David Ettinger

Are Christians Required to Eat ‘Kosher’ Food?

Discussion in 'Blogs & Columns' started by David Ettinger, Mar 15, 2017.

  1. David Ettinger

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    In my previous two blogs, I looked at the relationship between the Christian and the Old Testament Sabbath, and the relationship between the Christian and the Mosaic Law.

    Where’s the Proof?
    There are many Christians in the Church today who feel that believers must adhere to the dietary laws of ancient Israel. Can these claims be substantiated? Does the New Testament require believers to “eat kosher” (or what the Bible calls “clean” and “unclean” foods)?

    Jesus and the Pharisees
    Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees. They noticed that when Jesus and His followers ate, they violated an apparent requirement of the Mosaic Law. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat” (Matthew 15:2). What were they talking about? Far from being a Mosaic requirement instituted by God, this ceremonial washing was a tradition created by the rabbis. Beyond hands, this washing ritual involved cups, pitchers, and kettles (Mark 7:3-4). The accusation was bogus.

    Jesus shows them their error and then shifts the topic from washing to eating. Never missing an opportunity to instruct, Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” (v. 11). The accompanying Mark passage adds, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean” (7:19). In so doing, Jesus abolished the Mosaic dietary system. He reasoned that food cannot defile the soul. The spirit of a person is reflected in his actions and words – what “comes out” of that person. By contrast, what goes “into” a person – food – does not affect a person’s character, spirit, or soul.

    It would be almost impossible for the Jewish people at that time to grasp this revolutionary alteration in the Mosaic Law. However, the Lord knew that His words would be recorded (in the Bible) and that future believers would comprehend them and realize they were free from the bonds of ancient Israel’s dietary requirements.

    Peter’s Vision
    In Acts Chapter 10, we read the story of Peter’s vision. While he slept, “He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat’” (vv. 11-13). Being an observant Jew, Peter replied, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean” (v. 14). The Lord, however, was firm: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (v. 15). The vision was repeated twice more, nullifying all possibility that it was Peter’s imagination or that he didn’t comprehend the vision.

    This episode served two purposes. First, it was a sure confirmation that Israel’s dietary laws had ceased; the Jewish people could now eat freely from the bounty of God’s creation. Second, the Jewish people were no longer to regard the Gentiles as beneath them; all people were one in Christ. Peter made this clear when he told a contingent of Gentile believers, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (v. 28).

    Paul’s Teaching
    In the Book of Romans, Paul, too, teaches that all foods are “clean” for consumption. In dealing with how believers strong in faith should treat those weak in faith, the apostle writes:

    Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died (Romans 14:13-15, italic added).

    A problem had arisen. Believers took to heart the teachings of Jesus, Peter, and Paul and rightly understood that they were free to eat whatever they wanted, that the Mosaic dietary laws no longer existed. These believers were stronger in their faith. However, there were others who had difficulty accepting this. Some were lifelong Jews who could not bring themselves to eat “unkosher” food, not understanding they were now free of such restrictions. Others were Gentile believers who could not understand that meat sacrificed to idols had no significance because idols had no significance. Because they once worshiped idols, they could not shake the specter of idolatry, and felt they were sinning by eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul had no problem with either situation because all dietary laws were revoked. Concerning meat sacrificed to idols, idols were lifeless objects and the meat sacrificed to them were nothing; therefore there was no negative connotation attached to it.

    However, Paul was more concerned that strong believers not harm or “shipwreck” the faith of weak believers by their freedom in Christ to eat as they pleased. If the strong wanted to eat “unkosher” food, they could – but not in the sight of weaker believers who would take offense. The food itself, however, was of no consequence because it was all permissible by God.

    For the reasons stated above, modern-day Christians have no biblical framework to support their claim that believers must follow the Mosaic dietary laws for the purpose of being proclaimed righteous before God. Such claims are hollow, erroneous, and at times destructive.
    Read more by David Ettinger: https://ettingerwriting.wordpress.com/