If you read last week’s post, in which I proclaim that there is no forbidden food, you already know what my answer to the title question is going to be.
I don’t believe that the believer in Christ has any obligation to obey the Old Testament dietary laws.
Saying that is the easy part. Judging by practice, this is the view of the majority of Christians worldwide.
But theology is not democracy, and majority vote means little by way of determining orthopraxy.
If we’re going to answer the question of whether New Testament believers are bound to obey the Old Testament dietary laws, we must look at Scripture itself.
The logical first step in this study is to look at the Old Testament dietary laws themselves. As we read through these laws, found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, it is important to note who God is giving these laws to and why He is giving them these laws.
Observe the following verses, extracted from those two chapters:
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth.”
“For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
“And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.”
“You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.”
Our first question, when reading this text, should be to ask who God is giving these dietary laws to.
The answer should be plain. Leviticus 11 states that these laws were spoken “to the people of Israel”.
In Deuteronomy 14, we read a repeated refrain “it is unclean for you” (emphasis mine). The God who does not waste breath inspired those last two words as well as the previous ones. God does not declare these various animals unclean, period–He declares them unclean to the Israelites.
Furthermore, God declares that one of his “food rules” for the Israelites is explicitly NOT for the foreigners who live among them. The Israelites aren’t supposed to eat an animal who has been found dead–but they are more than welcome to give or sell it to the people around them that those others might eat the animal who was found dead.
An initial, simplistic answer to the question of whether a New Testament believer should follow the Old Testament food rules is apparent. New Testament Gentile believers clearly have no obligation to follow the Old Testament dietary law because the dietary laws were explicitly given to the people of Israel, and were not meant to apply to the people around them.
The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 confirms this conclusion by stating that Gentile believers are not obligated to keep the law of Moses (contrast the Judaizers’ comment in Acts 15:5 with the apostle’s command in Acts 15:28-29).
As I’m getting a bit long, I’m splitting this post into as many posts as it’ll take to get through this topic. Judging from what I’ve got right now, it’ll be at least three, if not four or more posts. (And don’t worry, I will get to and discuss the Jerusalem council in more depth.)