Unclean Foods sanctified by God’s Word and Prayer? Misunderstandings regarding 1Tim 4:1-5

5221226283_721815ebe5_o-528x396Among the many verses which are presented as proof texts to say that “the food laws are no longer in effect”, these words written by Paul to Timothy take center stage. Is Paul saying that everything is sanctified just by our prayers, even if God says some things are in fact not holy according to His Word? We must carefully dissect what Paul is saying, before we jump into conclusions and become someone who abolishes God’s Law.

1Ti 4:1-5 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

The 2 erroneous doctrines addressed here by Paul are:
1. Forbidding to Marry    2. Abstinence from food*

These 2 doctrines are brought forth by people who:
1. Depart from the Faith
2. Turn their minds towards misleading spirits
3. Turn their minds towards teachings which are not from God, but evil/demonic
4. Promulgate erroneous doctrines under false pretenses
5. Have consciences which are rendered unsensitive towards God

Looking at the above 2 erroneous doctrines and the signs of the people who bring them, we can be assured that it goes against God’s Word. In fact Paul equates these 2 erroneous doctrines to “doctrines of devils”. The only way a person could say that the above verses speak of “God’s separation of Clean/Unclean Meats” spoken of in Lev 11 & Deut 14, is to equate God’s Law to doctrines of devils. God’s Law, of which Yeshua(Jesus’ true name) said that not a jot or tittle will pass and that the person who breaks the least of the commands would be the least in His Kingdom(Mat 5:17-19), would suddenly have to be equated to “doctrines of devils”.

*Furthermore, the word translated “meats” in the original Greek Manuscripts of 1Tim 4:3 is not specifically speaking of meat of animals, rather of food in general. (G1033 – βρῶμα – brōma – Thayer’s Greek Lexicon: that which is eaten, food)

While abstaining from foods such as in the case of vegetarianism or living a celibate life does not go against God’s Commands, enforcing such practices on others and teaching it as God’s Word(when there is no mention of such commands in the Scriptures), could be equated to doctrines born from evil. Such practices were known to be part of the doctrine of Gnostic sects in the 2nd Century AD, and the seeds of their teachings may have been prevalent even in Paul’s time.

There is another simple reason Paul could not have been speaking of God’s Food Laws here. In verse 3 Paul says of “meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Meats which God created to be received with thanksgiving were listed by Him as clean animals mentioned in Lev 11 & Deut 14. Additionally, Paul also speaks of “people who believe and know the truth” in the end of verse 3.

What is Truth? According to the Bible, “Truth” is God’s Word(John 17:17, Psa 119:151).

Verse 5 is a must when reading verse 4. In verse 4 Paul seems to be saying that we can eat everything irrespective of what God said in the Scriptures. But in verse 5 this is clarified – nothing is to be refused as it is sanctified(made holy) by the Word of God and prayer. Now the question is what exactly is sanctified by the Word of God…. If God says “eat this” and “don’t eat this”… surely what He says to eat, is what is sanctified. Whatever He deemed unclean cannot be sanctified by His own Word.

So in conclusion, Paul cannot be talking of people who were adhering to God’s Commands, in the passage in question. These were foreign doctrines which were not from God. Paul, who walked perfectly according to God’s Law (Acts 21:24), would have adhered to God’s dietary instructions – and when he speaks of Food which should be received with thanksgiving, as it is sanctified by God’s Word and Prayer – he could not be speaking of the food that God deemed unclean and unholy.

Related Articles
Food Laws or Fasting? Misunderstandings regarding Romans 14
Can we eat all meats? Food sacrificed to idols and misunderstandings regarding 1Cor 10:25
Did Christ declare all foods clean? Misunderstandings regarding Mark 7:19
Did God tell Peter that he is free to eat unclean animals which He had banned before? Acts 10:1 – 11:18
Was God’s Law blotted out and nailed to the cross? Misunderstandings regarding Col 2:11-17
Gentiles have to obey only 4 Commandments? Misunderstandings regarding Acts 15

8 thoughts on “Unclean Foods sanctified by God’s Word and Prayer? Misunderstandings regarding 1Tim 4:1-5

  1. michaelajfarril

    Hi Ramesh,

    Thank you for directing me to this study on your blog. I read your explanation of I Timothy 4:1 – 5 and I have to commend you on all the work and thought that has gone into what you have written. To a point, I can see what you’re saying. However, I can still see how other Christians maintain that this portion of Scripture says that Christians no longer are required to follow the dietary laws commanded by Moses and I wish to show you why. Of course, I am happy for you to show me if I’m reading the text incorrectly and hence welcome any criticism.

    First of all, I find the way you explained these verses makes this passage at best ambiguous and not definitively clear as there are now two ways to view this passage. Just on this point, and I mean this with all due respect, I hope that Yahveh doesn’t throw into hell, along with the likes of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, beautiful, dedicated Christians who spent their lives fully in Yahveh’s service simply because they misinterpreted these verses and throughout their lives continued eating pork chops, bacon, shrimp cocktails and seafood baskets.

    Now, if your understanding of this passage of Scripture is the correct way to view this, seriously, I think this passage would have been much clearer if it had been written something like this:

    Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith…commanding to abstain from the flesh of the clean animals which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the Law. For the meat of clean animals is good, and none of these meats is to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving, as it is written in the Law.

    This would be more in line with the type of writing style Paul adopted because whenever he makes reference to the Law, he more often than not uses expressions like, “As it is written” or “As also says the Law”. I’m not familiar with anywhere in Paul’s letters where he refers to the Law as “the Word of God” but I’d be happy for you to point out any if I’m wrong here.

    Secondly, I’m not familiar with any expression in Paul’s letters where he talks about anything being sanctified because it says so in the Law but rather that people/things are sanctified by blood, in the Torah by the blood of animals, in the New Testament by the blood of Yeshua. Further, how are we to interpret, “for it is sanctified by the word of God”? Is the “word of God”, or as it is in the Greek, the “logou theou”, in this passage the Law of Moses, or is the “word of God” referring to Yeshua, the “logos”, or “Word” of John 1:1? My understanding had always been the latter, that the death and resurrection of Yeshua brought in a new covenant and the previously unclean, or “unholy” animals, have now been sanctified, and hence are now clean through the death and resurrection of the Messiah, the Logos, the Word, just as humans have now been sanctified by his blood. So, the difficulty here is that the text doesn’t clearly say what this “logou theou” or “Word of God” is referring to. So I hope you can understand the ambiguity and see how many Christians continue to view this passage as saying that people of the New Covenant can now eat all meat and hence enjoy their ham sandwiches and seafood baskets.

    Further, as you pointed out, where it says, “commanding to abstain from meats”, the word “meats” really is the Greek word “broma” and means “food” in general, that is, anything people eat. So it is not limited to meat, that is, the flesh of animals. Now, according to the Law of Moses, there is a restriction on the type of food people can eat. Certain animals that other people around the world eat, including pig meat and seafood (excluding fish), are not to be eaten. So, if what Paul is saying here is that people in the last days will follow “doctrines of devils” and part of these devilish doctrines is the abstinence of certain foods as it is in the Mosaic Law, this makes the Law of Moses a doctrine of devils. So, seriously, I understand your point here. However, I had always understood that Paul was talking about the two together, that is, forbidding to marry together with abstaining from food, particularly all meat, and I thought this was actually an attack against the Gnostics who I believe were vegetarians and hated procreation because sex brought on more humans who were a part of this physical world seeing the Gnostics despised the physical world and only honoured the spiritual.

    We are further faced with another ambiguity where Paul writes “meat which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth”. What “truth” is Paul talking about? Is it the Law of Moses? Again, if this is what he means, then I have to ask why Paul didn’t say this more clearly. It would have been more helpful for us if Paul had written, if he had meant this, something like, “meat which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the Law”. So, whereas one person understands that this “truth” means the Mosaic Law and the separation between clean and unclean animals, to another this “truth” is the removal of the restriction from eating unclean animals with the Advent of Yeshua. And as we know, what those of one religion believe to be the “truth” is considered a lie or falsehood by another. Had Paul actually used the word “Law” and not “truth”, if this is what he meant, this would have removed the ambiguity from the phrase because, whether one believes or not in the Law of Moses, the Law of Moses is a constant. By contrast, what is considered the “truth” varies from one person to another.

    Further, where it is written, “meat which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth”, you understand this to mean that in accordance with the Mosaic Law it is the clean animals and not the unclean animals which God created to be received with thanksgiving. I thought you had hit on a very good point here. The problem is that this creates, at least how I see it, a contradiction with the next verse where it says “for every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused”. The Greek for “every creature” is “pan ktisma”, that is, “all creation”. And what is God’s creation? Right at the beginning in Genesis, Yahveh created ALL the animals, the clean animals as well as the unclean ones. If this expression “pan ktisma” is only referring to the clean animals, this implies that only the clean animals were created by Yahveh, and if this is so, then the unclean animals had to have been created by someone else. Rather, this expression, “pan ktisma”, that is, “all creation” is all-encompassing, just as the “all” is in another expression in another of Paul’s letters that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), both Jews, the initially clean people, and the Gentiles, the initially unclean. The verse doesn’t say “for all clean animals of creation are good” but “all creation is good”. If Paul only meant the clean animals, then why did he use the expression “all creation” when according to the Law of Moses it is not all creation at all but merely some of Yahveh’s creation which is good? This goes together with the next part that “ouden”, that is, “nothing” is to be refused, and in this “nothing”, there is no exclusion. This verse is very explicit. These two expressions “all creation” and “nothing” to me are totally unambiguous and I don’t know how to understand these expressions in any other way. But I welcome an explanation if I am in error.

    You yourself tell the readers to focus on the entire phrase, “meat which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving, etc.” And that’s when I saw the connection between these two verses. Paul first writes, “meat which God hath created”. At Creation, did Yahveh say that He had created clean animals for human consumption and not the unclean animals? That’s when I realised the point. No, He didn’t. The commandment to only eat clean animals came about when Yahveh gave the Law to Moses, about 2,000 years after Creation. So it wasn’t at Creation that Yahveh told everyone to only eat clean meat and don’t eat unclean meat. Quite the contrary. When Noah stepped off the Ark, Yahveh told Noah, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” (Genesis 9:3). Now remember, Noah was, according to Genesis 6:9 a “perfect” man, and Yahveh told this perfect man that he could eat “every moving thing”. Like the expression “all creation” in Paul’s letter to Timothy, this “every moving thing” is all-inclusive. So, in the beginning, all animals were created to be eaten. Yahveh only told people to stop eating unclean animals when He gave the Law to Moses. So the “meat which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving, etc.” actually makes more sense when referring to all of Yahveh’s created animals, not simply the clean ones, and hence this creates the unity with the next verse that “all creation” is good and “nothing” is to be refused. Notice also how this passage from Timothy takes us back to a time before Moses but still in the Law, as Genesis is part of the Torah. And this is not the only time we are taken back to a time before Moses when it comes to what Christians are supposed to do. In Mark 10: 2 – 12, to the question Jesus asked the Pharisees about divorce, “What did Moses command you?”, the Pharisees replied that Moses “suffered to write a bill of divorcement and put her away”. Yeshua then takes the Pharisees back to the time BEFORE Moses, to Creation, and uses what had been BEFORE Moses to be the precept to follow. I can see a parallel with this and the idea that now ALL animals, the clean and unclean, can once again be eaten, as it was BEFORE Moses, but still within the Law, as Genesis constitutes part of the Law.

    I do understand the premise of your argument, however. As you say in another post, you don’t believe that God changes His Word and this includes the dietary laws. So, I understand why you interpret this passage of Timothy the way you do. However, the Law itself shows that Yahveh has changed the dietary laws three times. In Genesis 1:29, Yahveh told Adam, “I have given you every herb bearing seed…and every tree, in which is the fruit of the tree…to you it shall be for meat”, so the first dietary law was a vegan one. Then after the Flood, as I mentioned above, this was changed to a completely all-inclusive omnivorous diet. True, there were clean and unclean animals in the story of Noah, but these clean animals were merely used to sacrifice to Yahveh and were not part of a dietary injunction. It’s not until we get to Moses that Yahveh places a division between clean and unclean animals for human consumption. Then, for some Christians, the change reverts back to an entirely omnivorous diet and, in a way, as it was once in the Law. Therefore, although I appreciate that you believe that God does not change His Law and I see the sense in what you are saying, the evidence from the Bible shows quite clearly that what Yahveh said humans were allowed to eat changed three times right in the Law itself, and some Christians believe it changed a fourth time with the Advent of Messiah. From this, I can understand how Christians can continue to maintain that this passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy can still be understood that Christians, after the advent of Yeshua, can now eat all flesh, including the unclean ones.

    Hence, it is not unequivocal that it is necessary to abide by the dietary laws of Moses after the advent of Yeshua, and it could be further argued that Christians who eat “every moving thing” like perfect Noah are not transgressing the Torah in which “one jot or one tittle” shall not be changed. So whereas I can in a way see what you are trying to establish in your study of this portion of Scripture from I Timothy 4:1 – 5, I can also still see how other Christians believe that they are now free to eat the unclean meats along with the clean ones using the same Scripture.

    But I welcome your criticism if I have made any errors in my analysis.

    Love and shalom

    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Michael,
      I understand the point of view of mainline Christianity on the Dietary Law, and even this verse, as I was one of the Christians who ate bacon, shrimp and seafood because I believed Paul gave us the license to do so. The issue here is that we come to the text with a lot of preconceived ideas such as the Law is bad burdensome and against grace. The issue is whether people who kept dietary laws ever considered pork, shrimp and the likes as food. Each of us have a clear idea what food is. Christians at this point of time include some unclean animals into the category of food. The point I’m making is this… none of us think of Dog, frogs, cockroaches and snakes when we say food. But there are some nations who would consider them food.

      The other issue is when mainline Christianity says the “Word of God” we think of the New Testament and then maybe an abolished Old Testament. But wasn’t what we call “Old Testament” regarded as Scripture/Word of God by Yeshua? (Mar 7:10-13, Joh 10:35). Paul uses the Old Testament Scriptures without “As it is written” or “As also says the Law” too many times to count to make his arguments in all his letters. Even though we would say the Word of God includes Paul’s Letters, I am unsure whether this makes sense as his letters were written to specific congregations with specific questions and not distributed to all the congregations. Now, I am in no way demeaning the New Testament or the writings of Paul – But I am just saying that the 1st century called our Old Testament as “Scripture” and the “Word of God”. Read the following for my point of view on this topic:

      My understanding was exactly the same as yours. Jesus’ death and resurrection brought in a new covenant which superseded the previous covenant with unclean, or “unholy” animals, and they were now sanctified, and clean through the death and resurrection of Messiah, just as we are sanctified by his blood. Isn’t this what we are taught? The trouble is when we read about the New Covenant in Jer 31, we see that it is about writing His Law on our hearts and putting it in our minds. His Torah. Not a new Law.

      You are correct about the abstinence of food and marriage being from the Gnostics. I believe that influence would have dictated Paul’s Words and not the Levitical Dietary Laws.

      On truth and why Paul is not being more clear… He is writing the letter to Timothy, so I believe he would have known what Truth means. The problem is again, that I do not think that Paul directed or ever conceived that people 2000 years after him would read a letter he has written to a specific person and think that paul is writing it to them. At least to Yeshua, truth meant God’s Word (Joh 17:17)

      On all creation, I believe Paul is comparing Animals and Plants since this would have been written against Gnostic vegetarianism. He is basically saying meat is not to be refused over plants, and not a comparison of unclean meats and clean meats… even though this is the usual explanation. Just my view on a valid question.

      Actually at creation God gave plant life as food. Then after the flood, He made meat part of the diet. But the interesting thing is that the “Clean” and “unclean” separation was there in the time of Noah before the flood.

      Now I know that it seems like God tells Noah to eat any animal he pleases. But if Noah knew the difference between the clean and unclean… and even sacrificed only the clean animals to God, could he have known what to eat and what not to eat? I believe God’s commands existed before the Mosaic Law was give on Mount Sinai. And His word does not change. As in He doesn’t retract His Laws. If He says something it lasts forever.

      On the Divorce point, I fully understand what you are saying. As Yeshua says a certificate of divorce was permitted for the sin of adultery… because people were commiting adultery. There was no need of divorce in an ideal world… and God created it and wanted it to have no divorce. But imagine if there was no such law, then people were free to do what they please, and the spouse would have no legal way out of such a relationship. In other words, God had to put a Law that hinders adultery. In the same way, we could say that God made the clean animals for food. but had to specifically say these are the clean animals and these are the unclean. this you may eat, and this you cannot. In an ideal world He wouldn’t have to say you can’t eat the unclean animals… as God had already said it’s unclean. I don’t know whether I am making sense… as I am looking at the same issue the other way around.

      On the dietary law changing 4 times. So how can I make sense of this? I see it this way. God told adam to eat vegetation, and that it was made for man as food. He did not specifically say no to meat, as I believe animals were not created to feed man. But then God included (I beleieve only the clean animals) meat in Noah’s diet, on top of vegetation. And since that inclusion His Law has not changed to this day. Again, I understand the reasoning of mainline Christianity as I was part of that crowd. But I see that God’s word does not and cannot change. No one can add or diminish from His Law, as His Law itself says (Deut 4:2, 12:32). I do not think there can be competing arguments and two different laws on the same subject in the Torah. Either God says we can eat unclean and the clean. Or He says only eat clean.

      All of the arguments made against the dietary laws are not specifically stated as such… meaning nowhere can we see anyone saying “eat unclean animals”. This is the fact. Thank you for the meaningful conversation and thoughtful questions, brother Michael.

      Be a blessing to everyone around you

  2. Charlie Fernando

    Hi Ramesh,

    I agree with your explanation that the Dietary Laws have not changed and will NEVER change just as God does not change.

    In the first place, there is a reason why God has forbidden the consumption of these unclean animals because they are really like that: unclean. Unclean animals are scavengers that clean our physical world of germs and bacteria that could endanger our health. Pigs, for example, eat human feces when we still didn’t have toilets. Dogs, lions, hyenas, and other carnivorous animals eat carcasses to prevent these from decomposing that could endanger our health. In short, His commandments in the Dietary Laws are reasonable, because He is God and knows what is good or bad for us. Who in his right mind would eat something that could be bad for one’s health? Some people would now say that pigs of today no longer eat human feces. Does that mean that if we let cockroaches eat clean foods, we can now eat them as well? Of course not. These unclean animals are naturally unclean and no matter what food they eat, they would still be unclean.

    Which brings us to the conclusion that the verses in the Bible should be understood rationally, not justified according to our desires. We should not stray from the context when we read something that contradicts another, especially in eating unclean animals. God has not made unclean animals clean. Food in the Bible refers to those that can be eaten or allowed to be eaten. Surely, since Noah knew which were clean and which were unclean animals, he would have eaten only the clean ones. Eating with dirty hands is different from eating unclean animals. Most of all, God and His words do not change. What has changed is that He has left judgment for us to His only begotten Son, without Whom we will all surely die.


  3. Josue

    So I didn’t see mention the scripture that says if a. Unbeliever invites you to eat, dont question what is put before you? 1 Corinthians 10:27,28?

      1. Malama Kena

        For EVERY creature of God is good, and NOTHING is to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is SANCTIFIED BY THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER.

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