Did Jesus Make All Foods Clean? What The Bible Really Says About Dietary Restrictions


Is it kosher for Christians to eat pork? Did Jesus make all foods clean? Are there separate laws for Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus? What does the Bible really say on dietary restrictions?

Let’s start at the beginning of the Bible and work our way through inductively.

In Genesis, at creation and before the fall, God gave human beings every seed-bearing plant and every fruit tree with seeds to eat for food. So, before sin entered the world, humans did not eat meat of any kind, only fruits and vegetables. 

After the flood, in Genesis, God also gave our race “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you” meaning that anyone could eat any creature, as long as it did not have its lifeblood in it. No animals were forbidden as food.

It is true that in Genesis, Noah knew the difference between clean animals and not clean animals. But this distinction apparently had to do with animals acceptable for sacrifice and not acceptable for sacrifice. (Note that the Hebrew says “clean” and “not clean” rather than “clean” and “unclean,” as per the later dietary laws).

In the Torah, God gave Israel very specific commands about different foods, designating some of them clean and others not clean (see Leviticus and Deuteronomy). Among the clean animals were cows and sheep. Among the not clean animals were pigs and rabbits.

What was the purpose of these laws? On the one hand, it is clear that the Lord wanted to keep Israel separate from the nations, and restricting what foods the people could eat would certainly have that effect, since it would be more difficult to sit and eat with their non-Israelite neighbors. And every day, at every meal, they were reminded that they were a separate people.

On the other hand, the specific “why” of all these laws is not readily apparent. In some cases, the animals could have been designated “not clean” because they were unhealthy to eat. But this is not clear in every situation, and scholars still debate exactly why some creatures were designated unclean.

This much is sure: These laws were part of the Torah, and for a religious Jew, it was of great importance to observe these laws. That remains the case to this day.

As for Christians today, particularly Gentile Christians, we can safely say that: 

1) Nowhere does the New Testament explicitly teach that Christians are obligated to observe the dietary laws of Israel. While some leaders would try to infer this from the Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, when the apostles had the opportunity to call Gentile Christians to observe the dietary laws, they did not.

2) Jesus taught the important principle that nothing we eat can defile us spiritually (see Mark and Matthew). That’s because whatever we eat passes through our system and exits our body. But what defiles us – thoughts of adultery, murder, greed, and envy – comes out of our hearts.

3) Based on this principle, Paul also taught that nothing was unclean in itself, even if the food had been sacrificed to an idol and sold in the marketplace. While the New Testament did not encourage Christians to eat such food, Paul did indicate that if they did eat such food without knowing its origin, they had not sinned (see Corinthians).

4) Paul also made clear that believers should not divide over dietary customs, recognizing that these differences did not reflect matters of salvation or relationship with God. Instead, differences about what foods Christians could and could not eat were considered “disputable matters.” (see Romans).

5) Despite Jesus teaching that what we ate could not defile us spiritually, it seems clear that the apostles, all of them Jewish, continued to observe the food laws, with Peter saying in Acts 10 that he had never eaten anything unclean in his entire life. (He said this perhaps ten years after the death and resurrection of Jesus). But Peter was given understanding through a vision that the purpose of the food laws, namely to separate Jews from Gentiles, had changed as all had been made one through the Messiah and the Gentiles could hear the Good News of salvation. To this day, Christians differ over these issues, with some emphasizing the health benefits of keeping the food laws and others emphasizing their spiritual freedom from dietary laws. Some Messianic Jews (another name for Jewish Christians) also believe that, as part of their Jewish identification, they should not eat unclean foods.

But nearly all agree, outside of fringe groups, that what we eat or do not eat will not determine whether we are saved or lost, justified or condemned, because of which we should not divide over these issues.

Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries and is the author of 40 books. Connect with him on FacebookTwitter, or YouTube.

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