The Dietary Laws
I have decided to take some time to talk about an issue not addressed very often in the western church. One reason is that the whole subject of foods is considered obsolete and irrelevant to the modern church. It is seen by modern theologians as a command only to the Israel of long ago. To a dark, fuzzy, foggy, past, when God looked like the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Back when they needed THOSE kind of laws in order to please the angry demiurge and satisfy his spiteful whims. Food laws were given to an ignorant Israel which did not have the advantage or knowledge of modern food processing and enriched bread. To a nation that obviously had a different digestive system. To an inferior race of people with less than adequate physical properties. Who were lazy workers and needed a day off every week. A nation of wine bibbers and gluttons separated from the rest of humanity lest they contaminate us. Heil Hitler! I'm sorry. I got a little carried away.
I am hoping that with some knowledge of the past lessons we can move on to why God's instructions for our health are so vital and, yes, contemporary. But there is, by reason of our cultural training, a need to address a few New Testament scriptures that have been twisted to allegedly teach that Y'shua died on the cross to end the dietary laws. Does that not already sound absurd? I believe this is a very important subject, as our health affects virtually every area of our life. We need to decide now whether our diet is to be managed by cultural dictates and whims or by our Creator. I plan to spend a great deal of time on the 11th chapter of Vayikra (Leviticus), what it means to us and how we can apply these often misunderstood instructions to our lives right now.
We are going to begin by addressing a few of the most popular verses used by those who teach that God's dietary instructions have been done away with. Let's start with the words of Y'shua.
"Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, who came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands often, eat not, holding the traditions of the elders. And when they come from the market place, expect they wash, they eat not. And many other things there are, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, bronze vessels and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Isaiah prophesied of you HYPOCRITES, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. However, in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups; and many other such things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honor thy father and mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death ... And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me, every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from outside of a man that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he said unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatever thing from outside entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not unto his heart, but into the stomach, and goeth out into the draught, purging all FOODS? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, and evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man."
Whew! That is quite a mouthful. Well, this is a classic example of how backwards interpreting is applied by modern day thinkers. Instead of going back to the foundation of New Testament words, the Old Testament, modern day commentators apply what we are practicing today and take that back to this text. Jesus said, they say, that NOTHING you put in your mouth can defile you, and that ALL things are now clean when they enter your stomach. And how do we know this? Because we are eating ALL things today! Well let us go back to the dictionary of the New Testament and see if this is Biblical. There are two things we will define. Remember that the testimony of the Book of Acts is that all teaching and sermons by the Jewish disciples were weighed against the testimony of the Old Testament (Acts 17:11).
THE WASHING OF HANDS
This is not specifically defined in the Old Testament because it is part of the "fence" that the ancient sages had placed around Torah. The Pharisees continued in the tradition of upholding this fence which was originally intended to protect or "keep" God's words from being changed or perverted by the pagan nations. But as it is with most things "man" sets out to do, it became a yoke that no man could bear. The washing of hands is not a reference to our cleansing of hands to rid them of germs. That is just common sense. Y'shua was referring to the unbiblical ceremonial Al netilat yadayim, ritual washing of hands and utensils. The Pharisees and scribes taught that if you did not run flowing water over each hand, one at a time, and over the pots and cups then you were ceremonially defiled and when you touched the food it was also defiled. These same men were focusing on ritual uncleanness and ignoring the weightier matters of Torah or God's commandments. The scribes had a special two-handled bowl that was used to pour clean water over each hand without touching the bowl. This would make the food clean as well. By spending inordinate amounts of attention on these unbiblical rituals, they were neglecting their fathers and mothers. These Pharisees were NOT obeying the commandments of God, as they were described by the prophet Isaiah. If their hearts were right with God then they would have obeyed His words and not drifted off into unbiblical traditions. Sound familiar?
This term is clearly defined for the New Testament reader in the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) chapter 11. This chapter defines, by sight, what is clean to eat and what is not. The word for food and the word for eat are essentially the same words. The word for food is okel and the root of this word is akal, which is the word for "eat". Why is that? Because the things you are to eat is called "food". It is here, in Vayikra, that we have defined for us what is food. The things which we are to put in our mouth to eat is called food. Fourteen times in this chapter we are told what is UNCLEAN for you. What is NOT food. What is NOT to be eaten. A RAT is not food for you. An EAGLE is not food for you. A CAT is not food for you. A SWINE is not food for you. They are unclean FOR YOU. A pig is not unclean to another pig. A pig is not unclean to a hungry bear. It is not unclean of itself. It is only unclean FOR YOU, it is written. Read this chapter several times. Food, as previously defined by God, is that which we can eat. So things we put in our mouth to eat is already defined by God. This would have been understood by Y'shua's audience.
Now back to the text. The Pharisees are placing the ritual of washing hands over the commandments of God. They teach that Y'shua's disciples have neglected this ritual and therefore are preparing to eat a meal with defiled hands, which would in turn defile the meal. Y'shua teaches them a basic course in anatomy. He reminds them that whatever things they put in their mouth will not defile them. What are they about to put in their mouths? FOOD! When food is eaten, the design of the digestive system separates the nutrients and life essential vitamins from the fiber and bulk. These nutrients are sent to the blood stream and distributed to cells to give life and growth to our bodies. The rest of the food is then sent out into the draught.(Let's not get into this.) So food not ritually clean does not defile you, for our digestive system is designed to purge food. Our digestive system, however, is not designed to purify things that are not food. Uranium would be a good example. Rocks, bolts and eating utensils would be another. So when Y'shua says "whatever things" he must not be talking about EVERY thing! The context is food. Defiled food. How can you conclude that Y'shua is teaching that he has now made all unclean things clean! Y'shua is teaching that it is not the ritual of the washing of hands that defiled a man, but rather the things that are coming out of their hearts that defile them. Food does not go to the heart but rather to the stomach and is separated by the digestive system.
Someday we will figure out that God knows ahead of time what He is talking about. Someday we will figure out that our stomach is not designed to purify a lot of the things we stick in our mouths. Some of my Christian friends remind me of my children when they were about 9 months old. Crawling around on the carpet with their little heads bobbing back and forth putting anything and everything into their mouths. We always wondered why they seem to be sick so often. The doctor told us it was just something going around.
Next time we will tackle Peter's vision of the sheet. I think you will find this one equally amusing.