Subscribe to American Torah to be eligible for my next book giveaway and to follow along as I draw out the connections that are often missed in today's church teachings by clicking
→→HERE!←←

(*You must have a mailing address in the USA or Texas to be eligible for the book giveaway.)

1 Timothy 4 and “Every Creature of God is Good”

(1) Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; (2) Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; (3) Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (4) For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: (5) For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
1 Timothy 4:1-5 KJV

I believe that there are two primary ways in which people tend to misread this passage which lead them to interpret it to mean that all of God’s rules about clean and unclean animals have been revoked.

Semantic Drift of English Words

I usually quote from the English Standard Version, but I chose the King James Version in this article to illustrate the first problem: the intrepid drift of English vocabulary over time. The KJV translates two Greek words in a way that seems to be clear on first reading, but actually obfuscates Paul’s original meaning. Specifically, broma (βρῶμα), translated as “meat” and ktisma (κτίσμα), translated as “creature”.

“Commanding to abstain from meats” must refer to Jewish laws about not eating pork, right? And “every creature of God is good” must mean that pigs are good to eat, right?

Not quite.

The Greek word Broma does not refer only to the flesh of animals, what we call meat, but to food in general. This isn’t a mistranslation in the KJV, because “meat” also once meant any kind of food in English. Throughout the New Testament broma is translated as “meat” in the KJV, but is used to refer to food in general, not to the flesh of animals. Bread, broccoli, and beef are all equally “meat” in King James English. Most modern translations read “food” in those verses instead of “meat”.

Likewise, the second Greek word, Ktisma, does not refer only to living things, as we understand the word “creature” in twenty-first century English, but to all things created. When the KJV was first published, the English word creature was applied to anything that could be created. The sun, stars, and sand dollars are all God’s creatures, not because they are alive, but because God created them.

Now consider how the ESV translates this same passage:

(1) Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (2) through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, (3) who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving 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 thanksgiving, (5) for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV

For modern English speakers, the ESV is much clearer. “Abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving” is unambiguous, even if the subsequent clause of “by those who believe and know the truth” could allow for some speculative theology. “Everything created by God” is also quite clear. It refers to everything that God created, which includes….everything.

Inedible Eisegesis

Paul told Timothy that liars were making people abstain from foods that God created to be eaten and that everything God created is good. Does that mean everything God created should be “received with thanksgiving” as food? Not at all. Surely Paul didn’t mean that we should add gravel, cyanide, and babies to the breakfast menu. He wrote “food that God created to be received with thanksgiving”, and clearly God did not create all things to be used as food, especially not with thanksgiving. Even some things that are technically edible were not created to be food.

And YHWH God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Genesis 2:16-17

David Stern used a memorable turn of phrase when commenting on 1 Timothy 4:3-5 in his Jewish New Testament Commentary: “Everything created by God is good, but not everything created by God is food.”

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was only one of many edible creatures that God did not create to be eaten, and Paul doesn’t state anywhere in this passage in First Timothy (nor in any other passage) that God has set aside his instructions on what animals he wants his people to eat and not to eat. Interpreting it so is a clear example of eisegesis, reading a theological opinion back into the text instead of letting the text speak for itself (aka exegesis).

A More Digestible Exegesis

The problem Paul was addressing had nothing to do with Biblical dietary laws. As in almost all of his letters, Paul denounced man-made traditions masquerading as divine command, not God’s own commandments. False teachers were telling people that they needed to abstain from marriage and food. Perpetual celibacy and frequent fasting were common themes among among false teachers of the time. Celibacy before marriage is good, but celibacy within marriage is bad. Fasting is good, but it is only commanded on one day of the year, and even that’s debatable. Petty arguments about whether we should fast from all food on Mondays or Wednesdays or from meat on Fridays were rampant in the first century. (See my article on the Didache.)

In this passage, Paul told Timothy not to let these liars add or remove from God’s actual instructions. God decides what is food or not. God instituted marriage, and no man can change God’s laws on these or any other matters. Even if he had wanted to change God’s Law, Paul simply did not have the authority. No man does. As Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 4:2, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of YHWH your God that I command you.”

We also know that Yeshua never violated Torah and never taught anyone else to do so. In Matthew 5:19, he said, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

A close reading of Paul’s letters, being careful not to add anything to the text that he didn’t actually write, shows that he did not teach against Torah or Yeshua. (Considering Yeshua’s words, it seems to me that to teach against one is to teach against the other.) People often misconstrue his polemics against over-zealous converts, both Jewish and gentile, as being against obedience, but one can only interpret his letters in such an antinomian manner through eisegesis and begging the question.

The most expansive interpretation of this passage that good exegesis allows is that Paul believed nobody should forbid marriage, as long as it’s done according to God’s guidelines, and nobody should forbid eating what God has authorized to be eaten, because everything that God created is good if used according to its design.

Did God’s Food Laws Change After the Flood?

Did God change the laws about clean and unclean animals after the flood?

Being a Torah observant follower of Yeshua (aka Jesus) means living according to God’s instructions as given to Moses (aka Torah) and as illustrated and explained by Yeshua, including those rules that pertain to diet. Food is a very personal thing and other Christians are frequently dumbfounded that I don’t agree with them that God’s rules for eating were canceled by Jesus. Just read Mark! Read Romans! Haven’t you read Galatians!? Etc. Pick a New Testament book and there’s probably a verse in it that someone will interpret to mean that God no longer cares what anyone eats. I am convinced beyond any doubt that the vast majority of people–even well-educated and sincere believers in Jesus–have never even considered that those verses might be interpreted in some other way, let alone done any serious study on the matter.

American Torah (and other websites that have published my articles) holds other articles on this topic, but the same “counter” verses come up often enough that I think it’s worthwhile to the most common, including what they say and what they are claimed to say. I don’t have the time or inclination to address every possible relevant Bible passage, of course, but I hope that I will be able to add something useful to the collective dialog and encourage you to reconsider what you have been taught or what you might assume about others.

I will add the tag “kosher” to this and other articles on this topic so that you can easily find them here at American Torah and over at Soil from Stone.

And I will begin with The Beginning, Genesis…

Genesis 1:29 & 9:3

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

When God first created man in the Garden, he gave Adam permission to eat plants (“every seed-bearing herb”), but then after he destroyed the world in the Flood, he gave Noah permission to eat animals (“every living thing”).

This raises two questions: 

  1. Did God’s Law change after the Flood?
  2. If God changed the rules once, could he change them again?

God told Noah he could eat every living thing. Doesn’t that mean we can eat pigs and lobsters?

“Every seed-bearing plant” and “every living thing” are descriptions of categories. In other words, God gave Adam permission to eat from the category of seed-bearing plants and Noah permission to eat from the category of living things, but he did not mean for either of them to understand that they could eat absolutely any and every member of those categories.

If you get your drivers license and I tell you, “Congratulations! You can drive all kinds of cars now,” do I really mean that you are free to drive any and every motor vehicle you can find? No, because not every vehicle is yours, some vehicles require special licenses and training, and other vehicles are illegal to drive on regular roads. I think these two Genesis phrases would have been better translated as “the seed-bearing plants” and “the living things” to convey the intended meaning.

Leviticus 11:3 says, “Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.” Does that mean that every cow is available for food to anyone? Clearly not. God did not give anyone permission to kill and eat his neighbor’s cow.

Let me give you a scenario as an illustration.

Your town has an ordinance against driving 18 wheelers on any streets within town limits. You don’t own an 18 wheeler, but your neighbor does. Are you allowed to drive his 18 wheeler on a country road without his permission? No, you aren’t. Not because of the town law–that doesn’t apply on country roads–but because it’s not your truck.

Now, if you take it into your head to become a long haul truck driver, you can get your CDL and purchase your neighbor’s rig. Then you will be free to drive it on that country road, but still not in town, not because it is illegal for you to drive an 18 wheeler, but because it remains illegal to drive it in town. If your neighbor had only loaned you his truck, instead of selling it, with the condition that you can only drive it downtown, you would be no more legally authorized to drive it than before, because his consent in the matter has no effect at all on the town’s ordinance against 18 wheelers within town limits.

Before the Flood, before God allowed Noah to eat animals, he told Noah to take seven pairs of every kind of clean animal into the Ark with him (Genesis 7:3), so God’s laws concerning what makes an animal clean or unclean existed and were in force at that time. God’s laws concerning what makes an animal edible to humans are identical to those that distinguish clean from unclean, and so it seems to me that those laws were also in force prior to the Flood, prior to God granting Noah permission to eat animals.

On the sixth day of Creation, he gave the Garden into Adam’s custody, but not for every purpose that Adam might desire. Adam’s responsibilities as a gardener allowed him to prune and harvest the trees, but not to burn the whole place down. Everything belongs to God, every rock, tree, animal, and person. Before the Flood, cows and sheep were perfectly edible to humans, but they belong to God, and God was (and is) free to disallow mankind to kill his cattle for food, not because it is immoral to eat a cow, but because it is immoral to eat someone else’s cow.

God’s instructions to Noah were not a change in his eternal Law that says “You may eat this kind of animal, but not that kind.” Rather, they were a change in how much authority over his own possessions God had delegated to mankind, much like a farmer allowing his hired hands to take a few chickens home with them in addition to their daily allotment from the harvest.

If God changed the rules about what we can eat once, could he change them again?

Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 are the primary passages of Torah that tell us which animals are clean and therefore suitable for food. (See this article for a brief explanation of what clean and unclean means.) God’s Laws concerning clean and unclean animals predate Noah, Abraham, and Moses and haven’t changed.

But if God can change the wages of mankind from plants alone to plants and animals, can he also reduce those wages again to plants only? Or to animals only?

I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t. They and we are all his creations to do with as he chooses.

However, he would need to send a prophet to tell us of the change in such a way that nobody would have any excuse for not recognizing his authority and the truth of his message. The last two times God sent such a message, the prophet who delivered it was the supreme, unquestioned human authority on earth. I am unaware of a single human being in over 1900 years whom I could point to as a certain and true prophet, let alone one with such unimpeachable credentials. If a prophet carried a word from God that was so fundamental to human existence as the revocation of permission to eat animals, surely it would have to be delivered in a similar manner to the original granting of permission.

Perhaps when Messiah Yeshua returns to establish his earthly kingdom in the land of Israel, he will make such a decree. I doubt it, but who am I to say?

Parsha Re’eh – Apostolic Readings, Commentary, and Videos

New Testament passages to study with Torah portion Re'eh, along with related commentary and videos. Torah for Christians.

Readings

  • Deuteronomy 11:26-12:19
    • Matthew 7:15-23
    • Acts 9:1-20
    • Acts 11:1-18
    • 1 Timothy 6:13-16
  • Deuteronomy 12:20-14:29
    • John 6:48-66
    • Romans 14:1-4
    • 1 Corinthians 10:14-33
    • 1 Timothy 6:3-5,20-21
    • Revelation 2:12-29
  • Deuteronomy 15:1-16:17
    • John 4:34-38
    • John 8:31-38
    • Colossians 3:1-17
    • 1 Timothy 6:6-12,17-19
    • James 2:14-26
    • Revelation 19:6-9

Additional Readings

Videos Related to Parsha Re’eh

  • Proverbs 6:12-19 and Fake News – Proverbs 6:12-19 warns against being a tale-bearer, a spreader of “fake news”.
  • Don’t Go Back to Egypt! – Just like the Christian church, ancient Israel continued to faithfully serve God so long as the first generation of believers lived. As soon as that generation died, they slipped into general apostacy. Joshua 24:31
  • Shavuot Calendar Controversies – Some people keep Shavuot on one day, some on another. Are some of those people simply rejecting the plain words of God?
  • Shavuot: God’s Independence Day – Shavuot is a bit of an oddball among God’s feast days. It’s not clear from the biblical text exactly what it’s about, but there are some amazing parallels with the Exodus that give us some big clues.
  • Who Understands Justice for the Poor? – A righteous man truly understands what it means to ensure justice for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, but a wicked man, even though he might toss out a lot of fine sounding words, doesn’t have a clue what justice even means. In order to know who understands justice, we need to know who is righteous and who is wicked.
  • 2 Kings 4:8-17 and Elisha’s Unexpected Gift – The Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4 provided room and board to Elisha without expecting anything in return. She didn’t want influence or riches. She was already wealthy and had all the influence she wanted in her own community. All she wanted was to do something good for God’s prophet. Elisha (and God) rewarded her generosity with the last thing she expected!

Obelisks, Pyramids, and Stars of David

The Return 2020

Some people were very upset that Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and many Torah-observant believers participated in a large prayer event at the National Mall in D.C. on September 26, 2020. The event, called The Return, featured a number of other speakers including preachers, media personalities, politicians, and generals.

Why were they upset? Because it took place near the Washington Monument.

Why does the Washington Monument bother them? Because it’s an obelisk patterned after those of ancient Egypt.

Nothing Unclean in Itself

In Romans 14:14, Paul wrote, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Yeshua that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”

We know that he referred to man-made rules, those “fences around fences” designed to keep us from even getting close to sin, such as not eating with gentiles and not eating meat purchased at the market because it might have been sacrificed to an idol. He wasn’t referring to God’s instructions concerning which animals are acceptable as food and which aren’t.

For example, according to Moses, Paul, and Yeshua beef is perfectly acceptable as food no matter who slaughtered it or what prayers they might have said when they killed it. Just make sure the blood was drained and that you aren’t participating in the religious ritual. Pigs are great animals with a divinely appointed purpose. They should be given the same respect that we give the rest of Creation. Just don’t eat them.

Geometric Shapes Are Not Idols

Using the same principle, I believe that no geometric shapes are unclean or idolatrous in themselves. There is nothing sinful in having, making, or employing the shape of a pentagram, hexagram, pyramid, pillar, cross, or any other shape so long as you aren’t using it as an object of worship, as an aid in witchcraft, in a religious ritual adopted from paganism, etc.

Geometric shapes have only such meaning as people ascribe to them. If you believe that a spiral is a representation of pagan goddess and you think of that connection every time you see one, then you shouldn’t decorate your home with spirals. Just don’t go around telling other people that they are sinning because they really like spirals and ascribe some other meaning to them or no meaning at all. [Now insert any other shape you want where I wrote “spirals”.]

Rabbi Cahn didn’t build the Washington Monument, and–unlike the ancient Egyptians–I don’t even think that anyone involved in its construction believed it would help ensure George Washington’s place in the afterlife, even if they (and Washington, himself) harbored inappropriate levels of admiration for and attachment to Egypt’s paganism. It’s just a massive structure intended to inspire awe and remind observers of the man’s great stature among America’s founders. Nobody there was praying or bowing to the Monument.

Progress, Not Perfection

It’s no more a sin to pray to the One True God at the National Mall then it would be to pray in the midst of the pyramids of Giza or in the Parthenon of Athens. Instead of being upset that the organizers of this event didn’t get everything exactly right, praise God that they organized such a massive event in order to worship Him and call the nation to repentance! If you believe that the location or their admiration for George Washington or his Monument is misguided, then encourage them to do better next year without condemning them for this year’s imperfection.

For some of you, this might seem like a strange thing to worry about. “Of course, they’re just shapes with no meaning in themselves,” you might think. Great! However, please be aware that this is a much bigger deal in the minds of some other people and give them the respect and kindness owed to a fellow bearer of the image of our mutual Creator.

Does God’s Law Ever Change?

Covenants, priests, plants, and pigs... Does God's Law ever change?

All laws are an extension of the lawgiver’s character. God’s character never changes, therefore his Law has always existed and can never change.

Yet, we have God telling Noah that he can eat animals and telling Moses to set up a national priesthood for Israel and restricting all sacrificial worship to a single location.

Clearly something changed. What gives?

House Rules

Your mother likes a clean house and she has rules to keep it that way: Take your muddy boots off before you come inside. Don’t eat on the sofa. If she lived in the city, her instructions might include leaving your raincoat and umbrella by the front door. If she lived near a river in the wilderness, she might say to clean your fish and game outside and away from the house and not to leave trash where it might attract bears.

These are your mother’s house rules, but, as you can see, the specific rules she chooses to spell out might be different, depending on circumstances. If she replaces her wood burning stove with a gas fireplace, some of the rules are going to change because the things that the rules governed have changed.

But Mom’s character hasn’t changed, only the circumstances into which her character is expressed have changed. The specific rules she spells out are instructions for aligning your actions with her character in a specific time and place–her torah–so they might shift somewhat over time. However, Mom’s character dictates that many of those rules are going to be constant across all circumstances. Don’t spit on the floor. Say please and thank you.

God’s Law Is an Expression of God’s Character

God’s Law and instructions are similar. The rules he gave Moses are an expression of God’s character in a specific set of circumstances. If God gave them today, they might talk about coveting your neighbor’s car instead of his donkey. That doesn’t mean that his Law changes, only that how it was expressed might have been different if it had been given at a different time, to different people.

This is confusing in part because God’s character is too huge, too complex to explain to us in a list of rules, so we have a list of rules, plus lots of stories of how he has interacted with people over time. One thing we can learn by reading the stories in the Bible is that the relationship between man and God requires a priesthood. We are tainted by sin and direct exposure to his presence would destroy us, so we appoint mediators, build altars, and offer sacrifices to facilitate approaching him. (How exactly sacrifices and priests accomplish that is another topic.)

Changing Covenants and Priests

In the patriarchal era, the head of the house or one of the sons would act as the family priest. When God made a covenant with the nation of Israel, that covenant required a national altar and priesthood. Enter the Tabernacle and the Aaronic priesthood. The New Covenant that was hinted at throughout the Torah and made explicit in Jeremiah 31 requires yet another priesthood. In the New Covenant, God’s Law is written on our hearts, and our relationship to him is mediated by the Priest-King Yeshua (aka Jesus).

When Jeremiah said that God’s Law would be written on our hearts, he didn’t mean that the words God gave Moses at Sinai would be literally carved into our flesh, of course. He meant that the principles on which those words were based would be implanted in our minds and spirits so that we would know God’s character instinctively. Nobody will ever need to explain God’s rules to us, because we will simply know them, just as we instinctively know the rules of our own earthly father whose character we have studied since we were infants.

This writing of God’s character, his eternal Law, on our hearts isn’t an instantaneous event. It’s a process that has taken two thousand years so far and will likely never be complete until our Priest-King Yeshua returns to reign in person. There is still so much we don’t understand and even very much that we have forgotten! Clearly we still need to be taught how to behave in God’s kingdom.

As God and Moses carved the Ten Commandments into the stone of Mount Sinai with the fiery presence resting on its head, God, through the Holy Spirit, is now carving his character into us. In a sense, Yeshua’s disciples became the new Mount Sinai in the upper room at Pentecost, with the fire of God resting on their heads too.

In the Sinai Covenant there is a hierarchy within the priesthood. There is one high priest who is the only one authorized to perform some functions, such as entering the Holy of Holies at Yom Kippur. Then there are the sons of Aaron who have some other special duties, such as offering sacrifices on the altar. There are also the Levites, who serve various functions around the Temple and across the nation, but don’t offer sacrifices. Finally, the whole nation of Israel is intended to be a priesthood to the world. In the New Covenant there is also a hierarchy, with Yeshua as our High Priest and every believer acting as a lower sort of priest to the whole world.

These changes in priesthoods don’t represent a change to God’s eternal Law, because they are all in alignment with his eternal character. Rather they represent the application of his Law within the circumstances of a specific covenant.

Changing Dietary Regulations

Another “change” that often confuses people is in our diet. In the Garden, God gave Adam the plant kingdom for food. The plain text says “every plant”, but clearly God didn’t mean every green thing because he explicitly forbade eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. After the flood, God gave Noah the animal kingdom for food.

Did God change his mind about what we could and couldn’t eat?

I don’t think it was that God changed his mind, but that our circumstances had changed so much that a change in the rules was necessary simply to allow life to continue. The Scriptures show that something materially changed in our quality of life after the flood. Lifespans decreased dramatically each generation until we reached a plateau of about 70-90 years. Whether this was due to genetic deterioration caused by increased solar radiation or some other factor is beside the point. However it happened, we are not nearly as healthy as those who lived before Noah’s flood.

I believed that God recognized that if we were going to survive at all, we had to add meat to our diets. Plants alone were insufficient for sustaining the human race, and God’s character dictates that the preservation of life must trump many other considerations. He didn’t change his mind about what we could eat. The principle on which his instructions were based was always to give us what we needed to survive.

No explicit instructions as to which animals could be eaten and which not are recorded in the text of Genesis, so it’s not entirely unreasonable to assume that God gave Noah permission to eat every animal that exists, but I’m convinced that’s not correct. When God told Moses what animals the Israelites were not allowed to eat, he didn’t just say “Don’t eat these.” He said that they are abominable (Deuteronomy 14) and that Israel is also to consider them abominable or detestable (Leviticus 11). Not eating forbidden animals is an important part of being holy, just as God himself is holy (Leviticus 11:44).

Noah knew which animals were clean and which were unclean as offerings to God, which means that God considered those unclean animals to be detestable at the time he told Noah he could eat of the animal kingdom and still does today. God’s character doesn’t change.

On the other hand, if you were faced with a choice between eating pork or starving to death, then by all means, eat the pork. This too is consistent with God’s character. Remember what Yeshua said about healing and rescuing animals on the Sabbath. The preservation and restoration of life supersedes most other considerations.

God Never Changes

God’s character–and therefore his deeper, eternal Law–doesn’t change, but how he interacts with us and what instructions he gives us sometimes do change based on changing circumstances.

Priests are mediators between God and men within the context of a covenant. A different covenant requires a different priesthood and this shift is entirely within the character of God and consistent with his Torah as expressed in the first five books of the Bible.

Idolatry, murder, fornication, and theft are clearly contrary to God’s eternal character independent of any covenant, so they will be wrong in all times and places. Despite what you might have been mistaught about these topics from Bible verses taken out of context, eating unclean animals and laboring on the Sabbath are also wrong in all times and places, except where it is necessary to preserve or restore life and relationship with the Creator.

There is a temporal law, the expression of God’s character in a time, place, and circumstance, and there is an eternal law, which are the principles that extend from the unchanging nature of God himself. Whenever it appears in Scripture that God has changed his Law, consider three things:

  1. Could I be misinterpreting what the Scriptures are teaching?
  2. Is this actually a change in God’s Law or merely in the application of his Law to a different circumstance?

6 Rules and 6 Excuses

What animals does God say qualify as food and what animals don't.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Peter’s vision of the sheet with the unclean animals and showed how it was not about animals and food, but about people and the Kingdom of God.

There are other arguments and New Testament passages that people frequently quote when they attempt to disprove Yeshua’s words in Matthew 5:17-19, but before I address some of those, I probably ought to define the topic.

What does clean and unclean mean?

God’s rules aren’t arbitrary. There is always a reason for them, and that reason is always for our ultimate good. What makes an animal unclean is still a difficult question to answer, though, because the Bible doesn’t spell it out.

About the only thing we can be sure of is that “unclean” (tamei) doesn’t mean soiled or sinful. Uncleanness refers to a spiritual impurity, and is most often associated with death or a loss of life-force: blood, disease, corpses, graves, and bodily discharges.

Nothing in the Bible says “This is what makes an animal unclean,” but it does list some unclean animals and describe characteristics of others.

Leviticus 11 lists the basic rules of what animals God doesn’t want us to eat.

  1. Land animals that are cloven-hoofed and chew the cud are food. Any animal with one and not the other is not food.
  2. Water animals that have fins and scales are food. Anything under the water with neither or one and not the other is not food.
  3. Birds of prey and carrion birds are not food.
  4. Certain other birds are not food, but due to translation uncertainties and a lack of defining characteristics in Torah, we have no way besides inference and tradition to tell us about birds that aren’t mentioned. (“Living the Law: Reinforcing the Tradition with a Palpable Precedent” by Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Dr. Ari Greenspan is an interesting article if you can find it.) Songbirds and wading birds (herons, storks, etc) are probably out, while pigeons, chickens, and turkeys are acceptable.
  5. Insects and other creepy crawlies are not food except for four types of grasshoppers and/or locusts that have over-sized rear legs for jumping.
  6. Anything that walks on paws or slithers on its belly is not food.

That leaves most ruminants, most fish, and many birds as suitable material for stew, salad, or stir-fry, but reptiles, amphibians, and shellfish are not allowed.

But…but…Acts 10!

There are six common objections to a Christian or Messianic Jew to keeping kosher:

1.“Those rules were just because they didn’t have refrigeration. Now we know about tape worms and trichinosis and we keep everything frozen or at least cold before we cook it.”
Beef spoils if left unrefrigerated for too long, and chicken is notoriously dangerous. Yet both are kosher. The rules for clean and unclean animals have nothing to do with safety or refrigeration.

2. “Jesus made all foods clean. Jesus died so we don’t have to obey those laws anymore.”
Actually, Jesus never said anything of the sort. When debating the Pharisees about whether or not it is acceptable to eat food with unwashed hands when that food would otherwise be perfectly kosher, he told them that they were so concerned about their own traditions that they were ignoring God’s actual laws.His central point was this: What difference does it make if a man eats with dirty hands (or eats pork or lobster!) if he is a murderer, a liar, or an adulterer? If you put something into your mouth, your body eventually purges it. If you put something into your heart, however, there is no automatic, natural process to remove it.Jesus didn’t die so you could eat bacon. He died so you could have eternal life in spite of eating bacon.

3. “That was only for the Dispensation of Law. God told Noah he could eat any animal. That changed when God gave the law at Mt. Sinai, then it changed again when Jesus rose from the grave. Now we are in the Dispensation of Grace and can ignore the Law of Moses.”
Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 12:20 that the Israelites could eat whatever meat they wanted, but just 2 chapters later he repeated the list of things that God didn’t want them to eat.Sometimes one passage, when removed from the context of the whole Bible, appears to contradict one or another passage. That’s an illusion caused by our preconceptions and inability (refusal?) to consider those same passages from a more holistic perspective that harmonizes all of Scripture as a unified whole.
Everyone reads the Bible through a lens that colors their interpretations. The problem with most people is that they don’t know it, and act as if their vision is crystal clear with no possibility of tint or distortion. Humility is a rare commodity.

When you read about Noah after the Flood or Peter and Paul after the resurrection, consider–as an intellectual exercise if nothing else–reading those stories as if you believed that not a single letter could ever be removed from God’s Law. Do some of the words have alternate meanings (they all do) that work in the new context? Are you able to understand those passages in that light? If so, then it’s just possible that it is the correct light.

4. “Those are ceremonial laws. They don’t apply to us anymore. Only the moral laws are still in effect.”
I have never yet seen a reasonable defense of such a distinction in the Law. There is no civil vs ceremonial vs criminal or any such division in Scripture. It’s an invention of man. To the contrary, God said, “Do not take anything away from my laws nor add anything to them.” On one side are hazy conjectures and complicated theories. On the other side are several very clear, unambiguous statements from God. I’ll go with the latter.

5. “All of the Law of Moses was abolished. It was entirely replaced with a new set of morals defined by Jesus and fleshed out by Paul: Love God with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, he quoted the Torah, and he said that all of the rest of God’s words hang on just two commandments. He didn’t say that the rest of Torah was no longer relevant. He didn’t add or subtract anything at all from the Torah. He didn’t even say anything new, although it might have been new to the Pharisees with their burdensome traditions:
Matthew 22:37-40: 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. (38) This is the great and first commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus (aka Yeshua) wasn’t telling them anything new. He was just quoting Moses, words with which they were already very familiar:
Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Leviticus 19:18b You shall love your neighbor as yourself…

Earlier I mentioned something else Yeshua said about the Law of Moses:
Matthew 5:17-19: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (18) For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (19) Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Note two things about that statement: 1) Whatever “fulfill” means here, it does not mean to destroy. 2) Nothing can be removed from the Law until heaven and earth pass away.

6. “The Law of Moses is still valid and still applies, but only to Jews. It was never intended to apply to gentile Christians.”As far as salvation is concerned, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” However, the New Covenant was not promised to gentiles. It was promised only to the houses of Israel and Judah. See Jeremiah 31:31.Those of us, who were once Gentiles, have been grafted into the tree of Israel, not the other way around. There is only one body in the Messiah, one law, and one nation: Israel. If you want to be part of that body, then you have to become an Israelite, which means that, even if this objection were true, the Law must apply to all true believers in Yeshua. (Notice that I did NOT say you have to become Jewish.)

There are many strong-sounding arguments for ignoring God’s instructions regarding which animals are acceptable as food, and I don’t have time to hash them all out in this one article. Stick around, though. I’ll get to them eventually.

I assure you that every argument that relies on interpreting some Bible verse to mean the opposite of what Yeshua said in Matthew 5 falls apart when you start assuming that Yeshua knew what he was talking about.


Addendum on unclean birds

There’s a lot of understandable confusion about what flying animals (includes more than just birds) are clean and unclean. The Hebrew words that describe the various birds in Leviticus 11 are obscure, and translators can’t agree on what flying animals are actually listed.

Here’s a chart showing how some popular translations render the list:

Lev 11HebrewHCSBYLTJPSBrentonKJV
v13neshereagleeaglegreat vultureeagleeagle
 peresbearded vultureossifragebearded vultureossifrageossifrage
 ozniyahblack vultureosprayospraysea eagleospray
v14daahkitevulturekitevulturevulture
 ayahall falconsall kitesall falconsall kitesall kites
v15oreball ravensall ravensall ravensall ravensall ravens
v16bat yaanahostrichowlostrichsparrowowl
 tachamasnighthawknighthawknighthawkowlnighthawk
 shachaphsea gullcuckoosea mewsea mewcuckoo
 netsall hawksall hawksall hawksall hawksall hawks
v17koslittle owllittle owllittle owlnight ravenlittle owl
 shalakcormorantcormorantcormorantcormorantcormorant
 yansuphshort-eared owlgreat owlgreat owlstorkgreat owl
v18tanshemetbarn owlswanhorned owlred-billswan
 kaattawny owlpelicanpelicanpelicanpelican
 rakhamcarrion vulturegier eaglecarrion vultureswangier eagle
v19chasidahstorkstorkstorkheronstork
 anaphahall heronsall heronsall heronsall lapwingsall herons
 dukiphathoopoelapwinghoopoehoopoelapwing
 atalephbatbatbatbatbat

As you can see, there is unanimous agreement on some points and total chaos on others. We also classify flying creatures differently than the ancient Hebrews did. For example, we differentiate between flying mammals and birds. They didn’t. They made distinctions between various kinds of birds of prey that we can’t even decipher now.

Here is what we can say with relative certainty:

Definitely Not Kosher

  • Any kind of vulture, buzzard, condor, etc.
  • Any kind of raptor, like a hawk, eagle, falcon, or anything else we would normally call a “bird of prey”.
  • Any kind of raven or grackle.
  • Cormorants.
  • Storks, herons, and pelicans.
  • Lapwings and hoopoes.
  • Bats and all other flying mammals.

Probably Not Kosher

Based on those that are definitely not kosher, I think it’s safe to presume that these birds are also unclean, although I wouldn’t be dogmatic about it.

  • Sea-going predatory birds, like gull, terns, and penguins.
  • Long-legged wading birds, like flamingos, shanks, and egrets.
  • Semi-terrestrial, semi-predatory birds like roadrunners, killdeer, and woodpeckers.

I’d Avoid Them, Just in Case

These birds seem to me like they probably belong in the list and some translators include them explicitly. Your call, of course.

  • Large flightless birds, like ostriches and emus.
  • Song birds, like swallows, finches, and cardinals.

Probably Kosher

Or at least they don’t seem to fit cleanly into any of the forbidden categories and they definitely aren’t listed explicitly. Some people still disagree about them, though.

  • Ducks
  • Geese
  • Turkeys

If you are interested in an Hassidic Jewish perspective on kosher birds, check out this article from Chabad: What Are the Signs of a Kosher Bird?

P.S. WordPress is giving me a heck of a time keeping the formatting on this article the way I want it. It seems like every time I edit something, WordPress messes up all my formatting.

White Sheets, Creepy Crawlies, and Unclean People

Does Peter's Vision in Acts 10 mean that we can eat anything we want now?

Peter’s vision in Acts 10 proves beyond any doubt that the Jewish dietary laws were canceled by God and have no relevance whatsoever to Christians.

This is a common objection to Christians continuing to keep God’s Law as given to Moses. It is a serious objection too. If God really commanded Peter to kill and eat a sheet full of unclean animals, that would be a very strong indication that the dietary laws are no longer in effect, so it warrants a thorough examination. It’s a long passage to cut and paste into a blog, so I’ll break it up into chunks and see if I can’t pare it down a little.

Acts 10 begins by telling us about Cornelius, a man very much like Abraham. They were both gentiles who loved God and lived by faith. God respected that faith and sent Cornelius an angel who told him to send for Peter. Note that the Angel did not tell Cornelius to go to Peter but to have Peter brought back to him. This was because Peter had a very important lesson to learn about gentiles and faith. (We are never too big, too smart, too Spirit-filled to learn from someone else, even someone of apparently much lesser rank.)

(9) The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. (10) And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance (11) and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. (12) In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. (13) And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” (14) But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”
Acts 10:9-14

There are two very startling things going on here.

  1. God appears to tell Peter to kill unclean animals and eat them.
  2. Peter is shocked that God would tell him to do such a thing.

The first thing was startling to Peter who, as an observant Jew, had never eaten anything “common or unclean.” To him this was nearly as bad as idolatry or murder. He was startled and dismayed that would God command him to transgress the Law, to commit sin.

The second thing, the fact that Peter was shocked–ought to be quite startling to any Christian who believes that Jesus died so that we don’t have to keep the Law anymore, particularly the parts of the Law concerning what we are and are not to eat.

How could Peter not know that Jesus made it OK for him to eat unclean animals? He had walked at the Savior’s side as his friend, daily hearing him teach and preach on how to live a holy life and on the deeper meaning of God’s commandments. Peter had personal, intimate conversations with him about God, faith, salvation, and the Law. He was there on the day that the Pharisees confronted Yeshua about the disciples eating with unwashed hands and heard with his own ears the Messiah proclaim all foods clean. He must have known for many years by this time that no meat could be unclean anymore! At the very least he must have known that this day was coming. Yet he had never in his life eaten anything unclean, and he was shocked at the suggestion.

Why then was he so surprised at it? And why aren’t more Christians surprised at Peter’s surprise?

Is it possible that the subject never came up during Peter’s three year theological tutelage at the feet of Israel’s Messiah? Even after that famous confrontation with the Pharisees in which Yeshua supposedly declared all “foods” clean?

I don’t think so. Yeshua and his disciples ate together almost every day, multiple times each day, and sometimes even with gentiles, while he expounded at length on the meaning of the Law. Most likely, the subject came up more than once, yet it never crossed Peter’s mind that he might be free to eat any animal he wanted.

The truth is that Yeshua never even hinted to Peter that he had come to die so that everyone could eat bacon with their eggs. If God really wanted Peter to eat unclean animals, then this was a new change, and not something that Peter had heard or suspected before.

(15) And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (16) This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. (17) Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate (18) and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there.
Acts 10:15-18

Three times, God told Peter to kill and eat, but each time he took the sheet with the animals away before Peter could carry out the command. If God sends a vision or a dream, then we know it must have an interpretation, but Peter didn’t immediately know what it might be. In fact, he spent much of the rest of that day puzzling over it and didn’t fully realize God’s message until the three men arrived from Cornelius.

Here is what puzzles me most about this perennial controversy: We don’t have to wonder what Peter’s vision meant. When he arrived at Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, he told everyone there in plain language exactly what the vision meant, and Luke recorded his statement for us:

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”
Acts 10:28

The sheets, the animals, the voice… It was all about people, not food! God wasn’t telling Peter that he had changed the rules about what animals were acceptable for food. God sent the vision to tell Peter that he was bringing people from all nations into the Kingdom, that the Jewish traditions keeping Jews and Gentiles apart were not right. The salvation bought by Yeshua’s blood was for all people, not just the Jews, and Peter had no right to exclude anyone from full fellowship in the Commonwealth of Israel based solely on the circumstances of their birth.

Some will object, saying, “Surely God would never command someone to commit a sin even in a vision, so Peter’s vision in Acts 10 presupposes that unclean animals have also been made clean.”

Why wouldn’t he? This is another parallel with the story of Abraham.

In Genesis 22, God commanded Abraham to make a human sacrifice of his own son, something that was clearly against God’s Law. Even before Sinai, only certain animals were acceptable for offerings and God has always abhorred human sacrifice. When God told Abraham to kill his son, he never intended anyone to believe that he had therefore abrogated laws against murder and human sacrifice. It was a sin to offer up a human before Mount Moriah, and it remained a sin afterwards. Although God told Abraham to kill Isaac, he prevented him from shedding even a drop of blood.

Now, to make this even clearer for the hard of hearing and the poor of vision:

Abraham Peter
Commanded to make a human sacrifice Commanded to eat unclean animals
Prevented from making a human sacrifice Prevented from eating unclean animals

God commanded both of these men to do something that was against his Law, and in both cases God prevented them from carrying out the command. In neither case did God change his Law. In both cases, God taught us something about his plan of salvation for mankind.

Abraham learned that God would send a substitute sacrifice to do what we could not, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

Peter learned that God can make children for Abraham from anyone in any nation, that there are no unclean people among those whom God has redeemed.

After telling Cornelius what he had learned from his vision, Peter went on to teach that whole household about Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, about his miracles, his death, and resurrection. All of those present, both Jew and Gentile, were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began speaking in tongues and praising God.

All that… and not a single word about lobster ravioli, BLTs, or the flesh of any other unclean animals.

We know that Yeshua said that not even the least significant commandment would be removed from the Law until heaven and earth pass away and “all is accomplished.” Heaven and earth are still here. All has not been accomplished. Unless Yeshua lied, then the dietary laws cannot have been removed from God’s requirements of his people, and nothing in Acts 10 implies otherwise.

Peter’s vision of unclean animals was never about food. It was always about people. Unless Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac means that murder is no longer a sin, Peter’s vision does not mean that eating “all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds of the air” is no longer a sin.

God’s Law stands unchanged, just as Yeshua said it would in Matthew 5.

Two Mountains over the Jordan

Mounts Gerizim and Ebal represent blessings and curses for obeying or disobeying God's Law.The Hebrews spent forty years in the wilderness getting to know God and their place in relationship to him. Sometimes they did things his way and things went well. Sometimes they tried it their own way and it went poorly, but eventually they made it through, which means that, on the whole, they must have done more right than wrong along the way.

They fought the Amalekites. They fought Kings Og & Sihon. They won great victories and vanquished wicked peoples who were much stronger than they, at least from the world’s perspective. Finally arriving at the Jordan River, they paused to take stock. It was the moment they had been waiting for the day they walked out of Egypt. Everything had been building to this moment.

After summarizing their long trek, Moses pointed to the two mountains, Gerizim and Ebal, and said to them “These two mountains represent the two paths you can take once you’ve crossed over. Things are going to go well for you over there if you obey God’s commandments, or they’re going to go very poorly if you don’t. The choice is yours.”

I can almost hear what they were thinking.

“Hold on. Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute. I thought all the hard stuff was on this side of the Jordan. Isn’t it supposed to be easier on the other side?”

Anyone who has lived very long should understand that’s not how life works. There are easy moments and hard ones, but there is no “easy” stage of life. There is no point at which we can say, “I’ve arrived. I can stop trying now.” But don’t we always seem to slip back into that same assumption that it’s going to get easier once we get past this next challenge? Okay, maybe the next one. The one after that?

The Promised Land was just on the other side of the Jordan, but the Promised Land was never intended to be a place of eternal harps and cotton candy clouds. God intends for the Promised Land to be hard work.

For you are to cross over the Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you. And when you possess it and live in it, you shall be careful to do all the statutes and the rules that I am setting before you today. (Deuteronomy 11:31-32)

The Jordan didn’t mark the boundary between difficult and easy. It was more like the boundary between practice and execution, between rehearsal and performance. The Promised Land was where the real fighting was to take place and the biggest fight that the Hebrews would face wouldn’t be against the Canaanites. It would be against themselves and their own inclination to forget God’s commandments.

Once their enemies were mostly defeated, Israel lost their focus and drifted into complacency and idolatry. They took possession of the land, but they forgot the most important part of living in it: keeping God’s Law. To obey is to choose Mount Gerizim and life as God intends it to be, while to ignore God’s Law is ultimately to choose Mount Ebal and death.

We cross Jordan Rivers all the time in our lives. The cycle of leaving Egypt, wandering in the Wilderness, fighting giants, and crossing into the Promised Land happens over and over for everyone. When you graduate from school, get married, have children, get that promotion…these are all Jordan Crossings. At every stage of life we face the same challenges: a struggle to achieve freedom, a period of wandering and discovery, hard battles, breakthroughs and victories, and then slowly we drift back into the chains of drudgery, of spent energy and forgotten dreams.

It’s going to happen. You will forget your purpose. You will get stuck in a rut. You will backslide. Don’t beat yourself up about it too much. Thank God that he is a long suffering and forgiving God and that he sent Yeshua to take away the curse of eternal death that disobedience merits!

Having crossed the Jordan, don’t give up. Take possession of the Promised Land that God has given you, whatever it is in your life right now. Maybe it’s a great career, a ministry, or a profound new friendship. But whatever it is, don’t stop at taking possession. Don’t ever think that possession is the end goal.

And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. Are they not beyond the Jordan…? (Deuteronomy 11:29-30a)

Crossing the Jordan is just the beginning. The greatest opportunities for blessing and curses aren’t behind, but still ahead of you. Keep moving, and be careful to follow God’s instructions as you do. Choose to live in your Promised Land. Make it bloom and produce one hundred fold, because God isn’t giving it to you solely for your enjoyment. He is giving it to you so that you can do something with it to glorify him, to lift up his son, Yeshua, and to edify his Kingdom.

Over there, across the Jordan, putting your Promised Land to work is where God intends for you to be. It’s the place where you will be the most effective for the Kingdom. But only if you are faithful and keep your eyes on him.

God’s Get Rich Slow Scheme

This week’s Torah reading (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17, aka “Re’eh”) talks about how to get rich. Fantastic! The best part is that you get to pick between blessings and curses. Who wouldn’t choose blessings over curses?

Here’s how you make your choice known to God:

  1. Worship God His way, not your way, and not in any pagan ways. Whether you are native-born Israelite or grafted in, no paganism allowed. Destroy every trace & burn all the bridges that lead back that way.
  2. Be careful what you eat. Don’t eat blood. Don’t eat creepy crawlies. Don’t eat pigs and other forbidden animals. Don’t eat blood. And especially don’t eat blood as part of any religious rituals. Got that? No blood.
  3. Don’t listen to false prophets.
  4. Have 3 big parties every year, paid for by the tithes of what you’ve produced from your land in 2 out of 3 years.
  5. In the third year, gather up all your tithes and share them with the landless, orphans, and widows of your own town. This is on the honor system, but don’t be stingy.
  6. Forgive all debts to fellow believers/Hebrews (whether native-born Israelites or grafted in) at the end of every 7th year. Don’t be stingy. Lend to your poor neighbors at zero percent interest with the full expectation that they will pay you back no matter how much time is left. If they don’t pay you back on time, don’t hold it against them.
  7. Release all Hebrew slaves–not that there’s a lot of explicit slavery in America these days, but the principle still counts–at the end of the 6th year in the 7 year cycle. Don’t be stingy here either. Since they weren’t able to work for themselves, send them out with a year’s worth of supplies. They can live off that until they get themselves back on their feet or they can use it to pay off debt before the end of the 7th year.
  8. In whatever way God blesses you, be sure to bless others.
  9. Rejoice! Especially during Sukkot in the Fall. Throw a party and invite everyone: native, grafted-in, orphans, widows, Levites, servants, family, and neighbors. And don’t be stingy!

You probably noticed a trend. Here’s the short version: Fear God and be generous.

Whatever you’ve heard on television or Facebook, this is a principle that every filthy rich person will tell you: give, give, and give some more. Wealth is never a zero-sum operation. There’s always more where it came from. Blessings flow from God like water through a pipe. What happens if a pipe is capped? The water stops flowing. You are a pipe. Let your wealth flow out to keep God’s wealth flowing in.

But wait! There’s more…

If I only wanted to make myself or you feel good, I’d stop there. But I’m not.

These blessings aren’t necessarily directed at individuals. They’re directed at the nation of Israel, the native-born and the grafted-in. (Not the State of Israel. That’s something else altogether.)

I’m not saying this won’t work for individuals. It clearly does! The principal of “Give-to-Get” is the very foundation of the wealth-building wisdom of Zig Ziglar and many other famous teachers of personal economics. (You can have as much as you want if you only help as many others as possible to get what they want first.) After all, you can’t have a wealthy nation without wealthy individuals.

This is just another layer of the selflessness required to be an effective conduit of God’s blessings. Do you want to be blessed? Then bless everyone around you with no expectation of getting anything back, either from them or God. I guarantee you will be blessed abundantly, but I can’t guarantee exactly what form that blessing will take. Even so, if you make wise financial decisions in addition to being generous with your resources, the chances are very good that your resources will continue to multiply.

If you want God’s continued blessings, keep the pipe straight (obey God’s Law) and don’t cap it off (be generous).

Edible, but Not Food

And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:7 ESV)

According to Maslow and common sense, a person needs some things more than others. Food and water are at the top of the list, and if you don’t have those, the rest won’t do you much good. A connection to God is more difficult to rank using only our senses and immediate survival, but it is even more important in the long run.

When we don’t eat, we get hungry. When we don’t have the right balance of nutrients in our diet, we experience cravings or illness, and we fulfill those needs by eating more food or more variety of foods. Our feelings of need are usually satisfied in the short term by just about anything we can stuff into our mouths that meets the minimum requirements. If our bodies need calories, then a candy bar will suffice. However, that’s not necessarily the best option available. Certainly, the sugar and fat will supply calories, but usually in the wrong proportions or in undesirable forms. An apple or handful of nuts would be a better choice because it satisfies the immediate craving while providing for longer-term nutrition needs and not doing any damage.

God didn’t say anything to Moses about candy bars because the ancient Israelites didn’t have access to them, but He wasn’t silent about diet. For example, He told us not to eat blood and He even told us why (because the life of an animal is in its blood) even if His explanation is incomprehensible to modern medicine. Contrary to some recent diet fads, He told us that bread is perfectly acceptable so long as it isn’t the only thing we eat. He also told us that some animals (pigs, bats, spiders, etc) shouldn’t be eaten and neither should certain parts of even the good animals. Bat meat things might supply the body’s basic nutritional needs–in fact, it might be excellent sources of some nutrients–but, just as a nutritionist might say that many edible substances aren’t food, so does God. Pigs and bats might be perfectly edible and provide perfectly usable nutrition, but there is something else about them that makes them non-food. God didn’t tell us exactly what makes them off limits; He just said that they are. He designed both them and us, and told us that we shouldn’t eat them whether we understand why or not.

Our need for spiritual connection with God is very similar to our need for food. Voltaire wasn’t so far off when he said that “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” We have a deep need to worship and serve something greater than ourselves. Every human society throughout history has worshiped and theologized. Not even alcohol has been as widespread as religion. Unfortunately, just like when we eat a Snickers instead of an apple, we frequently follow our spiritual urges without any real understanding of what we need. We know instinctively that prayer, singing, dancing, and offerings are all good and necessary, but like children in a grocery store, we don’t know to take more of the green stuff and less of the pink and gooey. Like candy, there are religious practices that sooth our cravings, but don’t provide good spiritual nutrition. With that in mind, it’s not too surprising to find McDonalds “restaurants” in churches. There is a right way and a wrong way to relate to God, to worship and serve Him, and just as with food, He gave us some substantial direction in the Scriptures.

God linked food and religion, and Moses made that link clear. In Deuteronomy 11 & 12, Moses said, “You will not worship like the pagans do. You will destroy the places the pagans used for their worship, and you will wipe out the names of their gods. You will not offer sacrifices just anywhere you want, but only in that place that God chooses for His name. You will not eat blood, and you will only eat those animals that God has declared food. And, don’t forget, you will worship God in His way, not in your way, nor in the ways of the pagans.” God left a lot to our tastes and aesthetics, but He gave us some important ingredients to a healthy spiritual life that we ignore to our own detriment.

P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe for updates, anniversaries from American history, and links to interesting, enlightening, and useful stuff from around the Internet.