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FOOD for Thought
Note: Owing to its relevance to the main topic of this study, the writer opted to borrow the meaningful phrase as Title.
Toddlers have a nasty habit of picking up things, and then putting it into their mouth. And if it's OK to the little child's palate, that thing goes down into the stomach. You see, as little children begin to have a vision or understanding of the world around them, out of ignorance anything that tastes satisfactory is FOOD. They neither know nor care about proper nourishment. No qualms whatsoever that what they eat may not be good for their health.
When my five children were still toddlers, at home I always followed my little child while roaming around the house or backyard. I saw to it that nothing dirty or 'rubbish' went into my child's mouth. Time and again I would say, "No, no, my child. That's dirty. Don't put that thing in your mouth."
I presume every father or mother does just that. It's because as parents, we love our children so much. At the time my prime concern was my child's well-being. I wanted my child to grow up healthy, strong and sound.
What is food? A much better word is nourishment, i.e., the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition (Oxford English Dictionary). Relative to this is the term nutrition. Nowadays, no matter where you live in this world, there are Nutritionists employed by the government or private institutions concerned with health care. These professionals are tasked to provide expert guidelines on proper nourishment - necessarily to have and maintain a healthy body - so as to combat and prevent illness. Ironically, healthwise modern man appears to be sicker than ever. So the question is: Is there something wrong with this world's concept of food?
How the World Eats
Along with 'Replacement Theology' most religious leaders say that Elohim has rejected Israel in favor of the New Testament Assembly. And accordingly, New Testament believers are no longer bound to obey and observe what they call the 'Jewish' dietary law, and can now enjoy or gorge themselves with what this world considers delicacies, e.g., oysters, crabs, lobsters, ham, etc. Add to this dog meat which is considered a delicacy among the several mountain tribes in the Cordillera Autonomous Region in northern Philippines.
Until the decade of the '60s, when my wife and I were still members of a Baptist church, except for dog meat, my family enjoyed eating the above mentioned creatures. We did so, based on Bible texts that we thought gave us the freedom to consume anything we liked to eat. By then, it was our belief that anything edible and delicious was FOOD.
But in the year 1970, after having discovered the truth of the Sabbath, a strange feeling motivated me to do an in-depth study and second look at a number of texts that purports to have set aside the law of the clean and unclean meats. Once and for all I resolved to find out if the 'Jewish' law (Lev. 11 and Deut. 14) is no longer valid as claimed by the "no law" preachers.
But I was still hoping the pastors were right, because aside from the aforementioned creatures, my family also loved to eat prawns, shrimps, shellfish, and a yummy recipe of squids cooked whole in coconut milk inclusive of the squid's ink or blood. Contrary to my expectations, I was in for a shocking surprise. Now let's take a critical look at the following texts.
Ambiguous Texts Clarified
Let us begin with four of Paul's writings - usually cited by adherents to the 'no law' doctrine: Romans 14:14 and 20; 1 Corinthians 10:25 and 27; Galatians 2:11 and 12; and 1 Timothy 4:4 and 5.
1) As one who is in the Master Yahshua, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean of Itself. But if anyone rewards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean... Do not destroy the work of Elohim for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble, Romans 14:14, 20.
At first glance, it seems that Paul had abandoned the dietary law, under which he grew up with and observed zealously. However, not a single passage in the entire NT Scriptures will show that Paul changed his diet, nor ate the flesh of swine or any of the unclean creatures. Remember, Paul was the son of a Pharisee (Acts 22:3), was raised up a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), a Hebrew of Hebrews (Php. 3:5), and thoroughly trained in the Jewish way of life under the tutelage of a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, i.e., Gamaliel.
In, fact, when he was on trial before the Roman Governor Felix, in his defense, Paul reiterated his adherence to the Jewish custom and way of life.
But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the Elohim of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets, Acts 24:14..
To correctly understand Paul's words in his epistle, bear in mind that it was addressed to the Roman and Jewish converts, and not to the gentile population of Rome. Paul was not telling the Roman converts to ignore the dietary law and fall back into their old pagan custom of eating unclean animals like swine. So, what does he really mean by 'no food is unclean' or 'all food is clean'?
Unknown to most Bible readers, in Jewish usage, food refers only to scripturally approved (kosher) meal from grains, cereals, nuts, fruits, vegetables and clean animals. Aside from these, there's also honey and the clean insects. And no Jew in his right mind will ever think of pork or the flesh of any unclean creature as food. To a Jew, these things are "rubbish" and abominable. So, what was Paul talking about in his letter to the Roman brethren?
Apparently, there's disagreement within the Roman Assembly about food. Some are vegetarians, while others do not subscribe to the vegan diet, Romans 14:2. That's the problem and there was a rift between the two camps. So Paul was obliged to admonish and advised them not to judge one another, and avoid causing a brother or sister to stumble. The issue in question has nothing to do with the law of the clean and unclean meats.
2) Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience... If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience, 1 Corinthians 10:25, 27 NIV.
Most Christians take these passages to mean that Paul tells the brethren in Corinth to dispense with the dietary law. Is that what Paul really meant? The key to rightly understand Paul here lies in the words 'questions of conscience' in both texts. In the gentile culture then prevailing in that pagan society, it was customary for a family to take an animal, e.g., cattle, and offer it in sacrifice to their deity (idol), and as the carcass is too large for the family to consume, most of the meat is taken to the market for sale. The problem is that the brethren don't know whether or not the meat has been offered in sacrifice to an idol, especially for those whose conscience won't allow them to eat what they think is defiled meat.
In chapter 8 Paul reminds them that idols are nothing, so food sacrificed to an idol is okay to eat, except for those whose conscience is weak. What about verse 27? Here in the Philippines, at times an unconverted relative or former coworker invites us to special occasions like a Wedding Anniversary or Thanksgiving Party when their son or daughter passes the Board Exam. Sometimes we accept the invitation and go, because our host knows what we eat and what we don't, and they prepare for us a 'separate' meal like roasted native chicken, vegetables, or fruit salad. So, sometimes we eat together with unbelievers. As Paul said, "If you want to go.” The Apostle tells the Corinthian brethren to use their own discretion. It's as simple as that.
3) But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him face to face, because he was blamable. For before certain persons came from James, he ate together with the Gentiles; but when they came he withdrew and separated himself, being afraid of those belonging to the circumcision, Galatians 2:11-12 The Emphatic Diaglott.
Most Bible readers rashly take for granted that Peter had eaten unclean meals with unconverted Gentiles. Considering that Peter is one of the "pillars" of the faith, that is preposterous. The fact that his name Simon was changed to Cephas (Aram. Kepha, i.e., the Rock) signifies his stedfastness. Eating together with the Gentiles doesn't necessarily mean eating unclean meats. I know this from personal experience. At the time Elder Don Mansager baptized me, I was a member of a promotional Team of Life Insurance Agents conducting lectures on the what's and why's of life insurance nationwide. Some of my Teammates are Catholics, while others are Protestants. Of course we ate together at the same table, but years before that I was already STRICTLY observing the law of clean and unclean meats. Yes, we ate together, but that doesn't mean we ate the same meal.
What is Peter's fault that Paul rebuked him for? It stemmed from an old law that forbids Jews from associating with the Gentiles (John 4:9), pointing back to the separation of the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Jews at the Temple premises. The separation was so strict that for a Gentile to pass through the partition was certain death. But Peter learned from his vision of the sheet (Acts 10:11- 13) containing the unclean beasts that this old (ceremonial) law has been lifted by the Messiah Himself, verses 15 and 28. Peter's fault is his dissembling act (hypocrisy) which even led Barnabas to do likewise. It is not about eating unclean meal swith Gentiles.
4) For every creature of Elohim is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving. For it is sanctified by the word of Elohim and prayer, 1 Timothy 4:4- 5.
Here the words 'If it be received with thanksgiving' and 'sanctified by the word of Elohim,' is the key to the right meaning of the texts. In practice, it is unthinkable for a Jew or True Believer to sit down before a meal of unclean meats and thank Yahweh for It. It is obvious, then, that Paul refers only to 'kosher' foods. Moreover, consider the word SANCTIFIED. In religious parlance it means set apart, consecrated, made sacred, inviolable (Webster's New World Diet.). How? By the word of Yahweh, i.e., Lev. 11 and Deut. 14.
A year after I moved to Palawan (an island Province) a Catholic neighbor accosted me and said, "Kabayan (i .e. , townmate), the Bible says 'Everything that lives and moves will be food for you,’" Genesis 9:3.
I presume he got the text from his parish Priest in the nearby Catholic Church.
"Do you really believe that?" I laughingly replied, "If someone will serve you a dinner of roasted globefish and salad of 'tubli', will you take it?" People here say the fish is delicious, but it has a deadly toxin. A cousin of mine died after eating roasted globefish. Tubli is a tropical vine whose milky sap is used by natives to stun and disorientate fish in shallow creeks and river banks.
Startled and visibly confused, the man said he was just joking and apologized. Now, let us take a closer look and analyze Genesis 9:3,
Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
Bible Commentaries and other Study References agree that man's original diet consisted of grains, cereals, nuts, fruits, vegetables and excluded flesh. But the Great Flood during the time of Noah destroyed vegetation. Even if Noah and his sons will immediately plant vegetables right after the flood water subsided to supplement what remains of food, stored in the Ark, it will take some time for the plants to grow to be consumed.
Evidently, Yahweh prepared for this by instructing Noah to take into the Ark seven pairs of the clean animals whose meat would henceforth supplement man's diet. Here we see that long before the Mosaic Law the distinction between the clean and unclean creatures was in place and known by Noah and his sons.
Genesis 9:3 is idiomatic language and should be understood by its context. It should not be taken wholly, because literally that is impossible. Common sense makes us aware that we cannot eat everything that lives and moves. Maybe only the mentally deranged will try to do that. Again, the food mentioned here refers to clean food.
Fat and Blood
In the early '90s when my family arrived in Palawan, our new Adventist neighbor was delighted to know that we are commandment keepers. Eager to befriend us, one early evening the man came and brought us a big bowl of beef stew. But when I transferred the food into our bowl, I cringed with what I saw - with the meat are chunks of fat, even the hard kind. We were unable to eat our neighbor's food, but our dog took only a few minutes to devour it and then looked-up at me as if asking for more. The next day I asked my neighbor why there are chunks of fat in his stew.
"Well, it is the fat that makes the beef stew more delicious," he explained and quickly added, "it is the blood that we do not eat.”
It surprised me that there are people - supposedly commandment keepers - who are still ignorant of the command against eating fat along with blood. So I advised him to read Leviticus 3:17 and 7:23:
It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood, Leviticus 3:17.
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, “Ye shall eat no manner of fat, of ox, or of sheep, or of goat,” Leviticus 7:23.
During a wedding reception, a man seated beside the Priest at the long dining table asked,
"Father, is it true that even in our Catholic Bible, it also says pig meat, fat and blood are forbidden to eat?”
"Well, yes, my child," the Priest replied, "but we are not Jews or Israelites. We are Filipinos. Come on, let's begin to eat. The food is delicious and nourishing."
"Thank you for clarifying, Father," the man smiled and nodded, "I believe you are right.”
One popular dish is 'dinuguan', from 'duo' (i. e., blood) consisting of pig entrails and other innards cut in very small pieces cooked with blood as the main ingredient. Many Filipinos consider the bloody meal a delicacy.
Grown Up Toddlers
A toddler and the Priest differ considerably in size, but in matters of food reckoning, their mentality is basically the same. To a toddler and the Priest, as long as it tastes right or delicious, anything is food. The determining factor is the taste.
That is the prevailing mentality of most people throughout the generations worldwide. To many people, even if their doctor tells them that eating such and such will be bad for their health, they cannot restrain their appetite and go on eating their favorite food. And the result is the consistent high rate of cardiovascular and other degenerative diseases. As one writer put it many years back, "Many people slowly dig their graves with their teeth."
Medical Science Confirms Lev. 11
Doctors say that while other factors contribute to cardiovascular diseases, the main culprit is bad cholesterol - attributed to the consumption of animal fat. In ancient Israel, the fat of the clean animals was used as a burnt offering to Yahweh. For food, instead of animal fat they used olive oil.
Modern medical findings confirm that the biblical injunction (Lev. 11 and Deut. 14) has a scientific basis. Most of the unclean creatures are scavengers, i.e., they eat refuse and are disease carriers. Let me relate the experience of two Protestant Pastors in the main island (Luzon) before my family moved to Palawan. The Baptist Pastor (my wife's classmate in the Seminary) related what happened.
"One evening our meal was rice and oysters," the Pastor said, “and my wife had eaten much because it's delicious. But in the middle of the night my wife woke up vomiting and had severe diarrhea. Horrified, l had to rush her to the hospital. Maybe it's true that oysters are a dirty food."
The other incident involves an American Missionary who was on a visit. As they were eating dinner at the back of the Parsonage, someone noticed that the guest ignored his plate of shrimps.
"Why, Pastor," he asked, "don't you like shrimps?"
“I sometimes ate shrimps before," the American replied, "but not anymore. One time we had shrimps for dinner at home, and my wife got very, very sick. I was frightened she would die."
The oysters and shrimps came from the river traversing the city. On both sides of the waterway are four hospitals and many other establishments whose sewers extend to the river. I think most educated people know that shellfish and other crustaceans eat waste matter carried by the tides or that settles at the bottom, and anyone who eats these unclean creatures is at risk of getting sick. Nonetheless, because of the taste people don't care and still eat them.
Still, there are those who argue that the Savior is the ultimate authority on food and points to Matthew 15:10-11:
Yahshua called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean."
This is by no means a difficult text. Just read verses 1-20 and you will see by its context that it has nothing to do with the dietary law. The matter in question is about eating with unwashed hands. What is implied here is the possibility of eating 'dirt' along with foods because of unwashed hands. Yahshua said the dirt will soon be expelled out of the body and does not defile the man.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son, Hoshea 11:1.
Yahweh the Father loves His children so much, and as the Israelites ventured and wandered in the desert, the ever loving Elohim accompanied His children - to watch and guide them on their journey to the Promised Land. Lest they would pick up anything unclean as they trudged along the way in the wilderness, Yahweh instructed them on what to eat or not to eat. The dietary law (Lev. 11 and Deut. 14) cannot be quoted here due to space limitations. So I leave it to the reader to read the passages in the Bible. Some people, still not willing to give up their eating habits, ask,
"If pig is forbidden to eat, for what in heaven's name did Elohim create it for? Did not the Bible say that everything created by Elohim is good?"
That is true, but each one is good only for its intended purpose. It's a fact that pigs, vultures and other scavengers also eat refuse (trash pickers) to rid the environment of decaying matter like flesh. The crustaceans are designed to get rid of waste matter around them. What about the big cats? Maybe their role is to control the wildlife population. Every animal has its role in this life, contributing to ecological balance in nature. And the unclean creatures are not intended for food.
Yahweh designed and created us humans, and the All-wise Creator knew best what is good for the human body. Just like us parents - we don't like our little loved ones to pick up and eat dirty things. So, along with other laws, the loving Creator gave man the dietary law.
And Yahweh commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear Yahweh our Elohim, for OUR GOOD ALWAYS, that he might preserve us alive, as it is this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before Yahweh our Elohim, as he bath commanded us, Deuteronomy 6:24-25.
So dear reader, whatever are your gastronomic habits, I offer you this study as a trustworthy ‘Food for Thought.'
-Elder A. S. Untalan, Sr. (Philippines)
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