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Chapter 16

THE RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE OF FOOD IN THE BIBLE

Ritual distinctions between "clean" and "unclean" foods were established in custom and tradition among the Hebrews even before they were codified in the laws of Moses and Aaron (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 12: 15; 14: 3-21). This was probably due to aesthetic distaste for the habits and odour of certain types of animals, as well as identification of swine with heathen idol worship. There could also have been observed ill effects on health traced to consumption of certain meats. For instance, eating swine flesh was a suspected cause of skin disease.

Formalizing these food distinction s or taboos in the Levitical code helped to brick in the partition or wall between God's chosen people and the Gentiles. The early Christian Church retained the Jewish dietary laws, but at the Apostolic conference of AD 48 in Jerusalem it was decided that Gentile converts would be exempted, except:

...that ye abstain from things offered to idols, and
from blood, and from things strangled, and from
fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves it
shall be well with you."
(Acts 15: 29)

St. Paul, however, believed that Jesus had removed all absolute dietary restrictions in terms of law--although discretion was not to be abandoned:

"All things are lawful; but not all things are
expedient. All things are lawful; but not all
things edify."
(1 Corinthians 10: 23)

This view, the one ultimately adopted by the Church as a whole, is consistent with Jesus's teaching in St. Mark 7: 15:

"...there is nothing from without the man that
going into him can defile him, but the things that
proceed out of a man are those that defile the man."

St Peter's vision on a rooftop in Joppa underscored the removal of Levitical dietary laws through Jesus's completed work:

"...and he became hungry and desired to eat: but
while they made ready, he fell into a trance; and
he beholdeth the heaven opened and a certain
vessel descending, as it were a great sheet, let
down by four corners upon the earth: wherin were
all manner of fourfooted beasts and creeping things
of the earth and birds of the heaven. and there came
a voice to him, Rise, Peter, kill and eat, But Peter said,
Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that
is common and unclean. And a voice came unto him
again the second time, What God hath cleansed, make
not them common."
(Acts 11: 5-9)

Note the similarity here with the communication Ezekiel had with God over the dung fire in Ezekiel 4: 12-15)

St Paul summed the matter up for Christians in 1 Corinthians 8: 8:

"But food will not commend us to God: neither if we
eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the
better. But take heed lest this liberty of yours become
a stumbling block for the weak. For if a man see thee
who hast knowledge sitting at meat in an idol's
temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be
emboldened to eat things offered to idols? For through
thy knowledge he that is weak perisheth, the brother
for whom Christ died."



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