To Eat or Not to Eat: Examining Conventional Nutrition Wisdom in the Light of Scripture
by Curtis Knapp, 2012
[If you wish to purchase this book, you can do so here: To Eat or Not to Eat]
You do not have to look far to see that America is a culture overflowing with information on food and nutrition. The plethora of material devoted to this subject in newspapers, magazines, television, websites and bookstores makes it clear that Americans are concerned about their health, even if sometimes only as a subject to talk about, not act upon. Food companies have picked up on the fad and have adjusted their advertising accordingly, so that consumers who want to feel good about their health will buy their product.
Christians are neither immune to the fads and fixations of the world nor impervious to the sense of importance which continuous advertising of a theme is designed to create. Christians, too, are getting the message loud and clear that they should watch what they eat. In the midst of this climate, various experts have emerged to tell us what the Bible says about good nutrition and eating right. But therein lies the danger. When someone uses the Bible to prove his position about nutrition, he is invoking the authority of God, not merely of doctors, scientists and dietitians. His conclusions presume to rise above the realm of human opinions to divine commandments. It is all the more important then, to make sure the teaching is biblically sound.
Those who undertake to teach the Word of God, including myself, must heed Paul's admonition in 2 Timothy 2:15: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."
Similarly, those who listen should be like the Bereans of old, who "…received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). It is my belief that the prominent teachers of "biblical nutrition" today have not accurately handled the Word of Truth. That conviction has motivated the writing of this book.
Here is the question the conscientious Christian has to answer: What has God commanded concerning food? Some say we should eat only vegetables because that is the diet God gave to Adam and Eve. Some say we should follow the dietary laws that God gave to Moses. Others say we should eat only what Jesus ate. Some pick and choose aspects of biblical revelation and ignore other parts. Others combine parts of the Bible with findings from modern science about what is supposedly good or bad for you. So what is the Christian to do? To whom should he listen? It is my conviction that much false teaching has spread throughout the church on the subject of food and nutrition, and that this teaching is not harmless.
The goal of this book is to provide thorough and systematic biblical instruction on this subject and help believers sort through these issues. I also hope to show the danger in listening to and following the precepts of "Nutritianity"—the name I have given to the "religion" of dietary laws that promises purity, long life and "salvation" from disease through proper nutrition. Christianity is a religion commanding us to worship the one true God and showing us how to have salvation and abundant life in Jesus Christ. Nutritianity is a religion commanding us to worship ourselves and our bodies, offering abundant life through dietary laws. The two religions are diametrically opposed, but both claim the Bible as a textbook.
Nutritianity is not a new religion. It is at least as old as the New Testament (although the details have changed somewhat), and Paul warned Christians about it:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
Though the false teachers referenced by Paul in this passage may not have been motivated by nutrition concerns, they were nevertheless seeking an equivalent purity of sorts. Consequently, I believe this passage speaks with great relevance to the tenets of Nutritianity today. Nutritianity is not a harmless religion. It is a corruption of Christianity that Paul calls the teaching of demons, and it is the means by which some fall away from the faith. It is deadly serious. Nutritianity is a threat to the gospel. If it were not, I wouldn't bother writing this book.
There are many authors today who are advocating "biblical" diets, and a Google search on Bible and nutrition will lead you to their books. At the time of this book's publishing, amazon.com listed the following entries: Nutrition and Health in the Bible; The World's Oldest Health Plan: Health, Nutrition and Healing from the Bible, both by Kathleen O'Bannon; What the Bible Says About Healthy Living: 3 Principles That Will Change Your Diet and Improve Your Health by Rex Russell; The Bible's Seven Secrets to Healthy Eating by Joyce Rogers; Healing Secrets from the Bible: God Wants Us to Be Healthy & the Bible Tells Us How by Patrick Quillin; et al.
Out of all the authors who invoke the Bible for their nutrition regimens, I will limit myself to two of the most influential: Jordan Rubin and Don Colbert. Though there may be many minor differences between the various authors of Nutritianity, it is my observation that they generally agree on the main points. It is also my belief that Rubin and Colbert are good and fair representatives of the nutrition theology movement.
Jordan Rubin has doctoral degrees in naturopathic medicine, nutrition and natural therapies and is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Maker's Diet. He has also written 19 other health related books, including such titles as The Great Physician's Rx for Health and Wellness, The Great Physician's Rx for Diabetes, The Great Physician's Rx for Colds and Flu, GPRX for Depression and Anxiety, GPRX for High Blood Pressure, et al. Rubin hosts the weekly television show Extraordinary Health with Jordan Rubin that reaches more than 30 million households worldwide. He is Founder and CEO of Garden of Life, a health and wellness company that by 2004 was named one of the fastest growing privately held companies by Entrepreneur Magazine and Inc. 500.
Don Colbert is a medical doctor who specializes in anti-aging medicine, preventive medicine, and integrative medicine. He is the founder of Divine Health Wellness Center in Longwood, Florida, and is the author of over 40 books, including the New York Times Bestseller The Seven Pillars of Health; Eat This and Live; What Would Jesus Eat?; Living in Divine Health; and a series of Bible cure books, including The Bible Cure for ADD and Hyperactivity; The Bible Cure for Allergies; The Bible Cure for Asthma; The Bible Cure for Arthritis; et al. Colbert markets his own brand of vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements, called Divine Health Nutritional Products.
At the outset, allow me to make a few disclaimers. I have not read every book these men have written. I do not know everything they have said. But I have read enough to discover the premise and general drift of their teachings. I am not disputing every point they make or arguing that everything they say is wrong. I am also not disputing the health transformation testimonies of people who have followed the dietary advice of these men. What I will argue is that these men have not accurately handled the Word of Truth and that there is a subtle but serious danger in their teachings, regardless of whether their nutritional advice improves your physical health.
In no way should this book be understood as a blanket condemnation on the value of nutrition or the advice of nutrition experts. I am not saying that every kind of food is equal in nutritional value. I am not saying that we should be unconcerned about nutrition. Diabetics obviously need to be concerned with their sugar intake, people with food allergies should avoid foods that give them reactions, and everyone should be concerned about gluttony. I am not throwing medical or nutritional research to the wind. I am opposing the illicit use of the Bible to make prohibitive food laws for people in the new covenant. A certain food may be harmful to a certain person, and that person shouldn't eat that food. But that doesn't mean that there should be a law prohibiting everyone from eating it. Our bodies have been affected in varying ways by the fall of Adam. My body may break down in different ways from yours. I might not be able to digest a certain food that is not a problem for you. That is a problem with my body, not the food.
There will be no information in this book on the supposed findings of the scientific, medical, and health food communities. There are several reasons for this:
1) There is a multitude of books produced by all manner of specialists on this subject, and those who are interested in their conclusions can consult these books.
2) The science about what is good nutrition and what is not is constantly changing. There is a lack of unity in the research of those in the health food community, medical or otherwise, and the foods that are taboo in one decade are often highly touted in the next. For me to incorporate the findings of the health food experts would force me to arbitrarily choose those experts I thought were correct. I am not qualified to do this, and I'm not sure anyone else is either.
3) My purpose is to give biblical instruction to the church on what God says about food, not relay the opinions of what modern day experts say about food. God is a greater authority on food and the human body than any human "expert."
In Ecclesiastes 12:12, the wise preacher wrote the following: "But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body." So why am I writing this book? Not because we need more books in the world. There is only one book that we need: The Bible. God's Word is sufficient for us in all matters of life, including our diet.
But God has also ordained the usefulness of preachers to point people to the Word of God when they are straying from it. And so I write this book to turn the hearts of believers back to the Word of God, where they will find true food for their souls and discover that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. If this book encourages you to a greater trust in God's Word, then it will have achieved its purpose.
For His glory,
The New Health and Wealth Gospel
"Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus." 2 Timothy 4:20
The health and wealth gospel, which spread like a plague in the 20th century and continues to spread its infectious theology throughout the world today, erroneously teaches that God always wants people (particularly Christians) to be rich and in good health. After all, if God loves you, why would He want anything else for you? Never mind the fact that Jesus said it is hard for the rich to get into heaven. Even so, God apparently wants us all to be in that very condition in which it is hard for us to get to heaven, and we should all want to be in that condition! Health and wealth are assumed to be God's two greatest blessings, and if God is blessing you, you will have them. If you don't have health and wealth, God is obviously not blessing you.
What happens if you get sick? You merely need to ask God in faith to heal you and He always will. Or you can speak the word in faith and this will release God's power to "cast out the demon" of disease. But what happens if you do this and the sickness remains? There is only one possible conclusion: you do not have enough faith, because it cannot be God's will for you to remain sick.
Within this movement, many "faith healers" have emerged, claiming the power to heal diseases. Hordes of people have come forward to receive healing from cancer, heart disease, back problems, joint problems and a host of other ailments. Usually the maladies are as unverifiable as the alleged healings. Whenever healing supposedly occurs, the faith healer gets the credit and glory (with a token nod to the Lord, of course). The faith healer could never achieve the superstar status that he has if he were considered a lowly and expendable instrument of God. However, though the healer is considered to have great power and gets credit for all successes, he does not take blame for the failures. That cannot be his fault. That is the fault of the sick person, who clearly does not have enough faith.
According to this logic, Paul apparently failed to believe that God could remove the thorn in his flesh when he asked three times that it be removed (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). God could not have wanted the thorn to remain because God never wants such things. Therefore, it could not have been God teaching Paul that His grace was sufficient for him and that God's power was made perfect in weakness, even though that's what Paul says.
If God always wants us to be healthy, then it must be granted that the most eminent Christians of by-gone eras, many of whom suffered frequent bouts of sickness, did not have much faith. David Livingstone, 19th-century missionary to Africa, spent much of his life suffering from sickness. David Brainerd, 18th-century missionary to North American Indians, suffered illness numerous times and died at the age of 29. William Carey, 19th-century missionary to India, suffered frequently as well. The same can be said for Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, George Whitefield, William Wilberforce, Charles Spurgeon and many others. In spite of the extraordinary way in which these men were used of God, according to the health and wealth gospel, they were men of "little faith" who didn't believe in God's power to heal them.
Furthermore, it should be noted that everyone, no matter how righteous (including the renowned faith healers), will one day die, and many will die of some disease. Is this also because of a lack of faith?
This is the essence of the health and wealth gospel. It leads to pride if you have health or wealth, and confusion and depression if you don't. Furthermore, it encourages people to fix their hope on health, wealth and the things of this world and runs contrary to the admonition of the apostle Paul in Colossians 3:1-3: "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God."
Those who are taught that God's greatest blessings consist of health and wealth will find it impossible to set their minds on things above.
The New Healers
It is my conviction that Nutritianity is nothing but a slight variation of the health and wealth gospel, with an obvious emphasis on health. The premise and the conclusion is the same: God always wants you to be healthy. You can be healthy by simply making the right food choices and thereby become your own savior. Faith healing is replaced with nutritional healing, and faith healers with nutritional healers. The focus is things below, not things above. What happens if you get sick? It must be your fault. You must have deviated from the perfect nutrition plan. This is the logical and inevitable conclusion.
Consider the words of Dr. Colbert in his book Eat This and Live: "You were not placed on earth to be anemic, feeble, and helpless. God wants you to live 'more abundantly'— disease-free and in maximum health. Your physical body is precious and was created as a dwelling place for your Creator. Yet most people pollute their temples by eating too much food and eating the wrong foods."1
Without any Biblical proof, Colbert declares emphatically that we were not placed on earth to be "anemic, feeble and helpless." But how does he know this? Where is it written that God does not intend some Christians, perhaps many, to be just that? If God did not intend Job to get boils, why did he allow Satan to afflict Job with boils? Satan asked permission and God gave it to him. Obviously, this was a specific test for Job, but are we to conclude that God never tests Christians with sickness today? Upon what basis would we draw that conclusion? Did God not intend for Paul to receive a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)? If not, why did God allow him to get the thorn and why didn't God remove the thorn when Paul asked him?
Of course, we do not know exactly what the thorn in the flesh was, but we do know this: it was in the flesh. It made Paul weak, Paul wanted to get rid of it, he asked God three times to remove it, and God said no. It was definitely God's intention for Paul to have a thorn in the flesh so that he would be humbled and understand that God's power is made perfect in weakness. If this was true for Paul, couldn't it also be true for many sick Christians today?
Furthermore, how can Colbert's statements be reconciled with Exodus 4:11? "The LORD said to him, 'Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?'"Here God declares unapologetically that he makes men dumb, deaf and blind. Clearly, God placed some people on earth to be feeble and helpless.
Colbert's philosophy presupposes a God who is not really sovereign, even though Psalm 115:3(along with a host of other verses) declares, "But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases." If God does whatever He pleases, and if He is pleased that everyone (all Christians at least) enjoy maximum health, then why is it that so many Christians do not enjoy maximum health?
The reply is predictable: Because they have free will and are not choosing to eat right. But consider: Is Almighty God able to persuade them to eat right? If so, why doesn't He? If not, what makes Dr. Colbert think he can? The truth is that there is no evidence that God wants all Christians to enjoy maximum health or that He is frustrated that they aren't eating right. It is also quite likely that many people's ailments have nothing do with what they eat.
The second major problem with Dr. Colbert's statement above is his misuse of Scripture. When he says God wants you to live "more abundantly," he is putting those words in quotes to trigger your biblical memory. The words are from John 10:10, where Jesus says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
The context of this passage is a contrast between Jesus and false prophets. The false prophet (the thief) comes to kill and destroy the sheep, but Jesus comes that they may have abundant life. What should be apparent is that the abundant life Jesus is speaking of is eternal life, not a long life on earth of maximum health. Colbert is taking these words out of context and misusing them to preach his health message. I wish it were a rare instance among the proponents of Nutritianity.
Jordan Rubin is encumbered with the same peculiar theology derived by the same careless exegesis.
I believe God designed us to live long and fruitful lives. I believe we can maintain our strength and vigor well into old age by following the Great Physician's prescription for health and wellness. Think about it: before Moses died, scripture says that his eyes did not grow dim. The Bible tells us that the eyes are the windows of the soul, the light of the body. If the eyes are good, the whole body is good. In fact, when priests were called upon to diagnose the disease of an Israelite, they looked into the person's eyes. What this means is that Moses did not die of an illness; nor was his body feeble or his mind weak. God was ready to take him home; Moses was simply used up. Joshua passed away at the age of 110, just months after he came off the battlefield. Caleb was going full bore, battling giants in his late eighties, until the Lord called him home. These heroes of the Bible never spent time in assisted living or nursing homes. They drank the last drop from the cup of life because they followed God's principles of good health found in the Bible. And you can, too…2
This paragraph is fraught with errors. First, Rubin assumes, without biblical proof, that God has designed us to live long lives and is apparently frustrated in His design by our failure to eat the right foods. Rubin's second assumption—that Moses enjoyed great health by following God's prescription for health and wellness—is patently false. The "biblical" diet Rubin argues for would not have been the diet Moses ate. Remember, Moses lived in Egypt until age 40 (Acts 7:23), and it is likely that he ate an Egyptian diet, including foods that God would later declare "unclean." It is highly unlikely that he ate according to the food laws outlined in Leviticus 11, since the Law had not yet been revealed to him. This would be true for all the Israelites, including Joshua and Caleb.
For the next 40 years, Moses lived in Midian, with his wife Zipporah and her family. We don't know what he ate, but we do know that he had not yet received the Law of God, and so still would not have been eating according to Leviticus 11 standards. His last 40 years were spent wandering through the wilderness eating manna. Consequently, Moses never ate the "Great Physician's Rx for health and wellness" and his long, healthy life had nothing to do with that diet. Rubin's premise falls apart and so do his conclusions.
The description of Moses' good health up until the day he died is remarkable precisely because it is so unusual for the Israelites, notbecause it is normal. The same is true for Joshua and Caleb. These are the exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself. God preserved them miraculously, not because they ate the Levitical diet, but because they trusted Him and believed His Word, unlike the other ten men who spied out the land and brought back a negative report. Those men died of a plague before the Lord (Numb. 14:37), and all the numbered men of Israel who were twenty years old and older died in the wilderness for their unfaithfulness, instead of living to the ripe old age that Jordan Rubin suggests (Numb. 14:26-39).
As an aside,it should be noted that the Bible does not tell us that the eye is the window to the soul. It is an English proverb, but it is not from the Bible. With respect to the nursing home comment, one can hope that Rubin is speaking tongue-in-cheek, for obviously no one in ancient Israel could have spent any time in nursing homes. They did not exist.
As a young man, Rubin suffered from Crohn's disease and withered to 104 pounds. After many doctor visits and unsuccessful medical treatments, Rubin recounts the revolutionary moment when a man told him he needed to follow the health plan in the Bible.
I immediately grabbed my concordance and tore it open, looking up every scripture in the Bible that had to do with health, food, or healing. What I learned is the basis for this book—that God's chosen people, the Israelites (who the Bible calls the world's healthiest people), lived a life totally separate from the rest of the world.3
He continues: "You can't argue with the way things turned out for the Israelites after they reached the Promised Land. Scripture tells us that the Israelites were healthier, had more wisdom, and provoked their neighbors to jealousy. Throughout history, the Jewish people have been the most hygienic and healthiest race on the planet—as long as they held true to God's commandments."4
I do not question the veracity of Rubin's testimony and am happy for the good health he now enjoys. I also do not dispute that his recovery is due to his dietary changes. It may well be. What I am disputing is his interpretation of Scripture and his assumption that because his health improved after switching to the Levitical diet, everyone else should switch as well. It should be noted that Dr. Colbert does not think the Levitical diet is in force today.
The Bible never calls the Israelites the world's healthiest people; nor does it ever say that once the Israelites reached the Promised Land they were healthier, had more wisdom and provoked their neighbors to jealousy. This is either wishful thinking on Rubin's part or a monumental inference from Deuteronomy 4:5-9, which reads as follows:
See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. "So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' "For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? "Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? "Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.
Certainly, the Israelites were the wisest people on earth and a source of jealousy to the nations when they were faithful to God. God promised that if they obeyed His Law, they would be greatly blessed in all their labors, and the surrounding nations would know God was with them. However, they often didn't obey God. God promised that if they forsook Him and served other gods, He would visit them with terrible curses and make them a byword among the nations (see Deuteronomy 28). Sadly, this frequently happened and they suffered the consequences. See Deuteronomy 31:16-20.
This is the complete story and Rubin's failure to tell the whole story is either due to a lack of thorough study or to an historical revisionism for the purpose of establishing his thesis. Even if the Israelites had obeyed the Lord and had lived long and prospered, it would be an unwarranted inference to assume they were being rewarded primarily for obeying the food laws. The food laws were one small part of the Law. The Israelites would not have had long, disease-free lives if they had merely kept the food laws, while ignoring the laws about idolatry. If they forsook the Lord and served other gods, they would be cursed with diseases no matter how faithfully they abstained from pork chops and fried catfish.
This demonstrates the futility of drawing any connection between diet and length of life when it comes to the Israelites. It presupposes no other variables affecting life and health. It presupposes a God whose only involvement was to give the Law (with a dubious emphasis on dietary law) and then back away and hope that Israel ate right. But God promised to be present with curses of disease and great judgment if Israel turned their back on Him.
As to Rubin's claim that "throughout history, the Jewish people have been the most hygienic and healthiest race on the planet…" who could confirm it or deny it? How could such a statement be proven or disproven? Has a study been conducted on this from the days of Abraham onward? This is one of those statements that we are simply supposed to accept without thinking about it so that we will follow the prescribed Levitical diet.
Does God need you to be healthy to use you?
No statement exemplifies the health and wealth gospel more than the following one by Jordan Rubin: "Nothing on earth matters more than your physical well-being because without your health, God cannot use you properly. Since God has great plans for you, he's calling you, one of his children, to present yourself as a living sacrifice today."5
If Rubin were faithful to the true gospel, he would have said that nothing on earth matters more than the glory of God. Or, with respect to our personal lives, he would have said that nothing on earth matters more than faith in Jesus Christ, working itself through love (Galatians 5:6). Where is it written that nothing on earth matters more than your physical well-being? Where is anything like this statement found in the Bible? And how can Rubin's notion that God cannot use us properly if we aren't in good health be reconciled with Job's physical afflictions, Paul's thorn in the flesh and the testimonies of almost every missionary who ever lived? Was God unable to use these servants properly because they did not enjoy maximum health? Of course not. Have you ever known a fellow Christian who had great usefulness in the kingdom of God even though he or she was afflicted with a bodily ailment? Have you ever read a biography of a departed saint who was marvelously used by God in the midst of sickness and weakness?
The truth is just the opposite of Rubin's premise. The truth is that the weaker we are, the more useful we become. Paul clearly teaches us this in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Only the wealthy could be this healthy.
The health and wealth gospel has been so named because those who preach it usually desire both. They don't want to merely be healthy. They also want to be wealthy. It is worthy of note that the dietary recommendations of Colbert and Rubin assume a middle to upper class American lifestyle not enjoyed by the vast majority of people in the world. In other words, you have to have a fair amount of money just to eat the way they advise.
For instance, if God wants everyone to eat organic foods, which are generally far more expensive than non-organic, how are the poor to afford it? If God wants us to eat the great variety of foods that Colbert and Rubin recommend, what are the millions of people to do in this world who do not have access to that variety? If God wants everyone in the world to spend the enormous amount of time required by these authors to successfully micromanage our nutrients and vitamins, what are all those people to do in the world who have no such luxury of time? What are all the poor people to do who must labor from sunup to sundown simply to survive?
Colbert recommends the eating of wild salmon to get the necessary omega-3 fats6. But for millions of people in the world, this is not possible. Furthermore, prior to the invention of refrigeration and modern transportation, how would most of the people in the world who did not live near the sea ever get wild salmon? Colbert also recommends phytonutrients that he says protect against cancer, heart disease, cataracts, macular degeneration and dementia.
The phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables can be grouped according to color. Each group has its own set of unique protective benefits. You need to try to consume all seven colors of the phytonutrients rainbow every day to receive the protection you need. To do this, you need to eat a variety of foods. Think of phytonutrients as a 'rainbow of health,' God's promise to you to keep you healthy.7
Again, how many people in the world today and throughout the history of the world, have the luxury of eating this necessary variety so that they can take advantage of God's "promise"?
Colbert cites guidelines released in 2008 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommending a daily dose of 400 IUs (international units) of vitamin D per child, due to reports that rickets may be on the rise in the United States. He goes on to state that since most infants and young children will not consume the six glasses of milk or servings of salmon or mackerel that would provide them with the necessary vitamin D, pediatricians expect most parents to meet the new guidelines by providing supplements for their children.8
Again, what are most people supposed to do? Most don't even know this new "fact" and even if they did, would they be able to afford to do anything about it? Furthermore, if God wants everyone to be this healthy, why doesn't He let everyone know what they need and then make sure they have access to it? Is God so weak and impotent that he is incapable of providing what's necessary? Or could it be that God simply doesn't expect everyone to live as long as Dr. Colbert and Jordan Rubin do? Perhaps God never intended people to spend the kind of time and money necessary to micro-manage their daily nutritional intake.
Equally disturbing is the evolutionary thinking behind some of Colbert's views. In arguing that we need only a small amount of meat, Colbert reminds his readers that only one percent of a gorilla's diet is derived from animal meat. Unless you are an evolutionist, it is hard to understand what relevance a gorilla's meat intake has for human beings.
He makes a similar point when highlighting the dangers of dairy products, cow's milk in particular. After pointing out that dairy products are linked to allergies and sensitivities, including skin rashes, eczema, fatigue, spastic colon, excessive mucus production, common nasal allergies and chronic sinus infections, Colbert says, "Small wonder that man is the only species in the animal kingdom to drink cow's milk as an adult."9
This statement is heavily laden with absurdities. First, scripture does not consider man to be part of the animal kingdom; only evolutionists think this way. Secondly, there is an obvious reason that animals do not drink cow's milk as adults (or babies). They can't walk into our stores and buy the milk and God did not create them to mosey up to cows and suck on their udders! In any case, it should be patently obvious that the reason animals abstain from cow's milk is not because they intuitively know how bad it supposedly is for them. Furthermore, dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, etc., do in fact drink cow's milk when it is offered to them, as any owner of such animals will tell you.
It is my conviction that Don Colbert and Jordan Rubin have either misunderstood or misconstrued the biblical teaching on food. In the subsequent chapters, we will examine the whole counsel of God on this subject and seek to answer the question, "What does the Bible teach about food?"
Food in the Old Testament
"Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood." Genesis 9:3-4
On the subject of food, or any subject, the most important question is, "What does the Bible say?" The reason is obvious. God knows everything and is never wrong. Since God created all things, including humans and the food they eat, He should have a good idea about what we can eat or not eat. He is the authority on the subject. Furthermore, God is unchanging. What he wrote 2,000 years ago or 4,000 years ago is a revelation of His perfect wisdom. God does not learn new things. All things are known to God before any of them come to pass. There have been no discoveries in the 20th or 21st centuries which have enlightened God or corrected His understanding. God is not behind the times and His Word is not out of date. If we discover a "new" truth about the human body or about food, it is not a new truth to God. God knew it from the beginning and He knew it when He authored scripture.
If a "new truth" is discovered about the human body or about food which contradicts God's Word, then it is not a new truth. It is a lie. Anything we discover that is contrary to God's Word is merely the discovery of another falsehood. Since God is the source of truth and since He is unchanging and never learns anything new, we can trust scripture. The modern-day discoveries of science concerning food and nutrition, therefore, must be consistent with what God has revealed in His Word, or else we can safely conclude that such scientific findings are incorrect.
Therefore, if God declares in His Word that certain foods are good, while a 21st century scientist declares that this same food is bad for you, we are forced to one of the following conclusions:
1) God is wrong;
2) The scientist is wrong;
3) The food has been so altered by pesticides, preservatives, depleted soil and modern farming techniques that God's declaration of the goodness of this food is no longer reliable or applicable.
Option number one is obviously impossible. God is never wrong about anything. Option number two is not only possible, but frequently a reality. Option number three sounds plausible on the surface but has dangerous implications for the authority of God's Word. I will deal with this more thoroughly in the coming pages. For now, let us consider what the Word of God says about food.
The covenant with Noah
What we find when looking at God's Word is that He has prescribed different diets in different times of human history. We also find that such changes have nothing to do with any intrinsic change in the food itself and nothing to do with the nutritional value of food. In Genesis 1:29, God said to Adam and Eve, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you." Adam and Eve were given vegetables, fruit and grains to eat. They were not permitted at this point to eat the meat of animals or any other creature. Some conclude that if God gave them this diet in a perfect world, we should still follow it in an imperfect world. And so they advocate vegetarianism.
The problem with this is that God changed this rule after the fall. If God had not spoken further about what we could eat, then we would have warrant for a vegetarian diet. But He has spoken further and He has prescribed something more than vegetarianism for those living in a fallen world. In Genesis 9:3-4, after the flood, God told Noah, "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood."
God gave Noah and his descendants a much wider diet. He told them they could eat every moving thing that was alive, as long as the blood was not still in it. That is a broad license. People at that time could not eat road-kill, but everything else was permissible. Some commentators believe that the permission to eat animals was actually granted immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve and only renewed in explicit language later to Noah. God apparently sacrificed an animal in order to provide Adam and Eve with animal skins to wear in place of their fig leaves. The sacrifice might have been eaten by Adam and Eve, as animal sacrifices often were. In any case, what is clear is that Noah was given permission to eat every living thing.
What is interesting about this declaration is that it was made during a time in which some animals were considered unclean (see Genesis 8:20-21). This means that Noah and his descendants were permitted to eat "unclean" animals that would later be off limits under the Mosaic Law. Noah was not told to avoid eating the unclean animals, but the Israelites later were. This should tell us something: God did not designate some animals to be unclean because they were nutritionally unhealthy to eat. If the reason God forbade the Israelites to eat unclean animals was because they were "bad for them," then He would certainly have prohibited Noah from eating them as well. But He did not. He simply declared them unclean in a ceremonial way, which means they were not acceptable to Him for sacrificial offerings (Genesis 8:20).
Concerning Genesis 9:3, John Gill, an 18th century English pastor and theologian, said this in his Exposition of the Entire Bible:
Every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you…That is, every beast, bird, and fish, without exception; for though there was a difference at this time of clean and unclean creatures with respect to sacrifice, yet not with respect to food; every creature of God was good then, as it is now, and it was left to man's reason and judgment what to make use of, as would be most conducive to his health, and agreeable to his taste: and though there was a distinction afterwards made under the Levitical dispensation among the Jews, who were forbid the use of some creatures; yet they themselves say that all unclean beasts will be clean in the world to come, in the times of the Messiah, as they were to the sons of Noah, and refer to this text in proof of it.
If we should not eat meat today, as vegetarians suggest, or if we should not eat the animals that God later declared unclean to Moses, as Jordan Rubin suggests, then why could Noah and everyone who lived between the time of Noah and Moses eat them? Did the nutritional value of meat steadily improve after the fall until it became good to eat in the time of Noah, and then gradually deteriorate again to the point of being unhealthy in the time of Moses? Surely, this would be a bizarre conclusion. No, the truth is that nutrition has nothing to do with the prohibition of eating meat in the garden or the permission to eat meat in the post-flood world or the prohibition of eating some meat under the Mosaic covenant. We will see what the reason is shortly, but for now, let us be clear: nutrition has nothing to do with it.
The Mosaic covenant
In reading through the book of Leviticus, it is clear that many things besides food can be clean or unclean. People can become unclean by various means. Places and things can become unclean by contact with something or someone who is unclean. Obviously, a person who is unclean is not nutritionally unclean. He is ritually or ceremonially unclean. This means that he is unacceptable to God or unfit to approach God in worship until he is ritually cleansed. When a place or an article of clothing is unclean, it obviously has nothing to do with nutrition. It simply means that it is offensive to God, until it is cleansed.
So, since the word "unclean" bears that meaning with respect to people, places and things, why would we think it meant anything different when referring to animals and food? Perhaps it is because we approach the text with nutrition in mind and read those concerns into the text. Let us consider Leviticus 11, the passage in which God enumerates those creatures that He declared unclean. The passage is lengthy and I will not quote the entirety of it here, but I would encourage you to read the whole passage and see whether these things are so.
In Leviticus 11:3-4, we read, "Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat. 'Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these, among those which chew the cud, or among those which divide the hoof: the camel, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you."
The Israelites could eat animalsthat parted the hoof and chewed the cud. Any animal that didn't meet these criteria was considered unclean. Many have supposed that the cud-chewing requirement was based on nutrition. In other words, animals that chew their cud digest food better, making them more nutritionally fit for consumption. But this does not explain why Israelites were prohibited from eating an animal which chewed the cud but which did not part the hoof (such as the camel and rabbit). What does a divided hoof have to do with nutrition?
We must also remember that Noah and all those descending from him were permitted to eat animals that didn't chew the cud. So why would we assume cud chewing had anything to do with nutrition? Did animals change from the time of Noah to Moses? How so? Did God love the Israelites more than Noah, allowing Noah to eat unclean meat while sparing the Israelites that supposed danger? Of course not.
The truth is that it is very hard to understand the significance of cud chewing and divided hoofs in designating animals as clean or unclean. Many commentators believe there is a spiritual symbolism at play here, indicating that the Israelites are to meditate on the Word of God (chew the cud) and be discerning between good and evil (divide the hoof), but no one can say with complete certainty.
When reading Leviticus 11, many people focus like a laser on pigs in verse seven. I'm not sure why, since pigs are only one among many unclean animals mentioned. Aha!, they say. Pigs are filthy creatures and they eat garbage and that's why God told the Israelites not to eat pigs! But the text gives no hint at all that this is the reason pigs were forbidden. In fact, the reason why pigs were forbidden is the same reason why camels and rabbits were forbidden. They only meet one of the criteria. The pig divides the hoof but does not chew the cud.
There are many problems with the notion that pigs are unclean because of what they eat. First, there is the Noah problem again. Since Noah and all his descendants were permitted to eat pigs, why would we conclude that this new prohibition had anything to do with nutrition? Secondly, camels and rabbits do not have the reputation of being scavengers, and yet they were also unclean. So why do we single out the scavenging nature of pigs as the reason why they are unclean? Thirdly, the Israelites were also not supposed to touch pigs. They would become unclean by simply touching them (see verse 8). What does touching pigs have to do with nutrition? Clearly, there is something more going on here.
The same issues apply to the designation of unclean fish in verses 9-12. Fish and other water creatures that have fins or scales were clean, while those without fins and scales were unclean. Aha!, someone will say. Catfish are prohibited because they are scum sucking bottom dwellers. They ingest so much filth that we should not eat them because of bad nutrition. But again, the text says nothing about this. We simply read this into the text and allow our nutrition concerns to be superimposed upon the text. Furthermore, not all water creatures without fins and scales are alike. They are not all bottom feeders. So why single out the catfish and zero in on their scavenging nature as the reason why God forbade the consumption of all water creatures that have no fins or scales?
The same rules apply to clean and unclean birds. Some of the birds mentioned in Leviticus 11:13-20 are scavengers that feed on dead things, such as the vulture and the eagle, but some are not. Though it is tempting to see nutrition concerns here, there is another explanation. Israelites would become unclean by touching anything that was dead, including another human being (see Leviticus 11:31ff; Numbers 9:6-13). Therefore, they would also become unclean by eating an animal that spent most of its time eating other dead animals. And if nutrition was the issue, then why were owls, night hawks, storks and various other birds also considered unclean? And why was Noah allowed to eat these birds?
Just as nutrition is not the issue in determining what is clean or unclean, neither is the personal taste of modern Americans. Some people think pigs were unclean simply because they think pigs are gross and they can't stomach the idea of eating them. Some people feel the same way about catfish. But clearly not everyone feels this way. One person's feelings and taste buds do not determine what is clean or unclean. It should be noted that among the clean creatures Israelites could eat were locusts, beetles, and grasshoppers (Leviticus 11:21-22)—not exactly my top three choices for Thanksgiving dinner! I don't personally care to eat these creatures. The idea sort of makes my stomach queasy, but the Israelites were permitted to eat them. The point is that the way you or I feel about a certain animal or meat is irrelevant. Our personal preferences are not the reason God declared some creatures clean and other creatures unclean.
The Bible never says bad nutrition was the reason some animals were declared unclean. To assume that the food laws are based on nutrition is an inference neither warranted from the texts in question nor from the context of the full biblical teaching on food. Concerns over nutrition are not derived from the Bible. They are read into it. So, if pigs, camels, rabbits, catfish, etc., were not declared unclean because they were bad nutritionally, then why were they declared unclean? The answer requires some explanation and will be the subject of the next chapter.
Why Unclean Foods are Now Clean
"A voice came to him, Get up, Peter, kill and eat! But Peter said, By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean. Again a voice came to him a second time, What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." Acts 10:13-15
Why were some animals (foods) declared unclean in the old covenant? This is the question we will now explore. When God sanctifies something, He arbitrarily chooses it and sets it apart for his own special use. In many instances in scripture, being sanctified is the opposite of being unclean. The nation of Israel (which included believers and unbelievers) was sanctified and holy because God arbitrarily chose them for His special purposes, not because they were inherently righteous or better than any other nation (see Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 9:3-6).
In a similar way, some foods were arbitrarily set apart by God for sacrifice and for consumption, and others were arbitrarily declared unclean. Clean foods were not declared to be clean because of any inherent virtue, and unclean foods were not declared unclean because of any inherent defect. The Israelites were not to eat the unclean foods or else they would become unclean themselves and unfit for the worship of God.
The purpose of the book of Leviticus is to teach the Israelites about the holiness of God and how He is to be worshipped, not to teach the Israelites about proper nutrition. This, however, raises a question. If an Israelite could become unclean by eating an unclean animal and thereby become unfit for worship, then how could Noah eat them and remain pure? I believe the reason is found in God's unique calling upon Israel to be separate and distinct from the nations around them, a calling God did not give Noah.
The Israelite calling to be separate from other nations was instilled by many laws, including laws requiring them to observe a different diet. God called Israel to be a holy and separate nation. They were not to intermarry with the other nations, lest their hearts be drawn away to worship foreign gods (Deuteronomy 7:3-6). They were not to imitate the idolatrous worship practices of the nations (Deuteronomy 12:29-30). To reinforce this and to deeply instill into their minds the principle of separation, God gave the Israelites a number of commands that seem to make no sense when this purpose is not kept in mind. For instance, in Leviticus 19:19, God said, "You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together."
Though some have tried to find in this commandment God's secret to successful farming and weaving, the context of the book of Leviticus is the proper worship of God. God wanted the Israelites to be holy, separate, distinct and pure in their love for Him and worship of Him. God despises the competition of idols and wanted the Israelites' undivided attention. God gave the Israelites commandments to govern their daily life so that even in the routine experiences of life they would know that their loyalties and affections for God were not to be mixed with loyalties and affections to other gods. It is not surprising then that they were also required to be different in the foods they ate.
This is not mere speculation. It is the express teaching of Leviticus 20:22-26.
You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out. Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them. Hence I have said to you, 'You are to possess their land, and I Myself will give it to you to possess it, a land flowing with milk and honey.' I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean. Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine (italics mine).
From this passage, it is clear that God commanded Israel to abstain from animals that He had declared unclean as a way of separating them from the Gentiles, not as a way of managing their nutrition.
"Rise, Peter. Kill and eat."
While the study of dietary regulations under previous covenant administrations is interesting, what concerns Christians most is God's instructions to those living in the New Testament (covenant). If God has given instructions to us in the New Testament different from those He gave to believers in the Old Testament, then we would do well to abide by the rules of the covenant we are in, instead of a covenant we are not in. What we find when looking at the New Testament is that God has given instructions to believers different from those He gave to the Israelites under the Old Testament. There has been a covenantal change.
The first change in food laws is briefly mentioned in Mark 7:19 and expounded upon in Acts 10. In Mark 7:1-23, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their traditions that enabled them to transgress the commandments of God. The Pharisees had complained that Jesus' disciples did not ceremonially wash their hands before eating, which violated the tradition of the elders. Jesus sharply rebuked them for adhering to man-made traditions while ignoring God-given commandments. He then called the multitude to Him and told them that defilement didn't come from food and from things outside of them. Rather defilement came from their hearts.
The disciples later asked Jesus about this statement and He replied as follows, in Mark 7:18-19: "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated? (Thus He declared all foods clean.)"
Here Jesus is teaching that nothing that enters the man from outside and goes into his stomach can truly defile him. It simply goes into his stomach and then passes from there into the sewer. We will look more at this passage in chapter six. For now, let us note that this passage seems to directly contradict Leviticus 11, which teaches that contact with unclean animals would defile the Israelites. How do we reconcile these passages? How could Jesus say that nothing from the outside going into a man could defile him, while Leviticus 11 taught that contact with unclean animals would in fact defile?
The reason is that uncleanness is derived from disobedience which comes from the heart. This is consistent with Christ's teaching that all defilement comes from within. In other words, Israelites in the old covenant were not defiled by touching a pig because pigs were inherently unclean and would contagiously spread their uncleanness to anyone who touched them. Rather, pigs were unclean because God declared them to be off limits. Disobedience to God is what made a person unclean. Since God said not to touch or eat pigs, an Israelite would become unclean by disobeying God's command to not touch or eat pigs. Disobedience comes from a heart that does not want to submit to God's rule. Defilement, Jesus says, comes from within, not from without.
What we find when we look further at the new covenant is that God has removed the unclean designation from all the animals that were declared to be unclean in the old covenant. In Acts 10, we read that Cornelius, a Gentile, had a vision in which an angel of God told him to send for Peter. He then sent some servants to go to Joppa and summon Peter to his house to speak with him. In the meantime, Peter had a vision of his own. The account, starting in verse 10, reads as follows:
But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, 'Get up, Peter, kill and eat!' But Peter said, 'By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.' Again a voice came to him a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.' This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.—Acts 10:10-16
The creatures in Peter's vision were unclean, but he was told to kill and eat them. Understandably, Peter objected. He had carefully followed the food regulations of the Old Testament and did not want to rebel against them. But Peter was told that God had cleansed what was once considered unclean, and so he should no longer consider them unclean. After Peter's vision, Cornelius' servants arrived. Before Peter went down to meet them, the Holy Spirit told him to go with the men without reservation. Why would Peter have reservations? Because Gentiles were considered unclean and Jews did not mingle with them. They certainly didn't go into their houses and eat with them. But, Peter obeyed the Holy Spirit and went with the men.
When Peter met Cornelius, he said to him in verse 28, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean" (italics mine). Here is an extremely significant text. Here is the biblical explanation for why God had previously declared some animals to be unclean! It is because the unclean animals represented the unclean Gentiles. It had nothing to do with nutrition.
Peter understood from his vision that the unclean animals represented the unclean Gentiles in a symbolic way. That is why he said to Cornelius, "God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean." Obviously, the Gentiles were declared clean simply by divine pronouncement, not by any physiological transformation. In the same way, food that was formerly unclean is now considered clean simply by divine declaration, not by any physiological or nutritional transformation.
This reinforces the idea that the purpose of the food laws was to teach and illustrate the distinctiveness of the Jews and their separateness from the Gentiles. Since the requirement for the Israelites to be separate from unclean animals was rooted in their calling to remain separate from the Gentiles, it follows that once the prohibition of associating with Gentiles was abolished, the prohibition on eating unclean animals would likewise be abolished. Food laws which symbolized the separation that existed between Jews and Gentiles are now no longer relevant in an era when the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down (Ephesians 2:11-21).
Jordan Rubin, who is a messianic Jew, believes that the reason God commanded the Israelites to abstain from lobsters, crabs, shrimp and catfish is because they are bottom feeders who sustain themselves on fish droppings. But if this were the case, why would God declare such animals clean in the New Testament? Did they suddenly cease to be bottom feeders? If not, then the reason why they were originally declared unclean could not have been due to their scavenging diet.
Rubin maintains that even though the Gentiles are now clean, the unclean animals that symbolized them are still unclean. "What was unclean for the Israelites and for Jesus thousands of years ago is still unclean today, and that's why I don't want to go against His commands. The God I serve is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He never has made and never will make a mistake."1
Certainly, God is unchanging, but that refers to His character and does not preclude Him from making covenantal changes. If it did, food laws, circumcision, animal sacrifices and worship in a Jerusalem temple would all still be obligatory. For that matter, the Gentiles would still be unclean, since God never changes. Yet Rubin singles out the food laws alone as still in force and defends it by a passing reference to the immutability of God. To be fair, Rubin does not believe you have to adhere to the food laws to be saved, but he nevertheless says that they are commands that are still in force.
Rubin acknowledges that people sometimes disagree with his teaching about the food laws, referring him to Acts 10. Interestingly, Rubin acknowledges that God was instructing Peter about the new freedom to fellowship with Gentiles. But he does not explain why God used the vision of the unclean animals and the command to eat them as the way of teaching Peter about the acceptance of Gentiles. If Rubin is granting that the purpose of unclean animal designations was to symbolize the uncleanness of Gentiles, then why maintain the "unclean" designation in the animals?
If the Gentiles were no longer unclean, why should the animals that symbolized them still be? This would be like suggesting that even though animal sacrifices represented Jesus, the Lamb of God, such sacrifices should be continued even though Jesus had come and had been sacrificed once for all. Such a suggestion would, of course, be offensive to God and detract from the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice. Likewise, the suggestion that unclean animals should remain unclean, even though the Gentiles are now clean, does nothing but detract from God's cleansing declaration.
Rubin seems eager to move on from this discussion by saying that there is no record in scripture or history that Peter or any of the apostles ever ate flesh from animals that God called unclean. But that does not prove that the apostles never ate such animals. Do we need an example of Peter eating pork to conclude that it is okay to eat pork? We have God telling him to eat. Is that not enough?
Why Noah could eat unclean animals
Acts 10 provides a crucial interpretive key to the reason why God forbade the Israelites to eat "unclean" animals, even though He had permitted Noah to eat them. For Noah, they were unclean in that they were unfit for sacrifice and for the ceremonies of worship. For the Israelites, hundreds of years later, certain animals (perhaps the same ones) were declared unclean even to eat. Why? Because the Israelites were called to be a holy nation, separated from the Gentiles (even in their diet) in a way that Noah was not.
Noah was required to be holy in heart and conduct, but he was not required to be separate from the Gentiles as the Israelites later would. Noah was the new father of the human race. At that time, there was no such thing as Jew and Gentile. Noah was the father of them all. It would make no sense to tell Noah to separate from other nations, since his family was the only nation on earth. Noah's calling was to repopulate the earth, not be the father of a separate nation. It was not until Israel was a nation hundreds of years later, and a redeemed nation specifically, that God gave them the Law requiring them to be separate and holy and distinct from the other nations of the world.
The conclusion of the story in Acts 10 is that Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius and all those gathered in his house. As he preached, the Holy Spirit fell upon all of them, they began speaking in tongues and they were baptized. Afterward, when Peter went to Jerusalem, Jews who had heard of his visit to Cornelius read him the riot act about going to uncircumcised men and eating with them. Peter then explained the vision and what had happened with Cornelius and his household. In Acts 11:18, we read the Jews' response: "When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."
The inclusion of Gentiles into the kingdom of God was a radical and shocking reality to first century Jews, but one that is lost on 21st century Gentiles. It is not shocking for any of us today to think that Gentiles are included in the kingdom. Most of us are Gentiles and we have been included in the kingdom of God now for nearly 2,000 years. But it was not always so. Prior to the new covenant, with a few exceptions, the Gentiles had never been part of God's people.
During the Old Testament, Paul's words from Ephesians 2:12 could have been written on nearly every Gentile gravestone: "Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." The future inclusion of the Gentiles was frequently prophesied about in the Old Testament, but most Jews did not understand the nature of the prophecies. This is why Paul refers to the inclusion of Gentiles into the kingdom as a mystery in Ephesians 3:4-6:
By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
What the new covenant says about food
With the radical inclusion of all nations into the kingdom of God, it follows that there would be a radical new dietary law that would be very inclusive and broad. And this is just what we find in the following New Testament passages.
In Romans 14, Paul is giving instructions about the consideration believers should show one another with respect to their convictions, specifically their convictions about what kinds of foods are permissible to eat. He says in verse 14 that nothing is unclean in itself and in verse 20, he says that all things are pure.
"I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean … Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense" (Romans 14:14, 20). This reinforces the point that "unclean" foods were never inherently unclean. Paul says that nothing is unclean of itself. They were unclean because God declared them to be so.
In 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, Paul teaches that all things are lawful, and to eat any meat sold in the marketplace.
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience' sake; FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience' sake. But if anyone says to you, 'This is meat sacrificed to idols,' do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience' sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.
All foods were now lawful to eat in the new covenant and the Corinthians could eat anything sold in the market place without asking questions because the earth is the Lord's and all it contains. Every animal and every food is God's and is pure. The only circumstance in which a Corinthian should not eat meat was if someone said the meat was sacrificed to idols. In that case, the believer should not eat the meat (even though it was lawful to do so) because it would not be profitable for the other person's conscience. When Paul says all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable, he is not saying some things are not profitable to eat because of bad nutrition. No, nutrition has nothing to do with the context. It would be unprofitable because of the harm it would cause to the unenlightened conscience of those who think it is wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols.
In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul teaches that everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if received with gratitude.
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
This passage will be discussed in detail in the next two chapters, but for now, take note of the startling fact that anyone who teaches abstinence from foods that God has created is teaching a doctrine of demons, and those who give heed to such seducing spirits will depart from the faith!
What is clear from these passages is that there are no more restrictions on food. There were restrictions in the Garden of Eden. There were restrictions under the Mosaic covenant. But through the cross of Christ, the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles has been removed. Consequently, the food laws which symbolized that separation have also been removed. We will now look at why it is so dangerous to command people to
abstain from foods that God has created for us to receive with thanksgiving.
A Doctrine of Demons?
"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." 1 Timothy 4:1-5
Why get all worked up about food? Does it really matter what people eat or what people think they can or can't eat? Isn't this just a harmless difference of opinion amongst brothers and sisters in Christ? It might be if it is a disagreement between conscientious Christians who are wrestling with the commandments of God (see Romans 14). On the other hand, it might be dead serious.
The apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 above, prophesied that in later times, teachers would arise who would command abstinence from foods that God has created for us to receive with gratitude. Paul calls their teaching a doctrine of demons. That doesn't sound harmless. Furthermore, he says that those who heed such teaching fall away from the faith. We should not downplay this or minimize the seriousness of it. It is sinister and evil. This is a subject that deserves our careful examination.
Why does Paul call this a doctrine of demons? The answer is simply that such a teaching is a denial of the gospel.
False teachers, under the inspiration of demons, usually deny the gospel in one of two ways. They either grant people the liberty to do what Christ never granted (such as sin), or they deny people liberties that Christ has granted (such as eating all foods). The prophets of Nutritianity have chosen the latter. Christ has freed Christians from the ceremonial food laws of the Old Testament, but false teachers try to enslave Christians by placing upon them the yoke of Old Testament dietary regulations, or various other man-made dietary laws.
This is not new. The Pharisees were constantly teaching or implying that a person could be justified by the works of the law. They were often angry with Jesus because He did not follow their rules. In Mark 7, the Pharisees were angry with Jesus and his disciples for not ceremonially washing their hands before a meal. But where was this written? This was not God's Law. It was one of many rules invented by the Pharisees to make them feel good about themselves. It was an easy way to measure righteousness—externally. If they did observe certain ceremonies and adhered to a certain external code of behavior, they felt justified.
Jesus condemned them sharply for their mere outward righteousness in Matthew 23:24-28:
You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
In verse 27, we see the word hypocrisy, the same word Paul used in 1 Timothy 4:2 above. The Pharisees were hypocrites and so are those who advocate abstaining from foods on biblical grounds.
In the epistles of the New Testament, many warnings are given about false teachers, which are relevant to the subject of Nutritianity. In Galatians, Paul refutes the legalistic corruptions of a group known as the circumcision. In Galatians 1:6-7, he says, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ."
How were they distorting the gospel? By teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation (see Galatians 2:3-5, Galatians 5:1-4). In teaching this, they were denying the gospel of grace. We are saved by sovereign grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Judaizers, or circumcision sect, taught that believers needed to be circumcised to be justified, and were thus teaching that a person is justified by the works of the law.
The same false teaching could be found at Philippi. In Philippians 3:2-3, Paul warned, "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh." Has the false circumcision sect disappeared from the face of the earth? Hardly. They are alive and well today, encouraging people to turn to Jewish ceremonies for life and godliness. False teachers encourage their followers to put confidence in the flesh. They multiply rules that can be kept and teach that you are justified by keeping those rules.
Interestingly enough, the circumcision sect of the first century also taught that Christians should observe the Old Testament food laws. We see this in Titus 1:10-16:
For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
These "deceivers" taught Jewish myths and commandments of men. What were these? Paul gave us a hint when he said, "To the pure all things are pure." Apparently those of the circumcision taught that various things were not pure, and if a person touched them (or ate them), they would be defiled. Paul refuted this by saying that to the pure all things were pure, but to those who were defiled and unbelieving, nothing was pure. Matthew Henry, in his Bible commentary, commented on this passage:
Jewish ceremonies and rites, that were at first divine appointments, the substance having come and their season and use being over, are now but unwarranted commands of men, which not only stand not with, but turn from, the truth, the pure gospel truth and spiritual worship, set up by Christ instead of that bodily service under the law…To good Christians that are sound in the faith and thereby purified all things are pure. Meats and drinks, and such things as were forbidden under the law (the observances of which some still maintain), in these there is now no such distinction, all are pure (lawful and free in their use), but to those that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; things lawful and good they abuse and turn to sin; they suck poison out of that from which others draw sweetness; their mind and conscience, those leading faculties, being defiled, a taint is communicated to all they do.
Isn't this exactly what we hear today? We hear teachers advocating that we should observe the food laws in Leviticus. Of course, it is never explicitly stated that the reason to observe such food laws is to establish one's own righteousness and rely upon oneself for justification. Satan is too smart and cagey to train his servants so sloppily. His teachers must wear sheep's clothing. They must look good and sound good. They must parrot the language of Scripture. They must continually suggest that the real reason to observe the food laws is for the "glory of God," for the honoring of "God's temple" or for "usefulness in God's kingdom." This is the sheep's clothing, the veneer of reverence for Scripture and for God.
We see the same teaching poisoning the church at Colossae (see Colossians 2:8-23). At the end of that passage, wherein he had been advocating the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for salvation, Paul said,
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind…—Colossians 2:16-18
Since Christ has fulfilled the Law by His perfect obedience to it, imputing that perfect obedience to every believer, Christians do not need to sew on the fig leaves of self-made righteousness. Since the blood of Christ permanently washes away every sin of every believer, Christians do not need to try to cleanse themselves by eating "clean" foods. Since the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been demolished by Christ, the "unclean" designation of animals (and foods) that symbolized the uncleanness of Gentiles is no longer in force. Therefore, no Christian should let someone else act as their judge in regard to food or drink. No Christian should allow some false teacher to defraud them of their prize by encouraging self abasement.
In Colossians 2:20-23, Paul concluded by asking the Colossians why they submitted to various man-made decrees.
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
These verses provide a fitting question to Christians today who have imbibed the legalistic teaching of Nutritianity. If you have died with Christ to man-made rules and to justifying yourself by external rule-keeping, then why do you submit to decrees such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!?" Food is destined to perish with the use of it.
As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:8, "But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." Food does not commend you to God. You cannot make God love you by eating the "right foods" or by abstaining from other foods you have deemed "unclean."
Hebrews 13:9 puts it this way: "Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited." What strange teaching were they to resist being carried away with? The doctrine that the heart would be established by foods. Isn't this the doctrine of Nutritianity today? Eat this and live! Isn't this just what many want us to believe today? Namely, that we should follow the Levitical diet and eat like the Jews did, who were the "healthiest people on the planet." The book of Hebrews was written to Hebrews, obviously. If they were to reject a doctrine that encouraged them to trust in food observance, rather than grace, for strength, then shouldn't we?
Remember the words of Jesus in Mark 7:18-19: "And He said to them, 'Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?' (Thus He declared all foods clean.)" Following man-made traditions, abasing yourself, and depriving yourself of various foods may give an appearance of wisdom, but it is of no value against fleshly indulgence and it will not justify you. Why submit yourself to such rules if you are complete in Christ? Why try to make yourself pure by keeping abrogated food laws, if you already possess the spotless purity of Christ by faith?
Before his conversion, Paul sought to be a blameless Jew by the righteousness of the Law, but once Christ saved him, he repudiated his former self-saving efforts:
For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.— Philippians 3:3-9
Beware of those who teach you that you can be "pure" or "whole" by eating certain foods and not eating other foods. Beware of those who tell you to abstain from foods, "which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:3). They will always have a plausible explanation for their teachings. They often quote from scripture. If they want you to avoid meat, they will point out that Adam and Eve didn't eat meat. If they want you to avoid pork or other foods, they quote the Law of Moses. If they want to come up with a prohibition that is not explicitly taught anywhere in the Bible, they will point to the latest scientific findings and remind you that in order to be a good steward of the temple of the Lord, you should avoid that particular food.
Christians are still sinners and just like Eve, we are susceptible to such talk (see 2 Corinthians 11:3-4). After Adam and Eve fell into sin and tried to fix the situation by sewing their own fig leaves, the entire human race fell into sin. We are born with a nature that behaves just as Adam and Eve behaved. Sinners want to fix things themselves so that they won't have to be debtors to Christ. They want to solve their problems, make amends in their own way, cover their sin with the works of their own hands, establish their own righteousness and save themselves. They love lists of easy external things they can perform in order to justify themselves. They love the idea of following a diet to obtain self-made purity. This motivation often takes place at a subconscious level. People don't necessarily realize the fact that they are resisting dependence on Christ for their righteousness, but this is the underlying explanation for all that they do.
Every human being is by nature just like the Jews in their proud attempts to establish their own righteousness.
Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. —Romans 10:1-4
Nutritianity is a serious error. It is not a harmless teaching. It does not find its origin in well-meaning Christians who are just trying to please God in the way they eat. Rather, its origin is the devil himself. Do not be deceived. When various teachers tell
you that you must follow certain dietary rules in order to please God, they are teaching a doctrine of demons. The only way you can be justified is by faith in Christ. And faith is not of yourselves; it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Faith is like a feeding tube that is given to someone who cannot eat by themselves. In one sense the tube saves them, because without it, they would die (e.g. "your faith has saved you"). But more importantly, it is the food that saves the person. And yet more important still is the person who gives you the food and attaches the tube. The tube is only a channel through which the life-saving food travels. Faith is like that. It is something given to you by God, through which we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This righteousness cannot be added to or subtracted Romans Christ was perfectly righteous. He perfectly obeyed the Law. And in Him, all true Christians are perfectly righteous. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."— 2 Corinthians 5:21
Do not be deceived. If you pay attention to those who advocate abstaining from foods that God created for you to receive with thanksgiving, you will eventually depart from Christianity altogether. You will have rejected salvation by grace through faith and have embraced a system of dietary works for justification. You will prove to be like those who left the church that the apostle John wrote to in 1 John 2:19: "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us."
In the next chapter, we will look more specifically at the latter part of 1 Timothy 4:1-5, in which we are told that everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be refused.
God Created All Food Good
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.—1 Timothy 4:1-5
In the last chapter, we looked at how the teaching of Nutritianity is a doctrine of demons and a denial of the gospel. In verse 3 above, Paul says that these seducing spirits command abstinence from foods which God has created to be gratefully received by those who believe and know the truth. What foods are forbidden by such teachers? Paul doesn't say, but he contrasts the prohibition by the false teachers with the blanket permission God has given to eat any and every food.
In verse 4, Paul says, "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude." The words "everything" and "nothing" are broad, comprehensive words. If Paul had meant that everything was good to eat except the unclean foods of the Mosaic Law, he could have said so. But he did not. He saideverything created by God was good. If by "nothing is to be rejected," Paul meant nothing except the unclean foods of the Mosaic Law, he could have said so. But he did not say that. He simply said that nothing is to be rejected.
So when certain religious teachers today tell us to abstain from pork, milk, soy, beef, chicken, sugar, salt, or any number of other foods, they are contradicting the Word of God in the New Testament. They are setting themselves up above the Word of God and claiming to be wiser than the Bible. When they invoke "scientific proof" that certain things are bad for you, they are saying that the so-called findings of modern science (findings that frequently change from year to year) are superior to God's Word. They are implying that God didn't know that such foods were bad for people back then, or that He didn't know they would one day become bad for people and thus invalidate His Word.
This is the same line of reasoning that theological liberals use to justify homosexuality and evolution. They invoke science to trump the Word of God and teach people that the Bible is antiquated and unable to speak to the issues of the day. Those who have a low view of the Bible have a low view of the God who wrote it. According to them, God was apparently not smart enough to write a book that would be sufficient for all people for all time. Instead He wrote a book that is frozen in antiquity and was only helpful for the people alive at the time at which He inspired it. Consequently, modern people have to look elsewhere for truth. But, according to Paul in verse 3, those who believe and know the truth are the ones who gratefully receive all the food that God has created, not those who prohibit various foods.
In this chapter we will look at the freedom God has given Christians. The first reason that all food is good, according to the text above, is because God is the creator of it. The second reason it is good is because it is sanctified by means of the Word of God and prayer. We will look at both of these reasons in reverse order.
Sanctified by the Word of God
What does Paul mean when he says that all food is sanctified by the Word of God? The word "sanctify" means to "to consecrate or set apart for God's purposes." In the Old Testament, several foods were unsanctified (unholy or unclean) in the sense that God forbade the consumption of them. All other food was sanctified. We must remember that nutrition was never the concern of these passages. Such foods were merely declared by God as unclean for worship and consequently unclean for consumption under the Mosaic Law. They served to separate the Jews from the Gentiles, even in their diet.
Therefore, when Paul tells us that all food is sanctified by the Word of God, we should not assume that it was once nutritionally bad and now is nutritionally good by means of the Word of God and prayer. He simply means that what was previously unlawful is now permissible because the food laws have been fulfilled.
In what sense then is all food sanctified by the Word of God? The answer is found in Acts 10, a passage in which we saw that God sanctified all food by His word. Peter was told to kill and eat the unclean animals that he saw. Peter's response in verses 14-15 was as follows: " But Peter said, 'By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.' Again a voice came to him a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.'" In Acts 10, we have a record of the Word of God that sanctified and cleansed all food. All food was sanctified by God's very words, declaring that it was now clean.
When Paul says above that food is sanctified by the Word of God, he is likely referring to Acts 10. Again, nutrition has nothing to do with this sanctification of food. It is not that God suddenly changed the nutritional properties of pigs and other animals that were declared unclean in the Old Testament. He simply declared that animals that were once unlawful to eat are now lawful to eat. The reason is because Christ has fulfilled the Law, abolishing the ceremonial aspects of it, and has broken down the dividing wall that formerly existed between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-21).
Sanctified by prayer
What then does Paul mean when he says that all food is sanctified by prayer? If God's Word has already sanctified all food, then why is prayer necessary? Sanctification of food by prayer simply refers to the giving of thanks for it. We are to be thankful for every meal we receive. It is a gift of God and a token of His tender mercy. Not only is gratitude appropriate, but Paul actually gives it as a condition for God's blessing upon the food.
The connection between prayer, gratitude and sanctification is seen in 1 Timothy 4:3-5.
3Men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer (italics mine).
Receiving the food with gratitude in verse four is parallel to the idea of food being sanctified by prayer in verse 5. This parallel is also found by comparing passages that record the feeding of the 5,000. Matthew 14:19 says, "Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds."
If we compare this with the same account in John 6:11, we see that Jesus gave thanks for it, whereas Matthew said that Jesus blessed it. "Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted."
From this comparison, it appears that thanking God for the food is the same thing as blessing the food. Conversely, to bless the food (or sanctify it) is to give thanks for it.
In the same way, when Jesus first instituted the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, we see the same parallel between blessing the bread and giving thanks for the wine in Matthew 26:26-27: "While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you.'"
Jesus took the bread and blessed it. Jesus took the wine and gave thanks. Additionally, in Luke 22:19, a parallel passage to Matthew 26:26, Jesus gave thanks for the bread, instead of blessing the bread. The reason for the difference is because the two expressions are synonymous. To bless the food is to give thanks for it, and this is what Paul means by sanctifying the food with prayer.
When we pray and give thanks for our food, we are blessing the food. Saying a blessing, or returning thanks before a meal is not a meaningless ritual, for Jesus gave us an example in this matter! All food is now clean by the declarative Word of God and by a prayer of heartfelt thanksgiving. The food is set apart for God's purposes. When we "bless" the food, we are thanking God for His provision and praying that the food will strengthen our body for kingdom purposes. Food is not something given just to calm the rumble in our stomach. It is not given merely to gratify our appetites. It is given to strengthen us for God's work.
Food is sanctified for believers
In 1 Timothy 4:3, Paul says that God created food to be gratefully received by those who believe and know the truth. The only people who ever believe and know the truth are genuine Christians. Unbelievers are called unbelievers for a reason: they do not believe the truth! The scripture frequently represents the unconverted as those who believe lies (John 8:43-47; Romans 1:18-25).
And so, based on 1 Timothy 4:3, we can say that God created food primarily with believers in mind (those who believe and know the truth), even though God is gracious to unbelievers and gives them food as well (Psalm 136:25; Acts 14:16-17). In verse 4, Paul says that all food is good and nothing is to be rejected , if it is received with gratitude. Again, Paul is speaking of believers here, since believers are the only ones who are capable of true gratitude. Unbelievers are frequently described in scripture as being ungrateful (Luke 6:35; Romans 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:2). Every day, God feeds the vast majority of mankind, with the exception of those under the judgment of famine. And yet, every day, the vast majority of people eat their food without any gratitude to God.
In verse 5, Paul says that food is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. It is not any prayer that sanctifies food. It is believing prayer, the kind that believers offer. Many unbelievers may pray as a ritual before they eat, but they do not do so with faith or with true gratitude. And so food is sanctified for believers alone. It is set apart for holy purpose—purposes which please God.
Paul's words in Titus 1:15-16 are instructive here: "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed."
Paul is not saying that food is nutritionally pure for the believer, while nutritionally impure for the unbeliever. Rather, he is saying that food is consecrated for holy purposes in the life of the believer, but is used for unholy purposes in the life of the unbeliever. The believer thanks God for his food, and then uses the strength he gains from that food to glorify God in some measure. The unbeliever, however, is unthankful for his food. He expects food as a right. If he asks a blessing on the food at all, he prays to an idol, even if he calls that idol "Jesus Christ," and then he uses the strength he gains from the food to sin and live for self. To him, nothing is pure. The food, which is good in itself, is impure to him because he uses it in an ungodly way. This brings us to the second reason that all food is good.
God created all food good
In Genesis 1:29-31, it is written,
"Then God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food'; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day."
Among those who take the Bible literally, even among the adherents of Nutritianity, it is universally agreed that God made all things good. In fact, many use this very point to argue for an all-vegetarian diet. But this passage actually proves too much for such a view. If God made everything good, then the animals were also good. There was nothing wrong with them. They were not nutritionally bad. And so it is then obvious that God didn't command vegetarianism for Adam and Eve because animals were bad.
God did not prohibit the eating of meat because of nutritional deficiencies in meat. If someone were to argue that meat is now bad because of the fall, then several other questions would follow. First, why did the fall not have the same effect on the plants and trees? Secondly, why were Noah and all his descendants granted permission to eat meat, since that was also after the fall? Thirdly, why are the Israelites permitted to eat meat under the old covenant—a covenant under which various foods were prohibited? Fourthly, why does Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, speaking thousands of years after the fall, say that God created all things good?
It is clear that Paul does not think that a fallen world has changed the goodness of all food. When Paul said that everything created by God was good and nothing was to be rejected, he was talking about food in his own day, not referring to food in the Garden of Eden. This is obvious, since the goodness of food at the beginning is not disputed by anyone. Furthermore, Paul was correcting false teachers in his own day who advocated abstaining from some foods. What relevance would the goodness of food prior to the fall have to his argument against those in his own day who taught that some foods were bad? Paul's point is that people in his day, thousands of years after the fall, could eat anything, because God created it good—a creative act not ruined by the fall!
The food eaten in Paul's day was created by God. The food we eat today is still created by God. Theistic evolution and deism are false teachings. The idea that God spun the world into motion and then let it run according to natural laws is an unbiblical and anti-Christian system of thought. According to the Bible, God is involved every day in everything that happens in this world. He works all things out after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11) and no sparrow falls to the ground apart from His will (Matthew 10:29).
In Psalm 104, we are given a glimpse of the incredible government of God who providentially provides food for all living things. In verses 14-15, the psalmist said, "He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine which makes man's heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man's heart."
In Psalm 104:27-30, he continues to speak of God's minute provision for His creatures:
"They all wait for You To give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground." (See also Psalm 136:25, Psalm 147:9, Job 38:41.)
According to scripture, animals don't get their food simply because they have certain skills and instincts that God gave them at the beginning. No, God feeds His animals every day. The point is that He does no less for human beings, and even more so for believers, who are His children. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 6:26, when he said, "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?"
If God continues to feed the birds of the air today, then God certainly continues to feed His children today. Therefore, it is wrong to teach that God created food at the beginning, but man creates it today, simply to escape the force of 1 Timothy 4:1-5. From the beginning, man has always had a hand in food production: planting, tilling, watering, harvesting and preparing. But God has always created it and grown it.
Dr. Don Colbert tries to separate himself from the implication that he is one of the teachers condemned by 1 Timothy 4:1-5. He does so by claiming that God doesn't make all food. Man makes a lot of food, too, he says. The food we can eat, Colbert argues, is the food God makes, but we should not eat the food man makes.
The key here is to practice balance and moderation, especially when eating meat. Also, realize that this scripture (1 Timothy 4:1-4) refers to foods God created. The foods that are causing disease and killing Americans are foods such as processed foods, fast foods, and foods high in sugar and toxic man-made fats and oils. Eating the right foods makes you physically healthy and wise. Eat the wrong foods, and you open the door to degeneration, disease and an early death.1
Colbert says we should eat only what he calls living foods, as opposed to dead foods that "have the life sucked out of them and man-made chemicals added to extend their shelf life."2 He says we should eat only organic produce, because almost all non-organically grown produce may be tainted by pesticides, herbicides, parasites, and chemicals.3 He also teaches that we should not eat refined sugar because it is a "man-made product, unlike the natural sugars found in living food."4
Jordan Rubin agrees.
Too many of the so-called foods sold in our nation's supermarkets and too many of the meals prepared in restaurants are not really food because they were not created by God but were largely put together in man-made laboratories. Like sheep following the next one off a cliff, we are passing through checkout lines with shopping carts filled with processed foods missing many of the nutrients that God intended us to receive.5
This line of argumentation provides a convenient way to escape the force of 1 Timothy 4:1-5. It allows you to teach your followers to abstain from a multitude of foods, while pretending that this passage doesn't apply to you. But is it true that the only foods God has made are those that man didn't process? Isn't all meat processed by man? Obviously, beef doesn't come pre-butchered and ready to eat. Man has to process it first. Does that make it bad for you? Of course not. The point is that man's participation in food production—whether through planting, watering, harvesting, threshing, grinding, milling, butchering, preserving, etc.—has never removed God from being the creator of food.
Consider bread, cheese, applesauce, jams, pasta, and many other things that we eat. All of them have to be processed by man. But throughout their books, Dr. Colbert and Jordan Rubin convey the idea that "processed" is a dirty word. But why is it so terrible to have something processed, refined or preserved?
Can it be conclusively proven that this destroys the value of food? More importantly, can it be proven that we are getting sick and dying because we eat processed and refined foods?
Rubin recommends buying "whole food nutritionals, living nutrients and super foods," because even organic food suffers from soil depletion. But where do these supplements come from? Are they products from the same soil-depleted ground or are they "processed" in "man-made laboratories"? If so, how can they improve anything?
Is it really true that our food is "dead food" if chemicals or preservatives are added to it? Again "chemical" has become a dirty word. But isn't everything made up of chemicals? Isn't there a chemical component to everything we eat? Is it true that pesticides and herbicides have ruined our food and our soil, or is this merely something that some in the organic community have foisted on the public in order to sell their wares? Can it be proven that our sicknesses are a result of the chemical destruction of our food? Can it be proven that we are dying younger and earlier than God intended us to because of these chemicals? How could such a hypothesis possibly be proven with so many variables to consider?
Consider first that our lifespan is actually longer than it used to be. Secondly, when someone dies of cancer, we often don't know how or why they got cancer. Was it the drinking water? Was it the air? Was it radiation picked up from somewhere? Thirdly, there are a number of variables at play in any onedeath. How can we go about determining which variable was to blame? Consider all the factors at play in one person's life: Is he obese or not? How much water does he drink? Filtered or tap? Does he live in the country or city? Does he exercise or not? Does he have a family history of cancer or heart disease? Does he eat fast food a lot? Does he eat a lot of sugar? Does he drink skim milk or whole milk, cow or goat? Does he eat organic food? Does he have a lot of stress? Does he have anger problems? Does he live an immoral lifestyle? We could go on and on. The minute you examine a person's life history, you find many differences from another person's history. And when you add still another person you find even more variation. The point is this: How does one go about picking the culprit? Will I really live longer if I eat organic food? How much longer? How will I know that I have outlived the age I would have lived to if I had continued eating non-organic food? Obviously, there is no way to know.
With respect to organic foods, is this really the only kind of food we can trust? The problem with saying this is that organic foods are expensive and only available to the middle and upper class. Shall the poor be excluded from the way God supposedly intended everyone to eat? In a world of over five billion people, the majority would be excluded.
But there is an even bigger problem with this teaching. To say that organic food is the only kind of food God created utterly strips 1 Timothy 4:1-5 and other similar passages of their authority. The teachers condemned in this passage for advocating abstinence from foods God created would only be those teachers who advocate abstaining from organic foods (since that is supposedly the only kind of food God created), and no one teaches us to abstain from organic foods. Therefore, no one is ever guilty of the false teaching described in 1 Timothy 4:1-4. Meanwhile, those teachers (like Colbert and Rubin) who do advocate abstaining from non-organic foods (the foods the vast majority of people eat) are free to continue pushing their prohibitions because the non-organic foods they prohibit are not really foods God has created. Since the Scriptures have been stripped of their authority to speak to modern concerns, we must look to food experts and the prophets of Nutritianity to tell us what we can and can't eat. How convenient!
I am not suggesting that it is wrong to eat organic foods, health foods, vitamins or supplements. By no means! With respect to nutrition, each person needs to decide for himself what he feels is best for his own body. I am merely arguing against the growing notion that organic food is the only kind of food we should eat because it is the only kind of food God made. I am also warning about the tendency to take the diet that is best for me and make it a universal law for others.
The point is that the Bible should be our authority and guide in every matter. If the Bible is no longer relied upon as the authority, then another authority has to be consulted. But whatauthority shall we consult? If the Bible is incapable of telling us what we can eat and not eat, then who do we listen to? The scientists? The nutritionists? The medical community? Do we listen to those who say milk is great, or those who say it is bad for you? Do we listen to those who say that soy is the wonder food of the century, or those who condemn it? Do we listen to those who say eggs are bad for you, or to those who reversed that opinion a few years later? Will we listen to those who say that coffee is bad, or those who say it is good? Will the information be reversed again? The "facts" seem to constantly change. What we are told is good for us one year becomes bad for us the next, and vice-versa.
Since the "experts" are constantly disagreeing with each other and often with their own conclusions made but a few years before, the result is chaos and everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. The lack of unity among the experts forces each person to set himself up as the expert judge of the experts.
Like Eve, we start by listening to a doctrine of demons and a voice which says, "Has God said?" We then set ourselves up as the authority on what we can have and not have. Meanwhile, God, the only authority there is, has spoken in His word and said that we can now eat everything. Will we listen to Him and gratefully enjoy our liberty, or will we listen to the demons and continue in slavery?
The Real Heart Disease
And He said to them, 'Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?' (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, 'That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.' Mark 7:18-23
While many today warn us about cholesterol, saturated fats, trans-fat, salt, sugar, pork, red meat and various other things that go into our mouths and stomachs, Jesus warns us about the wicked things that come out of our mouths and hearts. While many Americans labor to prevent coronary heart disease, Jesus has provided a cure for spiritual heart disease. While many search for a magic diet that will reward them with a sickness-free life for their bodies, Jesus gives eternal life for the souls of all who hunger and thirst for Him.
The Bible was not written to tell us how to avoid coronary heart disease. It was written to tell us about the heart disease of sin. Coronary heart disease is a hardening of the arteries that leads to physical death, but spiritual heart disease is a hardening of our hearts that leads to eternal death. And the latter is much more serious than the former. The Bible was not written to save us from getting sick and from dying. It was written to save us from sin and hell.
Our priorities in America are wildly out of balance. We are obsessed with our bodies, while we neglect our souls. Newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements, TV programs and commercials, movies and books are overwhelmingly focused on our physical bodies, not our souls. We hear a lot about how to exercise, how to lose weight, how to stay looking young, and what to eat; but we hear very little about how to be saved from sin and reconciled with God. Unfortunately, the church today has too often taken its cues and priorities from the world, instead of from the Bible. Do not be deceived! The highest priority, the one thing needful, is to have a soul that is right with God and to grow in our love and knowledge of Him. Jesus' words in Mark 8:36 are as relevant now as they ever were: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?"
In Mark 7 (quoted above), Jesus corrects two serious errors of the Pharisees:
1) Their belief that we are defiled by things outside of us, including food;
2) Their ignorance of the importance of a pure heart. Let us consider each of these errors.
The erroneous belief that food can defile us
In Mark 7:1-23, we see one of the many confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees came to Jesus and complained about the disciples' failure to wash their hands before eating bread. They considered the hands to be impure if unwashed. Impure hands would defile food, which in turn would defile anyone who ate such food. The Pharisees were offended that the disciples and Jesus were ignoring this time-honored tradition of the elders. In verses 3-4, we see that they had other traditions as well: "For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots."
The Pharisees were not merely concerned about germs and sanitation. Rather, they had turned the hand washing practice into a religious duty. In their view, the hands and cups and pitchers and pots needed to be washed for ceremonial purity. Failure to do so would result in defilement. The Pharisees did not appeal to scripture to support their practice, for scripture had never commanded these kinds of washings. They appealed to the traditions of men.
After severely rebuking the Pharisees for setting aside the commandments of God in favor of their traditions, Jesus called the crowd to Him and made a crucial point about the source of defilement, in verses 14-15: "After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, 'Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.'"
Jesus wanted the crowd to understand what the Pharisees failed to understand. Neither food nor unwashed hands defiles a man—sin does! It is not what goes into your mouth that corrupts you. It is what comes out of your mouth that makes you impure. It is not what goes into your stomach that makes you unclean. It is what comes out of your heart. Note carefully Jesus' words. He uses the word nothing. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, outside a man, which can defile him if it goes into him. This is a comprehensive statement. Jesus is not merely speaking about unwashed hands and unwashed pots and cups. He is also speaking about food. We know this because of what follows in Mark 7:17-19:
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, 'Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?' (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
Jesus is here indicating that the time of the food laws is coming to an end. In Chapter 3 of this book, we saw why they had come to an end. God was removing the dividing wall that existed between Jews and Gentiles. The animals that God had declared unclean in the Mosaic covenant had symbolized the uncleanness of Gentiles. This prohibition on eating various foods had created a natural obstacle for fellowship between the two people groups. But with the arrival of the new covenant, the Gentiles would be brought into the kingdom of God and cleansed by faith. Therefore, the foods that had once been declared unclean were now clean.
In Chapter 3, we also addressed the question of how animals that were unclean in the Old Testament could suddenly become clean. The forbidden animals of the Old Testament were unclean because God declared them to be so, not because of any inherent physiological or nutritional deficiency. God has the power to make something unclean simply by declaring it to be so (for instance, the forbidden fruit). Likewise, He has the power to make something clean by declaring it to be so.
An Israelite would become unclean by eating unclean foods, not because food defiled him, but simply because disobedience defiled him. If an Israelite were to eat or touch a pig, he would become unclean, simply because it was disobedience to do so. But there was nothing inherently defiling about pork. This is why Jesus said in Mark 7:18-19, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated? (Thus He declared all foods clean.)"
Jesus was making a point about the essence of food, and the essence of defilement in general. His point was very clear. Nothing outside of a man could defile him, because it did not go into his heart, but into his stomach. It did not remain with him; it was eliminated. This was as true in the Old Testament as in the New Testament.
Beware of teachers that advocate abstaining from certain foods because they will defile you or because they are bad for you or because to eat such foods is poor stewardship of the temple of God. Nothing that goes into the mouth defiles you. Neither pork nor catfish, neither packaged food nor processed food, neither fast food nor fatty food nor any kind of food can defile you. Of course, Jesus is notdealing with the subject of balanced nutrition here. Though nothing can spiritually defile you, too much of a certain kind of food might negatively affect your health. Excess sugar or salt, for instance, may cause health problems. Just because all foods are clean does not mean we should be gluttonous with any kind of food and ignore balance in nutrition.
The importance of a pure heart
The Pharisees failed to understand that foods cannot defile us. They also failed to understand that the heart is the source of our defilement, and that we need a new heart through regeneration in order to be clean. Many today are plagued with the same blindness of the Pharisees concerning the true source of defilement. Yet, the Bible is replete with teaching on this very point. Consider the following verses and the continual emphasis on the heart as the source of defilement and focus of redemption.
In Genesis 6:5, we see that the heart of man is his problem:"Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." In Jeremiah 17:9, the description is no more flattering: "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
When our hearts are desperately sick and when every intent of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually, we have much more to be worried about than whether our foods are too high in fat. A high fiber diet won't fix this problem. We need a heart transplant. We need Jesus Christ, the Great Physician to do surgery on us, to take out our heart of stone and give us a new heart.
"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." Ezekiel 36:26-27
Another way of putting it is that we need a circumcised heart. In Deuteronomy 30:6, we read, "Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live." Our hearts are full of sin. We do not love God and we do not love our neighbor. We habitually break the greatest commandments which sum up all the others. That is our ultimate problem. The solution is a circumcised heart, a circumcision made without human hands (Colossians 2:11).
Today, there is an increasing drift toward Judaism among many professing Christians. Many are fascinated with Jewishness and believe that there is something inherently holy about being a Jew. They want to have Seder suppers, celebrate Passover and other Jewish holidays, keep the food laws and adopt various other Jewish customs. But, according to the apostle Paul (who was a Jew according to the flesh), what really matters is being a Jew inwardly. And by that he means having a circumcised heart.
"For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." —Romans 2:28-29
Note carefully Paul's words. Those who are Jews in a mere outward way are not really Jews. The true Jew is the one who has a circumcised heart, which is a new heart given by Jesus Christ. A circumcised heart is a heart that has God's law written upon it (Jeremiah 31:33). It is a heart full of love for God and others. Paul summarizes the point succinctly in Galatians 5:6: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love."
Beware of any teacher who would lead you to believe that there is something mystical or special or holy about being Jewish. Love the Jews and pray for their salvation, as Paul did in Romans 10:1, but beware of those who would encourage you to be a Jew according to the flesh by following old covenant Jewish food laws. Beware of those who urge you to follow a "pure" Levitical diet so that you can be like "the healthiest nation on earth," a statement the Bible never makes concerning the Jews.
Jordan Rubin would have you believe that the Jews were greatly benefited by the diet God gave them in Leviticus 11, but what does the scripture say?
"Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited." —Hebrews 13:9. How could the scripture be more clear? The author of Hebrews was writing to Hebrews — that is, Jewish believers in Jesus who were being tempted to go back to Judaism. He specifically told them that the heart was strengthened by grace, not by foods "through which those who were so occupied were not benefited."
The Levitical diet or any other "pure" food diet will not benefit your heart. The heart is strengthened by grace, not by following certain dietary rules. Paul made a similar statement in 1 Corinthians 8:8: "But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat."
Remember what Paul said in Galatians 3:29: "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." If you are in Christ Jesus, having true faith in Him, then you are a child of Abraham. You are a Jew in the only way that counts. You who were once not a people have become the people of God (1 Peter 2:10).
In Matthew 12:33-35, Jesus taught that nothing short of a new heart would make any difference in righteousness:
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.
These verses and many others show the importance of the heart. Defilement comes from the heart, not from foods. Conversely, righteousness comes from a good heart, a heart that has been made good by Christ. We will never be defiled by sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, fast food, chemicals, cholesterol or saturated fats. Nothing that goes into our mouths can defile us. The things that come out of our mouths and hearts, however, can and do defile us.
Slander, gossip, lies, profanity, outbursts of anger, bitterness, grumblings, impatience, dirty jokes, lewd comments, hatred, strife, and many other unclean thoughts lie within the human heart and are all too often released when we open our mouths. This is the heart disease that should most concern us. These are the things that should trouble us, far more than our cholesterol levels. These are the things for which we should aggressively seek a cure.
Unfortunately, far too many are more concerned with their physical well-being than their spiritual well-being. Far too many
are concerned about the wrong kind of heart disease. Far too many are concerned about dying the first death, which is inevitable, while they remain happily unconcerned about suffering the second death in the lake of fire. Far too many will devote time and money and energy to improving their cardiovascular health, while utterly neglecting their eternal souls. In the midst of this climate, there is no shortage of teachers eager to prescribe dietary cures for the physical problems people are itching to solve. All the while, Jesus Christ, the great physician of the soul and the great heart transplant surgeon, calls out, "MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD."—Matthew 4:4.
The Sin of Gluttony
One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. Titus 1:12-14
While the thrust of this book is about the danger of legalistic Pharisees who command us to abstain from various foods in order to be nutritionally pure (Nutritianity), there is plenty of evidence that the opposite danger of gluttony is equally pervasive in America. While many are obsessed with diets and abstaining from foods for self-righteous purposes, there are just as many or more who seem to have never given any thought to abstaining from any food or drink in any amount. Here some would surely suggest that I have just left the realm of preachin' and have gone to meddlin.' So be it.
The inhabitants of Crete had the distinguished privilege of being labeled as lazy gluttons by one of their own prophets. Paul added his "Amen" to this indictment and told Titus that the description was accurate. Could the same thing be said about Americans today?
The prevalence of gluttony
There is no country on earth like America when it comes to the abundance and variety of food. Even the poor in our country are rich compared with most of the world. Few of us have ever known real hunger. Gluttony has become an acceptable sin in our country, and the pervasive obesity of Americans proves that it is not a rare one. Our conscience will sometimes accuse us when we are eating too much, but we have learned to ignore it, make jokes about it, and bury the guilt under another helping. We will often notice when others are eating too much and make our own judgments, but we will rarely speak about the sin of gluttony, lest we rob ourselves of the privilege.
In spite of the silence on this subject from American pulpits and conversations, the Bible is not silent, as the following verses prove. Though the word gluttony is not found in all of these verses, the concept of gluttony is inescapably present.
"Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with rags."—Proverbs 23:20-21
"Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof."—Romans 13:13-14
"For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting." "For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple."— Romans 16:18
"All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body." "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body."—1 Corinthians 6:12-13
"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit." "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit."—Ephesians 5:18
"For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things." "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things."—Philippians 3:18-19
"For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you." "For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you."—1 Peter 4:3-4
In all the aforementioned verses the word gluttony or the idea of it is conveyed. It is a running into excess.
It should be pointed out that it is difficult to determine exactly what constitutes gluttony. Obesity is usually an indicator that you are a glutton (or that you have been a glutton at one point and have never lost the weight), but it is not always so. You can be a glutton, even if you are not overweight, and it is likely that every American has been guilty of gluttony many times, no matter how thin he or she might be. We can be gluttons with respect to drink —coffee, tea, pop, etc.—as well as food.
Gluttony of alcohol is usually verifiable because the glutton is drunk. However, many people have built up a tolerance for large quantities of alcohol over the years, and what used to get them drunk no longer does. The fact that they can now drink four beers without getting drunk does not vindicate them of the sin of gluttony. After all, most people who chug down four beers in a relatively short period of time are usually not trying to quench thirst.
When it comes to food, is gluttony eating more than I need? How much do I need? Is it going back for seconds? Is it eating past the point of feeling full? Is it eating to the point of feeling sick and bloated? It is very difficult, if not impossible (and unhelpful), to judge someone else in this matter, because an amount of food that would constitute gluttony for me may not be gluttony for someone else. It will not help me much by comparing myself with others.
We would expect a grown man to eat much more than a child. We would also expect someone with a physically demanding job to have a greater appetite than someone whose job was not physically demanding. We expect pregnant women to have a greater appetite than women who are not pregnant, and perhaps a greater appetite than many men. I may eat a lot compared to someone who has a reduced appetite due to an illness or a medical problem. Conversely, I may eat little compared to someone else at a given meal, but it may be because I don't like the food that is offered and the other person does.
Furthermore, in the Bible, we see the category of feast. Feasts are generally called feasts because there is an abundance of food and a freedom to enjoy that abundance. There are times of celebration where we can perhaps enjoy greater varieties and quantities of food than normal, but how much more? The point is that there are many difficulties in judging gluttony. We would do well to judge ourselves and our own hearts. If we concentrate our energy here, we will likely find that it is not difficult to sense when we have simply gone too far—when normal appetite has become lust, idolatry and sensuality.
This gets at the heart of what gluttony really is— idolatry. Food or drink becomes an idol that we worship. We may not bow down to it, pray to it, or sing hymns to it, but we adore it, crave it, love it, and run to it when we are lonely, depressed, bored or empty.Shouldn't God be the one we run to in distress? Isn't God the source of peace and joy? To be more specific, self is the great idol underneath all idols; food is simply a tool gluttons use to serve self. Think about it in another way: Idolatry is spiritual adultery. Consider the audacity of someone saying a prayer of thanksgiving for the adultery he was about to enjoy. We would not think of doing such a thing. Yet, ironically, we often give thanks to God for our food and then proceed to commit spiritual adultery through gluttony.
Like all sins, gluttony comes from the heart of man. It cannot be measured by looking at the outside of the cup alone. Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 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."
Food going into the mouth is not the problem. The problem is the gluttony coming out of the heart. Jesus doesn't mention gluttony in his list of sins, but it could easily be included. It does not appear that Jesus is trying to compile a list of every sin. He is simply telling the disciples that sin of all kinds comes from the heart.
The question then is this: Why do we eat too much? Why do we take more than we need? At the surface level, the answer might not seem very complicated. We simply eat more than we need because we feel like it. We do it because we want to. Often times there are other contributing factors. We may eat too much of a particular food because it is our favorite and we don't have it very often. We may eat too much at an all-you-can-eat buffet because there are so many things we like and we want to get the most for our money. We may have developed the habit of eating too much and now our stomach requires the same abundance in order to feel satisfied. We may eat too much because we are trying not to waste food that would have to be thrown away. But, since when is gluttony good stewardship? It will either go to waste or to our waist.
There is a deeper issue that we must explore. The aforementioned reasons for our gluttony have to do with the stomach. But Jesus tells us that sin comes from our heart. So, the real question is this: What is the heart reason for gluttony? Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 22:35-40:
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
Here Jesus teaches us that every commandment in the Bible is based on the two greatest commandments—our duty to love God and our duty to love our fellow men. Consequently, every act of obedience is an act of love and every act of disobedience is a failure to love. Gluttony, then, is a failure to love God and a failure to love our fellow men. Let us return to the question. Why do we eat and drink too much? If we are unbelievers, it is because we do not love God or our neighbor at all. If we are believers, it is because we are not loving God or our neighbor at that moment.
A failure to love God
When we eat or drink too much, we are disobeying the scriptural commands against gluttony. To disobey God is to fail to love Him. As Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." "If ye love me, keep my commandments."
Furthermore, Christians who indulge in gluttony are not glorifying God in their body as God requires. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, the apostle Paul said, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
Though the immediate context is a prohibition on sexual immorality, the same principle would apply to any sin which we commit in against our body. Additionally, it is evident that food issues are germane in light of verse 13 of the same chapter. "Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body."
Gluttony, like all sin, is a manifestation of a heart that is deficient in love for God. Before we commit any specific outward sin, such as gluttony, we have already sinned in our heart by failing to love God as we ought. Gluttony is not the cause of our failure to love God; it is the symptom of our failure to love God. If we run to food to solve our boredom, we show that food is more interesting to us than communion with God. If we run to food when we are lonely or depressed, we show that we find food to be more comforting than fellowship with God. All of these tendencies betray a distance from God.
One of the difficult things about fasting is what it reveals about our reliance on food. When we become easily irritable during a fast, it shows that we have been relying on food for self-control and peace, instead of the Spirit of God. When we start dreaming about the next meal, even though we may be fasting in the hopes of intensifying our communion with God, we discover what a grip food has on us.
On a number of occasions, Jesus taught us that food can become a substitute for communion with God. When the devil tempted Christ to turn stones into bread at the end of His 40-day fast, Jesus told Satan that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. For 40 days, Christ had lived by the Word of God, not food. Though His stomach was now hungry, His heart was full. We might think that after a 40-day fast, Jesus was entitled to some food without having to be concerned about motivations. But, Jesus sees sin more clearly than we do. To turn the stones into bread at that moment would have been sin.
In John 4:31-34, the disciples urged Jesus to eat. "Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But He said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples were saying to one another, "No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work."
Here Jesus teaches us that doing the will of God is a kind of food. Just as food sustains our body, so doing the will of God sustains our soul. He showed that doing the will of God was so satisfying to His soul that He was not concerned about food for His stomach. Could it be that we indulge in gluttony because we know so little about the food of doing God's will? Has food become for us a substitute for doing God's will?
In John 6:26-27, the crowd that Jesus had fed came asking for more. Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal."
Again Jesus addresses the problem of pursuing earthly food to the exclusion of heavenly food. Could it be that our gluttonous desires for food are a symptom of our estranged relationship with God? Have we quenched and grieved the Spirit of God and then craved food to fill the void?
John Piper, in his book Hunger for God, exposes the dangers of looking to food or any other created thing as a substitute for God.
The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that doles our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies, but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable. Jesus said some people hear the word of God, and a desire for God is awakened in their hearts. But then, "as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life" (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, "the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful" (Mark 4:19). "The pleasures of this life" and "the desires for other things"—these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV watching and Internet surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.1
A failure to love our neighbor
Gluttony is not only a failure to love God, it is a failure to love our neighbor. Through gluttony we may indulge ourselves at the expense of others. This was happening with the celebration of the Lord's Supper at Corinth and it merited a scathing rebuke by the apostle Paul.
Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. —1 Corinthians 11:20-22
It was the custom of the early church to have a meal, known as a love feast, annexed to the observance of the Lord's Supper. It was apparently expected that those who had abundance were to share with those who had nothing. Instead, those who had plenty were arriving first with their food, eating it all, getting drunk on wine, and leaving nothing for the poor who arrived later. Their gluttony was a failure to love their poor brothers and sisters, as well as a failure to love God and revere Him.
To the degree that our gluttony leads to obesity and poor health, we are also unloving toward our family. By over-indulgence, we may jeopardize our health. This is inconsiderate to family members and friends who depend upon us. We may also force our family to sacrifice other areas of the budget to afford the higher food, clothing and medical bills that come because of our gluttony. An over-eating husband or wife is also inconsiderate of his or her spouse's sexual desires. Consider: If you prefer thinness over fatness, it is likely that your spouse does as well.
Let us also consider how our obesity, usually brought on by gluttony, inconveniences others. If I am too fat for my plane seat, the passenger next to me will not have a comfortable flight. If my obesity leads to greater health problems, which in turn causes health insurance companies to raise their premiums, then I force other people to spend more money for insurance. This is not an advocacy for government control in health care. This is a call for self-control.
It is also important to remember that we can enable gluttony in others by encouraging others to eat more than they should. For instance, a mother or wife's desire for her family or others to enjoy her food needs to be balanced with their need not to be gluttonous.
It is not my intent to condemn those who are obese and "pile on" those who already feel terrible about their weight. I am sure that most people who have become overweight wish that they were not. Some perhaps have a genetic disposition to obesity and have to work much harder to lose weight or keep weight off in the first place. Some are physically unable to exercise. Medication may cause weight gain in others, and for still others, there may be additional contributing circumstances. But most of us have become overweight through gluttony. It hasn't happened overnight. It has happened gradually, by habitually eating too much here and too much there. More importantly, this chapter is not about obesity. It is about gluttony. And one does not have to be fat to be a glutton.
Though I do not wish to treat gluttony as the worst sin in the world, neither do I wish to ignore it. Generally speaking, the sin of gluttony has received a free pass from the American pulpit. It has become a peccadillo, an acceptable little sin that no one talks about. We need to talk about it and we need to confront it.
In America, we are surrounded by a smorgasbord of countless varieties of food and drink, snacks and treats. It confronts us every time we go to the grocery store. It is part of our culture and it is part of our church traditions. We like to eat. No one is going to slap our hands as we over-indulge. We must have our
own deep conviction that this is a sin, and then we must seek the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Galatians 5:22).
We cannot control our appetite, our lust, our greed and our gluttony apart from the Spirit of God enabling us to do so. Without the grace of God we cannot deny ourselves the pleasures of food and drink that beckon us every day, especially when we see everyone around us indulging. Christ told his disciples in John 15:5 that apart from Him, they could do nothing. We cannot defeat gluttony apart from Christ. Many have tried and failed. We need more than a new diet program. We need Christ. For the love of God and the love of our neighbor, let us beg Him to help us. He is an ever-present help in time of trouble.
Our Citizenship is in Heaven
For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. —Philippians 3:18-21
In this passage, Paul weeps over enemies of the cross of Christ. He then singles out two characteristics of them that are relevant to the discussion of this book. One, their god is their appetite (literally, belly). Two, they set their mind on earthly things.
What does Paul mean when he says their god is their appetite, or belly? At the very least he means that they serve their belly, not Christ. They live for their appetite, not for Christ. Their stomach controls their decisions, not Christ. It seems that there are two ways to serve one's belly and be governed by it: through gluttony (which is probably Paul's meaning here) or through the legalistic self-denial of food that Paul speaks of in Colossians 2:16-23. It is the latter that has given root to the doctrines of Nutritianity. I have given the name "nutrition Pharisee" to those who promote a legalistic self-denial of foods because, like the Pharisees of old, they turn their diet into an external righteousness that feeds their pride and fosters a judgmental spirit toward others.
Their god is their belly.
The glutton and the nutrition Pharisee seem to be very different at first glance, but in reality, they are quite similar. The glutton is a slave to his belly because he is controlled by his insatiable appetite for food and drink. He is not accustomed to abstaining from anything he enjoys. If he likes it, he takes it, in large quantities. He doesn't merely enjoy the liberty to eat whatever God has created. He indulges in the liberty. His goal is to reduce the time that elapses between the birth of a desire and its fulfillment. He is addicted to food and drink, and like anyone with an addiction, he gets cranky when he can't get his fix.
The nutrition Pharisee also makes a god of her belly. She is a slave to her belly (or body) because she is controlled by health concerns. (I use the female pronoun because women generally purchase and prepare the food. However, the dangers apply to men as much as the dangers of gluttony apply to women.) In many ways, the nutrition Pharisee's life also revolves around food. She worries about whether she is being healthy enough. She makes a sacrifice of time and money for her belly. It takes time to research all the latest findings to discover the healthiest food. It also usually costs more money to buy that food, but she is willing to make that sacrifice for something so important. It is her tithe to her god.
Often, her friendships are limited by her devotion to her god. It is hard for her to fellowship with those who are not as committed to health as she is. She finds it difficult to accept invitations to dinner, since she would either be forced to eat the "unholy" food that is prepared by her "ignorant" friends or she would have to awkwardly bring her own food. She also finds it difficult to invite others for dinner, because she cannot in good conscience fix the kind of food that her friends like to eat, and it is often expensive to fix for a big group what she likes to eat. What do you call something that has the power to govern your thoughts, time, money, and friendships and which can bless you when you obey its rules and curse you when you don't? You call it God.
Both the nutrition Pharisee and the glutton serve self. Whereas the Pharisee serves self by denying herself foods so that she can be proud, the glutton serves self by giving his flesh whatever it wants. Both have pride. The Pharisee has pride that she is not like undisciplined people. The glutton has pride that he is not encumbered by the silly rules of the Pharisee.
Whereas the sin of the glutton is easily spotted, the sin of the Pharisee is not as obvious because it is concealed beneath an external appearance of religious conviction. She appears to herself and to many around her to be righteous and devout. Unlike the glutton, she is not addicted to sweets and treats. She has control in these areas. Furthermore, she offers biblical reasons for her diet. She says that she is being a good steward of the body God has given her and "taking care of the temple of the Lord."
It should also be noted that every human being is a Pharisee in some ways and a glutton in other ways. Pharisees indulge themselves in gluttony, but only in areas wherein they have made exceptions. Likewise, those we call gluttons often have a set of legalistic rules of their own —just not in the food and drink department.
Consider the scathing indictment of the Pharisees by Christ in Matthew 23:25: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence." The Pharisees would often fast twice a week and they abstained from all kinds of outward sins, but Jesus said that inside they were full of self-indulgence. Though they might not have been gluttons of food and wine, they did crave things like money and the applause of men (see Matthew 6:1-5, 23:6-7, 14, 28; Luke 16:13-14; John 12:42-43).
A mind on earthly things
The second characteristic of the enemies of the cross is that their mind is on earthly things. This is true of both the glutton and the nutrition Pharisee. The glutton's mind is on earthly things like food and physical pleasure. He is not concerned about how to please God. He is concerned about how to please his belly.
The same is true for the nutrition Pharisee. Her mind is on earthly things, like food, nutrition, physical health, long life and self. When questioned, she will be quick to tell you that she does all for the glory of God. But she says this because she knows it sounds good. She has memorized certain phrases designed to make her nutritional devotion seem biblical, and she has probably even deceived herself into thinking she is doing the will of God.
But the difference between living for God and living for one's own nutrition becomes apparent when Paul reveals the mindset of the Christian in verse 20, where he says that our citizenship is in heaven. In other words, the Christian does not feel that this earth is his home. His true belonging is in heaven. Heaven is his home and that is where he lays up his treasures. He is like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, always heading toward the Celestial City.
While on earth, the Christian is a stranger and an alien (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13). And though he may labor with all his might to improve the world during his short stay here, he never quite feels that he belongs here, and his priorities are different from that of worldly people. He is not trying to get out of this world as quickly as possible, but neither is he trying to live a long time in this world. His goal is neither. He knows that God has appointed the day of his death (Job 12:10; Psalm 139:16) and so he will live in this world as long as God has work for him to do, but his eye is fixed on another world.
Whereas the unbeliever is fixed on acquiring much money, the Christian knows he cannot take it with him to his home (1 Timothy 6:7-10). The unbeliever stores up treasures on earth, but the Christian stores up treasures in heaven. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also (Matthew 6:19-24). While unbelievers are focused on building their own kingdom in this world, the Christian lives for Christ's kingdom, which is not of this world (John 18:36).
Since unbelievers fear death (Hebrews 2:15) and do not have the hope of eternal life, they live for this life only. Believers, however, do not have a slavish fear of death and are freed to take up Christ's cross (an instrument of their own execution) and follow Him, even if it means dying young. As Jesus said in Luke 14:26, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple."
Taking up a cross is inconceivable to nutrition Pharisees. They would never think of doing anything to sacrifice their own health and shorten their own lives. Those are the very things they have been laboring to promote. In their mind, doing the will of God and being healthy are synonymous. This is perhaps why Paul refers to those whose god is their belly as enemies of the cross of Christ. The glutton is an enemy to the cross because he would never sacrifice his appetite to suffer for Christ. Likewise, the nutrition Pharisee is an enemy to the cross because she would never sacrifice her health to follow Christ. Furthermore, she does not trust in the atonement made by Christ for sin. She desires to make her own atonement by denying herself the pleasures of food. She does not trust in the righteousness which Christ earned by fulfilling the Law. She desires to establish a righteousness of her own by observing food laws.
While an obsession with nutrition is one symptom of a mind set on earthly things, the obsession with physical exercise that permeates our culture is another. Consider the words of Paul on that subject in 1 Timothy 4:8: "For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."
Paul's reasoning is clear and his logic impeccable. Bodily discipline (or exercise) is of little profit because it has value only for the short amount of time we spend on this earth. Godliness, however, is infinitely profitable since it glorifies God, thereby profiting us both now and throughout eternity. It is also important to see from this verse that Paul does not equate bodily discipline and godliness. The fact that they are compared indicates that they are not the same. This can also be said about nutrition. Nutrition should not be equated with godliness, as though the two were synonymous. Furthermore, when nutrition is compared with the eternal value of godliness, it can only be said to profit a little.
This is not to say, of course, that a believer should never attend to his health and never exercise. Nor is it to say that he should ignore all information about nutrition, eat candy bars and pop all day long and feel free to live recklessly simply because his citizenship is in heaven. We are not forced to choose between obsession with health on the one hand, and complete disregard for it on the other. Christians should neither seek after health nor the absence of health. They should seek after Christ. They should not be bound by the man-made laws of Nutritianity, but neither should they be gluttons. In the spirit of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for feasting and a time for fasting.
Though the Christian is not apathetic about the condition of his body, neither is he vainly optimistic about the preservation of his body in this life. Instead, his hope is in the resurrection and transformation of his body at the second coming of Jesus Christ. As Paul said in Philippians 3:20-21: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself."
Rather than diminishing the importance of our body, Paul establishes it. Salvation includes the redemption of our bodies. Part of our hope is that Christ will transform our humble bodies into conformity with His own body. Part of the reason that we eagerly wait for a Savior from heaven is that we long to be delivered from a body of sin and death (Romans 7:24-25, 8:23-25). It is hard, however, to be longing for heaven for the redemption of your body when you are fixated on your health and spending inordinate amounts of time trying to manage it through nutrition and exercise. Instead of looking to Christ to redeem their bodies at the resurrection, the adherents of Nutritianity look to nutrition or exercise to create their own perfect body. Instead of trusting in the power of Christ to subject all things to Himself, they look to themselves to research and implement the best dietary solution.
People who have their mind set on earthly things tend to think of earthly solutions to spiritual problems. They try to fix in a physical way what Christ alone can fix in a spiritual way. For instance, a child who is self-centered and misbehaves to get attention needs a new heart so he can be delivered from his inordinate love of self. But the child's parents will often look to physical solutions such as prescription drugs or changes of environment, or inordinate praise, or spankings to fix the problem. Spanking is good and biblical and it helps to restrain the child's sin, but it is not a substitute for a new heart (Proverbs 13:24, 14:3, 22:15, 26:3 29:15; Hebrews 12:6-11).
Consider another example. A man is depressed because he is not getting what he thinks he deserves, and so he cannot be content with his circumstances. He needs to repent of his self-love, but instead he pops an anti-depression pill to change his feelings. Another person is getting a massage because he is stressed out. He is stressed because he does not trust in God to work all things after the counsel of His will. He needs to repent of his unbelief and have a heart that trusts in the Lord, but he instead looks to a physical solution to his stress. I am not saying that a massage will do him no good. I am simply saying that it will never address the root problem.
The nutrition Pharisee makes the same error. She does not look at sin as the problem. She looks at bad nutrition as the problem, and good nutrition as the solution. But the Bible teaches that our bodies are subject to decay because of sin, not because of bad nutrition. Every one of us will grow old and die because of sin. We will not live forever in these bodies on this earth, and no amount of good nutrition will thwart the inevitable approach of death.
There is no fountain of youth, but there is a fountain that has been opened for sin and uncleanness—the Lord Jesus Christ (Zechariah 13:1). Unfortunately, the nutrition Pharisee does not go to Jesus Christ, because she doesn't need Him to fix the problem of bad nutrition. She can fix that problem on her own and be her own savior. She does not have to humble herself before Christ and beg Him for grace. She can remain self-sufficient and deeply religious at the same time.
The Bible is not a cookbook of healthy recipes for nutrition-crazed Americans searching for the dietary fountain of youth. It is a book about how sinners who are burdened with their sin find rest for their souls through faith in Jesus Christ. The biblical emphasis is not on long life, but on eternal life, and eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3). To read the Bible as if it were a physical health manual is to miss the whole point of the Bible, and to miss the point is spiritually deadly.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with the study of nutrition or the desire to be healthy; but we must always keep in mind that health is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. We do not exist to be healthy. We exist to seek God so that we might know Him through Jesus Christ and fellowship with Him throughout eternity. According to the Westminster Catechism, the chief end of man is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever," not to find the right diet and live a long healthy life on the earth. (This sounds like the latter clause is in the Catechism, too.)
I am not trying to denigrate nutrition or discourage those who try to eat healthfully. I am simply trying to maintain realistic expectations. Do not be deceived—you will one day die. Therefore, fix your mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, not on things here below.
What the Bible Says About Alcohol
"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31
Though it would be much easier to omit any discussion of the contentious subject of alcohol, I have concluded that it would be an irresponsible omission. A book about the biblical teaching on food seems an appropriate place to also address the biblical teaching on alcohol. There is a wide difference of opinion on this subject between professing Christians. Some churches and denominations require a vow of complete abstinence to alcohol as a condition for membership. Other churches serve wine in their communion services. Some are legalistic and self-righteous about their abstinence. Others are gluttonous in celebrating their "Christian liberty." The subject of alcohol can be a divisive and sensitive subject in many circles. Oftentimes the passion evoked by it has not been rooted in Christian love and biblical exposition. So the important question is, "What does the Bible say?"
Wine is not merely grape juice
Some who favor complete abstinence from alcohol have suggested that the wine mentioned in the Bible was really just grape juice and contained no alcohol. If so, it would make the argument for complete abstinence much easier, for then there would be no examples to explain away. Some wine may have been unfermented grape juice and some wine was mixed with water. But it is impossible to sustain the view that every reference to wine is a reference to non-alcoholic grape juice. A brief sampling of verses will show that the wine of the Bible did indeed contain alcohol.
"Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent." — Genesis 9:20-21
"Now it came about, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. Then Eli said to her, "How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you." — 1 Samuel 1:12-15
"Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk." — 1 Corinthians 11:20-21
In each of the verses quoted, wine is connected with drunkenness. People do not get drunk on grape juice. They get drunk by drinking wine with alcohol in it. In the Corinthian passage, it is apparent that the wine used for the Lord's Supper contained alcohol, for Paul condemns their gluttony and drunkenness. Dozens of other verses could be quoted as well. The Jews would at times mix spices with their wine (Proverbs 23:30; Mark 15:23) and sometimes water to dilute the alcoholic content in it (Proverbs 9:1-5), but that simply proves that the wine did in fact contain alcohol. If an argument is to be made for total abstinence from alcohol, it must be made on other grounds than the dubious claim that wine in the Bible was non-alcoholic.
Wine is a blessing
Another interesting fact about wine in the Bible is that it is often considered a blessing. Wine is used figuratively to signify great spiritual blessings and is also a token of physical blessings. It was consumed regularly at feasts and celebrations. Consider the following verses. In the first passage below, the Israelites were given permission to buy wine or strong drink when they went to appear before the Lord.
You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.
In this passage, God gave the Israelites permission to buy whatever their heart desired—including wine or strong drink—when they went to appear before the Lord. Some might suggest that the juxtaposition of wine alongside strong drink indicates that wine was not a strong drink and not alcoholic. However, this view has three major problems: 1) It proves too much. It proves that the strong drink God permitted was indeed alcoholic, thus destroying the argument that God would never approve of alcoholic drinks. (Many commentators believe that strong drinks were alcoholic drinks extracted from milk, honey or figs); 2) In 1 Samuel 1:12-15, quoted above, Hannah denies the charge of drunkenness by saying "I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink," thus proving that both contained alcohol; 3) Passages already quoted prove that wine in the Bible was indeed capable of making someone drunk.
The following verses also show that wine is a blessing of God.
"Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine." — Proverbs 3:9-10
"You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound." — Psalm 4:7
"He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man's heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man's heart." — Psalm 104:14-15
"The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine. And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations." — Isaiah 25:6-7
"Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance." — Isaiah 55:1-2
"And in that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water; and a spring will go out from the house of the LORD to water the valley of Shittim" — Joel 3:18
"All these, being men of war who could draw up in battle formation, came to Hebron with a perfect heart to make David king over all Israel; and all the rest also of Israel were of one mind to make David king. They were there with David three days, eating and drinking, for their kinsmen had prepared for them. Moreover those who were near to them, even as far as Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, brought food on donkeys, camels, mules and on oxen, great quantities of flour cakes, fig cakes and bunches of raisins, wine, oil, oxen and sheep. There was joy indeed in Israel." — 1 Chronicles 12:38-40
We see from these passages that God rewards those who tithe by causing their wine vats to overflow; God brings forth wine from the earth to make man's heart glad; both new wine and aged wine are considered to be great blessings; coming to God through Christ is described as coming to buy wine and milk (Isaiah 55:1-2); glorious spiritual blessings, perhaps the millennium, are described as the mountains dripping with sweet wine; when David was made king, there was a great celebration and wine was consumed at the feast.
Jesus drank wine
Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties of all for those who wish to absolutely prohibit the consumption of alcohol is the fact that Jesus Himself drank wine and turned the water into wine at the wedding at Cana. In fact, the water pots that were turned to wine contained 20 or 30 gallons each. So, Jesus created 120 to 180 gallons of wine — no small amount.
Some have argued that the wine would have been new wine (which they say is grape juice), not aged wine (alcoholic). But this does not conform with the following two passages, in which new wine is connected with drunkenness.
Awake, drunkards, and weep; And wail, all you wine drinkers, on account of the sweet wine that is cut off from your mouth." — Joel 1:5
"But others were mocking and saying, 'They are full of sweet wine [new wine, KJV and ESV].' But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: 'Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day.'" — Acts 2:13-15
I am not suggesting that Jesus turned the water into wine so that everyone could become drunk. I am merely saying that it is difficult to argue and prove that the wine was non-alcoholic.
In Luke 7:33-34, Jesus made this comment: "For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon!' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'"
Obviously, Jesus was no glutton and no winebibber (drunkard). This was a gross exaggeration and slander. But Jesus explicitly said that the Son of man came eating and drinking. And we know it was wine that he acknowledged drinking because he was compared with John the Baptist who drank no wine.
Drunkenness is condemned
At this point, gluttons of wine may be getting excited, having been provided many proof texts for the freedom to drink alcohol. However, there is another side. While the scriptures teach that there is a lawful use of alcohol, they also teach that there is an unlawful use of it. Drunkenness is repeatedly condemned in the scriptures, as the following verses show.
"Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!" — Isaiah 5:11
"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, those who go to taste mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things and your mind will utter perverse things. And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. 'They struck me, but I did not become ill; They beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink.'" — Proverbs 23:29-35
"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit." — Ephesians 5:18
"Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." — Romans 13:13-14
"For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." — 1 Peter 4:3-5
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." — 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
What we see then in scripture is a balanced approach to alcohol. The Bible does not command abstinence, but it does condemn indulgence. We don't need to be afraid of alcohol, but we do need to be careful with it.
Drunkenness was not invented by modern-day Americans. It has always been a problem in every nation on earth. The abuse of alcohol did not prompt God to ban it, however, or require complete abstinence from it. You may feel that it is best for you to completely abstain from alcohol. Perhaps you fear your own weakness. Perhaps you have a family history of drunkenness. Perhaps you simply don't want to contribute any money to the companies that sell it. If so, you do well to abstain. But do not set up laws for others. Do what is right according to your conscience, but do not judge another man's liberty.
In Romans 14:1-6, Paul addressed the issue of conscience with respect to food. The same principle applies to alcohol.
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 10:31 provide a guiding motive in our use of anything, including alcohol. They are fitting words for the end of this chapter: "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
"But as for you, take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt, put them in one vessel and make them into bread for yourself; you shall eat it according to the number of the days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days."— Ezekiel 4:9
To illustrate the rampant misuse of scripture by the prophets of Nutritianity, as well as the profound confusion amongst professing Christians today, I direct your attention to the somewhat humorous marketing of Ezekiel bread. Type "Ezekiel bread" on Google and you will find plenty of sites dedicated to the promotion and sale of this biblical recipe. Don Colbert recommends Ezekiel 4:9 products in his chapter on breads and cereals.1
It is apparent that many have latched onto this recipe in Ezekiel 4:9 and have decided to market it for the nutritional benefit of a good number of consumers. But did God give this recipe to Ezekiel so he could be nutritionally pure? Not quite. A closer look at the passage quickly reveals the context — a rather important consideration in interpreting any text of scripture. The context was the coming exile of the Israelites. God was angry with Israel and intended to punish them. Ezekiel was the messenger of bad news to the Israelites and he was required by God to act out various object lessons to foreshadow what was coming upon them.
In verses 1-3 of chapter four, Ezekiel was commanded to play army by getting a brick, writing the name Jerusalem on it, and then setting up miniature siege works against it. God did not command Ezekiel to do this because playing army would help him get in touch with his inner child. He commanded this to show the Israelites that they would soon be under siege by a foreign army. Then, in verse four and following, God commanded Ezekiel to lie on his side for 390 days with ropes on him. He told him to do this, not because this would be a good chiropractic remedy for his spinal health, but to portray the coming siege on Jerusalem.
Then in verse nine, God told Ezekiel to make bread out of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt. He was told to eat only 20 shekels a day, which was a little less than 10 ounces. That is not much food. The reason why he was to eat so little, of course, was because he was foreshadowing the famine that would come on the Israelites when the Babylonian army would surround Jerusalem and cut off the food supply. God did NOT require Ezekiel to eat 10 ounces because that was the recommended daily allowance for food. On the contrary, it was to foreshadow famine.
Furthermore, Ezekiel was to cook this bread over human dung, a detail that seems to have been left out of the cookbook instructions for Ezekiel bread, found on so many websites today. The point, obviously, is not that cooking over feces was the great culinary secret of the Bible, but that the Israelites would run out of wood in the coming siege but would have plenty of dung to burn. Ezekiel was to drink a sixth part of a hin of water, which was approximately a quart and a half pint. This falls far short of the current recommended daily allowance. The point, again, was not good health, but bad health. Ezekiel was commanded to eat and drink very little and the bread he was to eat was not considered by the Israelites to be a nutritional delicacy. It was a sign of judgment. In other words, Ezekiel bread is judgment bread! When the Israelites would see him eating it, they would not covet his delicacy. On the contrary, they would understand that he was prophesying bad times ahead.
If these implications were not clear enough from the context, verses 16-17 should remove all doubt: Moreover, He said to me, "Son of man, behold, I am going to break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, and they will eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and drink water by measure and in horror, because bread and water will be scarce; and they will be appalled with one another and waste away in their iniquity."
In light of this clear teaching from the text, one has to stand in wonder and amazement at the prophets of Nutritianity, who take a recipe signifying judgment and sell it as a nutritional fountain of youth.
It is astounding how often Jesus and the apostles addressed the same errors we are confronted with today with respect to food laws. There is nothing new under the sun. What we face today has been faced before. The doctrines of Nutritianity may be slightly different than the Judaizer's false teachings on food in the New Testament, but they are not substantially different. And what we find is that God's Word is as sufficient for us as it was for the early church. Nothing is new to God. He has foreseen every error that Satan would ever spread and He has authored a Bible sufficient to counteract every lie.
Throughout this book, we have seen that the doctrines of Nutritianity (the term I have given to the modern-day version of food law religion) are in serious error in several ways.
The teachings of Nutritianity presume that God wants everyone to be healthy
Nutritianity is the latest offspring of the health and wealth gospel. For many years, Charismatics and Pentecostals have been deceived by the notion that God always wants us to be healthy and wealthy. If we get sick or poor, all we need to do is pray in faith and we will be well. If we are not well, it is because we don't believe God. This always results in spiritual abuse and depression.
Nutritianity leads us down the same destructive path. We are told that God cannot use us unless we are healthy. We are told that God never intended for us to be sick. Therefore, when we get sick, it is because we are not obeying God's food commandments and not eating God's way. The goal is good health. "Be healthy" is the greatest commandment in Nutritianity. Everything else pales in comparison.
The teachings of Nutritianity misunderstand the old covenant food laws
The food laws were not given by God to help Israel obtain nutritional wholeness. The scriptures never indicate that nutrition had anything to do with the food laws. Nutrition is not a concern drawn from the texts of scripture. It is a concern read into the texts of scripture by those who read the Bible with such concerns in mind. The food laws were given to separate the Jews from the Gentiles and to establish a dividing wall between them. In the wisdom of God, He chose Israel to be His covenant people, while leaving the vast majority of Gentiles in their darkness and ignorance (Ephesians 2:12).
In the new covenant, God has extended His mercies to the Gentiles and grafted them into His kingdom, thereby removing the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. Consequently, the food laws which served to separate the two groups are no longer necessary. This is why God told Peter to no longer call unclean what God had cleansed, thereby authorizing him to take the gospel to Cornelius, the Gentile.
Nutritianity encourages self righteousness.
The food laws were not given as rules to follow so that the Israelites could establish a righteousness of their own. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, all men have been saved in the same way — by grace, through faith. The apostle Paul stated the matter clearly in Galatians 2:16: "Nevertheless, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law, since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."
Keeping the food laws does not make you righteous. The only way to be counted righteous in the sight of God is to be in Christ and to have Christ in you. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
John Calvin made the following comments concerning 1 Timothy 4:1-5, the passage which describes false teachers who command that we abstain from foods which God created for us to receive with thanksgiving.
"Having described the class, he (Paul) next mentions two instances, namely, the prohibition of marriage, and did some kinds of food. They arise from that hypocrisy which, having forsaken true holiness, seeks something else for the purpose of concealment and disguise; for they who do not keep from ambition, covetousness, hatred, cruelty, and such like, endeavor to obtain a righteousness by abstaining from those things which God has left at large. Why are consciences burdened by those laws, but because perfection is sought in something different from the law of God? This is not done but by hypocrites, who, in order that they may with impunity transgress that righteousness of the heart which the law requires, endeavor to conceal their inward wickedness by those outward observances as veils with which they cover themselves."1
Christ is the only human being who has ever kept the law perfectly, and it is His perfect righteousness that we must receive to be accepted and justified before God. The prophets of Nutritianity do not submit themselves to the righteousness of Christ, but instead want a righteousness of their own derived from keeping dietary rules.
The teachings of Nutritianity are a false gospel.
To trust in the food laws (whether from Leviticus 11 or from modern day science) is to trust in another savior. It is to attempt to obtain salvation by the works of the Law, rather than by Christ alone. It is to reject the righteousness of God which comes by faith in Christ in favor of self-made righteousness (Romans 9:30-10:4). The gospel of Nutritianity is another gospel, and according to Paul, all those who preach another gospel are condemned (Galatians 1:6-9). This is why Paul called such teaching a doctrine of demons and warned that in later times some would pay attention to this false teaching and fall away from the faith.
Paul's words to the Colossians, in Colossians 2:8-23, are a word in season:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Consider again the words of John Calvin, commenting on Titus 1:15:
"He (Paul) glances at one class of fabulous opinions; for the choice of the kinds of food, (such as was temporarily enjoined by Moses), together with purifications and washings, were insisted on as being still necessary, and they even made holiness to consist almost wholly in these minute observances. How dangerous to the Church, this was, we have already explained. First, a snare of bondage was laid on the consciences; and next, ignorant persons, bound by this superstition, had a veil drawn over their eyes, which hindered them from advancing in the pure knowledge of Christ. If any of the Gentiles refuse to submit to this yoke, because he had not been accustomed to it, the Jews vehemently contended for it, as if it had been the chief article of religion. Not without good reason, therefore, does Paul firmly oppose such corrupters of the gospel. In this passage, indeed, he not only refutes their error, but wittily laughs at their folly, in laboring anxiously, without any advantage, about abstaining from certain kinds of food and things of that nature. In the first clause of this verse he upholds Christian liberty, by asserting, that to believers, nothing is unclean; but at the same time he indirectly censures the false apostles, who set no value on inward purity, which alone is esteemed by God. He therefore rebukes their ignorance, in not understanding that Christians are pure without the ceremonies enjoined by the Law; and next he chastises their hypocrisy, in disregarding uprightness of heart, and occupying themselves with useless exercises. But as the subject now in hand is not the health of the body, but peace of conscience, he means nothing else than that the distinction of the kinds of food, which was in force under the Law, has now been abolished."2
Nutritianity emphasizes a false external purity rather than inner purity.
Defilement comes from sin in the heart, not from eating the "wrong foods." Jesus' question to his disciples is a fitting question for us today: "Are you still lacking in understanding also? 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." — Matthew 15:16-18
Nutritianity focuses on things of this world.
Obsession with health and long life detracts from a mind set on heavenly things. In Philippians 3, Paul said that there were certain enemies of the cross of Christ, whose God was their belly and who set their mind on earthly things. When we become obsessed with managing our health, we are minding earthly things to the exclusion of heavenly things and we are turning our belly into a God.
How much we eat, not what we eat
The problem in America today is not that we are eating all the wrong foods. The problem is that we are overeating. We have the freedom to eat any kind of food we desire, for everything created by God is good and should be received with gratitude (1 Timothy 4:4-5). However, we do not have the freedom to consume large quantities of food to the point of idolatry. This is a sin against God, against our own body and against our neighbor.
Nutritianity is a false gospel which encourages sinners to establish a false righteousness of dietary purity. Any teaching which lead us away from the righteousness that is found only in Jesus Christ is not harmless. It is a doctrine of demons.
If you have been led astray by the doctrines of Nutritianity, repent in the strength which God supplies. Turn to Jesus Christ for righteousness. Then listen to Paul's words spoken to the Galatians who were tempted to be circumcised for righteousness. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." — Galatians 5:1