Dietary Restrictions: The Changing Will of God


Dietary Restrictions:

The Changing Will of God

Richard Hollerman

If you are a parent, you know that what you forbid and what you permit your child to do depends on various factors.  Age is one factor, maturity is another, and location would be a further variable.  You would probably forbid your four-year-old child to cross a busy street alone.   But you wouldn’t think of maintaining the same prohibition for an eighteen-year-old son.  It depends on what stage of maturity your son has at a given time.

The same is true regarding food.  Hopefully, you would encourage a mother to nurse her own child for a year or two.  You don’t give meat or broccoli to a four-month baby.  Further, if you are a responsible parent, you would make sure that a four-year-old daughter eats good and healthy meals and would forbid her eating “junk” food.  As a son or daughter ages, and becomes twelve, or eighteen, that child may have increasing freedom to choose his or her own foods, within reason.

God also uses the same principles in dealing with His people.  What he has forbidden at one time, can be permitted at another time.  What He requires under one circumstance may not be required at another period of history.

Let’s examine this principle in regard to God’s food restrictions and permissions.  The first period of man’s history began at creation.  Upon creating Adam, the first man, God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you” (Genesis 1:29).  The Lord also gave the “green plant for food” to the animals and birds (v. 30).  Within the Garden of Eden, God “caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food” (2:9).  The Lord said to Adam, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely” (v. 16).  It is clear that during the first centuries of earth history, men were vegetarian.  They must have eaten only fruit, vegetables, seeds, grain, and nuts.

The second period in which God specified His dietary will for mankind began at the end of the flood of Noah’s day.  After Noah and his family disembarked from the ark, God said, “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.  Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:3-4).  At this time, God took away the restrictions given at the beginning and said that man could be omnivorous: all food (plant and animal) would be permissible, except meat that had not been drained of its blood.

The third period comes at the time of the giving of the Law of Moses.  God gives detailed instructions to Moses about the kinds of animal products that Israel may eat and what they were not permitted to eat.  These details are found in Leviticus 11.  God said, “Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat” (Leviticus 11:3).  They could eat such animals as sheep, goats, and cattle.  The Lord also restricted the eating of certain birds, certain insects, and certain fish.  This Mosaic period continued until Christ fulfilled the Law and “abolished . . . the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15).

Not only were the Israelites permitted to eat meat, they were commanded to eat meat at certain times, especially the priests.  For example, in the lengthy instructions regarding the various offerings or sacrifices (Leviticus 1-7), the worshiper was permitted to eat certain portions and the priests could do likewise.  Further, at the Passover meal, the Israelites were commanded to eat of a lamb or goat to remember their deliverance from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 12:3-13).

The fourth period of history has been called the Christian dispensation or Christian era.  Jesus said that nothing from outside the man could defile him, but only that which goes into his heart.  Mark relates Jesus’ teaching about this and adds, “He declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).  This suggests that Jesus eliminated the Mosaic food restrictions.  When Peter was on the housetop of Simon the tanner in Caesarea, he had a vision of a sheet that was lowered before him that contained all kinds of animals.  A voice from heaven said, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”  Peter responded, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”  The voice answered, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:10-16).  The “clean” and “unclean” food restrictions were lifted by the Lord, allowing God’s people to eat any meat.  Only the blood and strangled animals were forbidden (Acts 15:20, 29).

The remainder of the New Testament Scriptures elaborates on this permission to eat foods.  Paul said that some in Rome believed that they might eat anything, whereas others ate only vegetables. The apostle said that “the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him” (Romans 14:2-3, 6).  Each person may decide whether to be a vegetarian or not.  No one is to act as a judge “in regard to food or drink” (Colossians 2:16).  Certain false teachers advocated “abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:3-5).

These four periods of history show that God may change His will for mankind at different times.  In this case, for at least 1,600 years, man was to be strictly vegetarian—eating only fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains.  Next, for another thousand years, man was permitted to eat anything.  Next, for some 1,400 years, the Israelites were permitted to eat vegetables, fruit, grains, and certain “clean” animals.  Finally, at the present time, food restrictions have been removed.

It is important for us to make a distinction at this point.  When the apostles said that God had lifted restrictions regarding animals, this pertained primarily to “clean” and “unclean” restrictions.  It pertained to the Mosaic ritual law that specified which foods of animal origin were “clean” and which were “unclean.”  It had nothing to do with matters of nutrition and health.  This is an issue that was not at all a point of concern.  Today we are well aware of what is healthy and what is unhealthy regarding the food choices available to us.  We know that high-fat foods, high-sodium foods, high-cholesterol foods, fried foods, high-calorie foods, and low-fiber foods can be unhealthy.  In fact, they can be so unhealthy that millions die of degenerative diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes because of unhealthy food! 

Nutrition does have a bearing on what we eat and what we don’t eat.  Godly wisdom would say that we should abstain from what is unhealthy and we should eat only that which is nutritious and healthy.  Paul instructs us: “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).  He said, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  We must make our food decisions in light of what is nutritious and what is damaging to our health.




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