Foods That We Can Eat & Foods That We Must Not Eat

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There are many differences between Judaism that follows the Law of Moses and Christianity that follows the Law of Christ. One of them is the regulation about food.

Let us study the regulations about food in chronological order, starting from the time of the Garden of Eden, via the age of the Law of Moses, to the age of the early Church, and then find the teaching that we ought to observe in the age of the New Testament.

Food given in each age

1. Food given in the Garden of Eden

In the Garden of Eden, God gave mankind every seed-bearing plant and every kind of fruit for food.

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Ge 1:29

The regulation of eating seed-bearing plants and fruit in the Garden of Eden continued even after Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden. After they were driven out, they cultivated the land and ate its produce.

2. Food given after the Flood

After the Flood, God allowed Noah’s family to eat not only plants but also animals.

“Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” Ge 9:3

The regulation about food which was given in the time of Noah continued until Moses was given the Law.

3. Food given with the Law

In the age of Moses, God gave many laws that God’s people had to observe such as the Ten Commandments. One of them was about food.

In any age, whether or not a person follows God’s commandment is the standard to distinguish whether or not he or she is of God’s people.

… for you are a people holy to the LORD your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession. Do not eat any detestable thing. Dt 14:2–3

In those days, God chose certain foods to be edible as a sign to distinguish the Israelites, a people holy to God, from the Gentiles as follows.

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud … you may eat any that have fins and scales …’ ” Lev 11:1–23

In the age of Moses, God’s people were allowed to eat clean animals that have split hoofs completely divided and chew the cud; but they were not allowed to eat unclean animals that chew the cud but do not have split hoofs, or that have split hoofs completely divided but do not chew the cud.

The regulation, which divided animals into “clean animals” and “unclean animals,” was carried on for a long time until the time of Jesus, being deeply rooted in the life of the Israelites.

4. A regulation given to Christians

Just God had given a dietary law that was right for each age since the Garden of Eden, so He also gave a dietary command of the New Covenant in the Apostolic Age, which Christians must observe.

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. Ac 15:28–29

Like this, all food except food sacrificed to idols, blood and the meat of strangled animals was given in the Apostolic Age.

Age Food granted Food forbidden Bible verses
In the Garden of Eden Plants and fruit Ge 1:29
After the Flood Plants and animals Ge 9:3
Since the Law of Moses Clean animals (e.g. animals having split hoofs and chewing the cud) Unclean animals (e.g. animals not having split hoofs or not chewing the cud) Lev 11
After Christ All the food except what is forbidden Food sacrificed to idols, blood, the meat of strangled animals Ac 15:28–29

Clean animals and unclean animals

Why was the regulation about food, which had been observed for a long time of 1,500 years, changed in the Apostolic Age? To understand this matter, we first need to understand the concept about clean animals and unclean animals, which had been given as the commandments in the age of the Old Testament. From the age of Moses, clean animals and unclean animals became the standard to distinguish the Jews from the Gentiles. In fact, the Gentiles were described to be unclean because they ate unclean food. The Jews did not associate with the Gentiles at all because of the food.

We can confirm this through an anecdote of Peter.

Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian regiment, was a faithful believer of God and practiced many good deeds. One day, he had a vision: An angel of God told him to meet Peter in Joppa. So Cornelius sent men to Joppa.

In the meantime, Peter was in Joppa and he fell into a trance and saw a vision: Heaven opened and something like a large sheet was let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, including reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter replied, “Surely not, Lord! I’ve never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times and the sheet was taken back to heaven.

At first, Peter did not understand the meaning of the vision that he saw. Right at that time, people who were sent by Cornelius came to meet Peter. The next day, Peter and some of the brothers from Joppa followed them and went to Cornelius in Caesarea. Seeing a large gathering of people, Peter said as follows:

“… You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection …” Ac 10:28–29

When Peter saw all kinds of animals wrapped in the sheet through the vision, he did not want to eat them because there were both clean animals and unclean animals.

At that time, a voice from heaven said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Peter explained the words as the relationship between “the Jews and the Gentiles.” Realizing that God had already removed the distinction between the physical Jews and the Gentiles, Peter understood that the gospel of God was to be preached even to the Gentiles from that time on.

He testified that he came to meet the Gentiles without any objection because God had made the impure Gentiles clean, though he knew that it was against the Law of Moses for a Jew [clean animal] to meet a Gentile [unclean animal] physically.

The Jews and the Gentiles

By the words, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat,” God meant, “Do not discriminate against race, but preach the gospel to all the nations of the world.” And by taking the sheet that contained all kinds of animals to heaven, God showed that all peoples―whether they are the Gentiles or the Jews―can go to heaven if they accept the gospel.

Since there is no more distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles, there is no more distinction between clean animals and unclean animals, which was a shadow. Thus, God made clean the Gentiles as well as the unclean animals that represented the Gentiles.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household … Eph 2:11–19

The law about food, which continued from the time of Moses, changed into the Law of Christ and finished its mission.

They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings―external regulations applying until the time of the new order. When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here … Heb 9:10–11

A split hoof completely divided and chewing the cud

As it is written, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming” (Heb 10:1), there exist the realities of clean animals and unclean animals in the age of the gospel. In the Bible, animals represent mankind: Prophetically, the clean animals that “have split hoofs completely divided and chew the cud” represent God’s people who are to be saved, and the unclean animals that are disqualified for this condition represent people who will not be saved.

The true church that believes in Christ must have a split hoof completely divided and chew the cud. Chewing the cud means keeping God’s commandments, and having a split hoof completely divided means having faith in Jesus. In other words, the true Christians should keep God’s commandments and have the perfect faith in Christ.

Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 … “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand … There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Rev 14:1–12

The 144,000, who are to be saved, keep God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus as well. However, people who worship the beast [the power of Satan] and his image are those who have only one of them or none (Rev 13:4; 12:9). They practice unclean deeds in the eyes of God. In other words, they worship the beast and receive his mark by keeping the commandments made by the beast, so they will be tormented with eternal punishment.

People who insist on the Law of Moses and disparage the Law of Christ

The apostles including Peter held a general assembly in Jerusalem to discuss the matter of preaching the gospel not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles, and proclaimed the order of Christ.

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things … Ac 15:28–29

At the general assembly in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was present and proved that the order was the commandment of Christ. Who would not follow it then? However, there are still people who insist on vegetarianism, following the law in the Garden of Eden or people who insist that we should distinguish between clean animals and unclean animals according to the Law of Moses. However, in any age, people cannot be saved if they do not follow the law that God gives in that age.

In the Apostolic Age too, there were people who were against the teachings of the Spirit, insisting that they should eat only certain food according to the Law of Moses. When they kept the Sabbath day, they requested keeping it according to the Law of Moses instead of the Law of Christ, and they also insisted that they should keep the Passover by slaughtering lambs.

However, the Sabbath day which Jesus kept as an example for us was the service in spirit and truth; and the Passover which He kept as an example was the service with bread and wine that represent His flesh and blood instead of slaughtering lambs. Also, Jesus taught us the regulation of baptism which is the circumcision of Christ, instead of physical circumcision. He gave us the new commandment about food, so that we can eat anything except food sacrificed to idols, blood and the meat of strangled animals instead of the regulation that divided food into clean animals and unclean animals.

Like this, the law that was observed in the time of the early Church according to the teachings of Jesus is called the law of Christ. The Apostle Paul said that he was not under the law (of Moses), but again he said that he was under Christ’s law.

… To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) … To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 1 Co 9:20–21

Considering the social situation in the time of the early Church, the law of Christ was very innovative. There were many people who still had ideas and customs of Judaism among those who converted to Christianity from Judaism. They sometimes insisted that they should keep the Passover by slaughtering lambs according to the Law of Moses, or that they should avoid unclean animals according to the Law of Moses. So, the apostles had to protect the sheep from these kinds of people. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote in the letter sent to the church in Colosse as follows.

having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away … Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Col 2:14–17

Jesus destroyed the barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles like the matter about food (Eph 2:11–19). Nevertheless, if there is a person who rebuilds the wall Jesus destroyed, how can we call him a Christian? A “Christian” means a person who faithfully follows the teachings of Christ. Rebuilding the wall which Jesus abolished is an act of making Jesus’ sacrifice meaningless and going against Christ. That’s why the Bible prophesies that people who order others to abstain from certain foods are against the teachings of Christ and follow demons’ teachings (1 Ti 4:1–3). Therefore, we ought to follow the teachings of the early Church (Ac 15:28–29) which were testified by the Holy Spirit and the apostles.