A Christian Guide to Acts by R. David Pogge

Appendix D

Food

There are some seemingly foolish food laws that you aren't likly to violate; but this one is so important that it was repeated three times:

Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. [Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21]

The last time you cooked a goat in goat's milk, were you very careful to make sure the milk didn't come from its own mother? I doubt it. Just to be on the safe side, in the future when you cook a young goat, cook it in cow's milk.

The Lord said to Moses, “When a calf, a lamb or a goat is born, it is to remain with its mother for seven days. From the eighth day on, it will be acceptable as a food offering presented to the Lord. Do not slaughter a cow or a sheep and its young on the same day. [Leviticus 22:26-28]

These obscure food laws simply reflect God's love and compassion, even to dumb animals. The necessity of being kind to animals should remind us to be kind to people, too.

Section D.1 - Clean and Unclean Animals

Because so few Christian churches obey the kosher food laws, many Christains don't even know what foods are kosher and what aren't. It is true, the Jews went overboard and added their own food laws to God’s food laws. God never said a particular serving of food isn’t kosher unless it has been certified clean and blessed by a rabbi, so you don’t need to worry about that.

On the other hand, you certainly do need to know what makes meat “unclean” and therefore forbidden.

In Section 6.2 you read about the vision Peter had of a sheet-load of unclean animals being lowered from heaven, and the instruction from God to eat them. If it has been a while, please go back and read Section 6.2 again. Peter was told, and the Council at Jerusalem agreed, that the vision didn’t declare unclean meat to be clean—it declared Gentiles to be eligible for church membership. So, the Council wrote to the Gentiles and said,

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. [Acts 15:28-29]

It was just as important for the Gentile converts to keep God’s dietary laws as it was to keep God’s laws about idolatry and sexual immorality.

Some Christians try to justify their ignorance of God’s dietary laws by claiming, “Jesus doesn’t care what I eat.” He cared what the members of the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira ate—and He cared a lot!

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. [Rev 2:12-14]

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. [Rev 2:18-20]

Do you think He doesn’t care as much about you, and what you eat?

In both letters, Jesus considered eating forbidden food to be just as great a sin as sexual immorality. God forbade Adam and Eve from eating from a certain tree. He forbade the Old Testament believers from eating unclean foods. He forbade the New Testament believers from eating those same unclean foods (and clean foods sacrificed to idols, too).

Section D.2 - The Tithe

You may wonder why there is a section on tithing in the Food appendix. What does tithe have to do with food? Actually, everything. But before I can explain that, there are lots of misconceptions about tithing that I need to clear up first. So, that little tease about the relationship between tithe and food will have to satisfy you for now.

The official position of my denomination is that the tithe is the 10% of your gross income which is holy to the Lord, and can be used for nothing but ministers’ salaries, based on these verses:

And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation. [Numbers 18:21 KJV]

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. [Malachi 3:10 KJV]

Of course, “the children of Levi” means “ordained ministers of our denomination alone” and “the storehouse” means “our denominational treasury.”

Furthermore, the official position of my denomination is that there is a difference between “tithes” and “offerings.” Tithes are a mandatory 10%. Offerings are donations above the tithe which are used for missions, disaster relief, and various charitable works. In the early days of our denomination, I believe that was true. Today, it appears that the tithe is being spent not just on ministers’ salaries, but also administrators, secretaries, taxes, insurance, building repairs, and other miscellaneous expenses. I don’t really have a problem with that, other than it seems a little bit disingenuous to claim that the tithe is spent on nothing but support of the ministry.

I think, and I clearly admit that I have absolutely no data to back up my belief, that most denominations merely suggest that members should put 10% of the previous week’s gross earnings in the offering plate each Sunday—and few members actually do. Many denominations appear to think that 10% is too much to demand of members. Perhaps they think that if they demand 10%, then members will think it to too expensive to belong to that denomination and find another, cheaper church. That’s just how it appears to me. I could be wrong.

There are many passages about the tithe that pastors never mention, especially pastors of those churches who demand the Bible be taken literally. They all talk about food. Here are just two of them: 1

But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you. [Deuteronomy 12:5-7]

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. [Deuteronomy 14:22-28]

It’s all about food! There is nothing about tithing on wages or investments or commerce. Perhaps that is because these things don’t really cause an increase of wealth. These activities just transfer existing money from one person to another.

Furthermore, two out of three years you eat the tithe yourself, and only give your tithe to the Levites every third year. If I wanted to use the letter of the law to avoid paying tithe, I could argue that I only have to give the first tomato from my garden, and every tenth tomato after that. Furthermore, I have to take my tithe tomatoes to Jerusalem and eat them with someone who has an Ancestry.com printout showing that he is a descendent of Levi. But since Jerusalem to too far away, I can just gratefully eat the tithe of my tomatoes at home. It is no wonder that ministers never quote these verses when preaching about the tithe.

Some people claim that Jesus abolished the Old Testament laws, including the law of tithing. The truth is, Jesus didn’t abolish the laws—he made them stronger. He did not abolish the law against murder—he magnified it.

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca [an Aramaic term of contempt],” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. [Matthew 5:21-22]

It should come as no surprise that Jesus demands more than just 10% of your money and one hour on Sunday morning.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”[ Matthew 19:21 (and Mark 10:21 and Luke 18:22)]

Christians should devote far more than 10% of their time and money to the Lord’s work. If you really, really believe, you would be doing all you can for Jesus, not just a measly 10%.

Personally, I think that since resources are precious, I should support ministries that are doing the most good and need support the most, regardless of denominational affiliation. It isn’t my money—it is the Lord’s money, and he has entrusted me to use it to the best of my ability. Jesus expects me to be a good steward of His money. Wasting money by giving to an inefficient organization that isn’t really spreading the Gospel isn’t good stewardship. Call it Spiritual Capitalism if you like, but ministries should compete with each other to do the most good, and should be rewarded for their success.

Section D.3 - Food Sacrificed to Idols

With this background, the statements about food sacrificed to idols make more sense. Eating is associated with worship. You are supposed to eat your tithe along with holy people in a holy place.

Food is a necessary blessing that comes from God. That’s why many Christians “say grace” before eating a meal. Every time you eat something you should stop to remember that seeds would not grow into something you can eat without God’s miraculous activity. Eating the food would do you no good without the miraculous digestive system God gave you. If you are not thankful for the food God has given you, you are not worthy to eat it.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. [1 Corinthians 11:27]

Here’s what Paul said about eating food sacrificed to idols:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. [1 Corinthians 8:1-13]

Here is Paul’s point: We know that if someone takes a piece of meat and places it on an offering table in front of a statue of Buddha and prays that Buddha will bless him, not a molecule of that meat changes in any way. If the Buddhist monk takes that piece of meat and sells it to a grocery store, and you buy it, that piece of meat is no different from any other piece of meat that hasn’t been offered to Buddha. That’s solid science; but the issue isn’t scientific—it’s spiritual.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? [1 Corinthians 10:14-22]

When we take communion and “eat the body and drink the blood,” we aren’t really practicing cannibalism. There is no scientifically verifiable change to the substance of the bread and the wine—we are making a spiritual connection which cannot be scientifically observed.

Paul said eating meat sacrificed to idols is like taking communion because it makes a spiritual connection with the idol.

This may seem irrelevant because the meat we buy at the grocery store has not been sacrificed to idols; but the principle remains. Are you going to honor God by eating food Jesus and the apostles would gladly eat in fellowship with you? or are you going to dishonor Him by eating food He has forbidden, which Jesus and the apostles would refuse to eat with you? Your non-Christian friends would gladly eat pork and shellfish with you. Do you want to have fellowship with them, or Jesus?

Section D.4 - Blood

Many of the 307 Old Testament verses about blood have to do with drinking blood. 2 Here is just one.

I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”

Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.” [Leviticus 17:10-14]

In the Old Testament, blood symbolized life. In the New Testament there are 85 verses about blood, generally symbolizing life through Christ. Here are just three examples:

Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. [Acts 20:28]

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. [Romans 3:25]

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! [Romans 5:9]

Blood always was, and still is, important to God because it represents life in general, and Jesus' life in some specific cases.

You probably know that AIDS is spread through blood (as are other diseases). The fact that we have modern tests to screen blood may make blood safe to drink—but that is beside the point. The Council of Jerusalem didn't know about AIDS. They told the Gentile converts not to drink blood because of the spiritual implications first set forth in the Old Testament and amplified in the New Testament. The apostles did not tell the Gentiles that those Old Testament health laws had been abolished, or that they would be abolished when medical science declares blood to be safe.

Yes, there are good health reasons for keeping God’s law; but even without those good practical reasons, God’s law should be kept for no other reasons than God said to keep them.

Back to Appendix C Table of Contents On to Appendix E

Footnotes:

1 Here are just a few more verses about the tithe: Leviticus 27:30-33, Deuteronomy 26:12, Nehemiah 10:37, 13:12
2 Here are just a few more verses about blood: Leviticus 3:17, 19:26, Deuteronomy 12:16-18, 12:23-28