Christians and Religious Food Laws (Bray)

 Genesis 9:1-17 is a major story and text in the history of redemption. In fact, it’s still very applicable to us today in our context.  While the detailed laws and regulations in the Mosaic covenant applied specifically to that nation then and there, the regulations in Genesis 9 are applicable even today since God’s words in Genesis 9 were post-flood echoes of creational ordinances.

Speaking of this, in Genesis 9:3-4 God gives these regulations: “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (NASB).  I appreciate how Gerald Bray discusses this in chapter 15 of “God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology.” After dealing with these verses in Genesis 9, he talks about the food laws in the Mosaic covenant. Then Bray writes,

The food laws of the Old Testament do not apply to Christians because the purpose for which they were given has come to an end. Ancient Israel was told to distinguish itself from the surrounding nations in many different ways, of which abstinence from certain kinds of food was only one. Some people have tried to find hygienic reasons for the prohibition of things like pork, but there is no evidence to suggest that this was God’s intention or that it corresponds to any scientific fact. There is no natural logic that determines what the Israelites could or could not eat; the rationale for the food laws was given by God, who wanted his people to understand that his holiness meant that they must be set apart from the rest of the world in every aspect of their lives.

The coming of Christ broke down those ancient barriers because he defined the principle of holiness in a new way. Material objects would no longer be used to determine or signify the sincerity of the people’s dedication to God, and so the food laws passed into history, although the apostles made provision for a transitional phase to ease the consciences of Jewish converts who had been brought up under the old system. For that reason, the church has always said that there is nothing wrong with observing the food laws, and it has been particularly tolerant of Jewish believers in this respect, but it has also insisted that such observance cannot be made a condition for church membership.

What is true of the Old Testament food laws is also true of any other form of diet. There may be good medical reasons for eating some things and not others, and Christians would be foolish to disregard the advice of those specially trained in the field, but that is a completely different matter. It is one of the curiosities of modern life that the word “sin” is often used in advertising particularly rich foods, as in “a sinful amount of chocolate cake,” but there is nothing sinful about the cake, or even about eating it. Overeating is clearly a bad idea, but to use the language of sin to describe it is wrong.

Christians are called by God to take care of themselves physically, because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Things likely to be harmful to the body should not be consumed, whatever they are. What our bodies can take will vary from one person to another, though excessive consumption of anything should be avoided. Physical fitness should be pursued as far as is reasonably possible as a means of subduing the body and of making us fit for the service of God, but it is not an end in itself and must never take the place of the service we owe to him. The worship of the body is just as idolatrous as the worship of any other created thing, and Christians must learn to keep it in its place along with everything else that God has given for us to enjoy.

 Gerald Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 286–287.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002