Hebrew Roots/Unclean foods/Scripture


MARK 7:1-5 Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to  
him,having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of his disciples eat 
bread with defiled [koinais], that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. 
For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a 
special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the 
marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things 
which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper 
vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, "Why do your 
disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with 
unwashed hands?" (NKJV) 

This passage is the background context for what Yeshua states afterward. As the Scripture shows, the problem that arose was related to Messiah's disciples not washing their hands in the traditional way. The reason for this specialized washing was for ceremonial purity, not cleanliness.

The word translated "defiled" in verse 2 is a form of the Greek adjective koinos. Like many words, this word and the related verb koinoo (along with their variations) can be used positively or negatively. In the positive sense, these related words mean "common," such as in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, where the disciples of Messiah were said to have had "all things in common." In a negative context, these words are used to contrast the "holy" with that which is "common," "defiled," or "profane." This is the sense in which koinais is used in Mark 7:2.

Yeshua uses the Pharisees' criticism of his disciples over a non-biblical ritual to launch a scathing attack on their use of human traditions to override the scriptural commandments of God. He then spoke a parable to the crowd to illustrate the true cause of spiritual defilement:

"When he had called all the multitude to himself, he said to them, "Hear me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile [koinosai] him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile [koinounta] a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!" (Mark 7:14-16 NKJV)

ROMANS 14:1-4 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on 
disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another 
man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything 
must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything 
must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to 
judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will 
stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (NIV) 

Paul begins this chapter by telling the Romans not to pass judgment on one another in regards to differences of opinion. He then defines one of the areas where the Roman believers were judging each other (eating meat versus eating only vegetables).

The argument these people are having is over the matter of whether it is all right to eat ANIMAL FLESH VERSUS VEGETARIANISM! What kind of animal flesh is not the subject here -- only the matter of eating animal flesh versus strict vegetarianism!

Notice! One person "eats herbs" and does not eat "all" things -- that is, both herbs and animal flesh. This is the whole substance of this discussion. Paul goes on to explain in verse 6, latter part, "He that eats [flesh], eats to Yahweh, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eats not, to Yahweh he eats not, and giveth God thanks. . . . But why dost you judge thy brother? or why dost you set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (verses 6-10).

Why would this issue present a problem for the Roman congregation? Romans 14:14 holds the key to answering that question:

ROMANS 14:14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food 
is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him 
it is unclean. (NIV) 

The underlying Greek word translated "unclean" is koinon. As it is in the passages we've already looked at from Mark 7 and Acts 10, this word would be better translated "common" or "defiled."

Verse 14, when translated properly, should read: "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesu that there is nothing defiled of itself; but to him who considers anything to be defiled, to him it is defiled."

This verse is really the key to understanding why some in the Roman assembly would not eat meat. There were those in the congregation that considered the meat sold in the meat markets to be ceremonially "defiled" (koinon).

But what was it that caused some in the Roman congregation to view the meat this way? The most likely reason was that they assumed most of the meat sold in the local market was defiled because it had been offered in sacrifice to idols. Paul had addressed a similar situation which arose in Corinth (I Cor. 10:18-28). His answer to the Corinthians' concerns over this issue was that they should eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience about whether the meat had been sacrificed to an idol (I Corinthians 10:25). But if they knew for certain that meat had been sacrificed to an idol, they were to avoid eating it (I Corinthians 10:28).

Paul's advice to the Romans was very comparable. He said he was convinced that nothing was defiled of itself. In other words, he told the Roman believers not to assume that meat sold in the marketplace was defiled by being sacrificed to idols. However, he went on, if someone in the congregation could not in good conscience eat such meat (because they could not be certain it had not been sacrificed to an idol), then to him it was defiled and he shouldn't eat it. Obviously, Romans 14:14 has nothing to do with eating unclean meats.

Again, the context, as we have seen, is vegetarianism versus eating animal flesh. The issue is not eating clean animal flesh versus unclean animal flesh. The underlying issue was simply whether one should eat any meat at all, versus pure vegetarianism. Paul said that if a person considered in his own mind and conscience that eating meat would be wrong, then he should it do it. To such a person, it would have defiled their conscience. However, he said, it was not "unclean" of itself to eat animal flesh (i.e. of permitted clean animals)

ROMANS 14:5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day 
alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, 
observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he 
does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; 
and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 

What is Paul talking about here? In the first problem, he clearly explains the dispute. But here, the problem is not quite as evident. In verse 6, Paul mentions "he who eats" and contrasts him with "he who does not eat."

The second area of contention over eating in the Roman assembly was a question about when it was proper (or expected) that congregation members would fast and when. It is in this context that Paul speaks of "one who esteems one day above another" (Rom. 14:5). The very issue of setting aside particular days for fasting was a contentious one in the early church. The Didache (also known as The Teaching of The Twelve Apostles), written sometime between 80-150 A.D., addresses this exact controversy:

DIDACHE 8:1 Be careful not to schedule your fasts at the times when the hypocrites fast. They fast on the second (Monday) and fifth (Thursday) day of the week, therefore make your fast on the fourth (Wednesday) day and the Preparation day (Friday, the day of preparation for the Sabbath-Saturday). (The Didache, 1998 translation by Ivan Lewis)

"The hypocrites" mentioned here is a reference to the Pharisees. The author of The Didache urged believers in Yeshua to fast on days other than those chosen by the Pharisees. In agreement with The Didache, the Mishnah also indicates in tract Taanit that the Pharisees fasted on Monday and Thursday. This is also alluded to in Luke's Gospel: "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' (Luke 18:11 NKJV)

Paul's point in this passage (Rom. 14:5-6) is that no particular days of the week had been sanctioned by God for fasting. Those who chose to fast regularly on days such as Monday and Thursday (or Wednesday and Friday) would be accepted if they did it to honor God. Likewise, those who didn't view any particular day as mandatory for fasting would be accepted if they ate in the proper spirit and gave thanks to God. Paul goes on in the rest of chapter 14 to urge the believers in Rome not to judge one another and not to cause their brethren to stumble in these matters. Paul succinctly sums up both problems in the final verse of chapter 14:23; " But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin." (NKJV)

From our examination of the Scriptures, it is clear that God did not nullify Leviticus 11 or Deuteronomy 14 in Mark 7, Acts 10, and Romans 14. But there is one other Scripture that appears to show that any animal may now be eaten by believers:

I TIMOTHY 4:1-5 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will 
depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of 
demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a 
hot iron,  forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God 
created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the 
truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is 
received with thanksgiving;for it is SANCTIFIED [hagiazetai] by the word of God 
and prayer. (NKJV) 

This passage by Paul appears very plainly to show that every creature on earth is now edible. However, one very important limiting factor is usually overlooked by those who use this passage to teach that doctrine.

Paul tells us that "every creature of God is good," and is not "to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving" (I Tim. 4:4). But he qualifies that statement in verse 5 by saying that these creatures are "sanctified by the word of God" (I Tim. 4:5).

The Greek word translated "sanctified" in verse 5 is hagiazetai; it literally means "set apart." What creatures of God have been "set apart" by the word of God for use as food? Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 conclusively list those creatures of God which are to be eaten and the ones which are not to be eaten. Instead of contradicting the Torah's prohibition on eating unclean animals, Paul is actually supporting it in this Scripture.

Again, we must be very careful not take this passage out of context, to read our own meaning or desire into it, as some have done. Notice that Paul was defending the truth of Yahweh God against various heretics and heresies which were cropping up, inspired by "doctrines of demons." Among these heresies was the teaching that men should "abstain from meats" -- that is, we must all avoid all meat products and be VEGETARIANS! There were certain gnostics and heretics in Paul's day, as is true also today, who were teaching that you had to be a vegetarian, that eating any animal flesh was "sin."

Take into consideration also the situation in pagan societies of the day, that most meat sold in the markets had been offered in sacrifice to idols. The knowledge of the truth superceded the sacrificial rites performed by pagans and it was sanctified by the prayer of thanksgiving and released from the idolatrous rites performed upon it.

However, Paul explained that these perverters of truth were commanding that men "abstain from meats, which God has CREATED TO BE RECEIVED with thanksgiving." In other words, they were forbidding people to eat that which Yahweh GOD CREATED TO BE EATEN, "with thanksgiving" and gratitude, by "them which believe and KNOW the TRUTH" (v.3).

Those who know the truth -- Yeshua said, "Thy Word is TRUTH" (John 17:17) In other words, the "truth" -- the Word of Yahweh God -- tells us what to eat and what not to eat. The WORD OF Yahweh is our GUIDE when it comes to matters of what foods we should eat or not eat! And Yahweh's Word tells us precisely what foods are clean and unclean in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14!

Now let's notice again verses 4-5: "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For IT IS SANCTIFIED BY THE WORD OF GOD and prayer." What does this mean?

One might think that this says every animal is all right to eat, so long as we give Yahweh God thanks when we partake of its flesh. Are "all" creatures meant to be eaten? Some animals, insects, creepy-crawly things, sea snakes, etc., are EXTREMELY POISONOUS and HAZARDOUS TO HEALTH! There are some creatures which Nature itself teaches us we must not eat! Therefore, we must guard against taking this verse at "face value," out of context, and reading into it what Paul did not mean to imply.

The key to understanding this verse is in the latter part: "It is sanctified [that is, SET APART] by the WORD OF GOD and prayer." In other words, the creatures of Yahweh God that are fit for food are those which are set apart by Yahweh's Word -- revealed in Yahweh's Word -- as that which is fit for human consumption. So again, this Scripture merely directs us back to Yahweh's original instructions about food and clean and unclean meats, found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14! Yahweh's Word does not conflict with itself. The Scripture does not "contradict" itself. It is wholly consistent, and uniform, and completely united in teaching. "The Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).

Nowhere in the New Testament can it be found where all foods are conclusively declared clean and fit for human consumption. But there is a passage of Scripture that shows that this prohibition will remain in force past the time of Messiah's first coming.

In the final chapter of the book of Isaiah, we find a prophecy which speaks of the return of Messiah to pour out God's anger, fury and wrath on those who rebel against Him. A description of some of the identifying activities of this group is revealing:

"For behold, the LORD will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword the LORD will judge all flesh; and the slain of the LORD shall be many. "Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, to go to the gardens after an idol in the midst, eating swine's flesh and the abomination and the mouse, shall be consumed together," says the LORD. For I know their works and their thoughts. It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory. (Isaiah 66:15-18 NKJV)

COLOSSIANS 2:16-17  says, "Let no man judge you in food or drink ...."   

This seems to be inferring that there are no restrictions in the new covenant and that the law was done away - but is this really so? The word used here for "food" is 'brosis' - the act of eating and not "food" as it has been translated.

As Wuest says, "The question is not altogether between lawful and unlawful food, but between eating and drinking and abstinence. Asceticism rather than ritual cleanness is in his mind". Asceticism by the Gnostics is the problem that Paul was encountering here. (Wuest Word Studies in the Greek New Testament Vol.1;p. 209)

It was their liberty in eating that was being judged by the false teachers, not what they were eating.

Regarding the issue of interpreting that the law in regarding to foods to be eaten had been done away, verse 14 says, "blotting out the handwriting of ordinances against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way nailing it to His torture stake."

This "blotting out of ordinances" is referring to the "trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh" in verse 13. It is these things which have been nailed to the stake and which has been done away by baptism into Yeshua referred to here, See also verses 11-12.

The "handwriting of ordinances" seems to refer to man's dogma (i.e. written by the hand of man", whereas the Torah/Law was written by the finger of God, which is now imprinted on the human heart. Ordinances are not laws. Therefore whatever is implied by "ordinances" is not meaning Yahweh's laws.

The whole subject of the passage hinges around Paul's conclusion 21-23, the "self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body", "according to the doctrines and commandments of men". It seems to be another case for Gnosticism.

And, the key is, "Let no MAN judge you". If you have the law written on your heart then your responsibility is to live out that "law" by the indwelling Spirit, and no man can judge that. The law of the Spirit will never differ from the written law, but He may require different things of different believers. He may require one to "neglect the body" in fasting, and not another. This was not meant to give a license to eat all types of food and drink.

Just as that which the law condemns in food is valid, so also is that which is condemned in drink - i.e. strong alcoholic beverages.

ACTS 10: 9- 23 "Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour 
[high noon]: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they 
made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel 
descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and 
let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the 
earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there  
came a voice to him, Rise, Peter, kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; 
for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake 
unto him again the second time, What God has cleansed, that call not you 
common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven" 
(Acts 10:9-16).

Notice this incredible vision, and its true meaning! We read that "Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had should mean" (Acts 10:17). While he was still pondering it, men arrived at the house who had been sent by Cornelius, a Roman centurion (v.1-2). Cornelius had also just had a vision from Yahweh God, telling him to send men to city named Joppa, on the coast, to find a man named Peter, who would then tell him what he needed to do to be right with Yahweh God (verses 3-6). Peter was still meditating on the meaning of the vision, when Yahweh's Spirit spoke to him, informing him three men were seeking him, and told him to go down, and go with them, without doubting, for Yahweh had sent them (vs.17-23).

Peter went with them the next day back to Caesaria, and when they arrived, many people were come together to hear him. Cornelius told him how he had been praying and fasting, and how an angel in a vision told him to send men to Peter, who would instruct them. "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded you of God" (v.33).

Peter replied, "Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him" (v.34-35). Peter then proceeded to tell them about the Messiah, the anointed one sent by Yahweh God, and as he spoke, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and "all them which heard the word" (v.44). Those who came with Peter were all astonished, "because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit" (v.45). At that point, they were all baptized (v.46-48). When Peter returned to Jerusalem, some of the brethren who were of the Pharisees contended with him, because he had gone to visit uncircumcised Gentiles. Peter then rehearsed the whole matter to them, from the beginning, expounding the whole story in order (Acts 11:2-4), beginning with the vision of the sheet from heaven with all the wild beasts and creeping things, and the command to "slay and eat" (v.7). He recounted how a voice told him, "What God has cleansed, call not you common" (v.9), and how immediately the men arrived from Cornelius, a Gentile, seeking an audience with him, and how Yahweh God's Spirit bade him to go with them. He then recounted how Cornelius had a vision causing him to send the men to fetch Peter, and how when he told them the gospel message, the Holy Spirit came upon every one of them, as it had upon the Jewish brethren previously.

Yahweh was opening the door for the truth of the gospel message to go to the Gentiles (House of Israel) -- whom the Jewish people considered "unclean." They had nothing to do with Gentiles, but remained separated, apart, lest they would be contaminated or "defiled" spiritually. But Yahweh God used the vision of the heavenly sheet with all the unclean animals to show Peter that any human being whom Yahweh has cleansed, and forgiven, must not be considered "unclean" spiritually, but fully accepted as a brother in the Messiah! This vision, therefore, had absolutely nothing whatever to do with all flesh of unclean animals being "changed" mysteriously so that all of a sudden, now, it can be consumed by Christians everywhere! Absolutely not! This was merely a vision -- not a reality. And it was a symbol of Gentiles being cleansed and accepted into the Church -- not of any changes in the nature of wild beasts, vermin, creeping crawlies, or unclean animal flesh.

The "sheet", as translated in Acts 10:11 is a linen cloth. The Hebraic understanding is that this was a prayer shawl which was a symbol of the covenant that Yahweh had with His people. What was 'under' or 'in' the prayer shawl was regarded as coming under the covenant (i.e. to place the shawl over one's head is to come under the covenant to pray). Hence, Peter understood when he saw unclean animals in the shawl that Yahweh was showing him when the "Gentiles" arrived, that these "unclean animals" were under the covenant and were therefore sanctified.