Q: After my husband and I came to the Lord, we continued to abstain from eating the foods forbidden in the Law of Moshe. We found no scriptural reference releasing us, although we found that gentiles do not need to follow the Law of Moshe. While we understand that the Kingdom of our God is not about eating or drinking, we do want to know what to answer those who ask.

A: It was not until after The Flood, when Adonai made the covenant with Noah, that animals were even considered by God to be “food.”  This was a universal provision for all humankind, “Every creeping thing that is alive, to you it is for food… only flesh with its life — its blood — you are not [to] eat.” (Genesis 9:3-4, YLT)

But after Adonai delivered Israel from Egypt and gave her the covenant of Torah, he included a special update to the “food laws” for her, as recorded in Leviticus 11, 20:25-26, and Deuteronomy 14:3-21.  As per these new instructions, the people of Israel were to distinguish between the kinds of animals that were permitted and forbidden for them as “food.”  The reason Israel was given these exceptional food laws is clearly explained in Leviticus 20:26, “And you are [to] be holy to Me; for I, Adonai, am holy; and I separate you from the [other] peoples to become Mine.” (YLT)  According to Exodus 33:16, Moshe clearly understood that the people of Israel were “distinguished… from all the people who are on the face of the [earth].” (NAS)  The Torah’s food laws — like the Torah itself — was given to sanctify and set Israel apart for its unique role among the nations.

Abstension from eating the forbidden animals according to Torah is therefore an enduring identity marker, a teacher of holiness, and an issue of covenantal faithfulness for the people of Israel — the Jewish people — Messianic, or otherwise.

12 replies
  1. KG
    KG says:

    You are referring to Yeshua’s discussion with the Pharisees in Mark 7.

    The parenthetical statement of Mark 7:19, which is often translated, “Thus He declared all foods clean,” is problematic in understanding the Master’s point. The Greek literally reads, “Because [whatever goes into a man from the outside] does not enter into the heart of him but into the stomach, and into the latrine [it] goes out, cleansing all foods”. So we first need to recognize that the verse does not “declare” that Yeshua did anything with regard to food, much less declare it all clean. “Thus he declared” is an addition to the original text.

    But even if Yeshua had “declared all foods clean,” the statement begs the question, “What is food?” As pointed out in the original post, to a Jew, pork and shellfish (for instance) are not considered food. So the statement cannot be understood as meaning that Yeshua declared all pork and shellfish clean. What, then, does it mean?

    Mark 7:2-5 says,

    and [the Pharisees] had seen that some of [Yeshua’s] disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?”

    So the context of the passage and of Mark 7:19 is not about food per se. Yeshua and His disciples were being challenged about the way they eat their food, which was, according to the Pharisees, “unclean.” If one did not perform the Pharisaic ritual handwashing before eating, then, in the Pharisees’ mind, the food became unclean.

    To this idea, Yeshua responded,

    There is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. (Mark 7:15)

    It is in this way that Yeshua “declared” all foods “clean”—He spoke against the idea that hand-washing traditions do not make food clean or unclean. He said, “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” (Mark 7:23)

    So, the Mark 7 discussion was not about food, nor about the abolition of Torah’s food laws, but about ritual hand-washing. According to the Pharisees, even “kosher” food becomes unclean if one’s hands are not washed properly according to their tradition.

    Reply
  2. William Venard
    William Venard says:

    So, let me be clear on this. With regard to food, this only applies to those who are born Jews…Jews in the flesh? What about Gentile believers, those who are now adopted into the faith of Abraham (bar & bat Avraham)? Does this not also apply to them since they are now Israel in the Spirit?

    Reply
    • KG
      KG says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Your response is based on the premise that Gentile believers in Yeshua are “Spiritual Israel,” or, as you put it, “Israel in the Spirit.” Does Scripture support this premise? Can you show from Scriptue that being a son of Abraham (which describes Jewish and Gentile believers alike) is equivalent to being a son of Israel?

      Be that as it may, I don’t believe Scripture obligates all Gentile believers to define food the same way that Israel does. For Gentiles within the context of a Jewish community (such as a Messianic Jewish community) I think Gentiles share the same obligation with their Messianic Jewish counterparts. This is because they have assimilated into the Jewish people (e.g. Caleb, Rahab, Ruth) and become like the native-born Jew. Outside that community, however, within the greater Body of Messiah (the “Church”), there is no such obligation. This applies to all aspects of Torah which were designed to distinguish Israel from the nations. The unity between Jew and Gentile does not take place within the nation of Israel (for the nation of Israel presently exists partially without [non-Messianic Jews] and partially within [Messianic Jews] the Body of Messiah), but within the Body of Messiah, or the Household of God (Ep. 2).

      To sum up: Torah’s definition of food applies to Jews (and the Gentiles who sojourn with them in their Messianic Jewish communities). Gentile believers in the larger Body of Messiah are not obligated to define food in the same manner.

      Reply
  3. Bill C
    Bill C says:

    Great question and reply. They helped me greatly in uderstanding laws of kashrut. when we see the word food in the bible it is only refering to food that is kosher.

    Reply
  4. Debi
    Debi says:

    So…. according to your theology…. since I am Gentile, I am free to go back to eating whatever I want, as long as I don’t do it among those who are Jewish, because the law does not apply to me. Since law does not apply to me that means I am also free to leave the Messianic Jewish synagogue I have been attending since Sukkot and return to worshiping on Sunday with my Gentile siblings. I am free to worship on whatever day I choose and leave the keeping of Shabbat to my Jewish brethren. I also need not be concerned with celebrating the Jewish festivals, and just leave them to my Jewish brethren as well. In addition, any Jewish brethren who loan me money can charge me usury, as I have no Jewish DNA. I also would not have to concern myself with tithing, giving to the poor, heeding prophets, rebuking sinners, returning lost property to its owner, loving converts, saying grace after meals, honoring my parents, or the rest of the 613 mitzvot, which also happens to include fearing God and walking in His ways, as well as keeping myself from idolatry. In this case, I am glad that I have not already invested in mezuzahs for my doors, tzitzits or a tallit, as I can leave these to my Jewish siblings as well and not waste my money since it doesn’t apply to me and will profit me nothing. Since I am *only* a child of God and a seed of Abraham and *not* a child of Israel, then I am free in all things and able to ignore the law which applies only to those with Jewish DNA to whom it was given. As long as I am not in the midst of those who are Jewish, I am free to do as I please. Is this correct?

    Reply
    • KG
      KG says:

      Shalom Debi — thank you for your comments. It was an interesting choice to use sarcasm in an attempt to make your point.

      To generally address your apparent application of Torah, I would suggest that you are basing it on a faulty assumption: that the Body of Messiah has replaced the nation of Israel. Perhaps you did not intend to purport this view, nevertheless, it must be the case for you, otherwise, you would not be able to imply that whatever was mandated by Torah for the nation is Israel is necessarily incumbent upon Gentile believers in Yeshua.

      Be that as it may, if you are truly sojourning (as a modern “ger”) with a Messianic Jewish community–as you mentioned in your comment–then it seems as if you are taking up another’s (imagined) offense. As a sojourner, I encourage you to fully take upon yourself the yoke of Torah that is commensurate with those whom you are “in the midst of” (bearing in mind, of course, the fundamental inability to truly “keep” Torah in Diaspora, without a functioning sacrificial system, etc). However, if sojourning with Israel like Caleb, Rahab or Ruth is not your heart, and you feel that Torah-keeping is an obligation for all believers in Yeshua simply by virtue of being in Messiah, then I would take issue with that perspective.

      I would also take issue with the idea that it is insufficient to be “only a child of God and a seed of Abraham and not a child of Israel,” because it was for the Gentile that Adonai called forth Abraham–and therefore Israel (and ultimately, sent Yeshua)–in the first place (Ge.12:1-3). Surely, the purpose of making and setting apart Israel was to restore the nations to Adonai — not to transform the nations into Israel and resettle every single believer onto a tiny plot of land in the middle east!

      Gentile believers who are not sojourning with Messianic Jews certainly ought not to disparage the teachings of Torah. On the contrary, they should see the covenantal instructions of Torah not as something to ignore, but neither something to which they are required to obligate themselves. Rather, instead of seeing the covenant of Torah given to Israel as something to appropriate for themselves without regard for Israel as a people — or something to trample on as if it were not the Word of God — they should see Torah as a rich resource for all disciples of Messiah, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for setting aright, for instruction that is in righteousness.” (2Ti.3:16) It is in this way that “when Gentiles who do not have the [written] Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the [written] Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them…” (Romans 2:14-15, NAS)

      The Torah was not meant to be applied individualistically, but communally — and not not just communally, but for a specific people: Israel. The Body of Messiah in general has an incomplete faith without an understanding of Torah — it’s message and purpose — yet nowhere in Scripture does belief in Yeshua require adherence to the covenantal requirements placed upon the physical descendants of Israel. The Gentile believer — no matter how sincere — cannot keep a covenant that God never made with him. Rather, the covenants were made with Israel, and the Gentile believer partakes of the covenantal promises as a co-member — not of Israel — but of the household of God. (Ep. 2)

      As a slave to Messiah, Debi, you are as “free” to violate the Torah that is written on all our hearts, as much as you are “free” to live your life focused on yourself, imagining that you are wholeheartedly following Yeshua. Just don’t confuse individualistic, diaspora, rabbinic “Torah-keeping” with being holy and pleasing to God.

      Reply
  5. Suzie Payne
    Suzie Payne says:

    So then which covenants were given to the Gentiless? The way I understand it, none. I’m not trying to supplant Israel, but from my understanding of Romans 11, Gentile believers in Messiah are grafted into Israel. Is that wrong?

    Reply
    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      What Gentile believers are grafted into in the Romans 11 olive tree is somewhat up for debate, but whatever it is (whether it’s Yeshua, Messianic Jews, or Abraham [Ro.4:12] or all the patriarchs [Ro.11:28]) it has a “Jewish root.” No doubt, in Messiah, the Gentile believer derives some form of spiritual sustenance from its Jewish root, but we can’t take Paul’s metaphor too far, nor can we consider it without the context of other passages on this subject, like Ephesians 2 and 3.

      You’re correct—no covenants (since Noah) were given to Gentiles, however, through the blood of Messiah, Gentile believers are brought near to the covenants of promise (which seems to be the Abrahamic and New Covenants), becoming sharers in the promises—co-heirs and co-members with the remnant of Israel not within the commonwealth of Israel, but in the Body, that is, the Household of God.

      Reply
  6. Suzie Payne
    Suzie Payne says:

    That does make sense. My thoughts on the subject is very simple, though. If not eating certain types of animals pleases G-d, then I’m very happy to give them up. It makes no difference to me whether I HAVE to. It’s something I want to do.

    Reply
    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      That sounds good, Suzie. I would ask, however, whether it actually displeases God when the Reconciled from the Nations eat animals that are unclean for Israel? Adonai created all these wondrous creatures in the beginning, calling them “good,” and then says to Noah in Genesis 9:3 (just before making the covenant with all mankind), “Every moving thing that is alive, to you it is for food.” Did God change his mind, much less change His mind for everyone when He gave Israel their food laws? Or, are such animals abominable and detestable, not to God, but simply as food for Israel? (Note all the times in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 it says they are an abomination “to you”, that is, the sons of Israel.)

      Obviously, there’s no law that says Gentiles must eat foods that are unclean for Israel. I just wonder if the Scriptures really say that animals which are unclean as food for Israel are unclean for all people, and therefore displeasing to God.

      Just food for thought! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Barbara M Lopez
    Barbara M Lopez says:

    Kevin:

    My daughter who is a nurse has told me about research that shows a link between pork, the parasites and its eggs causing arthritis. Shell fish contain cholesterol, eating animal fat causing other problems. I am Jewish, and more and more I see G’d’s wisdom in what “foods” He told us to avoid. They are simply not good for our bodies. Of course gentile believers can eat as they please, but I think that science supports G’d’s instruction.

    Reply

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