The Sabbath Issue

Chapter 13: Do the Food Laws of Moses apply to us today?

Although this is a different question to the Sabbath Issue it is certainly related. If the Food Laws of the Law of Moses still apply to us today (as Law), then we would certainly expect the Sabbath Law to apply also. But if the Food Laws no longer apply today, this would confirm that we are no longer the Law of Moses, along with its Sabbath regulations. We shall see that there is an abundance of proof in the New Testament that we are no longer under the Food Laws of the Old Covenant. These Food Laws were part of the Middle Wall of Partition that the Law erected between Jews and Gentiles, making it difficult for Jews and Gentiles to eat together, because in order for Gentiles to have table-fellowship with Jews they would have to conform to the Law of Moses. This Wall of Partition has now been removed through the death of Christ.

Food Laws have regularly changed throughout the Dispensations of history. From Adam to Noah, vegetarianism was the rule. Then from Noah to Moses, meat was allowed also (without restriction, except that the blood of the animal must first be poured out). Then (for Israel only) from Moses to the Cross, only the meat of ‘clean’ animals was allowed for consumption. Since the Cross, we will see that all meats are allowed again, as from Noah to Moses. During the Messianic Kingdom, it will revert to vegetarianism. The nature of Food Law and the fact that it is subject to these changes in response to different conditions show that Food Law does not have the status of Moral Law, and so a change in these laws as we move from the Old to New Covenant should be no great surprise.

Since Noah, all mankind has been under the Noahic Covenant, including its Food Laws. Genesis 9:1-4 says that in this Covenant ALL animals could be eaten (both clean and unclean animals): “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon ALL the beasts of the earth and ALL the birds of the air, upon EVERY creature that moves along the ground, and upon ALL the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. EVERYTHING that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you EVERYTHING. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Now even at this stage God distinguished between clean and unclean animals, but the only practical application of this was that it was the clean animals alone that were suitable for sacrifice: Genesis 8:20: “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the CLEAN animals and CLEAN birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.” 

Unclean animals only became forbidden food under the Law of Moses, and then it just applied to Israel (forming part of the Middle wall of Partition separating Jews and Gentiles). The Mosaic Covenant gave detailed definitions on what animals could be ate: seafood had to have fins and scales, animals had to chew the cud and be cloven-hoofed, birds of prey forbidden, no insects except some locusts. Basically, Israel could only eat ‘clean’ animals.

Much of the Food Law is in Leviticus 11, where unclean and clean animals are described and defined. This was the Law for Israel under the Old Covenant of Moses. However, the New Testament is clear that these Laws no longer apply under the New Covenant.

Even before the Cross, Jesus declared all meats clean, signifying that He was bringing the Food Laws to an end in the New Covenant:

Mark 7:19: “For it (food) does not go into his heart, 
but into his stomach, and then out of his body." 
(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean").

The fact that the Bible regards the status of foods (‘clean’ / ‘unclean’) as changeable means that Food Law is of the nature of temporal ceremonial law, rather than absolute Moral Law. In any case, it is absurd to say Laws governing created foods can possibly belong to eternal moral Law which existed before Creation. 

The words of Jesus and their interpretation by the Apostle Peter (through Mark) in Mark 7:19 proves that certain foods were only ceremonially unclean for certain purposes in the Old Covenant, but they were not morally unclean. So once they had fulfilled their ceremonial (teaching) purpose, it was no longer necessary to keep their status as unclean. This is consistent with the general New Testament approach to the ceremonial aspects of the Old Covenant. Having served their purpose in imparting revelation and wisdom to us, they no longer apply to us as Law. We should still apply the wisdom that they teach to our lives, but God now treats us as responsible grown-ups in this area, rather than as children who need prescriptive laws for every decision we make (this applies to foods as well as to special days, such as the Sabbath - see Romans 14). 

The wisdom is both natural and spiritual. Of course, one spiritual application of the clean-unclean distinction was that any sacrifice had to be clean, teaching that in the fulfilment the ultimate sacrifice (Christ) must be sinless, perfect humanity. 

The natural wisdom taught by the Food Laws was that special care needs to be taken with the treatment, preservation and preparation of certain foods which can more easily become toxic. The Food Laws identified these foods, just as you would put certain areas off limits for children to keep them out of danger. 

Likewise the Hygiene Laws (like washing of hands) and Quarantine Laws for infectious diseases in Leviticus were well ahead of their time. Until germs could be seen in a microscope, the modern world did not realise the reason for these Laws and hospital death rates, even until a few hundred years ago, were terrible, because there were no safeguards against infections from bacteria and viruses. When a Jewish doctor implemented these procedures (based on Leviticus) in his hospital such as hand-washing, the death rates went down dramatically, but the inconvenience caused him to lose his job. Eventually, however it became standard practice. Likewise, the Jewish community were wrongly blamed for the Black Death, because very few of them died. The reason was that they were applying the Levitical Hygiene and Quarantine Laws! God knew about the danger of bacteria, well before man’s science found out and so He provided protection through the Law of Moses. 

The spiritual wisdom communicated by the Food Laws is based on the fact that the natural FOODS we digest represent our spiritual FOOD: the words (teachings and thoughts) that we meditate upon. We must learn to discern between clean and unclean spiritual food, for if we receive unclean thoughts into our heart, they will come out in our words and actions, defiling us. This is the essence of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7:15-23, which is His main application of the Food Laws to us today, drawing out their spiritual import: 

Mark 7:15-23: “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that (truly) defile a man (morally). If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear (God’s Word, let him chew on and eat God’s thoughts)!” When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the Parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart, but his stomach, and is eliminated - thus He purified all foods (“thus He declared all foods clean”)?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that (truly) defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and (truly) defile a man (morally).” 

In explaining the purpose and fulfilment of these Laws in this way, He was also declaring all foods essentially clean (v19), for there is no food that can defile a man (v15,18). Thus He was making it clear that when God (through Moses) declared certain foods as unclean, this was only a temporal ceremonial uncleanness, not a real (absolute) moral uncleanness. He was correcting the Jewish misunderstanding of their Food Laws as Moral Law. When He said: “Are you without understanding also? Do you not perceive”, He was saying that this should be obvious to them by the very nature of foods, that they cannot carry moral uncleanness. The main value of these laws was to point to eternal spiritual truths. 

Thus Food Law is ceremonial (temporal) by nature and has now passed away in Christ, along with the rest of the ceremonial laws of Moses. The interpretation (v19) by the Gospel writer of this Teaching: “Thus He declared all foods clean” shows that the Apostles realised that Jesus was announcing the imminent coming to an end of the Food Laws of Moses in the New Covenant. However, the eternal Moral Law (teaching) they symbolise remains.

The Food Laws were symbolic of key spiritual (moral) truths. Certain FOODS (that we take into our stomach through our mouth) were declared as clean or unclean, as SYMBOLS of THOUGHTS (that we take into our heart, which will then come out of our mouth). God taught Israel to carefully discriminate between clean and unclean foods, to avoid ceremonial defilement. This was designed to train us the importance of carefully judging the thoughts that we chew on and so take into us, because they have the power to morally defile us. What really matters is not which foods we take into our stomach by digestion, but what spiritual foods we take into out heart by meditation. Thus, we must learn to discern between pure and impure spiritual foods (thoughts). Note however that the defilement only happens when the evil thought comes out of you (finding expression) in your words and actions. This means if a bad thought comes to you, it is not yours until you speak it or act on it. If you don’t, it has no power over you; it will die unborn. However, if you continue to meditate on it, it will inevitably come out of you and defile you: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, also Matthew 12:34).

Thus Jesus moved from the outward shadow of the truth (revealed in the Old Covenant) to the substance, the inward spiritual reality (revealed in the New Covenant). The true fulfilment of God’s eternal moral Law does not lie in the shadow food Laws (what goes in the stomach), but in the substance (what goes in the heart and then out again). Those who try and find their reality and fulfilment in upholding the shadow are missing the main point, and taking a backward step (the value of the shadow is to point to the substance).

This is a classic case of Ceremonial Law acting as a Tutor for man in his spiritual childhood. When we were children we were under laws from our parents controlling many details of our life (including what we should eat), because in our ignorance we needed strict guidelines. These were designed to protect us and impart wisdom to us, until the time came when we were considered mature enough to be given freedom in these areas. Although, as grown ups, we are now free from the law of our parents, we are still responsible to uphold God’s Moral Law, and to incorporate the wisdom that we learnt from our parents. Once we have grown up and learnt the lessons of childhood, we are no longer under the old Law, but are under a new higher Law that gives us more freedom (and responsibility) in the details of life (such as what we can eat). 

Likewise the Ceremonial Law (including the Food and Sabbath Laws) only applied for a time, in order to teach us wisdom; but once its wisdom and moral application was established, it was no longer needed (Ceremonial Law, unlike Moral Law, does not have intrinsic value. Its value is to point us to the Truth - that which does have eternal value). Thus in the New Covenant, God considers man as having now received sufficent revelation, to be set free from the (childhood) Ceremonial Law of Moses and take responsibility for the details of his life (such as his food and special days) in such a way that upholds the Moral Law and applies the wisdom God previously revealed to man, and God holds us accountable in this. 

He set us free from the old Ceremonial Law, so that we could grow up and focus on the Substance, rather than on (keeping) the Shadow. 

*The Apostolic Teaching confirms this Teaching of Jesus

Hebrews 9:9: “It (the Ceremonial Law of Moses) was symbolic for the present time (the New Covenant) in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience - concerned only with FOODS and drinks, various washings and fleshly ordinances IMPOSED until the time of the reformation (the time of the New Order, that is, the New Covenant).” The Food Laws are counted among the Ceremonial Laws that were only imposed for a time, but no longer, now the New Order has come. 

Hebrews 13:9: “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by (the New Covenant Word of) GRACE, not with FOODS, which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.” This corrects those who occupy themselves with the Food Laws (what foods they should and should not eat) rather than true spiritual food (the Word of Grace), because they think they are still under the Law of Moses in this area. Foods have no intrinsic spiritual value, and the Food-Laws were meant to teach man to be 
discerning about his spiritual food. In the New Covenant, that means meditating on (eating) the word of grace, and rejecting legalism (submitting to the Law of Moses, that has passed away). 

1Timothy 4:1-5: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the Faith (of the New Covenant), giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and COMMANDING to ABSTAIN from FOODS, which God created to be received with thanksgiving, by those who believe and know the truth. For EVERY CREATURE of God is good (clean), and nothing is to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is SANCTIFIED by the Word of God and Prayer.” 

This passage says in the strongest terms that the Food Laws are no longer in force. Paul actually says that now we are under the New Covenant, the imposition of any Food Laws (including those of Moses, where people are commanded to abstain from foods that had previously been declared ‘unclean’) is a demonic doctrine, and those who obey it have departed from the Faith (as revealed in the New Testament), because they have got into legalism. This passage clearly says that ALL foods are created by God, to be received with thanksgiving, so they must all be GOOD (CLEAN). Nothing is to be refused as unclean! You may choose not to eat something for a variety of reasons, but rejecting it because you think you are breaking some divine Law is not scriptural. Moreover, the fact that all foods can be sanctified by our scripture-based prayer proves that God has declared them clean, for it is Biblically impossible to sanctify something that is unclean. An unclean thing must first be cleansed by Blood, then sanctified by Oil (the Spirit). In the New Covenant, all foods have been cleansed by the Blood of Jesus, and when we pray over the food, it is then sanctified to God by the Holy Spirit, released through our prayer of faith with thanksgiving.

Romans 14:14: “As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that NO FOOD IS UNCLEAN in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.”  This scripture is part of the major New Testament Passage (Romans 14) dealing with our freedom in Christ concerning foods and special days (Feasts and Sabbaths). It makes it clear that we are no longer under Law in these areas and so we have freedom to choose.

Romans 14:1-4: “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 

Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.”

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