Must We Obey the Old Testament Food Laws?

There is a tradition that states that we Christians should obey all of the food ordinances. The New Testament clearly says that we are no longer subject to the food ordinances. Those who claim we are still bound by those ordinances must take the scripture and contort it to make it say what they wish.We will look at one passage many tend to twist to make us believe we are bound by the dietary ordinances of the Old Covenant. They take a scripture where Paul tries his best to say that we are not obligated to the food ordinances to make us liable under them. They twist this scripture to make it say the exact opposite of what it does say.

 1 Timothy 4:1-6 “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. {6} If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.”

Now, let us dissect. Let us try to leave nothing to the teachings of men or a man.

First, specifically Paul says that there will be a time when men will listen to spirits that will seduce some into departing from the faith, believing in doctrines of devils, hypocritical lies. I am not accusing anyone of doing the above things willingly, but they do happen. Paul applies this to several teachings of the Judaizers, including the dietary ordinances. (Those same men who preached adherence to the dietary ordinances also preached that one could not have salvation without circumcision). Those who teach that we are obligated to the dietary ordinances of the Old Covenant are the same as those who say we must be circumcised. They are “giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”

Let us take apart the phrase, “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats (απεχεσθαι βρωματων–apechesthai brômatôn), which God hath created (α ο θεος εκτισεν–ha ho theos ektisen) to be received (εις μεταληψιν–eis metalepsin) with thanksgiving (μετα ευχαριστιας–meta eucharistias) of them which believe and know the truth.” In the Greek, the verse reads literally like this: κωλυοντων γαμειν απεχεσθαι βρωματων α ο θεος εκτισεν εις μεταληψιν μετα ευχαριστιας τοις πιστοις και επεγνωκοσιν την αληθειαν (“koluonton gamein apechesthai bromaton ha ho theos ektisen eis metalepsin meta eucaristias tois pistois kai epegnokosin ten aletheian” or “Forbidding to marry, saying to abstain from foods, which God created for partaking with thanksgiving by the believers and those knowing the truth.”)

Literally the Greek places the phrase “to be received” as part of the larger phrase “to be received with thanksgiving.” The words “to be received” are a part of the whole phrase, “to be received with thanksgiving”. The prepositional phrase, “with thanksgiving” modifies the verbal phrase “to be received”, and the whole adverbial phrase, “to be received with thanksgiving” modifies created. You cannot separate the two without altering the meaning of the whole verse. To state that the words, “meats to be received” means only those foods deemed clean by the Law of Moses is absurd. This requires that the statement be taken out of context. In context one must use the whole statement, “to be received with thanksgiving”. Taken in context and with no gerrymandering of the words, the statement is that all foods are provided to be eaten with thanksgiving.

Let us also define the Greek “eis metalepsin (εις μεταληψιν)”. It literally means “to be taken.” A definition of taken is eaten. The modern usage of the English word “received” means something entirely different than “eaten.” It means to get something into one’s possession. When the KJV translators used “received”, they meant “eaten”. A definition of the word “receive” is “to eat” (see Merriam Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, definition 8). Technically, the entire phrase “to be received with thanksgiving” literally means to partake of the Eucharist! How does one partake of the Eucharist? He eats the bread and drinks the fruit of the vine.

When taken out of context, the meaning is shaded to state that only certain foods are to be received. But that is not true. The verse says that ALL foods are created by God to be received with thanksgiving. As an added witness, let us look at verse 4.

 1 Timothy 4:4 “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:”

That verse proves my point that all creatures are good for food if received with thanksgiving. It does not say, as some try to make it say, that every creature allowed by the food ordinances is good. Nowhere in the context does Paul refer to the Levitical ordinances concerning clean and unclean food. Instead, he refers to those teaching the false doctrine that we should only eat those foods deemed clean by the Law of Moses.

 1 Timothy 4:5 “For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

All food, every creature, is set apart by or made clean by God’s word and by prayer. Paul refers to the Word of God here. What is the word of God? Well in the Old Testament, it was the words written in the Torah. But now, under the new covenant where is God’s Word written? “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33) The Word of God is written in our hearts. We know in our hearts and by the scripture written here that all creatures are good for food. We are released from the law of clean and unclean foods by the New Covenant, that is, by the blood of Christ. We pray to God with our thanksgiving for our food.

The reason for clean and unclean foods in the Law is that those foods look forward to Christ for fulfillment. We are unclean unless sanctified by the blood of Christ. Unclean foods are a type of the unsaved in the world. Clean food is a type of those saved. We are saved not by something we did, but by what Christ did. What Christ did fulfilled the law and made all foods clean. In Christ we no longer need to worry about the clean and unclean. Christ makes all clean, if they choose to believe Him and accept Him. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Matthew 5:17)

Here are some added witnesses. All discuss the ordinances of clean and unclean foods given in the Law of Moses. All say those ordinances have no effect of Christians:

 Romans 14:3 “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.”

1 Corinthians 8:8 “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.”

Colossians 2:16 “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Hebrews 13:9 “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.”

This verse sums it up nicely:

 Colossians 2:20-23 “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, {21} (Touch not; taste not; handle not; {22} Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? {23} Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.”

Paul asks why we should subject ourselves to the ordinances (including “taste not”, i.e. the dietary ordinances) when their use leads us to perish. That means that we cannot be saved by these ordinances so there is no need to keep them any more. Christ died for us and fulfilled the ordinances and they are of no account. So now they are just the commandments of men. They have an appearance of wisdom but are of no use (“not in any honour”) in resisting or restraining the flesh or sinful nature. So why follow them if they do us no good? In fact, they actually make us follow the traditions of men. If we are dead in Christ, we are dead to the world and its activities and no longer need to be concerned with the food ordinances.


The most important thing to remember about these food laws is what Paul says in Romans. We have noted what he said in Romans 14:3. Let me add Romans 14:6.

Romans 14:6 “He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.”

This simply says (we are only interested in eating) that the one who does not eat according to the food laws, eats his food at God’s pleasure and the one eats according to the food laws also eats his food at God’s pleasure. Neither one is condemned by God. Whether you abide by the food laws or not, either is acceptable to God and here is why:

Romans 14:17-18 “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. {18} For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.”

What we eat or don’t eat is not the important thing. The Kingdom of God is not concerned with those things but with righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. As long as we serve Christ whatever we eat or do not eat is acceptable to God.

Finally, we are not to dispute over these things:

 Romans 14:19 “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

Paul is basically saying here that we should not dispute or argue over such things as listed here, that is food, drink, and feasts. We should do our best to promote peace and unity among the Body of Christ. In any group of people there will be disagreements over such nonessential things. We are not to allow those disagreements to escalate into anything that would damage our Christian witness or credibility. Many churches have split over such nonessential things. We are to be peaceful toward one another and we must build each other up in the faith (and not tear anyone down).

 Romans 14:20 “For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.”

We are not to argue about lawful or unlawful foods. That sort of thing may offend a weaker Christian and cause him to stumble. Even though, according to this verse, all foods are pure, we are not to allow any dispute over the food laws to interfere with our witness or to cause another to fall. We are not to argue over such things at all. God accepts either course of action.

Those of you who will not have fellowship with anyone who will eat supposed unclean meats are just plain wrong. You are causing dissentions in the Body of Christ. I have no argument with you. If you wish to follow the food laws, that is your prerogative and God will honor it. But do not condemn another who does not follow the food laws for God allows that as well.

This entry was posted in Topical Studies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.