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Can Christians eat pork?

Part of our Messianic Bible Study

Can Christians eat pork? Pigs in mud

Can Christians eat pork? Is eating pork a sin? Did Jesus eat pork? Do Christians have to obey the dietary laws of the Bible? Do the Jewish people follow the laws correctly? Is it healthier for you? Is kosher the same as Biblical? These are common questions many Christians have when they read Bible verses about food or hear someone discussing kosher food rules.

 

What does Kosher mean?

The Hebrew equivalent of the English word kosher doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the Bible. Kosher is actually a very recent 19th century Yiddish pronunciation of the Hebrew word kashrut, which is found in the Hebrew Bible. However, it only appears three times, and not in the context of food. Kashrut means to be straight or right, fit, proper, suitable, to use properly. It is translated as ‘seems right,’ ‘succeed,’ and ‘prosper’ in Esther 8:5 and Ecclesiastes 10:10 and 11:6. These are the only three times the word appears in the bible.

So the term kosher is simply the modern Jewish way to describe the dietary rules and restrictions practiced in Judaism. But of course the origins of these rules are indeed found in the Bible, as we’ll see later in the lesson.

 

Can Christians eat pork? Are Crawdads kosher?Biblical dietary laws

For most modern people, it basically comes down to not eating the following:

  • Pork
  • Shellfish (lobster, shrimp, etc.)

In addition to these more common items, here are some other Biblically prohibited animals:

  • Rabbit
  • Amphibians & reptiles (snakes, frogs, turtles)
  • Predatory birds (vultures, hawks, etc.)
  • Most insects

The Bible does not refer to these animals as food for people. Just because you can kill something, cook it, and put it in your mouth doesn’t mean that the Creator of our bodies ever intended us to do so.

 

On the other hand, these animals are food for people:

  • Beef
  • Sheep & goats
  • Fish (that have fins & scales)
  • Non-predatory birds (chicken, quail, etc.)
  • Deer, elk, etc. (grass-eating game)

 

But I can’t give up my bacon!

We don’t. We eat turkey and beef bacon all the time, as well as turkey ham and sausage.

 

Can Christians eat pork? Is turkey bacon kosher?

 

Bible verses about food

Most of the instructions regarding clean and unclean foods are found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. Here is Leviticus 11:

Then Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the Israelites, saying, ‘These are the animals that you may eat from all the animals that are on the land: Any among the animals that has a divided hoof and has a split cleft in the hoof and that chews cud, such you may eat. However, these you may not eat from those that chew the cud and from those that have a divided hoof: the camel, because it is a chewer of cud but it does not have a hoof that is divided—it is for you; and the coney, because it is a chewer of cud but it does not have a hoof that is divided—it is unclean for you; and the hare, because it is a chewer of cud but it does not have a hoof that is divided—it is unclean for you; and the pig, because it has a divided hoof and has a split cleft in the hoof but it does not chew cud—it is unclean for you. You must not eat from their meat, and you must not touch their dead body—they are unclean for you.

“ ‘These you may eat from all that are in the water: any in the water that has a fin and scales, whether in the seas or in the streams—such you may eat. But any that does not have a fin and scales, whether in the seas or in the streams, among all the water’s swarmers among all the living creatures that are in the water—they are a detestable thing to you. And they shall be detestable to you; you must not eat from their meat, and you must detest their dead body. Any that does not have a fin and scales in the water—it is a detestable thing to you.

“ ‘And these you must detest from the birds; they must not be eaten—they are detestable: the eagle and the vulture and the short-toed eagle, and the red kite and the black kite according to its kind, every crow according to its kind, and the ostrich and the short-eared owl and the seagull and the hawk according to its kind, and the little owl and the cormorant and the great owl, and the barn owl and the desert owl and the carrion vulture, and the stork, the heron according to its kind and the hoopoe and the bat.

“ ‘Any winged insect that walks on all fours is detestable to you. Only this may you eat from any of the winged insects that walk on all fours—that which has jointed legs above its feet for leaping upon the land. From these you may eat the locust according to its kind and the bald locust according to its kind and the cricket according to its kind and the grasshopper according to its kind. But any other winged insect that has four legs is detestable to you. And by these you shall become unclean—anyone who touches their dead body shall become unclean until the evening, and anyone who carries their dead body must wash his garments, and he shall be unclean until the evening.

“ ‘With regard to any animal that has a divided hoof but does not split the hoof, or does not have a cud for chewing—they are unclean for you; anyone who touches them shall become unclean. And anything that walks upon its paws among any of the animals that walks on all fours—they are unclean for you; anyone who touches their dead body shall become unclean until the evening, and the one who carries their dead body must wash his garments, and he shall be unclean until the evening—they are unclean for you.

“ ‘And these are the unclean for you among the swarmers that swarm on the land: the weasel and the mouse and the thorn-tailed lizard according to its kind, and the gecko and the land crocodile and the lizard and the sand lizard and the chameleon. These are the unclean for you among all the swarmers; anyone who touches them at their death shall become unclean until the evening. And anything on which one of them falls at their death shall become unclean: any object of wood or garment or skin or sackcloth—any object that has performed work—must be placed in water, and it shall be unclean until the evening, and then it shall be clean. And any clay vessel into which one of them falls, all that is in it shall become unclean, and you must break it. Any of the food that could be eaten on which water from such a vessel comes shall become unclean, and any liquid that could be drunk in any such vessel shall become unclean. And anything on which one of their dead bodies falls shall become unclean: an oven or a stove must be broken—they are unclean and shall be unclean for you. Surely a spring or a cistern collecting water shall be clean, but that which touches their dead body shall become unclean. And when one of their dead bodies falls on any seed for sowing, it is clean. But when water is put on the seed and one of their dead bodies falls on it, it is unclean for you.

“ ‘And when one of the animals dies that is for you to eat, the one who touches its dead body shall become unclean until the evening. And the one who eats some of its dead body must wash his garments, and he shall be unclean until the evening; and the one who carries its dead body must wash his garments, and he shall be unclean until the evening.

“ ‘And any swarmer that swarms on the land is detestable; it must not be eaten. You must not eat anything that moves upon its belly or that walks on all fours, even any with numerous feet belonging to any swarmer that swarms on the land, because they are detestable. You must not defile yourselves with any swarmer that swarms, and you must not make yourselves unclean by them and so be made unclean by them, because I am Yahweh your God, and you must keep yourselves sanctified, so that you shall be holy, because I am holy. And you must not make yourselves unclean with any swarmer that moves along on the land, because I am Yahweh, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be for you as God. Thus you shall be holy, because I am holy.

“ ‘This is the regulation of the animals and the birds and all living creatures that move along in the water and concerning all the creatures that swarm on the land, to distinguish between the unclean and the clean and between the animal that is to be eaten and the animal that must not be eaten.’ ” Leviticus (Vayikra) 11

 

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

We’re all familiar with this saying, but is there any truth to it? When the Bible talks about clean and unclean, it is not talking about how much dirt is involved. It is talking about a spiritual condition.

Yahweh decides what is clean and what is unclean. He is God and we are not. So it’s not only about the fact that pigs are physically unclean animals or that crab and other shellfish are scavengers, the insects of the ocean. It’s about something more, something greater.

Jacob Milgrom, a prominent Jewish Bible scholar and rabbi, was considered the world’s leading expert on Leviticus. He wrote what many believe to be the best commentary ever written on the subject. Here’s what he said about the dietary laws:

To the casual reader of the Bible it comes as a great surprise that the exalted concept of holiness is given as the reason for the restrictions in all four sources where the prohibited foods are enumerated (Exod 22:30 [Eng. 31]; Lev 11:44–45; 20:22–26; Deut 14:21).

Moreover, one whose ear is sensitive to repetition will react to these verses as a Geiger counter to a load of uranium. Listen to Lev 11:44: “… make yourselves holy … that you be holy … for I am holy.” Of the six Hebrew words here, three contain the root qdš, “holy.” And twice more it occurs in the succeeding verse.

Relatively few individual statutes of the Bible are coupled with the demand for holiness. Of these, none has the demand with the same staccato emphasis and repetition as do the food prohibitions.

Thus the Bible takes greater pains to offer a rationale for these laws than for any other commandment.

Continental Commentary Series: Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics. pp 106-107

 

Maybe the question “Can Christians eat pork?” isn’t the right question

Questions like Are Christians allowed to eat pork? and Should Christians eat pork? are misguided. We can rationalize it away to our own detriment if we’d like. We can even try to make it about eating healthier, which is fine. But ultimately it comes down to what our Creator says. He says to ‘be holy as He is holy.’ He knows what’s best for us and He wants what’s best for us. It’s our flesh that always wants to be rebellious. We’re like toddlers–our Daddy tells us what’s best for us and we say “No!” But all He’s ever wanted is for His children to love Him enough to finally want to obey Him. And that’s the definition of a circumcised heart.

 

For another great look at this subject, watch these two video teachings by 119 Ministries:

 

 

Related to Can Christians eat pork?:

Messianic Food

 

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5 Responses to "Can Christians eat pork?"

  1. Grace Yow Posted on August 20, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    shabbat shalom,

    may i add to the guideline of which fish were created by the creator as fit for human consumption: the must have both scales and fins.

    “These may ye eat of all that are in the waters:whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, that may ye eat.” LEV 11:9

    • One Torah Posted on August 20, 2016 at 9:02 pm

      Yes, of course, and thank you! I have updated it.

  2. One Torah Posted on August 20, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    Charles Koh asked this question on our Ask Torah Questions page and since it pertains to the topic of this teaching, I’m copying and pasting it here, along with my reply:

    When Peter went in to Cornelius’s household to eat with them in Acts 10, he would likely have eaten the non kosher food served to everyone there. Does this means that food laws no longer apply since it has served its purpose of separating the ‘set apart’ Jews from the ‘unholy’ Gentiles during the period of the Mosaic covenant ? I believe the food laws are good because scientifically it’s proven that the unclean food has higher toxicity. Therefore it’s good to observe it for health reason. But is it still a religious requirements for believers in Christ like the way we should observe the Sabbath ? Because there is a verse in the NT that says food does not bring us near to God or bring us further away. It’s what is in the heart that matters.

    • One Torah Posted on August 20, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      Hi Charles,

      Thanks for the great question! Sorry for the slow reply, I’ve been out of town.

      Your question is built on a supposition that is not stated in the passage i.e. that (1) Cornelius would have served his guests Biblically unclean food and that (2) if he did, that Peter would have eaten it. Since the passage never states either of those things, there’s no reason to assume either. We certainly would not make any binding doctrinal position based upon silence.

      You’d be taking a position that after Yahweh commanded His people not to eat unclean animals as part of His covenant, and then it being one of the major tenants of the faith for 1,500 years, He then suddenly decided to overturn His own law without so much as saying so–leaving His people to figure it out by making an inference from silence. If He clearly commanded it (which He did), it makes much more sense that He would clearly give another commandment if He wanted to overturn His own law.

      While we have many examples of believers keeping the law in new testament times (see Did they keep Torah in the New Testament?), we don’t see any examples of believers eating unclean animals. In fact, as we’re getting ready to see, Peter actually argues with Yahweh, insisting that he has never eaten an unclean animal in his whole life. And this was AFTER Jesus’ death and resurrection, and AFTER the church supposedly started at Pentecost (see Did the Church really begin at Pentecost?).

      We’ll take a closer look at Acts 10 in a second, but first let me address your actual question: “Does this means that food laws no longer apply since it has served its purpose of separating the ‘set apart’ Jews from the ‘unholy’ Gentiles during the period of the Mosaic covenant?” and also your following point about the food laws having to do with good health. In our teaching Can Christians eat pork?, I quote Jacob Milgrom, a prominent Jewish Bible scholar and rabbi, who was considered the world’s leading expert on Leviticus. He wrote what many believe to be the best commentary ever written on the subject. Here’s what he said about the dietary laws:

      To the casual reader of the Bible it comes as a great surprise that the exalted concept of holiness is given as the reason for the restrictions in all four sources where the prohibited foods are enumerated (Exod 22:30 [Eng. 31]; Lev 11:44–45; 20:22–26; Deut 14:21).

      Moreover, one whose ear is sensitive to repetition will react to these verses as a Geiger counter to a load of uranium. Listen to Lev 11:44: “… make yourselves holy … that you be holy … for I am holy.” Of the six Hebrew words here, three contain the root qdš, “holy.” And twice more it occurs in the succeeding verse.

      Relatively few individual statutes of the Bible are coupled with the demand for holiness. Of these, none has the demand with the same staccato emphasis and repetition as do the food prohibitions.

      Thus the Bible takes greater pains to offer a rationale for these laws than for any other commandment.

      Continental Commentary Series: Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics. pp 106-107

      So according to Scripture, there seems to be a direct relationship between the food laws and holiness. Physical health–while likely a secondary benefit–is not given as the reason for the food laws. It is true, however, that many times in the Scriptures we are told to be separate from the nations and their ways (see Sons of God, Christmas, & Other Controversies).

      This does not mean, however, that we are not allowed to come in contact with or even to eat with Gentiles, so long as we ourselves do not violate Torah while doing so! That is, we can eat with Gentiles so long as we do not eat unclean food. We know this to be the case because we see Jesus doing this very thing, and we know he never violated the Torah. In fact, he explicitly states that he did not come to do away with the Torah (Matt 5:17-19; see Did Jesus abolish the law?).

      And yet the religious leaders of that day were completely opposed to eating with Gentiles and taught against it. But these were man-made traditions called “halakah” i.e. Jewish legal rulings. They were interpretations of Torah, not Torah itself. And this halakah is what Jesus and his disciples were regularly breaking and disputing–not Torah.

      For example, it was halakah for the Pharisees to ritually wash their hands before every meal, and they gave Jesus and his disciples a hard time for not doing so. But again, this was NOT Torah! It was a so-called “fence law” designed to keep the Jewish people from sinning, which is a very good intention/goal. But it is stricter than Torah requires. And in this case, it was actually keeping the Jewish people from being able to be the light to the Gentile that they were supposed to be.

      Now to Acts 10 specifically, what does the passage actually say? It says that there is a man named Cornelius described as a “devout, God-fearing man” (verse 2). In verse 22 he is called “a righteous and God-fearing man.” This is very important–he is called a God-fearer. We see this term or related terms over and over again in the new testament. These are not run-of-the-mill pagans, they are Gentiles who worship Yahweh, the God of Israel. While they may not have completed the formal process of conversion to Judaism, they are in various degrees or stages of obedience to the Torah and are typically worshiping and fellowshipping at their local synagogue. We see many examples of this:

      “And they entered into the synagogue on the day of the Sabbath and sat down. So after the reading from the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Men and brothers, if there is any message of exhortation by you for the people, say it.”
      So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand, he said, “Israelite men, and those who fear God, listen! The God of this people Israel chose our fathers…Men and brothers, sons of the family of Abraham and those among you who fear God—to us the message of this salvation has been sent!” Acts 13:14-17, 26.

      “And a certain woman named Lydia from the city of Thyatira, a merchant dealing in purple cloth who showed reverence for God, was listening.” Acts 16:14

      “And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, and also a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few of the prominent women.” Acts 17:4

      “So he was discussing in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles” Acts 17:17

      “And he argued in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade both Jews and Greeks.” Acts 18:4

      “And leaving there, he entered into the house of someone named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God whose house was next door to the synagogue.” Acts 18:7

      This is what Cornelius was–a God-fearing Gentile believer in Yahweh, not an idol worshiping pagan. So if we’re to make a supposition at all, it would be the opposite–Cornelius almost certainly would NOT have served unclean food to Peter!

      Here’s a good quote from a book called In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity by Oskar Skarsaune:

      This hope was embodied in the other group attending the synagogue: Gentiles who had become convinced that the God of the Bible was the only true God. They tried to fulfil his ethical precepts; they had a certain familiarity with the Bible; and many of them were contemplating full conversion to Judaism, though few actually took this step. In the New Testament and other ancient sources they are called the “God-fearers”. These groups of Gentile God-fearers, attached to almost every Diaspora synagogue, are essential to our understanding of the mission and expansion of the early church. When the gospel message was first addressed to Gentiles, it was addressed primarily to these groups, and among them it found a wide hearing. This would lead us to expect that the geographical spread of Christianity would follow a route populated by Diaspora synagogues. As we know, the Book of Acts testifies that this was true of Paul’s missions.

      Cornelius, a God-fearer, is almost certainly doing the afternoon prayers (the ninth hour) when the angel of God comes to him: “About the ninth hour of the day, he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming to him and saying to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him and became terrified and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your charitable deeds have gone up for a memorial offering before God. And now, send men to Joppa and summon a certain Simon, who is also called Peter” Acts 10:3-5. If he is a pagan, he would not being praying to Yahweh. No, his prayers to Yahweh and his charitable deeds both rise up to Yahweh like a memorial offering. All of these are indicative of a believer in Yahweh who likely is not eating unclean food.

      Now that we’ve established who Cornelius was, let’s look at Peter:

      And the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray at about the sixth hour. And he became hungry and wanted to eat. But while they were preparing the food, a trance came over him. And he saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet coming down, being let down to the earth by its four corners, in which were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and birds of the sky. And a voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, slaughter and eat!” But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common and unclean!” And the voice came again to him for the second time: “The things which God has made clean, you must not consider unclean!” And this happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven. Acts 10:9-16

      Peter has a vision and in that vision God shows him unclean animals and says to kill and eat them. Again, note that Peter refuses to eat unclean animals even though this incident takes place well after Jesus has resurrected. Peter spent as much as three years under the mentoring discipleship of Jesus. If Jesus taught his disciples that he came to do away with the Biblical food laws, Peter didn’t get the memo! Think about it for a minute. How serious is Peter about obeying the Torah that he is actually willing to argue with the Lord rather than to eat an unclean animal! In fact, he actually tells God “No, he won’t do it!” (Certainly not).

      At this point in the story, most Christians simply stop reading. God said we can now eat unclean animals, so pass me the pork and shrimp! But the passage actually goes on to very clearly explain itself in the following verses. It’s all right there if we’ll just read it:

      Now while Peter was greatly perplexed within himself as to what the vision that he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having found the house of Simon by asking around, stood at the gate. And they called out and asked if Simon who was also called Peter was staying there as a guest. And while Peter was reflecting about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, men are looking for you. But get up, go down, and go with them—not hesitating at all, because I have sent them.” Acts 10:17-20

      So we see that Peter is “greatly perplexed” by the vision since he can’t believe that Yahweh would ever have him eat unclean animals. And being obedient to the Spirit, he goes with the men back to Cornelius’ house where we are given the interpretation of the vision:

      Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. So it happened that when Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. But Peter helped him up, saying, “Get up! I myself am also a man!” And as he conversed with him, he went in and found many people gathered. And he said to them, “You know that it is forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or to approach a foreigner. And to me God has shown that I should call no man common or unclean. Therefore—and without raising any objection—I came when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you sent for me.” Acts 10:24-29

      So what does the passage actually say is the meaning/interpretation of the vision about the unclean animals? Does it have anything at all to do with food? No. It has to do with the Jewish belief of the day (the halakah) that taught that “it is forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or to approach a foreigner.” But the Torah does not teach that it is forbidden to associate with or to approach all foreigners. It does list some specific nations that cannot come into the assembly for specific periods of time, and it does say that we are not to adopt the ways of the pagan nations and thereby forsake Yahweh for false gods. And it does say that we are not to eat unclean animals. But as long as we are faithful to Yahweh and obey His commandments as found in the Torah, we are free to associate and even eat with Gentiles. And this is exactly what God tells Peter through the vision–“call no man common or unclean.”

      Contrary to Jewish halakah of the time, Yahweh has always welcomed and desired God-fearing people from all the nations of the earth. In fact, there were God-fearers present at Mt. Sinai who were included in the covenant (see One law for Jews & another for Gentiles?). I’ll leave you with a quote from that teaching:

      Every native-born (Israelite) must do these things to present an offering made by fire, a pleasing aroma for Yahweh. If a resident foreigner (Gentile) dwells among you, or whoever is in your midst throughout your generations, and prepares an offering made by fire, a pleasing aroma for Yahweh, he should do as you do.

      For the congregation there shall be one rule for you (the Israelite) and for the resident foreigner (Gentile) who is living among you; it is an eternal rule throughout your generations. There will be one law and one rule for you (the Israelite) and the resident foreigner (Gentile) who is living among you. Numbers (Bamidbar) 15:13-16

      Shalom,
      One Torah

  3. stephen Posted on March 20, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Just found the website and so far I like what I have seen – keep up the good work.

    To add to the discussion on the Acts passage “it is forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or to approach a foreigner”. I have heard the reason to not associate with a non-Jew was that if you ate with a foreigner you would be come common and or unclean due to their pagan ways. IOW the ruling religious leaders made an additional commandment that if you touched an idol you were defiled. Then added another that if foreigners touch idols then what they touch is defiled as well, so don’t eat with (their food is offered to idols) or associate with them.

    What is also interesting is that during Yeshua’s time and in Acts that the religious rulers removed the gentile/foreigners from the ‘court of Gentiles’ and allowed the moneychangers to do their business there. Thats probably why Yeshua drove them out – because Yahweh’s house was to be a house of prayer for all nations (Yeshua quoted Isaiah 56:7).

    A house where there is indeed one law for all. We also see a similar aspect when Yeshua rebuked the Pharisees about the Sabbath – that the “Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” ref. Mark 2:27. Now yes Yeshua was talking to the Jews but the word “man” is the Greek word anthropos meaning ‘all mankind’. Again all of His house, including the foreigners were supposed to obey and be blessed for observing the Sabbath.

    Anyway, I’m glad I found your site.

    Shalom

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