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QUESTION: Are Christians Forbidden To Eat Pork?


Note: The following question came to me via The Question Box on our congregation’s website, http://www.Plymouth-church.com, where I answer questions.

Are we as Christians, still forbidden to eat pork? I just watched a preacher say on T.V., that we should not eat meat forbidden by God. I thought that was done away with and all meat was fit for consumption.

It is interesting to me that many people still measure their spirituality by how much and what they “forbid.” Consider the following warnings against this mind-set, especially with regard to eating meat.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, 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 be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. – 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake, for “the earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness.” “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks, or to the church of God. Just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:25-33

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. – Romans 14:1-4

I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. – Romans 14:14-17

Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. – Colossians 2:16-17

Perhaps one of the clearest and most telling passages dealing with your question is from the lips of Jesus himself – or in Mark’s comment upon it, depending on which Manuscript evidence you follow.

When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them. “Hear Me, everyone and understand: 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 defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

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 purifying all foods?” [Note: “NU-Text ends quotation with eliminated, setting off the final clause as Mark’s comment that Jesus has declared all foods clean.” – footnote in New King James Bible] – Mark 7:14-19.

Yet, this is an issue that has troubled the church from the earliest times. People simply have a difficult time accepting that God places no restrictions on them when it comes to food.

In your question you said, “I thought that… all meat was fit for consumption.” There are no restrictions by God on what meat we eat, but our own cultural biases might make some meats “unfit for consumption” to us. For example, I have read of some Japanese or Chinese restaurants being shut down by the authorities because they served dog or cat. God has nothing against these, but the dietary habits of the American people certainly do!

Paul’s position on eating meat is that it’s o.k. to eat it and also o.k. to abstain – but do not make an issue of it either way. Do not “judge” one another either for eating or not eating any particular food. However (and this is a BIG “however”) if eating meat causes a weak brother to offend his own conscience, or if it makes an unbeliever less likely to listen to you present the good news to him, then you should let HIS conscience be your guide. Otherwise, you are not acting in love.

This does not mean that in the church we have to be bound by the conscience of the most scrupulous member. That brother is not going to be tempted to eat because you eat. Paul speaks of the weak brother who, because of your example, may be tempted to eat what his conscience says is not permitted. If you insist on eating, you wound him.

This means there is room in the family of God for people at different levels of understanding and growth – as long as none of them attempt to impose their personal convictions on everyone else. When we attempt to impose something as a condition of having God’s favor which He has not commanded for us, then we fall from grace and are apostate.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. – Galatians 5:1-5

The particular issue here is circumcision, not eating meat. The principle, however, is the same. When we revive the law, we are bound to keep the whole Law – and no man but Jesus has ever done that! This means we are separated from Jesus and fallen from grace.

It is ironic that trusting in obedience to a command God has not given separates us from Christ and from the salvation He offers to us by trusting Him

So, you are correct in your belief that all foods are acceptable before God. While it is o.k. to abstain from certain foods if we so choose, it is not o.k. to require that others also abstain. Nor is it safe for us, except when we are still “weak” in the faith, to think that we are better people because we do not eat pork or any other food. Eating meat does not make us better – nor does it make us worse. Eating meat is itself morally neutral; the attitude we have about eating or not eating meat may not be.

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8 Responses

  1. Jerry,

    i really appreciate your blog. i browse quite a bit but haven’t ever commented i don’t think.

    Anyway–what do you think?–Does Jesus’ pronouncement (plus other similar statements made in the NT by Paul) extend to alcohol consumption? What about marijuana (which can be consumed in food-form)?

    –Guy

    • Guy,

      I did not intend to ignore your question. Please forgive me. Alcohol consumption is not forbidden in the Scripture, though the abuse of alcohol is forbidden.

      I believe marijuana would come into the same category as alcohol. We might find law enforcement much easier in this country if we treated alcohol and marijuana more alike: try to control the abuse, not the use.

      I find Proverbs 21:4-7 interesting when thinking of “mind-altering” drugs of all kinds:

      It is not for kings, O Lemuel – not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.

      Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

      Of course, the last sentence would give all of us a lot of trouble. “Let the poor man drink as a way of escape from his misery.” The first part, though, suggests that strong drink can interfere with our ability to work responsibly. That needs to be taken into account as well in thinking about either alcohol or marijuana, both of which can be used in medicinal ways.

      Thank you for your kind comments.

  2. Jerry,

    What do you think about the dietary restrictions mentioned in Acts15?

    –Guy

    • Guy,

      I believe that all of these prohibited items in Acts 15:23-29 have to do with worship of idols. Certainly, the “food sacrificed to idols” does; “blood” likely does; “meat of strangled animals” also likely does; and “fornication” was rampant in worship of idols – but would not be limited to ritual prostitution in the pagan temples.

      It is quite possible that “blood” goes back to the Genesis 9 instructions to Noah. If so, “meat of strangled animals” would, I believe, partake of that same prohibition.

      In speaking of things offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul indicated that “knowledge” lets us know that the idol is nothing and that eating meat offered to nothing is not harmful; yet a little later in the chapter he shows that love does not use that knowledge in a way that will hurt a brother. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-31 he makes practical application of that teaching: When you go to the meat market, don’t ask questions for conscience sake. Yet, if an unbeliever tells you that what he is serving has been offered to an idol, then abstain – not because of your conscience, but because of the other man’s. The same principle would apply to a weak brother who might be harmed by your eating the meat offered to an idol.

      This principle leads me to believe that the Acts 15 restrictions on food (not on fornication), is probably a concession to Jewish Christian sensibilities rather than an absolute prohibition. If the prohibition is absolute, then Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 is incomprehensible to me. To that you might add Romans 14 where he said, “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”

      Thank you for your question and for reading this blog.

      Jerry

  3. Jerry,

    Well, it appears we read those passages the same way.

    But not surprisingly, i meet a great many members of the church who believe the Bible teaches complete abstinence from alcohol. i’ve even encountered one person who argued that alcohol was intrinsically evil–the actual substance itself. i don’t find this puzzling given the prohibition movement in our country in the last century or so. But the past century puzzles me in view of history prior to that point–even the Puritans who came over to settle here, who adhered to radical ethical codes, believed that alcohol in moderation was good for you. And for probably a hundred years at least after europeans settled here, both adults and children drank beer because their local water sources were health risks. i’m puzzled about where the whole teetotaller trend came from, especially among protestants.

    But more surprisingly, i have met several members of the church that take the dietary restrictions in Acts 15 to be universal laws. (This was brought to mind after a recent discussion over at OneinJesus, but i’ve heard lots of Christians over the years say they would never order a steak rare for fear of violating Acts 15. It comes up because i typically tell the waitress at the steakhouse taking my order “as rare as the law allows.”)

    –Guy

    • Well, my views are not motivated by the way I eat my steaks (when I eat them). I usually order either medium or medium well! I’ve noticed that eating them rare upsets my stomach about 36 hours later. Jerry

  4. Jerry,

    Well it’s not about steaks for me either! =o) i didn’t start ordering the rare stuff til after i thought about Acts 15 and how i couldn’t harmonize that understanding of Acts 15 with the other, clearer passages.

    But there are many cultures even in our day that consume raw meats and even dishes made from animal blood. And i wonder if we shouldn’t be willing to eat such things in order to sit down at a table with those people to reach them for similar reasons why the Gentiles needed to give up eating such things for the sake of table fellowship.

    –Guy

    • Here, we will have to balance two things: the person who eats the blood sausage whom you are trying to reach and the weak Christian who thinks it is a sin.

      My take on that is to give priority to the person you are trying to win. If he thinks we would make him give up what he considers a delicacy, our scruples may stand in the way of his salvation. When that is not a factor, the weak brother who thinks it is wrong for him to eat the blood sausage needs help – which I can give by abstaining along with him, while I attempt to teach him better.

      On the other hand, the brother who wants to make a salvation issue of it, I need to “give way to him, not for an hour.” He is adding to the requirements for salvation, not for himself, but for everyone else as well. We have had too many of that tribe in the church for too many centuries – people who are all too willing to legislate and bind what God has not bound.

      Jerry

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