eaten. I say assumed, because I challenge any of you to find any Scripture that ever says anything about dietary or health issues tied to clean and unclean meats. Oh, I know that there are very technical books on the market purporting to demonstrate that certain meats react adversely with the body and that because of this they are detrimental to our health, but only the legalists use them to support their clean and unclean meats doctrine as a dietary issue. I can't find any reference to dietary health considerations in the Bible concerning clean and unclean meats, and if you are honest about it, neither can you. Where do we get this idea that it was for dietary health purposes that you eat this and you don't eat that? We assumed it or were taught it by a man who had his own agenda.
However, there is an exception to verse 34, and we find it in verse 36.
"Nevertheless a spring or a cistern, in which there is plenty of water, shall be clean, but whatever touches any such carcass becomes unclean."
Notice the word nevertheless. Although the carcass of an unclean animal that falls into a spring or cistern doesn't cause the water to become unclean because of the sources of the water constitute a purifying agent in that it continually renews itself carrying the contamination away. However, touching the animal in order to remove it from the spring or cistern, makes you unclean. On the other hand, as verses 37 and 38 declare, if a portion of a carcass falls on seed used for sowing, the seed, because it is dry, is not ceremonially contaminated. However, if the seed is wet when the carcass falls on it, it becomes ceremonially unclean and cannot be used for sowing or eating.
Now, let's look at verse 39.
"And if any animal which you may eat dies, he who touches its carcass shall be unclean until evening."
Now wait a minute! Suddenly, the clean beast has become unclean. Why? Because it died without being slaughtered, and if you touch it you become unclean. The key factor that causes the animal to become unclean is that it still has the blood in it and God commanded the Israelites not to eat meat with the blood still in it. It must be emphasized again that this uncleanness is only temporary. What does verse 40 and others say about this uncleanness?
"He who eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. He also who carries its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening."
The uncleanness is temporary! God makes a point of repeating this over and over so that we will get the point that it not a health issue but, rather, a ritual and ceremonial issue having to do with worship towards Him.
Now, look at verse 45.
"For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."
Are we getting a clue yet as to what is going on here. God says that it was He that brought them out of Egypt to be their God, singular! In other words, He was pointing out to them that He and He only was to be their God, not the plethora of gods they had worshipped in Egypt. Then he tells them that because He is holy, they must be holy. The definition of holy here and elsewhere is the Hebrew qoòdesh (ko'-desh). (From H6942; sacred (ceremonially or morally); (as noun) God (by eminence), an angel, a saint, a sanctuary: - holy (One), saint.)
Is "holy", then, a dietary, health, or physical condition? No! Holy is a pronounced or caused condition which is ceremonial or ritualistic and which, in spiritual terms describes our righteousness or standing with God. God is the One who determines what is holy and what is not holy! However, our scenario deals with Israel and physical conditions.
Notice verses 46-47.
"This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten."
It is here that God summarizes the guidelines He has just given. He makes a clear distinction between the clean and the unclean among the animals and what may be eaten and what may not be eaten. But to whom is He talking? The Gentiles? No, to Israel! These laws were for Israel only in order to separate them as a holy people unto Himself.
God Separates Israel
The definition of unclean from the International Dictionary of the Bible is, "To be unclean means to be contaminated by physical, ritual, or moral impurity." Notice that it has to do with physical, ritual, or moral impurity. Therefore, the absence of such impurities constitutes "cleanness." The Scriptures list terms clean or unclean over 500 times. It was an extremely intense subject in the Old Covenant.
Now there are some thoughts that I want to share with you. First, the most popular animal for sacrifice by the Gentiles was the pig. Could this fact have something to do with it being considered an abomination or "unclean" or was it simply that it was not "fit" for human consumption? Let's look at some facts about the Gentile before we make up our minds. (1) The Gentiles had altars with steps, so God told Israel, you don't put any steps on your altar. The Gentiles had a custom of boiling a kid in its mother's milk, so God told Israel not to boil a kid in its mother's milk. What was God doing here? Simple. God was separating Israel from the Gentiles! God began building a wall or a hedge, if you will, between Israel and the Gentiles because He wanted Israel to be different and holy. He wanted it to be very difficult for Israel to commingle with the Gentiles and thereby absorb their idolatrous, pagan worship. Therefore, He built up all these differences and hedged them in, as it were, to protect them from the heathen around them. It was almost like, "if the Gentiles do this, you do that, if the Gentiles practice that, you do this." It was almost like "if the Gentiles do it, you don't do it." That is why by the time of Jesus the Jews hated the Gentiles, would not eat with them, and would not be seen with them because they were ceremonially unclean according to the Mosaic Law. A lot of the things that God told the Israelites were unclean were some of the favorite foods of the Gentiles. The point God made is that if you can't eat a lot of things your neighbor eats, you're not going to spend a lot of time at dinner with them, are you? And if you don't spend a lot of time with him you won't learn his ways.
That Which Dies of Itself
Now, let's look at Deuteronomy 14:21.
"You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to the alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to the Lord your God?
Oh no, here we go again! We just read in Leviticus 11 that something that died of itself was unclean, just as much as the swine, the hare, the Coney, the camel, or the snake, even if God had declared it clean. Now He says, you take this thing that is unclean and you give it to the stranger that is in your gates. Is this the God of love we talk about all the time? Is He saying this it is unfit for human consumption so you let the Gentiles eat it? Doesn't it make sense that if it is unhealthy and unfit for the Israelite to eat, it is also unhealthy and unfit for the Gentile to eat? If it were not fit for human consumption in either case, would He not command them to destroy it? Would He not say burn it? Would He not say, don't give it to somebody else? To give something that is not fit to eat to someone else would not be the loving, Godly, righteous, biblical thing to do. God told them, okay, you can't eat it. It is unclean to you, but it is not unclean to that person because he is not subject to the law that I have given you, he is not a part of the commonwealth of Israel. The standard is God's, not the Israelite's or the Gentile's. God determines to whom it is clean and to whom it is not clean.
Then it goes on to say, "For you are an holy people to the Lord your God." The "wall of partition" that separates or hedges Israel in at this point is, "if the Gentiles do this, you do something different. You are holy, you are different, and I don't want you to do the same things they do! I want to distinguish you. I want you to be so different that you are easily identified as belonging to Me and cannot be absorbed into the Gentiles ways."
Touching the Unclean
Now, let's go back and look at Leviticus 5:3.
"Or if he touches human uncleanness—whatever uncleanness with which a man may be defiled, and he is unaware of it—when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty."
This passage speaks of the uncleanness of man. Now what's going on? Wouldn't all men be unclean if the passage is referring to diet and health issues? I wouldn't think that men would be fit for human consumption, unless maybe we misunderstood what unclean meant. The point here is that if you touch an unclean beast, or if you touch the uncleanness of a man, you are ceremonially unclean. It constitutes a transfer, but it has nothing to do with uncleanness with regard to eating. Becoming unclean under ordinary circumstances carries no guilt. But if the person has touched an unclean person and forgets about it or doesn't realize it, he is guilty when he realizes it because he has been negligent in disregarding the cultic and judicial order. He needs to be expiated of the forgetfulness or negligence that caused the condition. The danger lies in entering a sacred area or not taking steps to become ritually and ceremonially clean before he comes to worship God. Is it a diet or health issue then, or is it a ritual, ceremonial issue?
Finally, let's look at Leviticus 7:19-21.
"The flesh that touches any unclean thing shall not be eaten. It shall be burned with fire. And as for the clean flesh, all who are clean may eat of it. But the person who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the Lord, while he is unclean, that person shall be cut off from his people. Moreover the person who touches any unclean thing, such as human uncleanness, an unclean animal, or any abominable unclean thing, and who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the Lord, that person shall be cut off from his people."
This passage makes it patently clear that any person who eats a portion of a peace offering must be ritually clean or suffer being cut off from among his people. It is not certain if this phraseology means that he is executed. Numbers 19:13 relates to us that the person who is cut off becomes unclean. This would hardly be a significant concern if a person is executed or banished. On the other hand, if that person loses his property or standing in the community, it would be a different matter altogether. That person would lose his inheritance rights and the privilege of worshipping with the community at the temple or cultic center. In effect he would become a pariah and be shunned by the entire community. Under the Mosaic system, this would be a fate worse than death.
So, are we talking about health issues concerning the consumption of foods or ritual and ceremonial issues? Obviously, we are talking about ceremonial and ritual issues. Verse 21 makes that crystal clear. The word used for all unclean things is the same, tâhôr (From H2891; Pure in a physical, chemical, ceremonial, or moral sense.) It has nothing to do with health issues. It deals exclusively with ceremonial and ritual defilement. It is a phenomenon of the intellect. It is an issue that goes against the conscience. That which is not of faith is sin, and if one goes against his conscience in these matters, he sins.
Pt. II—The Leper is Unclean
Let's look at some further instances of uncleanness. Leviticus 13:9-11 says this,
"When the leprous sore is on a person, then he shall be brought to the priest. And the priest shall examine him; and indeed if the swelling on the skin is white, and it has turned the hair white, and there is a spot of raw flesh in the swelling, it is an old leprosy on the skin of his body. The priest shall pronounce him unclean, and shall not isolate him, for he is unclean."
The sore that is described here is ulcerated tissue. It is unclean because it bleeds and the discharge may be purulent. The bleeding results from scratching off the scales from psoriasis. The priest does not quarantine the person but pronounces him unclean immediately. The word for unclean used here is the same Hebrew word tâmế (A primitive root; to be foul, especially in a ceremonial or moral sense (contaminated): - defile (self), pollute (self), be (make, make self, pronounce) unclean, X utterly) that is used to pronounce animals unclean in Lev. 11 and Deut. 14. Now we discover that a leper is placed in the same category as a pig. He is unclean (tâmế). The Bible uses the same terminology for the leper as it uses for an unclean beast. We find, increasingly, more clues as to why God determined certain things clean and certain things unclean. The first evidence of any determination is in Lev. 11 and Deut. 14. After God led Israel out of Egypt, He gave them all sorts of statutes, instructions, laws, and commandments (the Old Covenant Mosaic Law), to prevent them from returning to idolatry. This is the major reason why we find the terminology and the definitions He laid down for what would be considered clean and unclean, and they are not diet or health issues.
In Leviticus 14:2 we read,
"This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest.
Here we have something involving a leper being cleansed. I think we have to agree that we are talking about a ceremonial condition here, a ritualistic rite that alters the state of the leper's uncleanness. Were this not the case, the leper would remain unclean and could not participate with Israel in its worship of God. In verse 31 it says,
"such as he is able to afford, the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, with the grain offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him who is to be cleansed before the Lord."
Thus, we find the clean and unclean laws applied to a leper who became ritualistically, ceremonially unclean making him ineligible to worship with Israel.
Checking further, we see that Leviticus 15:2 says,
"Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean."
The word for "discharge" is zûb (zoob), (A primitive root; to flow freely (as water), that is, (specifically) to have a (sexual) flux; figuratively to waste away; also to overflow: - flow, gush out, have a (running) issue, pine away, run). The situation under scrutiny in this passage is a sexual discharge, what we might call in our modern language a "wet dream." Not only does the man become unclean, but also everything he touches becomes unclean. In verse 4 the Scripture says,
"Every bed is unclean on which he who has the discharge lies, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean."
So, in this instance, even the bedclothes become ceremonially and ritually unclean. Verse 5 goes on to tell us that,
"And whoever touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening."
Again, here is this phrase "until evening" that keeps popping up in these instructions. It is clear from this that the question is—when the sun goes down does the risk of disease somehow disappear, and thus all impure objects are rendered suddenly pure? The answer is, no. The condition was ceremonial and temporary in the first place, and could be transferred. He was unclean, and when he bathed himself in water that evening, the uncleanness went away.
We read further in verse 19,
"If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening."
Again, is this a diet or health issue? No. It is a ceremonial, ritualistic issue, and the uncleanness could be transferred to another person. Verse 25 declares that she was cut off or quarantined for seven days. Did she sin or do something terrible? No! God is the one that designed the human system and set up those bodily functions with a specific purpose in mind. Verse 28-30 clarifies the matter.
"But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for the discharge of her uncleanness."
On the eighth day then, the priest makes atonement and she is free of the uncleanness. Once again this bears evidence of the ceremonial aspect of the uncleanness because what cleansed her was the offerings.
What about Leviticus 22:4?
"Whatever man of the descendants of Aaron, who is a leper or has a discharge, shall not eat the holy offerings until he is clean. And whoever touches anything made unclean by a corpse, or a man who has had an emission of semen . . ."
Why? A leper is unclean. A running issue makes him unclean, and he cannot eat holy things. The emission of semen refers to what we would call today a "wet dream." So even if a man had a "wet dream" under the Mosaic system, he was considered unclean. Uncleanness, then, was something that, once acquired could be altered very quickly by ceremony.
In Israel, even booty from war was determined to be unclean. Why? Because it came from a foreign environment. God's aim was to protect Israel from the influences of the Gentile nations around them. A very important aspect of the laws of clean and unclean was that God was building a wall between Israel and the Gentile, and whatever the Gentiles did, God said to Israel—don't you do that. Many of the animals that God strongly condemned for Israel's consumption and use in sacrifice, were animals that the Gentiles loved to eat and sacrifice to their gods. The most popular sacrificial animal for the Gentile was the pig. The pig, to anybody who observes the laws of clean and unclean meats, is the embodiment of all filthiness and uncleanness. They automatically shiver at the thought of eating pork. God told Israel, "You can't sacrifice the same animals or mingle with the Gentiles socially, and if you can't mingle with them socially, you can't eat the same meats. Therefore, you can't adopt the same pagan customs and idolatry that characterizes their society. God was building a "wall of partition" or division between Israel and the Gentiles. Paul talks about this very wall in the New Testament and how it was destroyed at the cross. God wanted Israel and the Gentiles separated religiously and socially so that Israel, His chosen nation, could remain a holy and sanctified people.
Touching A Dead Body
Numbers 19:13 talks about touching a dead body.
"Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him."
Here we see that just touching the body of a dead person makes you unclean. It is temporary if the water of purification is sprinkled on you, but it makes you just as unclean as if you had touched a camel, a rattlesnake, a dog, a cat, or a pig as pointed out in Lev. 11 and Deut. 14. The question that remains is this—is there a correlation between this sort of uncleanness and the uncleanness of certain meats? If you check the words you will find that they are the same Hebrew words used elsewhere. So perhaps that's a key to the proper understanding of cleanness and uncleanness.
Look closely at verses 20-21.
"But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person shall be cut off from among the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean. It shall be a perpetual statute for them. He who sprinkles the water of purification shall wash his clothes; and he who touches the water of purification shall be unclean until evening."
This is pretty serious. Notice that even the person who sprinkles the water of purification becomes unclean and must wash himself at evening. Notice also that this is a perpetual statute for anyone who continues under the Mosaic Law. Paul says that if you observe any part of the law (Of Moses) you must observe all of it.
Having A Child
If a woman had a child, she was unclean. If she had a male child she was unclean for seven days. If she had a female child she was unclean for fourteen days. Why? Now it goes on a little farther because for 33 days she was excluded from touching any holy things if it was a male child. If it was a female, it was 66 days. Now what's more wonderful than having a baby? But it made you ceremonially unclean.
Spittle is unclean also. Look at Leviticus 15:8.
"If he who has the discharge spits on him who is clean, then he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening."
Here we see that if a man who has a discharge spits on another it makes the other person unclean. Spitting on someone was a gesture of extreme contempt (Num. 12:14; Deut. 25:9). Hartely (Leviticus, 1992) says, "It is clear that the spit is viewed as carrying the properties of the unclean person from whom it came (cf. Num. 12:14; Deut. 25:9). A person spat upon must follow the same procedure mentioned above to become clean." So, merely spitting on someone, if you are unclean at the time, makes the other person unclean (tâmê) [A primitive root; to be foul, especially in a ceremonial or moral sense (contaminated): - defile (self), pollute (self), be (make, make self, pronounce) unclean, X utterly].
Pt. III—Jesus Institutes A Paradigm Shift
A New View
During His earthly ministry, Christ began to espouse a new view and a new look at an old subject. In the Gospel accounts, the only place that we find the word unclean is in connection with unclean spirits. It is never mentioned in the Gospels in connection with unclean meats or any other kind of food.
Turn to Matthew chapter 8, verse three.
"Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately his leprosy was cleansed."
In addition to this there are some indirect references, such as Matthew chapter 8:3, to something else that was unclean. In Matthew 10:1 we read,
"And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease."
The Greek word "unclean" used here is akathartos (From G1 (as a negative particle) and a presumed derivative of G2508 (meaning cleansed); impure (ceremonially, morally (lewd) or specifically (demonic): - foul, unclean). It is a reference to unclean spirits. In the case of the leper, the thing that made him unclean was the physical condition under the Mosaic covenant. That which would make a spirit unclean can only be categorized as spiritual. It is evident that there is a paradigm shift beginning to take place here.
Matthew 9:11gives us a clue as to what that shift was all about.
"And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
The Pharisees had nothing to do with Gentiles. Why, because the Mosaic system rendered them unclean. Jesus, however, ignored the Mosaic prohibitions against affiliating with the Gentiles because He began, from the very first, to lay the groundwork for a change in Israel's relationship with the Gentiles by chipping away at the "wall of separation" that had stood between Israel and the Gentiles for hundreds of years. He began to dismantle the differences between them because hereafter it was not to be just a nation called Israel that God would work with, but people of all nations and races.
The plain statement that Jesus makes in Mark 7:15 destroys the belief that many hold today about clean and unclean meats. It reverts to faith, which is inward and spiritual.
"When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!"
He precedes verse 15 with a plea—"Listen and understand. . ." Verse 15 prohibits nothing! This statement may not be as devastating, or shattering to us as it was to the audience to whom he spoke because they "obeyed" all the clean and unclean laws of the Mosaic system. Incredibly and surprisingly, He now tells them that none of these things can defile them. He plainly tells them not to worry about the washings and the oblations because what they eat won't defile them ceremoniously or ritually.
Now notice in verses 19 what Jesus says to the dense-minded disciples who have little understanding of spiritual things.
"So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?"
There are numerous translations that render Marks comment accurately and correctly. Taken figuratively, Jesus does not say that it is the "draught" that purifies the food but that Jesus, by pronouncing all foods clean, purified them. Does it make sense that He took something that was unfit for human consumption and said, "You can eat it now?" Christ could not and would not do that. If it was unfit for human consumption in the past, it would still be unfit. However, if its uncleanness were merely ritual, moral, or ceremonial, in order to separate Israel from the Gentiles, then Jesus, looking to the new relationship that Israel and the Gentiles were to enjoy, could and did claim all meats clean by destroying that exclusivist, separatist barrier that had alienated them religiously and morally for so long. Otherwise, Paul could not have declared in Ephesians 2: 14-16,
"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity."
No matter what you eat, even if it does have some poison or some bad things in it, you have a digestive system that will remove the poison if the amount is not excessive. We in this country load our systems down with lots of poisons. And of course if you overload the system, you have health problems. But again, are the Jews, as a people, healthier than other people? No! Do the Jews, who meticulously obey the clean and unclean meats laws live longer than the Germans and the Japanese, who have lived on unclean foods, according to the Levitical Mosaic system, all their lives? No, the Jews are not healthier as a people, and largely, they do not live longer. There is no evidence and there are no facts to back up the fact that certain meats are not as good for you or that others are. Jesus makes quite a startling statement here, especially concerning the Jews. He states simplistically that nothing defiles you from without. He says now—and here is the switch, here is the paradigm shift —become clean on the inside, because that's where the dirt is, that's where the uncleanness resides. By now we should perceive the switch from a ceremonial uncleanness to a spiritual cleanness. This is the change that Jesus made for all.
In Luke 11:39-40 He chastises the Pharisees by saying,
"Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? "You are so concerned," He said, "about what is on the outside and you need to be concerned about what is on the inside because that is what is important. He continues in verse 41, "But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you."
Men who practiced what Jesus mentioned could be none else than fools. This applies not only to the Pharisees but also to those legalists today who practice the same things. The washing ceremony was so sacred to the Pharisees that it transcended the moral law itself. In their eyes they were immeasurably holy before God but despite their outward appearance their hearts, wills, and thoughts were full of vices and wickedness. The Pharisees of Jesus' day, according to Linsky (Luke, 1961), "acted as if God made only the outside (their hands, to be ceremonially washed) and not the inside (the heart that must be kept clean of wickedness)." The sense here is that to wash the body while the heart is impure is absurd. Jesus was concerned about the more important aspects of the law such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23, see also Isa. 1:10-17; 58:4-8; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8). The point is that if divinely ordained ceremonial ordinances are less important than these things in God's eyes, then obedience to the divinely ordained ordinances while the heart is full of wickedness is worthless.
Notice carefully in verse 41 that Jesus concludes His statement with "Then indeed all things are clean unto you!" With that one statement a lot of ceremony suddenly fell by the wayside. A paradigm shift in the way the Jews, and people in general, were to do things took place in that one tense moment. The ceremonial laws concerning the cleanness of the leper, the woman in her issue, the man with an open running sore, the touching of the carcass of a dead unclean or a clean animal that had died of itself or had been torn by a beast, your plates or pottery that became unclean if an insect fell upon them, and the eating of clean or unclean meats, no longer mattered. All things, if your heart is right, are now clean ceremonially and ritually.
Next, let's look at John 13. We must remember that, in the Jew's minds, the Gentiles were perpetually unclean because they ate unclean things, touched dead bodies and the carcasses of dead animals, and had leprosy and open, running sores like every other human. The difference between them and the Israelites was that they had no way to cleanse themselves ceremonially. They could not implement Israel's rituals or sacrifice at the temple. Their perpetual state of uncleanness was the reason for the "wall of separation" or partition. Israel could not mingle with them because they were unclean. Jesus got into hot water with the Pharisees because He associated with people that were perpetually unclean.
Now look at John 13:10.
"Jesus said to him, He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."
Now what's He talking about? They hadn't touched a dead body that day, none of them had leprosy, and none of them had touched the carcass of an unclean beast as far as we know. He is talking about spiritual cleanness now. The disciples were called clean spiritually, with the exception of one. They didn't have to go through a ritual to become clean because Jesus declared them clean spiritually from within. Only Judas was unclean spiritually. There are a couple of ways to look at this: (1) he had an unclean spirit, or (2) he also was unclean inwardly because of his evil heart and motives.
Now let's look at the classic example of what Christ tried to convey to His disciples, the Pharisees, the Jews, and everyone in general. We find it in Acts 10:9-16.
"The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter said, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean." And a voice spoke to him again the second time, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again."
The importance of this vision—aside from the primary message—is frankly overlooked or ignored if one focuses deeply only on the primary message. The secondary message in this vision needs to be considered as well.
Let's pause here and digress for a moment. Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Now did that or did that not violate God's established law? I think that we will all agree that you violate f God's Law if you take your son and kill him. Abraham did not fight it, he simply said "Yes, Lord." How have we accepted that? We say "Wasn't the obedience of Abraham marvelous?" And he is the Father of the faithful. He was so faithful that when God told him "you kill your only son," he said, "Yes Lord." and he fully intended to sacrifice Isaac on the alter. In his mind he had already stabbed him when he began the downward motion with the knife and God told him to stop. So, we praise Abraham because when God told him to kill his son he said "yes Lord."
On the other hand, why do we praise Peter and why should we? When God said "Rise and eat." Peter said "No Way!" Now, is this or is this not a double standard for us to praise Abraham for disobeying the law and obeying God, and then, on the other hand to praise Peter for keeping the law of the clean and unclean while disobeying the direct voice command of God? Three times God told Peter "Rise Peter, kill and eat," and three times Peter stood his ground. It was not a mild protest but a repugnant refusal based on the fact that Peter had never eaten anything prohibited under the Mosaic regulations concerning food. His was a deep hold on the Jewish regulations that he was not willing relinquish, even to the Lord, because all of the regulations were enacted to prevent their intermingling with the Gentile pagans that surrounded them. The average Jew would not even buy meat from a Gentile or enter a Gentile home to eat and drink with him. The lesson here is that God had removed the barriers He once erected to separate His people from the surrounding nations. The gist of the command, then, is that if God tells you to do something, you had better do it with no questions asked. If Abraham rose to kill his son as he was commanded, who was Peter to stand up to God and say "No way, I've never eaten anything common or unclean." Perhaps there is a meaning here that we have overlooked. Perhaps, as we rehearse and review some of the occasions in which Peter was commanded to do something and refused, we can see that Peter had a problem with obedience.
The main point of the vision was not clean or unclean meats, but let us not overlook the fact that God did command him to eat it. How could God command him to eat it, if God didn't make it to be eaten in the first place? Look at verses 23-28—this is the point of the vision.
"Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I myself am also a man." And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean."
The main thrust of the passage is revealed in verse 28—that no man should be called unclean. However, there is a secondary point or at least a secondary principle that is suggested here. If a man were consuming unclean meat, you had to pronounce him unclean under the Mosaic system. But now, the Gentiles who were not under the Mosaic system, regardless if they ate unclean meats, were no longer to be considered unclean. What had changed? Had the Gentiles changed? No! They were still eating the same old foods, they were still living the same old lifestyle, and they were still practicing the same old customs. Nevertheless, there was a change in the works to remove the wall of partition, that wall of separation that divided Israel and the Gentiles socially and religiously.
Now let's look at verse 34—
"Then Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality."
The question that comes to mind, then is, is there any clean and unclean distinction that remains?
Now let's go to Ephesians 2:14-15.
"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,"
What is the "Middle Wall of Partition or separation that Paul mentions?" Very simply, it is all of the ceremonies and rituals that separated Israel form the Gentiles socially and religiously. It is the wall that God built around His holy people to hedge them in and protect them from pagan, idolatrous practices by insisting, "if the Gentiles do it, don't you do it," i.e., don't sacrifice the same things they sacrifice, don't build your alters the same way they build theirs, and don't eat the same things they eat. Virtually everything the Gentiles did, Israel was told to not do under the Mosaic economy.
However, according to verse 15, the Gentiles now have access to salvation because the separation that caused so much enmity between them and the Jews is no longer extant. The Gentiles were to be considered unclean no longer but accepted by God. Nevertheless, that didn't mean that they had changed their eating habits, and if they had not done this, how could they be proclaimed unclean? How could they be given this access to salvation along with the Jews without adhering to the Mosaic regulations? Because the "middle wall of partition" that made them foreigners and outsiders to the commonwealth of Israel had been broken down giving them rights, in the body of Christ, as fellow citizens and members of God's family. This is evidenced by verse 19.
"Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God,"
It is amazing that there just isn't that much talk about clean and unclean meats in all this. Could it be that under the New Covenant it's not a big issue with God? Could it be that it's not a matter of salvation, as some of us have always felt? Could it be that it's not a matter of your standing with God whether you eat clean or unclean meats? Could it be that it's just not as big a deal in god's eyes as we think it is? We certainly should not be judging others who insist on observing the clean and unclean meats laws. Rather, we who are strong in the faith, as Paul says in Rom. 15: 1, should bear the scruples of the weak in the faith. Nevertheless, we certainly should not become separatists by rebuilding the "wall of partition" between the Gentiles (Protestants, Catholics, evangelicals, etc.) and us through such practices as clean and unclean meats.
Pt. IV—Further Considerations
Call to mind that God built a wall around Israel and hedged them in, and that part of that wall consisted of the clean and unclean meats laws, which kept the Israelites from mingling with the Gentiles. Call to mind also that we discovered that Jesus Christ knocked that wall down in order to offer salvation to the Gentile as well as the Jew apart from the observance of the Mosaic Law. The attitude that anyone outside the commonwealth of Israel was to be considered unclean, as we saw in Acts chapter 10, was abolished at the cross. When Jesus destroyed the "wall of partition," He leveled the playing field, so to speak, placing the Jews and the Gentiles on the same footing regarding salvation. However, there were some who didn't get the point in the early days of the New Testament church.
Do you recall in Peter's vision where the sheet came down from Heaven and God told him to take and eat, and how Peter, in great self righteousness said "not so Lord, I've never eaten anything common or unclean," and how three times he refused? Peter had a hang-up about clean and unclean meats and was one of those who didn't get the point. Perhaps it was for this very reason God gave him the vision. God needed to make him understand that in order for him to be effective among the Gentiles he had to get rid of his long cherished beliefs about clean and unclean meats. Notice the situation recorded in Galatians 2:11-14.
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?
The situation was that Peter was eating with and mingling with the Gentiles, something that the Jews who kept the Mosaic Law thought a terrible thing to do. The Gentiles were unclean, after all. What made them common and unclean was that they did not keep the Mosaic laws concerning ceremonial cleanliness and uncleanliness. So, here he was, mingling with them, but when some converted Christian Jews arrived on the scene purporting to be sent by James, Peter hypocritically withdrew because he "feared" the Jews and didn't want to be seen with the Gentiles. Because Peter was considered a leader in the church, Barnabas and the other Jews followed his lead. In anger, Paul lashed out against his behavior and dressed him down in front of the others. Notice carefully that Paul says that Peter was living in the manner of the Gentiles and not of the Jews. Can anyone honestly deny, that if Peter lived in the manner of the Gentiles, he was not eating unclean meats as the manner of the Gentiles was? The very next words clearly show that he was not living as the Jews. What did it mean to "live as the Jews?" Well, obviously it meant that to live as a Jew was to observe the kosher laws as well as the rest of the Mosaic covenant. If Paul's words be true, Peter was not doing that.
There arose a great controversy between the Judaizing and the Hellenizing branches of the church over whether a Jew or a Gentile convert was required to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. For this reason, we see in the 15th chapter of Acts that the first church council was convened in Jerusalem to discuss the problem. The question to be answered was whether the Gentiles had to be circumcised and abide by the laws of the Mosaic economy, what had been abolished and abandoned along with the Old Covenant, and what remained, if anything, that the Gentiles were required to observe?
Luke gives us the answer in Acts 15:20.
"Therefore I judge (conclude, or it is my decision) that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood" (Parentheses added).
In other words, after hearing Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, James decided that the Jews should no longer harass the Gentiles about, or require them to observe circumcision and the keeping of the Mosaic law. Those who insist that the clean and unclean meats laws are binding on believers today don't want to see, as Dr. David Albert aptly describes it, "that within nearly two decades after the founding of the New Testament church, God inspired the apostles at the Jerusalem Council to declare that obedience to the law of Moses was NOT required for new believers and thus was NOT a requirement for salvation, church membership, or fellowship." The Council appealed only to abstinence from things polluted by idols, sexual immorality, things strangled, and blood or, as the term also implies, bloodshed. Nothing is mentioned about clean or unclean meats, which the Gentiles ate profusely. Albert quotes Hyam Maccoby who wrote from a Jewish perspective discussing exactly what changed. Says he, "By the decision of the Jerusalem Council, Gentile followers of Jesus were not (emphasis his) obliged to keep the Jewish dietary laws, but only to refrain from the meat of ‘strangled animals.' This meant that they were allowed to eat the meat of animals forbidden to Jews, e.g., pig and rabbit, but were obliged to kill the animals by the Jewish method, by which the blood was drained away." The meaning of Acts 15, then, is strikingly clear. Paul sums it up in 1 Cor. 10:27.
"If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience' sake."
Too many times while eating a meal with the brethren after services I have overheard someone ask if there was any pork in the food. Paul talks about eating with unbelievers. In these cases, however, we were among believers! I find it astounding that their paranoia was such that they couldn't even trust their brothers and sisters in the faith without asking what was in the food or how it was prepared. This lack of trust displays a lack of faith, and whatever is not of faith is sin. 1 Cor. 10 and Rom. 14 show clearly that after the Jerusalem Council the partaking of food is a matter of choice. We find no restrictions in the writings of Paul or any other writer of the New Testament. The one notable exception to this permissiveness is—you may eat "all things" unless what you eat causes offense.
In Romans 14:14 Paul says,
"I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself."
The exception to this, however, lies in the mind of the individual for he goes on to say,
"but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean."
This, again, implies choice. If one eats in faith, believing that it is not wrong, there is no sin imputed. On the other hand, if one eats with a guilty conscience because he believes it is wrong, sin is imputed for that which is not of faith is sin. Now don't come back to me and say, "well, you could apply that to everything in God's law!" Nonsense! You can't apply it in any sense to the Ten Commandments. You can, however, apply it to the Mosaic Law. Paul says without qualification that all things are lawful, the exception being that all things are not profitable. This especially applies to what goes into one's mouth.
The bottom line to all this is Rom. 14:17-19.
"for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.
The Kingdom of God, then, is not a matter of being ceremonially pure; it is a matter of being pure of heart!
Someone may turn to Isaiah 66:17 and say, "Well, what about this verse? It says here that anyone who eats swine' flesh will be consumed (terminated or killed). Isn't that a condemnation of eating unclean meats, and doesn't that contradict what Paul says in Romans 14? My emphatic answer to them would be, no! The Bible does not contradict itself. Let's look at the verse.
"Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, to go to the gardens after an idol in the midst, eating swine's flesh and the abomination and the mouse, Shall be consumed together," says the Lord.
This is talking about idolatry. This is talking about involving yourself in the worship of idols through the ritual eating of meat that has been offered to idols. It has nothing to do with kosher food laws. God says that if you sanctify yourself and purify yourself for the specific purpose of going into a garden to worship an idol and eat the flesh of swine and the mouse, you deserve death because of your idolatry, not because you ate the unclean meat. Where in the Levitical laws do you ever see the death sentence imposed for simply eating unclean meats? If, indeed, Paul says that the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, and if indeed Jesus said back in Mark 7 that nothing that goes into the man can defile him, and if indeed it says that the draught purges all meats—that is, Jesus Himself pronounced all meats clean—then Isaiah 66:17 doesn't mean what some think it means and we have no contradiction in the Scriptures. As I said, the Isa. 66 passage addresses pagan sacrifices, some sort of ritual in the gardens or groves—the problem here is really idolatry, not kosher food laws. This deals with the fact that someone is trying to sanctify themselves in the gardens, or groves, behind a tree, eating swine's flesh and the abomination and the mouse. The very word "abomination" clearly shows that idolatry is involved. The word is Sheqets H8263—From H8262; filth, that is, (figuratively and specifically) an idolatrous object: - abominable (-tion). Now if this is a warning that anyone who eats swine's flesh, or the mouse, or the abomination will be consumed or destroyed, then it becomes a spiritual matter. Therefore, it cannot be regarded as a physical matter, or a dietary health matter.
Look now at Romans 14:19-21.
Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
We are not to indulge in things that cause controversy, or things that build a wall around people, and the first thing that cult type churches do is to build a wall around people. They legalistically restrict you by telling you that you can't wear makeup, that you have to dress differently, that you have to eat differently, that you are not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages, that you can't go to movies, or that you can't do this, or that. These isolationist tactics are designed to cut you off from the rest of the world for fear of contamination. If you look different, act different, and eat different, you are not going to mingle with outsiders much in the same way the Israelites isolated themselves from the Gentiles. It is a clever ploy, but this isolationist and separatist attitude of building a wall around us it is certainly not the thrust of the New Testament. The way we are supposed to be different is inside, in our heart, not externally in the things that cannot defile a person.
Note carefully what Paul says in Verse 20. "All things indeed are pure . . ." Let's not try to explain this, let's just accept it for what it says. Remember, Paul is talking to the Gentiles who eat everything. He says, "All things indeed are pure . . ." but if anyone is caught up in Judaizing and it bothers their conscience, then they shouldn't eat unclean meats. Some people think they shouldn't eat meat period and are vegetarians. Well, you don't have to eat meat, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is no command in the Bible to avoid meat. However, if it defiles your conscience to eat meat, clean or unclean, then you should not do it. "If you have faith . . ." Faith to do what? Faith to do these things without incurring guilt, then you are free to do so. Verse 23 nails it down.
"But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
Paul dealt with some of the same issues we deal with today. He shows us that it is a matter of putting in the right frame of mind. If we do this it isn't a very important issue except where it would cause someone else to stumble and be offended."
Notice what Col. 2:16 says to us.
"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."
This verse does not say what should or should not be done, but rather that we should not allow anybody to judge us in the things which we allow or disallow. In other words, these are not things that we need to worry about, or worry about what people think we should be doing or not doing.
See what Paul has to say in I Cor. 8:4.
"Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one."
What Paul simply says here is that the idol can't do anything to the meat. "Look," he says, "even the idol can't defile the meat, so why worry about it?" However, he brings up the act of love in not causing somebody else to defile his or her conscience. He says in verses 7 and 10 that through your knowledge—what knowledge—the knowledge that it doesn't matter one way or another what you eat or don't eat, is not an issue, not spiritual, and not New Testament doctrine. What he does say is that because you have that knowledge you should not cause a weak brother to perish. After all, Christ died for that weak brother also.
"Therefore," he says in verse 13, "if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble." To the early Christians, it was a pretty big issue, and Paul was trying to get in perspective by admonishing them to not cause someone else to stumble. Who was it, the strongest ones, the most righteous ones, or the greatest ones, who avoided meat offered to idols and meats period? No, it was the weak conscious-wise, not the most righteous. It was the babes in Christ, those who could be easily swayed and caused to stumble.
After Paul cautions the Corinthian Church against idolatry, he says in I Cor. 10:19-22,
"What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?"
In other words, don't be guilty of idolatry; don't get caught up in pagan religion. Food that is offered to idols is nothing and it certainly doesn't make you stronger than God!
Now look at what he says in verses 23-25.
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience' sake; for "the earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness."
Remember, this is Corinth, a Gentile city. Do you think this meat market was kosher? It was a market where they sold meat offered to idols. Nevertheless, Paul tells the Gentile converts in Corinth, "eat whatever is sold in the meat market." There are absolutely no exceptions noted here, and there are no words in italics to indicate the word was not in the original text. It says, simply, "Whatever." Again Paul reiterates that it was not necessary to abstain from meats offered to idols despite the fact that it was considered a very, very pagan and defiling thing among the Jews. He concludes in love with verse 30.
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
I Timothy 4:1-5 speaks of the latter times, and in verse 4 specifically about foods.
"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."
Notice! There are absolutely no qualifications or restrictions mentioned in verse 4! The only thing it says is that we are not to refuse it if it is received with thanksgiving. Verse 5 goes on to say that if we receive it with thanksgiving it is sanctified (made holy or clean) by the word of God and prayer. Paul's statements are all-inclusive. When it says, "Every creature of God is good . . ." it is the same word used in Revelation 5. It is an all-inclusive term that includes both "clean and unclean" creatures under the Mosaic economy.
Hebrews 13:9 speaks about Jesus Christ, speaking about the New Covenant.
"Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them."
Notice, Paul declares, "It is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods . . ." The phrase "not with foods" refers to the efforts of the Judaizers to append the ceremonial laws of the Mosaic system to the Gospel, a thing which was utterly unprofitable according to Paul. The Levitical law, as we know, made distinctions between meats and such like, which the Judaizers pressed upon the Gentile converts with much zeal. It is plain from such passages as Rom. 14:13-23, 1 Cor. 8, Gal. 4, etc., that the Enemy was determined to corrupt the Gospel by attaching to it parts of the ritual and ceremony of Judaism. When Paul says "which have not profited them that have been occupied therein," he is not talking about the O.T. saints who obeyed the Law of Moses, but to those who listened and obeyed the errorists of his day, i.e., the Judaizers. Teachers of the clean and unclean meats doctrine think that by adhering to strict dietary regulations they are able to advance spiritually but Paul says that they receive no benefits from them. It is no wonder that Paul tells the Romans who are passing judgment on one another regarding their eating habits, "Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy spirit" (Rom. 14:16-17). To the Corinthians he writes, "But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do" (1 Cor. 8:8). Philip Edgecumbe Hughes sums it up skillfully:
"Food goes into the stomach for the strengthening of the body; but only grace strengthens the heart, that is, the vital center of man's being and personality and the source of his conduct and character." In other words, what we are to be concerned with now is being clean of heart. If we are clean of heart, we are clean spiritually, and if we are clean spiritually, we are holy. We who are strong in the faith don't have to worry about the common meats and the unclean meats, the woman who is unclean in her cycle, or the leper, or the unclean insect landing on a dish of food. We don't have to worry about those things making us ceremonially and ritually unclean. It is spiritual cleanness that is of concern and most important to us under the New Covenant, not diet."
"It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience— concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation."
The Greek word for figure or symbolic used verse 9 is parabolē— From G3846; a similitude (“parable”), that is, (symbolically) fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral):- comparison, figure, parable, proverb—as in Matt. 13:3, 10 etc. As it is used here it stands for one thing representing another and signifies "figurative instruction." The verb here is in the preter-perfect tense, which denotes a time that was then present but is now past and refers to all that preceded the establishment of the New Covenant and before the full Gospel revelation had been made. In 9b, the author points out the imperfection of the whole Levitical system and its ineffectiveness in perfecting the worshipper and meeting the end for which it was designed. He demonstrates this truth by pointing out that the sanctuary and its furniture were material things and that its ministry was not spiritual, only external in nature. In verse 10, the Greek word for "food" is broma—From the base of G977; food (literally or figuratively), especially (ceremonial) articles allowed or forbiden by the Jewish law: - meat, victuals and means food, especially ceremonial items allowed or forbidden by Jewish laws. Notice also that these things (including clean and unclean meats) were imposed only until the time of reformation. The word "imposed" signifies properly that the laws were laid on them as a burden. But they were imposed on them only until a certain time, the time of reformation," that is, until the Messianic Restoration. These burdensome ceremonies and rituals, then were never meant to last forever, but only for a limited season, "unto the time of the restoration" which meant the appearing of the promised Messiah in order to initiate the new and better covenant (see Luke 1: 68-74). That time is described in Gal. 4:4-5.
"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."
Now notice Heb. 9, verses 15-16.
"And for this cause he is the mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth."
"For where a testament is, there must also be the death of the testator." A testament is in force after men are dead. Otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator lives. Notice also vv. 22, 23, & 24.
When we turn back to the book of Revelation we find that at the time Christ returns, He returns to the saints who are in white robes, which are symbols of cleanness, and of righteousness, because that which is unclean now concerns righteousness and cleanness of heart. God looks on the heart, and as Christ said, "Not that which goes into the man defiles him, but that which comes out of the man." In the words of the Apostle Paul, in looking at the origin and the purpose that Israel was given these laws, and then looking at the Apostle Paul's words, even Jesus Christ's words, it is my conclusion that the law of clean and unclean was a ceremony, a ritual part of the Old Testament covenant, that it was not a health law, that was not a spiritual law, that it was a part of the distinction between Israel and the Gentile, that it was a part of the wall and the barrier to isolate those people from the rest of the world. The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink! We are told not to judge. And that is the most important part of this series. Not to look down your nose at somebody if they choose to eat unclean meat, and not look down your nose at somebody if they choose to eat meat and you happen to be a vegetarian. It is not from without that we are defiled, it is from within. Spiritual cleanness, not physical cleanness is the issue that should concern us as partakers of the New Covenant!
Copyright © 2003 Jesse Acuff. All rights reserved.
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