It is a well-known fact that Jews have a lot of dietary laws. Christians, on the other hand, seem to be able to eat nearly anything, despite the fact that the roots of Christianity come directly from Judaism. In this video, we will be seeing why that is and whether Christians actually have dietary laws.
Firstly, let’s ask the question; why can Christians eat pork and other meats deemed unclean by Jews? Well naturally it is due to the key difference between the two religions which is that the Jews are still waiting for the Messiah, while Christians believe the Messiah has already revealed himself. For the Christian, the change in law stems from the life and ministry of Jesus as well as Peter and the apostles. One specific incident in Jesus’ life is usually used to show the change in dietary laws. The incident in Jesus’ life takes place in Mark 7. In this chapter Jesus is rebuking some Jewish religious leaders known as Pharisees, who were complaining that Jesus’ disciples did not follow a practice of ritual cleaning, for being hypocrites, as they were careful to follow the outward laws and yet were not living in line with God. In verse 18 he says that what goes into the body does not defile a person as it does not go into the heart but rather what comes out of a person defiles them (verse 20) – then listing a number of sins. In most translations, verse 19 comments on this by writing in brackets that “by saying this he declared every kind of food acceptable in God’s eyes”. This seems like the case is closed and Christians can eat meat, but note that I said this is in most translations and that is because old handwritten scriptures sometimes contained footnotes and some scholars believe this statement to be just a footnote and not part of the text. But even without this comment, it is clear that this argument about eating other meats could be made from this text.
The next and possibly most important event in the removal of the dietary laws is found in Acts 15. The book of Acts follows the lives and work of Jesus’ followers and the transition of Christianity from being a Jewish sect into a wider reaching religion. By chapter 15 many gentiles, or non-Jews, were becoming Christians and this was becoming a real problem as the Jews wanted them to be circumcised and follow the Jewish law. Naturally this was a real stumbling block, so the council needed to decide what was the right thing to do. Before this in Acts 10, Peter had a vision of “unclean” creatures and a voice telling him to eat them. Peter, having been brought up a Jew, told the voice he could not, but the voice told him not to call something unclean if God has made it clean. Peter could not understand what this vision meant until gentile believers came to see him, and he understood the vision to mean that the gentiles were not to be looked at as unclean. In Acts 15, the Christian council decided to make a set of guidelines for the gentiles and interestingly did not tell them to stop eating previously unclean foods such as pork. There are a couple of other places in the new testament which also state the same thing (1 Timothy 4) but essentially after this council, over time in the early church, the distinction between the Jewish Christians and the gentiles faded away and the previous Mosaic laws were dropped. At this point I will note that there are still some Christian denominations like the Seventh-day Adventists and Messianic Jews who still follow the dietary laws, stating that the gentiles were never explicitly told they could eat unclean meat; but such groups are in the minority.
So you might be thinking well then Christians can eat whatever they want right? You would be wrong. Christians are forbidden to eat a couple of types of food in Acts 15 – food offered to idols, meat of strangled animals and blood. The purpose of the ban on food offered to idols was to show publicly that they did not worship idols, not that dedicated meat was supernaturally harmful. In certain towns, this would have been very hard and may have meant not eating meat at all for certain people. Naturally this is not an issue today, at least not in the west. Strangled animals do not have the blood drained from their bodies, and thus break the restriction on blood and blood was not to be eaten because God said in the book of Genesis 9:4 ‘But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it’. Why was this command given? Some have suggested health reasons, treatment of animals, symbols of the sacredness of life or a symbol of the Messiah. But we are not 100% sure.