Why Christians Are Allowed to Eat Pork
A friend who believes in long ages of time rather than recent creation once challenged my belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis. I started explaining evidences that argue in favor of a recent creation such as the fact that the moon is moving away from the earth at a rate of 1.5 inches per year, the earth’s magnetic field is decaying, and there is not one plausible theory for how stars form through natural processes. He just said there could be alternate explanations for those things other than a young earth.
Do you eat bacon?
He then changed his tactics by asking me, “Do you eat bacon?” When I replied that I did, he accused me of being inconsistent in my literal interpretation of the Bible because the Old Testament law forbade the eating of pork. I started to explain that the prohibition only applied to the Children of Israel and did not apply to non-Jewish Christians. Unfortunately, I did not have a Bible with me to prove my points and we were out of time.
So, my skeptical friend, this post is for you.
The first thing you need to understand is that God’s requirements sometimes change. In the beginning, when God first created the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, God created mankind and all animals to be vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-31). Death did not begin until after Adam’s sin.
Adam’s fall brought the curse and death. By the time of Noah, all flesh had become corrupt and the earth was filled with violence (Genesis 6:11-13), which is why God judged the earth with a global flood.
While it is possible that fallen sinners began eating animals before the flood, it was only after the flood that God gave mankind permission to eat meat. At that time God gave Noah and his family permission to eat “any moving thing that lives” (Genesis 9:1-4). The eating of pork was therefore permitted. The only restriction was to not eat blood, because life is in the blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11).
Death did not begin until after Adam’s sin.
There is no record in the Bible of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or anyone else being commanded not to eat pork until the giving of the ceremonial law by Moses to the children of Israel in the wilderness, after leaving Egypt. The ceremonial law makes a distinction between clean animals which could be eaten and unclean animals which could not. These instructions were given in Leviticus 11 and were repeated in Deuteronomy 14:3-20.
Lev. 11:7 and Deut. 14:8 specifically prohibit eating swine / pigs, but many other animals were on the forbidden list as well. Among land animals, only those that had cloven / divided hooves AND chew cud were considered clean. It is interesting to note that among water creatures only those with fins and scales (i.e.: fish) were permitted. Lobster, crab, clams, oysters, shrimp, and squid were considered just as abominable as pork, and were off the menu.
It is important to understand that these dietary restrictions and other ceremonial laws helped define the identity of the children of Israel and separate them from other tribes and nations as God’s chosen people. Like keeping the Sabbath holy, these ceremonial laws are a sign of the perpetual covenant between God and Israel that they are His people (Ex. 31:12-17; Deut. 7:6).
Are non-Jewish Christians required to keep the Ceremonial Law?
Now my friend, to address your point we must answer the question of ‘are non-Jewish Christians required to obey the ceremonial laws Moses gave the children of Israel?’
The quick answer is NO.
Jesus Declared All Foods Clean
Matthew 15 and Mark 7 both record scribes and Pharisees questioning Jesus as to why some of His disciples broke the tradition of the elders by eating without washing their hands first (Mt 15:2; Mk 7:2, 5). In response, Jesus criticized them for teaching the commandments of men as doctrines, holding to the traditions of men while laying aside God’s commands (Mt 15:3-9; Mk 7:6-13).
Jesus then called the people to Him and proclaimed, “There is nothing from without a man (i.e.: food), that entering into him (by eating) can defile him: but the things which come out of him (e.g.: words and deeds), those are they that defile the man” (Mt 15:11; Mk 7:15).
Both gospels record Jesus elaborating on this after being asked by His disciples. Food does not enter into one’s heart so it cannot defile you. It is the evil that proceeds from your heart that defiles you. (Mt 15:12-20; Mk 7:17-23)
Of particular interest is a short participial phrase (4 Greek words) at the end of Mark 7:19. The KJV translates this phrase, “purging all meats.” The word translated “purging” is καθαριζω, which means “to purify, cleanse, make clean;” and “meat” refers to all solid foods. This participial phrase translates literally as “cleansing (or purifying) all food.
The NKJV adds “thus” to help with understanding; “thus purifying all foods.” Other modern translations add a parenthetical statement along the lines of “Thus He declared all foods clean” (ESV and NASB), “thus declaring all foods clean” (LEB), or “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean” (NIV).
For most Bible believing Christians, these words of Christ should be sufficient to nullify the need to obey the dietary restrictions of the law.
This question was also addressed at the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15
Initially, all those who turned to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and trusted in Him for salvation, were Jews in Jerusalem. When Stephen was martyred and Saul of Tarsus began persecuting those who believed in Jesus as the Christ, the believers scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, preaching the gospel (Acts 8:1-4).
Philip went to Samaria preaching Christ, and many Samaritans believed. Acts 10 records the first conversion of a gentile as Peter preached the gospel to a Roman Centurion at the prompting of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:1-11:18).
While Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch, men came from Judea saying that circumcision in obedience with the laws of Moses was required in order to be saved. When Paul and Barnabas disputed with them, it was decided that they should bring this question to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-2).
In Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas reported all God had done through them, including the conversion of Gentiles. Some believing Pharisees responded that it was necessary to circumcise Gentiles who believe, and command them to keep the law of Moses. The apostles and elders then met to consider this issue. (Acts 15:3-18)
Are non-Jewish Christians required to obey the ceremonial laws Moses gave the children of Israel?
At the conclusion of the discussion, James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church, pronounced his judgment. They should not trouble Gentiles who turn to God through Christ, but should tell them to obey just four restrictions.
The four limitations listed in Acts 15:19-21 are to keep oneself from:
- The pollutions of idols
- Sexual immorality
- Eating animals that were strangled
- Eating blood
Only the last two prohibitions are related to diet, and they both relate to the command God gave Noah and his decedents not to eat blood, so they apply to all people and predate the laws of Moses. The reason eating strangled animals is forbidden is because they are killed without bleeding, so their meat still contains their blood.
The Bible teaches that at the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses, every matter shall be established (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1). It is interesting to note that this fourfold prohibition for Gentile Christians is repeated twice (in Acts 15:24-29 and Acts 21:25) for a total of three times.
Based on this threefold witness, the ceremonial laws of Moses, including those which forbid eating pork, do not apply to non-Jewish Christians. Our only dietary restriction is the one given to Noah when he was given permission to eat meat. We are not to eat blood or meat that contains blood.
So, my friend, when you examine the whole Word of God, it is consistent, and quite permissible, for a Bible believing Christian to eat bacon (and other pork products) as long as the hogs have been properly bled.