Does the New Covenant have ‘food rules’ of the kind the Old Covenant had?

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The New Testament records that the saints were instructed to keep away from certain things. Some of those instructions were connected to food and drink. An example: Acts 15 shows that they were told to keep away from “things polluted by idols”. Likewise, the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth, “I do not want you to share with demons. You cannot drink both the Cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake at the Table of the Lord and at the table of demons.” (1 Corinthians 10:20–21, 20CNT.) But, that was regarding foods that were offered (dedicated) to idols, and not regarding the physical qualities of the food. The articles eoa046.htm and eha028.htm have more on Acts 15 respectively 1 Corinthians 10:20–21.

This present article considers whether the New Covenant has some rules regarding “clean and unclean meats”, of the kind the Old Covenant had. In other words: What did Jesus and the apostles teach, in regard to such things? Should believers observe some dietary rules?

A note: This question concerning food rules is of course intimately tied with the matter of the two covenants, old and new. However, that subject will not be covered in this present article. Right here, in short: The New Covenant is indeed a new covenant, and not a continuation or modification of the Old Covenant. The article eca098.htm has some notes on that matter.

On certain New Testament passages which might seem to have a connection with ‘diet’.

Some have connected Titus 1:15 to the matter of “clean and unclean foods”. But, a closer study shows that that the apostle Paul was not talking about foods. When he wrote, “with the pure, all things are pure” and “but with the defiled and unfaithful ones nothing is pure but both their mind and their conscience are defiled”, his subject was the qualifications of men who were proposed for election as elders. The article eea056.htm has more on Titus 1:15 and its context.

In 1 Corinthians 6:13, we find the words “foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods”. In the preceding verse, 1 Corinthians 6:12, a number of bible-translations contain such wordings as “all things are lawful for me”, but a closer study of the Greek text and the context shows that that is not what Paul meant, and that food was not the subject. The article eoa118.htm, which is about the apostle Paul’s teachings, considers even 1 Corinthians 6:12 and its context.

Colossians 2:16–17 mentions “meat and drink”. That passage contains also the words “let no man therefore judge you”. The article eoa076.htm has more on those two verses and their context.

A note: Some of the above-mentioned passages are considered even in this present article, along with a number of other scriptures such as Mark 7:14–15 with its context.

Genesis 1:29, ‘every herb bearing seed’, and Genesis 9:3, ‘every moving thing that lives’.

Genesis 1 records that the Lord said to Adam (this is a translation, of course):

Genesis 1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is on 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. (AKJV)

“Every herb bearing seed”: Obviously, this does not mean that all plants would be good as food. It could be that there were no harmful things in the garden of Eden where Adam lived at that time, but there may have been poisonous plants even in those days, in places outside that garden.

A note: Some might wonder what the word “seed” in Genesis 1:29, Hebrew zera, really refers to. In the English language, for instance mushrooms and certain other plants are not called “seed-bearing” – their seeds are instead called “spores”. But, we do not know what the old Hebrew word zera really meant, and so, there is no way to know what Genesis 1:29 exactly refers to.

Some might wonder even about Genesis 1:30, the words “I have given every green herb for food”. That is: What about herbs in other colours? Would they have been forbidden for Adam to eat? Now, we do not know what plants there were in the garden of Eden, and we do not know the exact meaning of the word yereq which appears in Genesis 1:30 and 9:3 (and only in those two verses). But, it could be that yereq referred to plants in general, regardless their colour.

Genesis 9 records something that happened at a much later time. The Lord was speaking to Noah.

Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. (AKJV)

“Every moving thing” – obviously, that does not mean that all “moving things” would be good as food. A number of animals and insects and so on, are so poisonous that eating them can kill one on the spot.

Are all things fit for food?

From the physical viewpoint: Are all plants and animals safe, good and healthful, for use as food? No, of course not. There are many plants, animals and other things that are harmful to eat. Eating some of them, or certain parts of them, can kill one more or less immediately. A number of other animals and plants, or certain parts of them, are harmful to eat in the long run.

Also: Certain things, especially in the animal realm, are risky to eat, for the reason that they tend to contain dangerous bacteria, viruses, toxins, harmful parasites or other such things.

Further: In our day, there are countless more or less artificial products that are sold as “food” (or beverage), but which in the long run are harmful for the human body.

Mark 7, Jesus’ words on what things defile a man, and what not.

It appears that some writers, including bible-translators, have thought that on the occasion which is recorded in Mark 7, Jesus was talking about “clean and unclean meats”. Below, it will be shown that that really was not the case. – And still, Mark 7 has a bearing even on the matter of food and drink.

The story begins here:

Mark 7:1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, 2 who upon seeing some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is to say, with unwashed, hands, they condemned them. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews, unless they wash their hands often, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 And when they come from the market, unless they wash, they eat not. And there are many other things which they took upon themselves to hold such as the washing of cups and pots, brasen vessels and of tables.) 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why do thy disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders but eat bread with unwashed hands? (JB)

As you can see, that was regarding hand-washing, and not regarding the food.

Then, verse 6 records that Jesus said that those scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites. More, verses 7 and 8 – he noted that the rules which the Pharisees told people to keep (such as what verses 3 and 4 refer to), were teachings of men. Jesus further noted that through some of their rules, those scribes and Pharisees even caused people to neglect their ageing parents, see verses 9–13.

After that, Jesus called all people to come and hear, and said (this is a translation, of course):

Mark 7:14 […] Hearken unto me every one of you and understand; 15 there is nothing from outside the man that entering into him can defile him, but the things which come out of him, those are what defile the man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. (JB)

Then he taught his disciples:

Mark 7:17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. 18 And he said unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not understand that anything from outside that enters into the man cannot defile him? 19 Because it enters not into his heart, but into the belly, and the man goes out to the privy and purges all foods. [a] 20 For he had said that it is what comes out of the man that defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, come forth the evil thoughts, the adulteries, the fornications, the murders, 22 the thefts, the covetousness, the wickedness, the deceit, the lasciviousness, the evil eye, the slander, the pride, the unwiseness: 23 all these evil things come out from within and defile the man. (JB, note sign added)

a Regarding the last part of Mark 7:19: Many bible-translators have changed things in that verse and added words to it, and made it to “this he said, making all foods clean”, or similar. – It may be that the above-quoted JB gives the actual meaning, with its simple wording “the man goes out to the privy and purges all foods”.

Let us consider this matter more closely. Jesus said, “there is nothing from outside the man that entering into him can defile him” (verse 15). The background, verse 2: Some Pharisees and scribes had condemned Jesus’ disciples, because they ate without following all the man-made rules regarding hand-washing.

Now, it is clear that Jesus was not giving a lesson in biology or biochemistry. Obviously, he was making the point that one cannot become “spiritually defiled” by what one eats.

And then, verses 21–23, Jesus showed what things do defile a man: Evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, the evil eye, slander, pride, and “unwiseness” as the above-quoted JB has it or “thoughtlessness” or “recklessness” as the Greek word aphrosunê also can be translated.

So, food and drink do not “defile” a man, spiritually. However: Let us keep in mind what the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth: “I do not want you to share with demons. You cannot drink both the Cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake at the Table of the Lord and at the table of demons.” (1 Corinthians 10:20–21, 20CNT.) If the saints knew that some food or drink had been dedicated (offered) to an idol, they were not to eat or drink it. The article eha028.htm has more on that matter. Even Acts 15 records how the saints were warned against pollution or defilement by idols; that passage is considered later in this present article.

Regarding Genesis 7 and 8 and Noah, and the Old Covenant with its ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ rules.

Genesis 7:2 and 8:20 talk about “clean” and “unclean” animals. Some have thought that that perhaps was a classification of the same kind as in the rules of the Old Covenant. But, we simply do not know what those two verses refer to. – Here, one must keep in mind that the Old Covenant with its rules came on the scene circa a thousand years after Noah’s day. Also: As was noted earlier, the Lord said to Noah, “every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you” (Genesis 9:3, AKJV).

In the rites of the Old Covenant, there was a concept of ritual “purity”. The rules of that covenant specified a number of things which the Israelites were to avoid, so that they would not become ritually “defiled”. Those rules regarding “purity” and “defilement” were not about food only. Here are some examples: If an Israelite had touched the body of a dead human, he was ritually “unclean” until the evening. It was the same, if he had touched an “unclean” animal. If an “unclean” animal happened to fall into a kitchen utensil, that utensil became ritually “unclean”. Certain utensils could then be made “clean”, but some others could not but had to be broken and discarded. An Israelite woman was ritually “unclean” a certain number of days after childbirth, and also once a month. In regard to certain matters, even (lawful) sexual intercourse could make one ritually “unclean”. And so on.

Point: One must keep in mind that the Old Covenant’s food rules were not a thing for themselves; they were only a part of a larger package which included many kinds of rules regarding ritual “purity”, and much more – the Old Covenant was an indivisible package; all of its rules were to be kept.

(Some writers have confused things by claiming that the “added law” of Galatians 3:17 was not the Old Covenant but instead some “later added rituals”. The article eca086.htm sorts out that matter.)

And again, the Old Covenant with its rules came on the scene circa 1000 years after the event which Genesis 7 and 8 refer to. And, there is also Genesis 9:3.

Acts 15 contains certain New Covenant related instructions.

The main heading of this article contains the question, does the New Covenant have “food rules”? Well, for instance the book of Acts records a number of instructions that the saints were given concerning certain matters, including food.

The background: Some men from Jerusalem had gone to Antioch and tried to cause the disciples in that town to begin keeping the rules of the Old Covenant. There was dispute about this. In order to have that matter settled, the saints in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas and certain others to Jerusalem, to discuss it with the saints there. Please carefully read all of this scripture-quote:

Acts 15:4 And being arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the assembly, and the apostles, and the elders, and related all that God had wrought with them. 5 And some of those who were of the sect of the Pharisees, who believed, rose up from among them, saying that they ought to circumcise them and enjoin them to keep the law of Moses. 6 And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to see about this matter. 7 And much discussion having taken place, Peter, standing up, said to them, Brethren, ye know that from the earliest days God amongst you chose that the nations [b] by my mouth should hear the word of the glad tidings and believe. 8 And the heart-knowing God bore them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit as to us also, 9 and put no difference between us and them, having purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we shall be saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same manner as they also. 12 And all the multitude kept silence and listened to Barnabas and Paul relating all the signs and wonders which God had wrought among the nations by them. 13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Brethren, listen to me: […] 19 Wherefore I judge, not to trouble those who from the nations turn to God; 20 but to write to them to abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood. (DBY, note sign added)

b Verse 7, “nations” – that is, non-Jews, “gentiles”. Same verse, “by my mouth” – Simon Peter referred to the event when the first non-Jews received the Holy Spirit; see Acts 10.

Those who carefully study all of Acts 15 without prejudice, should be able to see that the saints in Jerusalem noted that the rules of the Old Covenant, including those regarding ritual purity, are not applicable under the New Covenant. Here are verses 10 and 11:

Acts 15:10 Now, therefore, why do you tempt God by imposing on the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same manner as they. (LO)

A note: Acts 15 does not state the reason why those people were told to abstain from blood and strangled things. But, we can see that that passage mentions things sacrificed (dedicated) to idols, and sexual immorality. Consider the following:

That instruction was sent to non-Jewish saints who lived in an area which had for a long time been under Greek respectively Roman influence. There, it was common that food and drink was formally dedicated to idols, before it was consumed. More: It is said that to a certain degree, the Greek and Roman idol-temples (common in towns) also served as butcheries and restaurants, and even as brothels. This could be the reason why especially idols and sexual immorality were mentioned (Acts 15).

And then, it could be that in the Greco-Roman idol-temples, there were some rituals which included the use of blood in idol-worship, and perhaps even the strangling of animals. If so, this might explain that part in the instruction recorded in Acts 15:23–29. But, we cannot be fully certain in regard to what each detail in those instructions referred to.

The article eoa046.htm takes a closer look at Acts 15 and that whole matter (including the meaning of verse 21), but in short: Those who read Acts 15:4–29 without prejudice, can see that when the saints in Jerusalem had considered the matter at hand, they agreed that the rules of the Old Covenant were not applicable under the New Covenant. This means that the in Acts 15 recorded instructions regarding things sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, and blood and strangled things, were given for some other reason. Probably, that warning and instruction was given because of rites and other things in connection with the Greco-Roman temples.

So, what kinds of food did the saints eat?

As to what kinds of food the saints ate – we know very little about the cuisine of those days. However, those who carefully study the New Testament, will find that they were not told to observe the Old Covenant’s food rules. (See the first part of this article.)

So, the saints did not have any “dietary rules” of the kind the Israelites had under the Old Covenant. But, they were told that if they knew that some food had been offered (dedicated) to an idol or idols, they were not to eat it. The articles eha028.htm and eoa046.htm have more on this.

The matter of the two covenants, old and new.

Again, the question concerning “food rules” is, of course, intimately tied with the matter of the two covenants, old and new. That subject is covered by other articles at this site. Some of them are mentioned in the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → esa095.htm

Acts 15 and the matter of the two covenants, old and new. → eoa046.htm

On 1 Corinthians 8:1–12 and 10:14–32 and their translation and meaning. Did the apostle Paul mean that the saints could eat and drink things that were offered to idols? → eha028.htm

The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. → eca098.htm

On Titus 1:15 and the translation “to the pure all things are pure”, and what that verse really means and refers to. → eea056.htm

The apostle Paul and his teachings. → eoa118.htm

Colossians 2:16–17, “let no man therefore judge you”. What was the apostle Paul really talking about? → eoa076.htm

On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → eca086.htm

Other articles on the matter of the two covenants, old and new. → Look under the heading “Covenants” of the page key12.htm.


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