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 roa042.htm and rha023.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 rca092.htm has some notes on that matter.

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

A number of writers and even some bible-translators 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 is pure” and “with the defiled and unreliable ones nothing is pure and even their mind and conscience are defiled”, that was concerning elders – he was giving Titus instructions in regard to who could be elected as elders, and who could not. The article rea052.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-versions 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 roa113.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”. Those verses contain also the words “let no man therefore judge you”. The article roa072.htm has some notes on that passage.

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 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: Someone might wonder what the word “seed” in Genesis 1:29, Hebrew zera, really refers to, because 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 referred to, and so, there is no way to know the exact meaning of Genesis 1:29. Someone might wonder even about verse 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 Eden, and we do not know the exact meaning of the word yereq which appears only in Genesis 1:30 and 9:3. 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. At least in our day, 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 numerous 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 And the Pharisees, and some of the scribes, who came from Jerusalem, collected together around him. 2 And seeing some of his disciples eating bread with hands unclean, that is, unwashed, they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees and all the Jews, unless they wash their hands to the wrist, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 And coming from the market, unless they have washed, they never eat. And there are many other things which they have by tradition received to observe, as the washings of cups, and pots, and vessels of brass, and couches. 5 Then the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, Why do not thy disciples walk conformable to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands? (HAW)

As you can see, that was regarding the washing of hands, 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 those which 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:

Mark 7:14 […] hear me all of you, and understand. 15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him, can make him unclean: but the things which come out from him, these are the things which make a man unclean. (HAW)

Then he taught his disciples:

Mark 7:17 And when he was come into the house from the multitude, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. 18 And he saith to them, Are ye also so defective of intelligence? Do you not consider, that every thing from without that entereth into a man, cannot make him unclean? 19 because it entereth not into his heart, but into his belly, and goeth out into the vault, carrying off all the impurities of the food. [a] 20 But, said he, what cometh out of a man, that makes a man unclean. 21 For from within out of the heart of men proceed wicked reasonings, adulteries, whoredoms, murders, 22 thefts, inordinate cravings, mischievous actions, knavery, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, folly: 23 all these wicked things come from within, and render a person unclean. (HAW, note sign added)

a Regarding the last part of verse 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. The above-quoted Haweis version perhaps gives the actual meaning, with its wording “because it entereth not into his heart, but into his belly, and goeth out into the vault, carrying off all the impurities of the food”.

Let us consider this matter more closely. Jesus said that there is nothing from outside a 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 certain man-made rules regarding hand-washing.

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

And then, verses 21–23 record how Jesus explained what things do defile a person: Evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, the evil eye, slander, pride, recklessness (these are translations of the words in the Greek text). Those things do defile a person.

So, food and drink do not defile a man, spiritually. But, 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) He told the saints that if they knew that some food or drink had been offered (dedicated) to an idol, they were not to eat or drink it; the article rha023.htm has more on this. 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 rules regarding ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ things.

Genesis 7:2 and 8:20 talk about “clean” and “unclean” animals. Someone might perhaps think that that was a classification of the same kind as in the rules of the Old Covenant, but let us keep in mind that the Old Covenant with its rules came on the scene circa a thousand years after Noah’s day. If we keep to the facts, we must admit that we simply do not know what Genesis 7:2 and 8:20 refer to. Let us also keep in mind that 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 concerning many kinds of things and not 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; the ancient Israelites were to keep all of its rules.

A note: Some writers have confused things by claiming that the “added law” of Galatians 3:17–19 was not the Old Covenant but instead some “later added rituals”. The article rca082.htm sorts out that matter.

And again, the Old Covenant with its rules came on the scene circa 1000 years after the events 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.

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 regarding 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 read all of the scripture-quote below, slowly and with care.

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 [c] 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 [b] 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 signs added)

b Verses 7 and 13, “nations” – that is, non-Jews, “gentiles”.

c Verse 7, “by my mouth should hear” – 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)

Acts 15 does not state the reason why those people were told to abstain from blood and strangled things, but let us note that that passage contains instructions, not only in regard to meats but also regarding things sacrificed (dedicated) to idols and sexual immorality (verses 20 and 29). Consider this: Those instructions were sent to non-Jewish saints who lived in an area which had for a long time been under Greek and 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 idols and sexual immorality were mentioned (Acts 15). And then, it could be that in the Greco-Roman idol-temples, there were some idol-worship related rituals which included the use of blood and perhaps even the strangling of animals. If so, this might explain that part in the instructions recorded in Acts 15:20 and 29. The article roa042.htm takes a closer look at Acts 15 and that whole matter, including the meaning of verse 21.

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 “dietary rules” of the kind the Israelites had under the Old Covenant. But, they were told that if they knew that some food or drink had been offered (dedicated) to an idol or idols, they were not to eat or drink it. The articles rha023.htm and roa042.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. See the “recommended reading” section, below.

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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. → rsa092.htm

Acts 15 and the matter of the two covenants, old and new. → roa042.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 dedicated to idols? → rha023.htm

The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. → rca092.htm

On Titus 1:15 and the translation “unto the pure all things are pure”, and what that passage really means and refers to. → rea052.htm

The apostle Paul and his teachings. → roa113.htm

Colossians 2:16–17, “let no man therefore judge you”. What was the apostle Paul really talking about? → roa072.htm

On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → rca082.htm

Other articles on the matter of the two covenants, old and new. → Look under the heading “Covenants” on the page rkw131.htm.

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