by Greg on April 1, 2012
1 Timothy 4: 3-5. “Men who forbid…and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (Vs. 4) For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude, (Vs. 5) for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”
This scripture is often used by Christians to justify eating anything they desire. Understandable, since on the surface it looks to be giving such permission. Let’s go beneath the surface perception to see if indeed that’s true.
About vs. 3. In Timothy’s time, some religious leaders were teaching their followers to abstain from certain food for religious reasons; obviously this included clean food because the verse states that God created it to be eaten by those who believe and know the truth—the truth that God set forth law distinguishing between clean and unclean food. As such, having belief in this food as clean, one could eat it with gratitude. The apostle Paul is saying the religious leaders’ policy of abstention – involving clean food – is therefore deceitful and demonic. But what he does not go on to say, nor imply, as many infer, is that all food can be eaten.
Instead the principle that comes out of the verse is that what we eat should be guided by the truth that we know; that is, God’s truth that we know about in the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy; in which is declared what in His creation is clean and unclean. He meant it then; He means it now. For He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
About vs. 4. Everything created by God is good. That’s true; but that means the purpose for which it’s created is “good.” This is verified in Proverbs 16: 4. For example, the pig that God created is good for the purpose of being a scavenger or garbage collector, if you will. They will eat anything, even the dung from other creatures. The same is true for any type of bottom dwelling shell fish. The truth is that God has declared these creatures to be unclean. Even science, catching up to God, bears it to be true that these foods are unhealthy and unfit for eating.
Moreover, “Nothing is to be rejected” should too be understood in the context of what falls within the truth of “clean” food, and in the sense of not rejecting anything for its purpose.
Simply being grateful for that which is unclean doesn’t trump the will of God for you to be healthy.
About vs. 5. As to food that is sanctified, the key words are “word of God” and “prayer.” That means food that is acceptable to God is made so by the Bible saying it is clean, and it is prayed over with thanksgiving. We should be grateful that God has revealed to us in His word those foods that have been set aside – sanctified – for our well-being.
When we are observant and obedient to His wisdom, and we pray thankful prayers, we are making a sanctified, holy use of His provision.
It’s true that giving thanks to the Lord in all things is what we’re supposed to do. But to think, because of prayerful thanks, that the Lord is blessing or favoring the eating of unclean, and even of known unhealthy food, well… that is just a misguided notion. A good parent wouldn’t bless or endorse a child’s eating a diet of nothing but mainly sugar oriented foods; even if the child prayed over it.
Peter’s Vision of Unclean Food
Acts 10: 10-16 is another passage that is referred to as an allowance for eating anything. It is Peter’s vision of a lowered sheet from heaven, on which were unclean wild beasts, crawling creatures, and birds. Three times before the sheet was raised back to heaven, a voice from heaven told Peter to eat. Three times Peter refused the sheet’s unclean contents, even when told by the voice, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”
So many so readily see permission in these verses to eat anything, wherein Peter himself, in vs. 17, is perplexed. But understanding did eventually come to him, as is noted in vs’s. 28, 29.
Having accepted an invitation from a Roman centurion’s three emissaries (hence the three admonitions from the heavenly voice) to come visit, Peter after arriving said to the gentiles gathered to greet him, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without raising an objection when I was sent for.”
The vision was not about unclean food being made clean. It was about everyone, not just the Jews, being made qualified to receive the gospel.
It’s Not About a Permissible Diet List Going Into The Body
Matt. 15: 17-20—“Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
This is another scripture that’s used as an excuse to eat whatever one wants. Putting a microscope on it, the findings show…
The things that defile a person, according to Jesus, are things that pertain to character, to sinful human nature. Defilement here is defined in terms of spiritual uncleanness. He is not endorsing unclean “food.”
In a similar passage (Mark 7: 19-23) in some modern translations, it is said in parentheses (vs. 19) that Jesus is declaring all food clean. But that is a preconception brought to the table by the translators as an editorial comment. It is not in the manuscript.
It doesn’t even make sense that anything put into the body as food is somehow sanctified as healthy and wholesome.
Jesus was making the point that physical food is naturally purged from the body, but true defilement comes from sheltering and holding onto spiritual uncleanness in the heart or mind.
Jesus wanted the Pharisees to recognize that they were harboring sin, a poison in their hearts; namely the desire to murder Him. He wanted them to understand that when one plots and lies, as they were doing, one spiritually defiles himself.
When the entire 15th chapter of Matthew is taken into context, diet doesn’t have anything to do with it. Jesus is addressing a hypocritical tradition. In this case, the Pharisees’ concern and insistence on the ceremonial washing of hands before eating. This, in their minds, was to cleanse away the defilement of having touched any object or gentile person.
The passage’s meaning (in either Matthew or Mark) is not about Jesus’ approval or disapproval of what can be eaten. It is about the ceremonial washing of hands and its relevance or comparison to the washing of one’s soul.
Not About Jewish Food
Some have insisted that God identified the distinction between clean and unclean meats for only Jewish ceremonial purposes. However the early verses of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 clearly show that God’s instructions had to do with what animals could and could not be eaten as everyday food.
That the law of unclean meat is only for Jewish people is also erroneous. God first laid down the clean/unclean animal law during the time of Noah when the Jewish nation didn’t exist. God made that restrictive law for all of humanity when Noah was instructed to lead clean animals into the ark by sevens and the unclean animals by twos—the clean obviously for food; the unclean to preserve and continue the species (Gen. 7: 1-3).
Perhaps the reason that so many lock onto one verse that seems to be giving license to eating anything is because they don’t want to change. They aren’t willing to crucify their affections for the tasty delights they’ve enjoyed for so many years?
However, if one truly wants to understand a verse in order to be in compliance with God’s will, a look should be taken at all the verses pertaining to the topic at hand. Having made an attempt to do that with this subject, an honest answer emerged as to what the Bible says about food.
Consequently, we should consider eating according to God’s will and embrace it for what it is—a call to eat the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control. We should be willing to consider eating according to God’s health laws as an act of spiritual worship, proving that God’s will is good and acceptable.