Tag Archives: Food Law

Food Laws or Fasting? Misunderstandings regarding Romans 14

When I was confronted with the idea that “Christians must keep God’s Food Laws” for the first time, my immediate knee-jerk reaction was to quote Paul. Why… didn’t Paul say that we could eat anything as long as we don’t make anyone else stumble?

A few years later, I read the same verses from the Apostle Paul’s letters, and think to myself – how did I misunderstand his words? and why did I misuse them so carelessly? It was for this very reason Peter was quick to warn the congregations about Paul’s writings.

“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”2Pet 3:15,16

I was an unlearned person, as Peter says, perverting Paul’s words to suit my needs, doctrines and agendas. The “Misunderstood Apostle”, as I call him – Paul kept and obeyed the Law (Acts 21:24). To argue or teach that Paul taught against God’s Law in his epistles, is to corrupt his teachings and even the memory of all he did for the faith.

Putting Romans 14 under the microscope
Even though mainline Christianity uses Romans 14 as a means to argue that Paul taught against the food laws and showed a more tolerant way, closer study will reveal that Romans 14 has nothing to do with the clean/unclean food laws established by God.  So let us start from the beginning of the Chapter where he starts to advise on a particular topic, and walk down to see what his words really speak of.

Rom 14:1  Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
It is clear that there has been some sort of dispute happening in the congregation of Rome, to which Paul is trying to provide his advise. Paul’s writing in Romans Chapter 14 revolve completely around a “dispute which is doubtful” – this is the context! We must remember that there is no doubt or dispute when it comes to God’s Word. We know that not even one jot or tittle will in anyway pass from the Law till heaven and earth last. God’s eternal Word cannot be called a “doubtful disputation”. If God’s Food Laws was the main subject matter, this would make God’s Law and Word (which was kept by Paul) a “doubtful disputation”. In Paul’s own words “God Forbid”!

Rom 14:2-6 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Now to deconstruct this debatable “dispute”. Paul Speaks of 2 categories of people. One eats all things, while the other only eats vegetables. One regards a certain day, while the other does not. One eats, while the other doesn’t. The dispute is hence, regarding eating or not on woman-with-empty-platespecific days. “Fasting” in other words! As we know, eating vegetables or a basic diet that did not include any meat, wine or anything pleasant was constituted by Daniel when he fasted (Dan 10:2,3 & Dan 1:12,16). It is a known fact that fasting was practiced heavily in the 1st century (Mat 6:16; 9:14,15, Mar 2:18-20, Luk 5:33-35). And historical documents reveal that Monday and Thursday were considered fast days in the second temple period (Ta’an. 2:4) The pharisee who prayed in Luke 18:12 about fasting twice a week, would have been keeping these fast days.

It is important to note that these fast days were traditions, and did not have root in Scripture. The “dispute” of Romans 14 is surely whether or not to fast on these days. Some believers were fasting on these days, and some were not. Paul’s advise was, not to judge one another and be thankful whether you eat or fast – or keep the traditional fast days or not – as these were doubtful disputes as they did not have Scriptural backing. It was not wrong to fast. It was not wrong to eat either. It was not wrong to fast on specific days. It was not wrong to fast on other days either. Be fully persuaded in your own mind, of what you do – was Paul’s advise to the congregation.

Rom 14:7-13 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
Paul reiterates that no one should judge or become a stumbling block to his brother on this issue.

Rom 14:14  I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 
This verse is sometimes used to point out that this issue is none other than “clean”/”unclean” foods, as Paul seems to be saying that he is persuaded that there is nothing unclean.

It is worth mentioning the word “unclean” in Rom14:14 in our English versions of the Bible comes from the Greek word “koinos” (G2839 – κοινός – koinos) meaning “common”. The word “unclean” is actually a different Greek word “Akathartos” (G169 – ἀκάθαρτος – akathartos). Both these words can be read in Act 10:14  “But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common(koinos) or unclean(akathartos)”. In fact this is the only place where “koinos” is translated as “unclean” in the whole of the New Testament.

While unclean(akathartos) was used to denote something unclean like “unclean foods”, common(koinos) was used to indicate something “ritually impure”, such as in the case of eating with unwashed hands. “Ritual impurity” was not part of God’s Law, but was connected to Tradition. (Read this study for a in depth look at the difference of God’s Law & Tradition). Basically, unclean(akathartos) was part of God’s Law, while common(koinos) was part of tradition.

So with the above information, let’s try to understand the point Paul is trying to make. In the context of the issue of fasting, he must be reiterating the fact that there is no “common”/”ritually impure”/”wrong way” of fasting. That he believes there is no wrong way of practicing fasting – but if a person concludes he/she should not fast in a particular way, for him/her, the act of fasting in that particular way becomes “common”/wrong way”. In other words, if we fast, we must do it in the way we are led to do it, rather than adhering something that you do not fully agree with.

Rom 14:15  But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
One of the reasons that people believe the earlier verse speaks of “unclean food” is the fact that this verse contains the word “meat”. Yet again, we must dig into the original words of the Greek Manuscripts, to find the truth for ourselves.

The word translated as “meat” in many of our English translations of the Bible, originates from the Greek word “Bromah”(G1033 – βρῶμα – brōma) which means “food”. The Greek word “Kreas”(G2907 – κρέας – kreas) is the word which means “meat” and is used in verse 21, further down in the chapter. “Bromah” is extensively used in the Septuagint for general food, while “kreas” is the word used for meat. It is a grave error in translations that lead to this erroneous teaching of “don’t eat unclean meats if you become a stumbling block to your fellow brother” – leading all to believe that Paul is giving leeway for believers to eat unclean meats as long as others don’t take issue with it.

Paul’s whole discussion which revolves around fasting is yet again what he is addressing in this verse. Basically what he is saying is “you are not walking in love, if your brother takes issue in the fact you eat, while they fast. Don’t allow food to be a factor which can destroy their faith.

Rom 14:16-19 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
Paul continues his advise, asking them to not allow anyone to defame them because of this issue – whether you fast or not, whether you fast on a particular day, or not. He explains that the kingdom of God stands on “righteousness”, “peace” and “joy” in the Holy Spirit, and not on disputed issues of “food and drink”. He asks to serve Christ in whatever personal decisions they take on the issue at hand, as this is the only criterion to be acceptable to God. He advises that we must all strive to edify each other, and take a path of peace rather than engage in disputes/arguments on the matter of fasting.

Rom 14:20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
Paul goes onto finish his advise on the matter of fasting by explaining that “food”(Bromah) should not cause the destruction of the work of God – meaning it should not hinder the work of salvation. All manners of Fasting, whether on a specific day or not, is pure. But it is evil if someone eats and becomes a stumbling block to others through doubtful disputes.

Rom 14:21  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak
The fact that he is speaking of fasting, is cemented by this verse as he speaks of refraining from meats(kreas), wine and any other thing that makes others stumble, brings them displeasure or make them weak in the faith. The parallels between Paul’s words here and Dan 10:2,3 where Daniel refrains from meat, wine and delightful bread should be noted.

Rom 14:22,23 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Paul’s final words on the matter, is to instruct them to not cause disputes because of personal faith. Whatever a person believes, must be kept to himself in front of God, in such a situation according to Paul. He exhorts not to fall into condemnation by what each person sees fit to do. And to not doubt yourself if you decide on eating rather than fasting, as your decision must be made in faith without doubts.

Conclusion
Romans chapter 14 is commonly used as an argument to say that Paul endorsed the eating of unclean foods – as long as we don’t make anyone else stumble. Reading the chapter from the beginning provides much needed context and clarity to this misunderstanding. It is clear that Paul is addressing a dispute in Rome. While God’s Word and Law cannot be called a “doubtful disputation”, we know that Paul himself walked orderly and according to God’s Law(Act 21:24).

Rom 14:6 is clear – “He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that does not regard the day, he regards it not to the Lord. He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, does not eat to the Lord, and gives God thanks”. Some are eating, some are not eating. And some are regarding a particular day above the other. It appears to be a dispute about fasting. some eat. some fast. some fast on a particular day. some eat vegetables only(a kind of fasting like done by Daniel). So what is Paul’s advice? avoid doubtful disputes as there are no laws on fasting. Let people eat or fast so that they do not make other brothers stumble. Be sure of your decision, but do not create disputes on the matter. Making the issue addressed by Paul here, into one about God’s Food Laws does not align with the entirety of Scripture, nor does it support the context of the chapter. We must be careful in jumping to conclusions when reading Paul’s words, and try our best to deconstruct them without giving way to our preconceived notions.

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Did Christ declare all foods clean? Misunderstandings regarding Mark 7:19

Living in an island nation, I was brought up as any other child in our country, to love our sea food. Prawn, Crab, Cuttlefish were the norm in our diet. A meal without seafood at least once a week was unthinkable. With the Dutch, Portuguese & English influences in our country, we had come to love Pork as well. I myself was a fan of Bacon and had prawn & cuttlefish regularly. I couldn’t think of a life without Seafood in my diet. Growing up, we were taught that God is now more loving than in the Old Testament. He was portrayed as the “God of Love and Grace” instead of the Old Testament version which was the “God who was a consuming fire”.

Furthermore, it was taught that Yeshua(Jesus’ true name) came with a New Covenant, a new teaching, new Laws and we were no longer under the Old Covenant Laws. This worked out fine with our lives, society and our diet, because most of what we ate was what God had told His People not to, in the Old Testament (ie; Pork & Fish without scales and fins which included prawn, crab, cuttlefish, shellfish, lobster, etc).

When I first started looking at the Scriptures as a whole, where no verse can go against or annul another, something dawned on me. Does this mean, we have to still eat and not eat according to what God said in Leviticus 11? But what about Paul’s writings? He seems to be saying that we can eat anything. And doesn’t the Gospels even show Messiah Yeshua declaring all foods clean?

Before I addressed Paul, I needed to see whether our Savior (who we are meant to follow) really did change the Food Laws given by God. The only place I could find Him saying something close to “We can eat anything we want” was in Mark 7.

Mark 7:19 was of particular interest. So I read through a couple of English Translations of the Bible, and most of the versions said that “Jesus declared all foods clean”. Interestingly enough, the KJV did not contain this part, while all of the other versions had this in brackets.

New International Version “For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
English Standard Version “since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
New American Standard Bible “because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
King James Version “Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?”

Why didn’t the KJV, one of the earliest translations into English done in 1611, not contain this portion? And why did the rest of the versions carry it within brackets? As I dug into the issue, I found out an interesting piece of information.

The Original Greek Manuscripts do not even carry “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)” which is in Mark 7:19. You can check this for yourself here, in The Codex Sinaiticus.

This had been a later addition by some of the translators to give this verse more clarity. And this was the reason why the KJV Bible did not have this part included. Since this was cleared out, I now had to make sure whether the decision by the Translators to add “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)” was valid. Whether Yeshua was clearly stating that the Food Laws were no more. Looking at the context of the 7th Chapter of Mark leading upto verse 19 was essential to make this decision. Let us study Mark 7, from verse 1, and work our way down to the verses in question.

Mark 7:1-21Is it about eating any food or eating food without the tradition of washing the hands?
Reading Mark 7:1-4, I recognized that the story began with the Pharisees accusing some of Yeshua’s disciples of not washing their hands before eating bread. And Mark went on to note how the Pharisees and the Jews would not eat without washing their hands according to the “Tradition of the Elders”. And how they don’t eat without washing after coming from the marketplace and how they have a lot of these traditions like washing of cups, pots, brazen vessels and tables.

Now, some would associate the Pharisees with the Old Testament and conclude that these washings were from the Old Testament Law of God. But, praise God, I had been privileged to learn about the Pharisees and how they had their own Law & Teaching additionally to God’s Law.  (Learn who the Pharisees were, here).  This made all the difference as I understood what Mark meant by Tradition of the Elders” in verse 3.

In verse 5, the Pharisees ask Yeshua, why His disciple don’t walk according to the Tradition of the Elders”, eating with unwashed hands.

This is what Yeshua addresses in the verses that proceed. Not holding to the Tradition of the Elders & Eating with unwashed hands.

In verse 6&7, He starts by quoting Isaiah 29:13, showing their hypocrisy saying, that they honor God with their mouth but their hearts are far from Him and that in vain they worship Him, teaching “Commandments of Men” as “Doctrine”.

Verse 8-13, He further establishes and clarifies their mistake showing that they are laying aside God’s Commandments and are holding onto the Traditions of Men, which include washing of Cups and pots and such other things. He says that they reject God’s Commandments, so that they can keep their own Traditions. And that they make God’s Word of no effect by Their Traditions. (For more information on this verse, read “Who were the Pharisees”). Observe how Yeshua is pointing out the difference between God’s Commandments and Traditions of Men.

What is the context so far? is it Food? Or is it man made traditions? Isn’t the whole conversation revolving around eating food with unwashed hands which was the tradition in focus? Let us read on.

In Verse 14&15, He said, Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can make him unclean. It is what comes out of a person that makes a person unclean. What is Yeshua saying, if and when we take it in context? Is He saying that we can now eat whatever we want?

What Yeshua said was not a statement, but a Parable. In Verse 17, the disciples ask what He meant by the Parable.

Now we come to the verses in question
Yeshua answers the disciples in verse 18-23 saying, whatever enters into man cannot make him unclean, but only through sin that proceed from the inside of man. It is clear that He says that man is defiled by the Sin which is inside.

But is He in the same go, saying that God’s Food Laws are of no use because whatever we eat is purged out of the stomach? Is the same Yeshua that called the Pharisees, hypocrites for making God’s Law void, saying that God’s Food Laws are now void? Before we make a decision on this, I would like to focus your attention onto Matthew 15. In this chapter, Matthew is recording the same story which is in Mark 7. (I will not go into discussing the whole chapter from the beginning, though reading it for yourself will show that it is identical).

Let us read from Matthew 15:15
Just like in Mark, the disciples, in fact Peter(as Matthew records), asks Yeshua to explain the parable to them. Yeshua goes onto say the same thing “whatever enters into man cannot make him unclean, but only through sin that proceed from the inside of man”.

Matthew 15:20 is the Key
Yeshua, then explains what He was talking about the whole time. He says, “These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
Doesn’t this single verse explain everything? Whoever uses Mark 7:18,19 to say that Yeshua gave us freedom to eat whatever we like, will have a hard time explaining Mat 15:20. What Yeshua’s whole argument was that “a person does not become unclean by eating with unwashed hands, but by the sin that comes out of the same person.

The fact is, that this whole conversation revolved around “eating with unwashed hands”. Mark 7 and Matthew 15 talks about the same instance and Matthew records Yeshua’s words to be regarding the issue of “Eating with unwashed hands”. There is no mention of God’s food Laws in these chapters and no translator has the authority to add phrases such as “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)” with or without a proper understanding of context.

I will not be addressing the verses written in Paul’s epistles on this post, which I am planning on doing on a later date. Even though the point of this study is not to prove that God’s Food Law still stands, I hope, you have adequately seen that Mark 7:18,19 cannot be used to prove that Yeshua did away with God’s Food Laws written in Lev 11.