Is the Bible Opposed to Health

 

Is the Bible Opposed to Health
and Nutritional Concerns and Restrictions?

Richard Hollerman

You may have heard the objection raised by some that we should not be at all concerned about seeking good health or studying nutritional information.  These well-meaning persons may casually say that we are free to eat anything we want, as long as we give thanks for it to God (1 Timothy 4:1-5).  God has created everything, thus we should not impose any restrictions on ourselves, based on nutritional concerns and health information.  At least, this is the claim.

Sometimes this view is based on an assortment of Biblical texts that—on first reading—seem to say that we may eat anything at all, but false teachers impose food restrictions that violate the freedom that we have as Christians.  Is this really what the Bible says?  Is this the conclusion we should reach?  Should we be entirely unconcerned about what is healthy and what is detrimental to the human body?

There are a number of Biblical references that appear to say that we should not restrict our eating.  Most of these have to do with three different concerns.  First, some are a reaction to the Jewish or Jewish Christian’s insistence that believers should abstain from certain meats that were forbidden under the Mosaic law.  Second, some relate to a false teaching that was beginning in the New Testament period that eventually became the Gnostic heresy of the second and third centuries.  Some of these heretics thought that avoiding meats would keep one clean and make one a more spiritual person.  Third, some converted Gentiles were sensitive to the meat that was offered to idols and then sold in the marketplace, thus they chose not to eat such foods.

Notice a few comments on the leading Biblical verses dealing with both freedom as well as restrictions regarding food.

  • Matthew 15:2—The Jews insisted on washing their hands before eating food, but Jesus said that this was a human tradition.
  • Mark 7:18-23—Jesus said that food that goes into a man cannot define him, but the sins that come from his heart are what defiles a man.  This is speaking of ceremonial or ritual defilement.
  • Acts 10:9-16—While Peter was on a housetop, he fell into a trance and saw a sheet with all kinds of animals and creatures of the earth and air.  Jesus said, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”  Peter replied that he had never eaten anything “unholy [common] and unclean” (v. 14).  A voice answered, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy [common]” (v. 15).  This shows that the Levitical food laws (the kosher food laws) were no longer bound on people.
  • Romans 14—Paul writes, “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only” (v. 2).  The apostle then wrote, “The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him” (v. 3).  He added, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (v. 14ff).  Paul seeks to prevent the strong (who believe that eating meat is not regulated by the Lord) from despising the weak or coercing them into eating: “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (v. 21).  If our influence causes one to eat when he cannot do so with conviction (or faith), we sin against that brother, and if we, ourselves, eat something without the conviction that it is right, we also sin (v. 23).  Bible students are not sure whether this chapter deals with Jewish Christians who still were unnecessarily regulated by Levitical restrictions, or whether the chapter deals with Gentile Christians who renounced all meat-eating because of the connection of meats with their former false gods.
  • 1 Corinthians 8:4-13—Paul says that certain Gentile Christians, former pagans, “being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled” (v. 7).  The apostle then adds, “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.  But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (vv. 8-9).  Eating this meat is neither positive nor negative, but if one eats this meat that has been sacrificed to an idol, he may have an influence on one who cannot conscientiously eat such meat.  If that person eats the meat anyway, in violation of his brother’s weak conscience, then he has become a stumbling block to the weak Christian—for that act would be sinful (see also vv. 10-12).  Paul concludes, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (v. 13).  The point is that we must not eat something (or do anything) that would cause a brother or sister to “stumble”—by encouraging him or her to do something that violates the conscience—and that he thinks is sinful.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:18-33—Paul says that the pagans are sacrificing to demons rather than to actual deities (vv. 19-20).  It is not profitable or edifying to insist on our right to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols (v. 23), but we should seek the good of others rather than insist on our right to eat anything (v. 24).  In principle, anything may be eaten that is sold in the agora, the marketplace, for God created it all (vv. 25-26), and we may eat anything that is offered to us by an unbelieving pagan, even if it has come from a pagan source (v. 27), but if a brother has convictions against eating what has been offered in pagan sacrifices and would stumble (into sin) if you eat the meat, then refrain from eating (vv. 28-30).  Do not seek your own profit, but always seek the profit of others that they may be saved (v. 33).  Whatever we eat or drink, let us do so for the glory of God (v. 31).  Never give unnecessary offense to anyone—whether unbeliever or fellow-believer (v. 32).
  • Galatians 2:11-14—We may eat any meat that was specifically forbidden under the Mosaic Law.  Peter did this when he ate with the Antioch Gentile believers, but he hypocritically refrained from this when Judaizing “Christians” came from Jerusalem; Paul severely reprimanded him for this hypocrisy.
  • Colossians 2:16-17—Paul says that Christians should not allow others to judge them regarding food or drink and other Jewish elements—for these are merely shadows and not the real substance of following Christ.  Apparently certain Judaizers attempted to impose Mosaic food restrictions on Gentile (or Jewish) believers.
  • Colossians 2:20-23—Perhaps Paul refers here to certain Gnostic or Jewish ascetic elements that imposed restrictions on the believers, but the apostle calls this “self-made religion” and “self-abasement” (v. 23).
  • 1 Timothy 4:1-5—Certain apostates were requiring Christians to abstain from foods.  Paul counters this by saying that God has created such foods to be gratefully shared in by believers and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.  Apparently, this asceticism came from an incipient form of Gnosticism—a false system of belief that arose in the first century but became a leading opponent to orthodoxy in the second and third centuries. (See also 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 20-21.)

     

  • Titus 1:15-16—This passage does not mention foods, but Paul may refer to this in his statement about what is pure and what is defiled.  Perhaps pre-Gnostics were saying that certain foods were impure or unclean and should be avoided.  Perhaps there was a Jewish (or Mosaic) aspect to this as well.

     

  • Hebrews 13:9—The writer says that certain ones were concerned about foods which had no spiritual benefit.  In light of the Jewish background of the book, evidently this is a reference to Judaizers who sought to impose Mosaic restrictions on believers.

It should be clear that the various statements regarding food and food restrictions have reference to such concerns as:

  • Judaizers who attempted to impose Mosaic restrictions on Christians.

  • Gentile Christians who did not have the freedom of conscience to eat certain meats that were sold in the market place.

  • Jewish Christians who had a conscience against eating foods forbidden in the Law of Moses.

  • Pre-Gnostics and ascetics who restricted certain foods in order to achieve a higher spiritual state, based on a false doctrine that matter and flesh were intrinsically evil.

This shows that the various references to food do not at all have reference to what is healthy or nutritious for the Christian to eat.  Very little was known about nutrition at the time the Bible was written.  Health sciences have made great discoveries in the past century, far beyond what people in earlier generations ever would have imagined.

This means that Biblical directives do not necessarily address what is healthy and what is not healthy in regard to diet.  From this vantage point, we should take the Biblical information and seek to apply it to the modern context of health, using all of the wisdom that God will give to us.

(This study is Appendix 1 of the longer work, “Helpful Hints on Health.”)

 

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