Does the Bible restrict what foods Christians should eat?
The law that God gave the Israelites goes into great detail regarding what foods they were and were not allowed to eat. Leviticus 11 bans eating the following animals:
- Those that chew cud or have a split hoof but not both (like camels, rabbits, pigs)
- Sea creatures that do not have fins and scales (like crustaceans)
- Birds that eat flesh or carrion (like crows, raptors, sea gulls)
- Most winged insects except those that swarm and jump
In addition, God told Noah not to drink the blood of any animal (Genesis 9:4), and Exodus 34:26 bans boiling a kid goat in its mother's milk. Yeast was banned during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Scholars have argued over the reasons for the bans for millennia, but God gives very few explanations. It appears to be part of the ceremonial law which God enacted as a sign that the Jews were different from the surrounding people. This would suggest that the banned foods were used in pagan religious ceremonies. Over the years, in an attempt to maintain the dietary restrictions explicitly, Jewish culture has developed very specific kosher standards. But in Genesis 9:3, God told Noah—a God-follower—"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you." So what standards should Christians follow?
Christians get their guidance from the New Testament, which highlights which Jewish ceremonial laws we are to keep. The first clue comes in Acts 10:9-16. Peter went to a rooftop to pray and became hungry. He fell into a trance. The sky opened, and a sheet, filled with all kinds of animals, was lowered in front of him. A voice said, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter, thinking it was a test, protested, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." This happened three times.
The vision was two-sided. In the literal sense, Peter was released from the Jewish dietary law. Christ-followers did not have to keep Jewish ceremonial law because Jesus fulfilled it. In the metaphorical sense, it was one more lesson on how Jesus was for everyone, and the Jewish Christians needed to witness to the Gentiles, as well.
So it is that Christians are not bound by the dietary restrictions in Leviticus 11.
This isn't to say that there are no restrictions in the New Testament. As more and more Gentiles joined the church, church leaders (including the Apostles and Jesus' brother James) needed to figure out which ceremonial laws Gentiles should be bound to and which they were freed from. In the midst of such a discussion (mostly regarding circumcision), church leaders dictated: "But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled…" (Acts 21:25). But are these rules for all the church, or were they designed to separate the Greek Christians from their pagan neighbors?
The ban on meat sacrificed to idols actually would have been a hardship for those who lived in cities. Most meat sold at market was already cooked and, in the process, had been dedicated to a pagan god. To reject meat that had been sacrificed might have meant to forgo meat altogether. Paul, adding grace and a touch of reality to the ban, explained in 1 Corinthians 10:27-28 that dedicated meat should only be banned if the believer knew it was dedicated. The purpose of the ban was to show publically that they did not worship idols, not that dedicated meat was supernaturally harmful.
Christians today deal with this issue in certain ways. Meat in India may be offered to a Hindu god. Halal food is dedicated to the god of Islam. Should Christians partake? Like Paul said, if the provider of the meat makes it known that the meat has been dedicated, we should politely decline. If food at a grocery store bears the "halal" seal, we should pray about what God wants us to do. It is the endorsement of the religion that is the problem, not the chicken.
The other restriction was against "blood and from what has been strangled." Strangled animals do not have the blood drained from their bodies, and thus break the restriction God gave Noah. Many foods have blood in them, including black pudding and blood sausage, and some tribes drink blood directly from their cattle. Does this restriction continue for Christians?
There is debate about this but no general consensus. Some Christians believe that Peter's vision releases blood from being restricted. Others say that since the ban on eating blood both pre-dates the Mosaic Law and is repeated in the church age, the ban remains. The mature Christian will, again, pray and see where God leads. Either way, this does not include steaks cooked rare, if the cow was properly butchered beforehand.
In general, Christians are not bound by Jewish dietary restrictions. The New Testament says we should be known for our love (John 13:35), not our meals. Regarding food dedicated to idols, we need to understand the purpose of the ban—to clearly show those around us that we do not worship any god but the True God. As for drinking the blood of animals, since there is no clear guidance, it is a matter of personal conviction and prayer.
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