Lately I’ve been listening to a preacher on the radio who claims that eating pork is wrong for Christians. Please comment.
I will begin by stating that a Christian has the right to do whatever he pleases in this area. If he doesn’t want to eat pork, that’s his privilege. If he wants to eat pork, he can, as I will demonstrate from Scripture. I don’t know what this preacher said. I do know that often people who introduce or promote such a regulation want and expect everyone else to jump on their bandwagon. This insistence that there is only one option is one of the most serious problems they pose. Instead, the Bible gives us liberty in this matter.
The Jews had stringent regulations concerning eating. These regulations went back to the levitical laws of Moses and are found in Leviticus 11 and 20:25, 26; and Deuteronomy 14:3–21. This list probably names animals that we wouldn’t want to eat anyway, but God had definite purposes in giving His chosen people strict dietary rules. Besides the concern for their physical well-being, He wanted to draw for them clear, unmistakable lines of demarcation between His people and the heathen. Circumcision was another rite that God used in this way. He wanted His chosen people to be separate, and He had definite regulations and rites to remind them of this distinction.
However, when God ushered in the new dispensation of the Church—the age we live in today—He began to deal primarily through Gentiles. The Scriptures make it clear that God set Israel aside during this dispensation. God will again take up His dealings with Israel after New Testament believers have been raptured and the Church Age has ended (1 Thess. 4:13–18). For the background of Israel’s being temporarily laid aside, read carefully Romans 9—11. Also, if you are unfamiliar with the 70 weeks of Daniel and their meaning and significance, I recommend you study Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks by Alva J. McClain (published by Zondervan). We as Church Age people are living between the 69th and 70th weeks. The 70th week is, according to Scripture, the Great Tribulation, or in Scriptural parlance, “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). During this seven-year period, God will “take Israel to the woodshed” to make Israel more than ready to finally accept Jesus Christ as her Messiah.
The Jewish believers at the time of Christ’s ascension and subsequent birth of the New Testament church on the Day of Pentecost needed to come to grips with the fact that Gentiles would be just as much a part of the household of God as believers (Eph. 2). This concept was difficult for them to accept, in part because Gentiles lacked ceremonial regulations. The Jews, from birth, had had these laws drilled into them. They believed that they as Jews were God’s people. Because primarily Gentiles would compose the New Testament churches, the Jewish believers had to make some adjustments in their thinking.
Consequently Peter, one of the apostles, had a remarkable vision from God (recorded in Acts 10). This vision was necessary, for the first Gentile convert—Cornelius—was about to be won. Apparently up to that moment no apostle had gone to Gentiles with the gospel. It is strange that they would not do so because Christ had made it plain in the Great Commission that believers are to take the gospel to every creature and to all nations. Christ Himself had called attention to the spiritual needs of the despised Samaritans. He also demonstrated this principle in His dealings with the Syrophenician woman (Mark 7:24–30). Certain portions of the Old Testament would also have shown them that the Gentiles would seek and find (Isa. 42:1, 6ff). The Lord had told both Ananias and Paul that Saul (Paul) would witness to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 26:17).
In spite of all these evidences that the Jewish believers were to go to Gentiles, it seems obvious that they needed a jolt to shake them loose from their prejudices. Lest we treat Peter harshly, as we sometimes do because of his earlier denial of the Lord, I should point out that even Paul seemed to fall into his old Jewish tendencies toward feasts, ceremonies and the temple. Acts 18:21 reads, “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem.” Of course, this longing may not have been entirely wrong, for Paul may have genuinely wanted to witness to people in Jerusalem.
In Peter’s vision in Acts 10, an object like a “great sheet knit at the four corners” came down from Heaven. It contained three kinds of animals (mentioned in Genesis 6:20): four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds. A voice told Peter to kill and eat them. Peter, a good Jew, refused on grounds that he had never eaten anything common or unclean (the animals forbidden for consumption by the Mosaic law).
Then the voice told him, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” This encounter was repeated two times for emphasis, and then the sheet went back up into Heaven. At first Peter contemplated the possible meaning of the vision. Further along in the account we note that Peter understood the message. When he met Cornelius, he affirmed, “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (v. 28). It is wonderful how God works. He prepared Cornelius to receive the gospel message; at the same time, He prepared Peter to accept Cornelius as the first Gentile convert! Later Peter seemed to lapse again, and Paul rebuked him (Gal. 2:11, 12).
The Jewish ceremonial laws were, according to Paul, “a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:17). The “handwriting of ordinances” was nailed to the cross (v. 14). Therefore, wrote Paul, “Let no man . . . judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days” (v. 17). Once a person experiences the new birth, he has no need to follow an old shadow. Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law. Paul also stated concerning false teachers that they “[forbid] to marry, and [command] to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:3, 4).
Some may argue, “If you say that there is nothing wrong with pork products, how can you frown on smoking and drinking?” There is a vast difference. Pork products are food. Tobacco and alcohol could be classified with narcotics or drugs. Any type of food has the potential of contamination, but our modern-day health standards help to keep harmful bacteria to a minimum.
If a person wants to abstain from certain foods, he has the right to do so, just as others have the right to partake if they so desire. We all have the responsibility as believers to regard our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and to avoid anything that would harm them. If I cannot eat certain foods because of allergies, for example, I am free to avoid them. But I must not order others to avoid the same foods. If we avoid certain foods, we must avoid them for preference or personal health convictions, not out of arguments from the Old Testament law. We are simply not under these ceremonial restrictions.
This article appeared in the “Q & A” column of the Baptist Bulletin (December 1993) by Norman A. Olson.