Lesson 6: To Eat or Not To Eat, What the Bible Says
Do God’s Health Rules Have Anything to do with Eating and Drinking?
Isaiah 55:2: “Eat ye that which is good.”
1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
Yes, Christians will eat and drink differently, all to the glory of God, and put into their bodies only “that which is good.”
Is God Trying to Deliberately Withhold Good Things from Us by Restricting Certain Kinds of Food?
If God says a thing is not fit to eat, He must have a good reason. He is not a harsh dictator, but a loving Father. All His counsel is always for our good. The Bible promises:
Psalms 84:11: “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
So if God withholds a thing from us, it is because it is not good for us.
God’s Original Diet for Man:
Genesis 1:29 “I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”
“Every herb [a plant without a strong woody stem or trunk] bearing seed” “herb” here should be understood as an adjective and should read: every herb-bearing seed. That is, our main food should be seeds that produce herbs: grains (wheat, oats, corn, rice, rye, barley, millet, etc.), seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flax, etc.), legumes (soy, kidney, lentil, split peas, peanut, etc.), and other plant foods containing seeds (eggplant, bell pepper, pumpkin, cucumber, tomato, okra, squash, melon, etc.). Originally, the herbs were given by God as food for the animals and birds (see Genesis 1:30-“And to every beast of the earth….. I have given every green herb for meat”).
“. . . and every tree [plant with a strong woody stem such as a shrub, bush, or tree], in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed.” This is generally understood to mean fruits (orange, lemon, cranberry, apple, pear, mango, strawberry, dates, cherry, blueberry, banana, coconut, avocado, olive, etc.), and nuts (almond, pecan, cashew, walnut, chestnut, pine, brazil, etc.).
What Happened After Sin?
Genesis 3:18 “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;”
After sin, God instructed man to also eat of the herb of the field, which originally were given for the animals to eat. This is generally understood to mean leafy, flower, and root vegetables (lettuce, spinach, parsley, fennel, beet, Brussel sprout, watercress, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, turnip, potato, garlic, onion, etc.). This was very wise on God’s part, because many of the vegetables contain medicinal properties that are necessary to sustain us in a sinful, polluted world. This new diet was God’s appointed diet for man.
When Did God Allow Eating of the Flesh Meat?
In Genesis 9:1-5 (KJV) we read: “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. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.”
Before the Fall of man and presumably, after the Fall until the Flood, men were to be, by God’s decree, vegetarians. It is possible that men ate meat before the Flood since their wickedness was great and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil all the time (Genesis 6.5).
God destroyed all living things from the face of the earth by the Flood, except the occupants of the ark (Genesis chapters 6,7,8). God gave them permission to use meat as a temporary diet because of insufficient vegetation available immediately after the Flood. Consequently, after man began eating meat, his lifespan dropped from almost 1000 years to less than 100 years.
Genesis 9:3 contains a command that has proven difficult for some to understand: God says to Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.” Does this mean that God gives man carte blanche authority to eat any kind of animal?
The key to this verse is “even as the green herbs.” In other words, God gives mankind the authority to eat flesh meat within the same parameters as He allows us to eat vegetation. Does God allow us to eat poisonous plants like poison ivy, hemlock, deadly nightshade, etc.? Of course not! Just as certain plants are harmful to us, so are certain meats.
Israel’s Wandering in the Wilderness and Beyond: If God Permits Something, is it Always Beneficial?
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (KJV) “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”
During the time of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness, He gave them instructions as to which animals to eat and which ones not to eat; He told them “to make a difference between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 11:47).
However, God endeavored to start weaning His people from flesh and animal products. When God gave the Israelites only manna to eat, they were not too happy (Numbers chapter 11). Instead, they craved the fleshpots of Egypt. After much murmuring and complaining, they were given quails to eat, but as a result, many of them died. 1 Corinthians 10:11 says, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”
God permitted certain things in the Bible because of the “hardness” of people’s hearts in wanting to fulfill their fleshly desire’s rather than following God’s ideal. Examples: Israel wanting a King (1 Samuel 8) and the permission to divorce.
Which Animals are Designated in the Bible as “Clean” and “Unclean”?
Genesis 7:1-2, 8– Notice, God’s instruction to Noah regarding clean and unclean animals was not a Mosaic law. Noah understood the difference between the clean and unclean animals before the Flood.
In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, God reveals which animals – including fish and birds – are suitable and unsuitable for human consumption. Although the lists aren’t exhaustive, He reveals guidelines for recognizing animals that are acceptable for food.
Cud-chewing animals with split hooves can be eaten: (Leviticus 11:3; Deuteronomy 14:6). These specifically include the cattle, sheep, goat, deer and gazelle families (Deuteronomy 14:4-5).
A list of specific animals that are unclean and unfit to eat: camels, rabbits and pigs (Leviticus:11:4-8); “creeping things” such as moles, mice and lizards (Leviticus 11:29-31); four-footed animals with paws (cats, dogs, bears, lions, tigers, etc.) (Leviticus 11:27).
In listing the animals that should not be eaten, God forbids the consumption of scavengers and carrion eaters, which devour other animals for their food. Animals such as pigs, bears, vultures and raptors can eat (and thrive) on decaying flesh. Predatory animals such as wolves, lions, leopards and cheetahs most often prey on the weakest (and at times the diseased) in animal herds.
Clean and Unclean Water Creatures:
Salt and freshwater fish with fins and scales may be eaten (Leviticus 11:9-12), but water creatures without those characteristics (catfish, lobster, crab, shrimp, mussel, clam, oyster, squid, octopus, etc.) should not be eaten.
When it comes to sea creatures, bottom dwellers such as lobsters and crabs scavenge for dead animals on the sea floor. Shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels similarly consume decaying organic matter that sinks to the sea floor, including sewage – they are the trash collectors; the sanitation workers of our ecology. When we eat such creatures, we partake of a food chain that includes things that are harmful to people.
Clean and Unclean Flying Creatures:
God also lists birds and other flying creatures that are unclean for consumption (Leviticus 11:13-19).
He identifies carrion eaters and birds of prey as unclean, plus ostriches, storks, herons and bats.
Birds such as chickens, turkeys and pheasants are not on the unclean list and therefore are considered clean. Insects, with the exception of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers, are listed as unclean (Leviticus 11:20-23).
Why Does God Identify Some Animals as Suitable for Human Consumption and Others Not?
God didn’t give laws to arbitrarily assert control over people. He gave His laws (including which meats are clean or unclean) “that it might be well” with those who seek to obey Him (Deuteronomy 5:29).
Leviticus 20:23-26 “ . . .Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be Mine.”
Fat and Blood:
Leviticus 3:17 “It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.” (also see Leviticus 7:27; Leviticus 17:10, 12, 14; Deuteronomy 12:16; Deuteronomy 12:23; Deuteronomy 15:23; 1 Samuel 14:32-34) Acts 15:29 “…That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood.”
Does the New Testament Abolish Meat Distinctions?
The willingness of some Christians to eat unclean meat is generally based on poor translations from the Greek and by interpreting verses out of their context.
Ezekiel 22:25-26 “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned Mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.” (see Daniel 8:12-“Cast down the truth to the ground”)
The prophet Ezekiel wrote these words as one of the captives under Babylonian rule during the time of Israel’s great distress and apostasy. According to Ezekiel, many of the prophets of his time violated God’s law and neglected to distinguish the difference between the clean and the unclean. The majority of Christian churches today also do not teach the difference between what God declares to be clean or unclean. A common argument is that the clean and unclean laws were part of the Old Covenant which was done away with at the cross.
Peter’s Vision: Have All Meats Been Cleaned?
An often misunderstood section of the Bible concerns Peter’s vision in which he “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 this sheet “were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.” Peter heard a voice tell him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:11-14).
Assuming the vision meant that he should eat unclean animals, Peter’s spontaneous response was, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (verse 14). This same vision came to him three times (verse 16). Many assume the vision to mean that all kinds of flesh can now be eaten. These verses, however, show that it is not at all what Peter had understood it to mean. On the contrary, he “wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant” (verse 17).
The True Meaning of Peter’s Vision: Later Peter realized the significance of the revelation – “God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (verse 28). Recognizing the true intent of the vision, Peter baptized the first Gentiles (non-Israelites) called into the Church (verses 45-48).
Because the Jewish religious leaders at the time of Christ had considered Gentiles to be unclean, this dramatic vision righted this common misperception. It demonstrated that God was opening salvation up to members of any race.
Far from abolishing God’s instructions against eating unclean meat, these verses clearly show that Peter, almost two decades after Christ’s death, had “never eaten anything common or unclean” (verse 14). Nor is there evidence that he ate any unclean meat after this experience.
But Doesn’t Romans 14:14 say, “There is nothing unclean of itself?”
Romans 14:14, “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (italics supplied).
The original Greek word, κοινός koinos (Strong’s G2839), translated as “unclean” in this verse should have been translated as “common” not “unclean.” The word used to describe unclean meats in Leviticus in the original Greek is, ἀκάθαρτος akathartos (Strong’s G169).
To understand the word “unclean” in the New Testament, it requires examining the Hebrew and Greek words used to convey these concepts to the readers of English translations.
Hebrew: Tame – Strong’s H2931 -Means unclean (or impure) -Used to describe unclean animals, etc. as in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It means permanently unclean by nature, unable to be cleansed, not fit for human food. Chalal – Strong’s H2490 – Primary meaning is to defile or make common.
Greek: Akathartos – Strong’s G169– Unclean- the Greek equivalent of Tame. Composed of a (Gk= not) and kathartos (Gk=Clean) Koinos – Strong’s G2839– common with two meanings – defiled or ordinary. In the defiled sense it means making something that was holy into something that is now ordinary or making something that was acceptable into something contaminated. Nonetheless, these are things that can be cleansed again.
These words are correctly translated in Acts 10:28 when Peter says, “God has shown me that I should not call any man common [κοινός koinos, Strongs G2839] or unclean[ἀκάθαρτος akathartos, Strongs G169].”
So we conclude that Romans 14:14 is talking about defiled food, i.e. food offered to idols rather than flesh meat taken from an animal which God has declared to be unclean.
“Do Not Touch What is Unclean”
2 Corinthians 6:17: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.”
These passages are a direct command in the New Testament for us to avoid unclean things. If we are not to even touch an unclean thing, it is obvious that we are not to eat it either.
Note: The word “unclean” in the above passage is translated from Akathartos (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:7, “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness but unto holiness”).
It is also worthwhile to remember that only clean animals were to be offered to God at His temple under the Mosaic Covenant (eg. Leviticus 9:1-4). Likewise, if our bodies are considered to be God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), then surely only clean food should be permitted to enter therein also.
Thought Questions: (Questions 1 to 3 below are taken from the Amazing Facts Bible Study Guide)
1. 1 Timothy 4:4 says, “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” Can you explain this? This Scripture passage (verse 3) refers to meat “which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving” by His people. This meat, as we have already discovered, is the clean meat listed in Leviticus chapter 11 and Deuteronomy chapter 14. Verse 4 makes it clear that all creatures of God are good and not to be refused, provided they are among those created to “be received with thanksgiving” (the clean animals). Verse 5 tells why these creatures (or foods) are acceptable: they are “sanctified” by God’s Word, which means, they are set apart by the Word of God that says they are clean, and by a “prayer” of blessing, which is offered before the meal. Please note, however, that God will destroy people who try to “sanctify themselves” while eating unclean foods (Isaiah 66:17).
2. Matthew 15:11 says, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out.” How do you explain this?
The subject in Matthew 15:1-20 is eating without first washing the hands (verse 2). The focus is not eating, but washing. The scribes taught that eating any food without a special ceremonial washing defiled the eater. Jesus said the ceremonial washings were meaningless. In verse 19, He listed certain evils – murder, adultery, theft, etc. Then He concluded, “These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” Verse 20.
3. Romans 14:3, 14, 20 says: “Let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth.” “There is nothing unclean of itself.” “All things indeed are pure.” Can you explain this?
Verses 3 through 6 are a discussion of those who eat certain things versus those who do not. The passage does not say either is right, but rather counsels that neither pass judgment on the other. Instead, let God be the Judge (verses 4,10-12). Verses 14 and 20 refer to foods that were first offered to idols (and were thus ceremonially unclean) – not to the clean and unclean meats of Leviticus chapter 11 (read 1 Corinthians 8:1, 4, 10, 13). The point of the discussion is that no food is “unclean” or “impure” just because it has first been offered to idols, because an idol is “nothing in the world” 1 Corinthians 8:4. But if a person’s conscience bothers him for eating such food, he should leave it alone. Or even if it merely offends a brother, he should likewise abstain
How God Will Judge:
Isaiah 66:15-17 (KJV) “For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with His chariots like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire . . .They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD.”
Revelation 21:27 (KJV) “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life (compare Leviticus 20:25; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
1 Corinthians 6:9,10 “Neither fornicators … nor drunkards … shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Does the Bible Give Any Counsel Regarding Alcohol?
Proverbs 20:1 “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”
Proverbs 23:31, 32 “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.”
Ephesians 5:18 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”
Other Counsels on Eating:
- Eat your meals at regular intervals: “Eat in due season” Ecclesiastes 10:17.
- Don’t overeat: “Put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite” Proverbs 23:2; In Luke 21:34 Christ specifically warns against “surfeiting” (overeating) in the last days. Overeating is responsible for many degenerative diseases.
- Any harmful and addictive substance should be avoided: Paul says, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” 1 Corinthians 6:12; Also, Romans 6:16 says that we become servants to whomever (or whatever) we yield ourselves. Any habits that deliberately “destroy” our bodies should be avoided. The Bible tells us that our bodies are God’s temple and “….If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” 1 Peter 2:11
- Be temperate in all things: “Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things” 1 Corinthians 9:25. “Let your moderation be known unto all men” Philippians 4:5. A Christian will completely avoid all things that are harmful and will be moderate even in the use of things that are good. Habits that injure health break the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” They kill by degrees. They are suicide on an installment plan.
- Make mealtime a happy time: “Every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God” Ecclesiastes 3:13. Unhappy scenes at mealtime hinders digestion. Avoid them.
Striving for the Ideal:
In Acts 3:21 the Bible tells us of restitution or restoration: “ . . . the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” In other words, there will be a time of restoration among God’s people, of getting back to the way God appointed things to be.
Matthew 6:10 (KJV) “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
In God’s new kingdom, there will be no death, humans will not kill animals and eat their flesh or anything that was intended to be for the nourishment of their young. Both humans and animals will be vegetarians. This is how Isaiah describes that wonderful time: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; . . . and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ 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” Isaiah 11:6–9.
Challenge: When we truly recognize that God has our best interest at heart, we will gladly obey Him without dodging or making excuses. This is the supreme test.
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