• johned@aibi.ph

Matters of Food and Drink

a chapter from the ebook "Temples and Tithes"

There were HUGE debates in the NT church over food and drink and chapter after chapter alludes to them or is directly concerned with them. (Acts 10,11,15, Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8,10, Colossians 2 etc). The Jews still really believed in the kosher diet. The Gentiles ate pork. Some Gentiles were such zealous converts from idolatry that they would not touch food in the meat market that had been offered to idols. Others, a bit stronger in the faith said "idols have been defeated, don't worry about it". Others came back and said "that is participation with demons". Others said "you can eat food sacrificed to idols - but not actually in the idol's temple". These debates still continue in many places today with common and not so common questions being:

  • Does drinking alcohol defile me spiritually?

  • Should I follow the Jewish dietary regulations and eat kosher food?

  • Are vegetarians more spiritual?

  • The Bible forbids eating food "with the blood" but I enjoy black pudding - can I still eat it?

  • I am a Chinese Christian but my parents are Buddhist and offer food to a Buddhist shrine in the kitchen - should I eat it?

  • Can I eat the vegetarian food in a Hare Krishna temple?

  • I go to a University that is trying to attract Muslim students from overseas. The University has instructed the Refectory to ensure that all meat is "hallal" - that is killed in accordance with Muslim law - facing the shrine in Mecca. Should I eat such meat?

  • Are certain diets better for spiritual warriors?

  • What is the value of fasting?

  • Is there any point in "saying grace" ? (Yes there is).

  • I am a missionary and I am very uncertain about the spiritual rites that food placed before me has been through, what should I do?

Matters of food and drink are "where the rubber hits the road" for millions of Christians around the world. Those from cultures where there are a mixture of traditions face the problem daily and it is increasingly relevant in the Western world with the pressure toward vegetarianism as being "more spiritual". A lot of the case studies can be solved through about twenty or so passages in Scripture that give us clear guidelines (there are at least 271 verses referring to food and drink and allied concepts in the NT.)..

Foundational Scriptures

John the Baptist - the Old Covenant Nazirite

The Old Covenant has the ascetic Nazirite vow that John the Baptist was under. This represents the very best that the "old nature" can do. Jesus calls John the Baptist "the greatest of those born of women" and the last of the OT saints (see Matthew 11:11-13) but in the same passage says he is less than the least of those in the Kingdom of God (because they are "born of God"). John's asceticism resulted in a strict prophetic diet and included no creature comforts.

(Matthew 3:4 NASB) Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.

(Luke 1:15-16 NASB) "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb. {16} "And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.

Jesus and New Covenant Freedom

Jesus was an at times shocking contrast to this. He didn't dwell in the wilderness, seemed to enjoy a party and ate the normal Jewish food of His day - apparently with some relish!

(Luke 7:33-35 NASB) "For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, 'He has a demon!' {34} "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!' {35} "Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children."

He also pronounced the end of the ritual categories of clean and unclean saying that defilement was inward - not from outside the person in terms of what they ate or drank but came from the thoughts and intentions of their heart.

(Mark 7:18-23 NASB) And He said^ to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; {19} because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) {20} And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. {21} "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, {22} deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. {23} "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

Hid death on the cross broke the power of the accusations against us and "disarmed" the "rulers and authorities" taking away their ability to enforce their taboos. Taboos that the ancient world was in dread of. Because of what Jesus did on the cross they no longer have the weaponry with which to punish the Christian who breaks their food regulations. They are toothless tigers Therefore no-one can act as our judge compelling us to observe regulations regarding food and drink and new moons and Sabbaths.

(Colossians 2:15-23 NASB) {15} When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. {16} Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- {17} things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. …{20} If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, {21} "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" {22} (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)-- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? {23} These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

The Missionary's Diet

The missionary is thus free from having to worry about the taboos in the culture that he or she enters. The injunction "eat what is set before you" is not an invitation to spiritual disaster . We are free in Christ. However one condition does apply - eating meat that your hosts says has been sacrificed to idols. Not that it will spiritually defile the missionary but because it may cause the host to see idols as acceptable and stumble them in their transition to accepting Christ. More on that later…

(Luke 10:7-9 NASB) "And stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. {8} "And whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you; {9} and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.

1 Corinthians 10:25-31 (NASB) {25} Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience' sake; {26} FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS. {27} If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience' sake. {28} But if anyone should say to you, "This is meat sacrificed to idols," do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience' sake; {29} I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience? {30} If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? {31} Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Giving Thanks

Giving thanks is a very important spiritual act. It sanctifies the food (1 Tim 4:5) and demonstrates gratitude to God. ( 1 Tim 4:4) A glance in a concordance under "thanks" finds Jesus "saying grace" nine times in the NT. Those who receive good things from God should praise Him for them. Paul sees everything created by God as good and nothing is to be rejected if received with gratitude. Creation is to be celebrated with gratitude (1 Tim 4:4). Those who "advocate abstaining from foods" are seen as teaching the 'doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

(Mark 6:41-42 NASB) And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. {42} And they all ate and were satisfied.

(1 Timothy 4:1-5 NASB) But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, {2} by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, {3} men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. {4} For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; {5} for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

Coping With Freedom

Freedom creates confusion for many people and here is a what the problem may have sounded like in NT times. "OK, the earth is the Lord and all it contains. I can eat anything in Creation providing I do so with gratitude. Food is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. Jesus drank wine and ate heartily. He pronounced all foods clean. His death on the cross removed the power the spiritual realm had to enforce their dietary regulations. There are no more taboo foods. Theologically speaking I have complete freedom and I understand this - but some of my fellow Christians are absolutely horrified at this. What should I do?" Lets take a look at how confused people got and some of the solutions proposed to build unity.

The first totally confused person was Peter the apostle! After a lifetime of observing ritual purity he just could not break the habit even at God's command.

(Acts 10:13-16 NASB) And a voice came to him, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat!" {14} But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." {15} And again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." {16} And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.

A bit later we find the whole early church in confusion on the issue. A conference was called in Jerusalem and like a lot of negotiations in that city a compromise was reached (and it seems it was also soon ignored!)

(Acts 21:25 NASB) "But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication."

The meat sacrificed to idols issue was going to explode and still be around 50 or so years later when Revelation was written. "Blood" goes back to Noah and Creation and to the Levitical teaching that "the life was in the blood" which was literally "the soul is in the blood".

(Genesis 9:4 NASB) "Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

(Leviticus 17:14 NASB) "For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, 'You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.

As a direct command of God for all humanity since Noah it was seen as binding on the Gentiles and the principle of the soul being in the blood seemed to be bigger than mere taboos about clean and unclean. For a similar reason "things strangled" were not to be eaten as the life breath was trapped within them and this was abhorrent to the Jews and would have divisive consequences. Fornication is added as a basic moral requirement that may have had special reference to certain pagan religious practices. I personally find the arguments about not eating blood quite convincing and would rather not eat blood pudding. However I leave the conclusions up to you.

The divisions about how to interpret these conclusions went on for quite some time. One of the central issues became the issue of faith lived out in community. Not so much "what do others think" but "Am I building others up or am I causing them to stumble and fall?". Paul takes the whole of Romans 14 to address this issue and here are some excerpts.

(Romans 14:1-4 NASB) Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. {2} One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. {3} Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. {4} Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Paul sees the believer as being judged by God alone - not by other believers. He or she will account to God for "disputable matters" and God is able to make that person stand. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are "servants of another" and we are not to judge them harshly on disputable matters like food. We are not to think of "are they right or wrong?" but rather "how can I help them to grow?"

(Romans 14:13-23 NASB) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this-- not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. {14} I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. {15} For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.

The primary question for us is "Am I a blessing to my brother? Am I walking in love? Paul goes on to rearrange our priorities about food, personal 'rights and freedoms' and he Kingdom.

{16} Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; {17} for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. {18} For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. {19} So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. {20} Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. {21} It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. {22} The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. {23} But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Ultimately if we "eat meat or drink wine" we must be able to do so with a clear conscience knowing that we will not cause someone to stumble. Neither should we act from personal doubt . If it is doubtful for you - then don't .Its simply not worth injuring your conscience.

Meat Sacrificed To Idols

The above principles of acting from faith and for the edification of other believers are later applied to the ongoing problem of food sacrificed to idols. Paul's fundamental perspective statement is that idols don't matter and don't contaminate the food in any way. Its not a problem of you being defiled but your neighbor being stumbled.

1 Corinthians 8:4-7 NASB) Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. {5} For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, {6} yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. {7} However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

He then goes on to address the problem in stages, from the most serious violations of conscience to the least. First of all the problem of actually going into the idols temple and having a meal like many people do at Hare Krishna temples today.

(1 Corinthians 8:7-13 NASB) However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. {8} But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. {9} But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. {10} For if someone sees you, who have knowledge,dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? {11} For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. {12} And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. {13} Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.

Later Paul goes on to lambaste them for being so ignorant of the spiritual alliance they are demonstrating by eating in an idols temple. He contrasts eating food in a temple to eating the Lord's Supper at church. Going into an idols temple and eating their equivalent of the Love Feast is to participate with demons.

(1 Corinthians 10:16-33 NASB) Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? {17} Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. {18} Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? {19} What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? {20} No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. {21} You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. {22} Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? {23} All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. {24} Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.

Immediately after these verses Paul treats the more everyday questions of food in the meat market and having dinner in the home of an unbeliever and he almost seems to contradict himself - or rather he applies the same principles in a new context.

{25} Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience' sake; {26} FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS. {27} If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience' sake.

Its quite clear that Paul does not consider the food to be actually spiritually contaminated by being sacrificed to idols. For Paul the idol was "nothing" . The food was not affected in any way and in contexts where no-one was being offended or harmed and where you were not in a temple participating with demons - go ahead and eat whatever is set before you. However if there is a chance of someone being offended - then don't. Not for your sake, but for theirs.

{28} But if anyone should say to you, "This is meat sacrificed to idols," do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience' sake; {29} I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience? {30} If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?

Finally, Paul sums up the meat sacrificed to idols issue as one of being interested primarily in the glory of God and the welfare of others.

{31} Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. {32} Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; {33} just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.

Let's Apply All This...

To some of the situations listed at the start of this chapter. The University student eating at the refectory whether the food is "hallal" are not dining in an idols temple and there is little chance they causing anyone to stumble. She should give thanks and eat. It is a "meat-market" situation.

The Chinese student with Buddhist parents should weigh up whether it will spiritually affect his family. If the family are devout in their Buddhism and look upon his eating the food that is sacrificed to idols as his participating with them in adoration of household gods then he should not eat the food . Rather he should tactfully ask for it to be put aside. If it is just a family habit with no real religious overtones then he perhaps may eat of it. If in doubt don't is the motto here.

Lastly having lunch in a Hare Krishna temple is quite clearly wrong and is a participation with demons. There is no room for doubt here. Christians must not eat in idol's temples.

Drinking Wine

Christians are not to be drunk and church leaders must not be "addicted to much wine" as in alcoholism. (Ephesians 5:18-19 , 1 Timothy 3:3, 1 Peter 4:3) NASB) However it is clear that Jesus drank and was even accused of being a drunkard (Luke 7:33-35) He supplied the wine at the wedding at Cana which was adjudged to be "good wine" by the head-waiter and thus must have contained alcohol.

(John 2:9-10 NASB) And when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, {10} and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now."

Finally Timothy is TOLD to drink wine in moderation. If alcohol was spiritually defiling by nature Paul would not have given Timothy this instruction.

(1 Timothy 5:23 NASB) No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

Thus there are no taboo or defiling foods or drinks. What matters is the use we put them to, how they affect our life and the consequences for others who may observe our conduct.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.