I Don't Eat Pork
by Brian Forbes
(c) 2013 Brian Forbes
I'm going to assume a few things to start. These may be obvious to some and a huge stretching of credulity to others. I'll assume them for now, because I can't reconstruct everyone's entire world view in one paper. The Bible is true. Jesus is God made flesh. God wants us to understand, and He reveals things clearly so we will understand if we have ears to hear. God also hides his face from folks, and things are often hidden in plain sight. Sometimes even when we tell people the truth in as plain a way as we know how, they still don't hear it, because their ears are closed. I believe this is one of those issues. Either you hear it and are convicted, hear it and ignore it, or you never hear it at all. I pray God's will is done no matter the state of your heart.
It all started when I was drawn through personal worship times to get to know God better. What better way to get to know him than to read his story. So I started reading the Gospels. Matthew quickly became my favorite book. The end of Mt. 7 (and other places) told me that a wise man will put Jesus' words into practice. So I began to do just that. In my journey through the scripture, I came across many little known passages - the ones that people don't advertise much. I was learning so much at that point that I didn't deal with any issues then. I just asked the question in my mind and stored it away. The question of why the Levitical law was even in our scriptures was a question for later.
One of the disciplines I learned as a child was to memorize scripture. I was given the "shorter" sections to memorize, maybe three verses or less, and I had quite a few scriptural bullets to use on the enemy. Later, I was exposed to other people who memorized larger chunks. I even heard about Muslims who memorize the entirety of their text. Having read the whole Bible, I had a good idea of where the more powerful passages were, and I decided to memorize James first. I saw in James that faith without deeds is dead. A dead faith can't save anyone. But there was no war over that one. It was impactful for me, nonetheless. I never had a problem practicing what I believed. I did my best on James and then quit. I memorized the second half of Romans 12. I can't do it anymore, but I could get through it at the time. I was ready for something harder. What is a more potent passage in scripture than Mt. 5-7? I read it one day and was so impressed with it that I put memorizing it on my to do list.
It wasn't very long in going through Mt. 5 that I began to
notice verse 17-18.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."
As you read this through a few times, you begin to notice some of the details. He didn't come to abolish the law of Moses or the prophets. How long before they are abolished? Heaven and earth are still here. How much is going to remain unchanged? Not the smallest letter. That means everything! And I began to read the passage in context. The first several statements are comfort statements. It moves into a definition of our purpose here on earth as followers of Jesus. Then it states this stuff about the law. It's Jesus' first, most verbose public sermon in all of scripture. If you were giving such a sermon, wouldn't you state the things you think would end up being most helpful to those who study your sermons and your life? "Find comfort - my ambassadors - and keep the Law of Moses"?! If you continue on, He elaborates that not only was He going to fulfill the Law, but, to be a part of the Kingdom, we are expected to keep the Law even better than the Pharisees did. What? Was this supposed to be for just his followers pre-cross? Wasn't Matthew written after the resurrection? And the next parts of the sermon seem unrelated... until you look more closely. Every single section, from 5:21 to 7:13, every section is an exposition on the Mosaic Law! And to seal the deal, 7:13-27 is entirely about how if you don't keep the Law - the spirit of the law, and not just the bare minimum letter of the law, you're in trouble. And when Jesus says to those who did miracles in his name, "Depart from me," he calls them lawless (anomia in Greek - Strong's 458).
Well, this floored me. I began to feel anxiety. It was the kind that comes with having a conflict in your soul. For months, I was a sheep without a Shepherd. I didn't know what to think. It was complicated by the fact that other passages with Jesus had even worse problems. Luke 18 (starting at 18), Jesus said that to get eternal life, you have to keep the commandments. All this led me to look for answers on the web. I read a lot of articles. One guy stood out to me, however. James Trimm. He read scripture for what it plainly says, and I got a lot of answers from him. Some of the more powerful insights were the fact that some of the feasts were for all generations forever. Zech. 14 hasn't happened yet, and when it does, there will be animal sacrifices involved. The thing that was most powerful to me, though, was that 1 John 3:4 seemed to have a redundant phrase, but when you dig deeper into the original language, it actually defines sin as breaking the Law. I later found that Romans 7:7 does the same thing. So I started asking people, "What is sin?" And in a large pool of Christians, I couldn't find a better answer than this. Sin is disobeying God. How do we know we're disobeying God? We break his commands.
Many people, as I began to explore this, would argue that Paul said we don't need to keep the Law anymore. My answer to that is to read Acts 21. James told Paul to be purified in the Mosaic fashion with a vow to prove that he didn't neglect the Mosaic Law. He told the crowd that he was blameless in the eyes of the Jews. Unless you think that it's ok for Christians to lie to get themselves out of trouble, it seems like Paul was keeping the Law. Other people object that Peter saw a vision. To summarize that issue, it was about people, not about eating food. An interesting note, though, is that If Jesus declared all foods clean (an insertion by the translators of Mark 7:19), Peter didn't know about it. He said that nothing unclean had ever touched his lips. So you move on to Acts 15, where they implement Peter's vision. They left out murder from that list to the Gentiles. Why? Verse 21 says, "For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." Those were emphasized, but the rest are preached in the Sabbath day services. And before you start going crazy with all the things it says earlier in the chapter about a yoke their ancestors couldn't bear, I'll explain Paul's writings on the subject.
The key to Paul's (and Peter's Acts 15) teachings about the Law vs. grace is so easy once you understand it. We are not slaves anymore (Gal. 4 - esp. 31). We don't have to do anything. It's not about the beating that happens when we're bad anymore. We are favored because we're sons. We now do the things that God commands because we love God, not because we're obligated to. We aren't saved because of our righteousness. It's not because of our obedience that we're saved from punishment and sin. We're saved because God loves us and he sees the inclination of our hearts (our faith). He saves us because we want to be good; we want to please Him.
Is the Law bondage? It's like having a rebellious dog. It bites people. You put it on a leash. You add a chemical to its food and it becomes docile. You set it free. It bites people. "This dog is done." If you think that's bondage, though, I don't know what to say. Bondage sounds like oppression to me. Lots of people seem to think that God put a burden on the Jews. It wasn't a burden. It was a blessing beyond all blessings. It still is a blessing to keep God's law. If I have to be put on a chain so I won't bite people, put me on a chain. You don't have to, though, because once I know not to bite, I want to obey. I live out the commandments of God by faith. The first Psalm (1) and the longest Psalm (119) both attest that it's a joy to follow God's commands. If you don't like being "commanded", call it advice, I don't care. Nobody has ever said that God's advice is a great burden. The burden is in cherishing our sin, my friends.
So that's the rough sketch. I could make this a lot longer than it is, but I won't. Do you see it? Does it make sense to you? I'm not going to try to get you to keep the Mosaic Law, because we're really not saved by it. This is a new covenant. It's not the letter of the Law that makes us righteous. It's the inclination of our hearts. Are you inclined to obey? I am. That's why I obey the food laws. I know I don't have to. I'm not sure if God even appreciates it. I just know that God doesn't change, and what's good for the Jew is good for the Gentile. God doesn't lay down the law to be mean. He didn't make it impossible to keep the Law so that we would require a Savior. Those are written for our own good.
And we can't keep all the Law. I know that. Some require a priesthood. Some require a temple. Some require us to live among other people who keep the Law. If an unclean person touches you, you take on their uncleanness. So the guy making your sandwich at Quiznos needs to do more than wipe his knife between orders. He needs to spend a week or two outside the camp and give an offering. That's what those passages about circumcision are about. You can't keep it all, so it's better to fall back on grace through faith. If you eat pork on faith, and I don't eat pork on faith, may God have mercy on us according to our ignorance.
Speculations and updates:
It's been a year since I wrote this. Since then, I've read the Bible through a couple times, debated this topic with some pretty stubborn people, and have, in turn, seen and corrected some stubbornness in myself. I know more now than I did when I wrote this. I have since read the Epistle of Barnabas, Justin Martyr's dialogue with Trypho, Confessions of Augustine, and, most importantly, Martin Luther's entire commentary on Galatians. These people I debate on this would probably think that these guys contradict my position. Perhaps they do, but that's not what I saw as I read them. I saw no conflict between their stated positions and my own. Almost all of them agreed in their own writings that it doesn't hurt anyone to obey God's rules for others. For example, the kings of Israel were supposed to write out their own personal copy of the Laws of Moses at least once. I am not a king, but nobody could fault me for writing out the scriptures. Sure we could find examples where it would be difficult to discern if it's wrong to align to a particular command, but it is usually a good idea to stick to the commands as written. Moses had to judge the hard cases, and absent Moses, we are all accountable to our creator. We will defend ourselves on whether we use the story of Rahab to justify a lie, or if we point to those who put away their wives because they were foreign. I'm not going to say what's right in those situations. I'm not even going to tell you that you shouldn't eat pork. This is what I have chosen for my own life. I am not Lord over you.
It almost sounded in that last paragraph that I was backtracking on my position. No. I still hold that the entire Law of God applies everywhere it always used to. But in one of my last reads through Ezekiel, I thought of something. May God be blessed if He planted it there for me to find. There is such a thing as the Court of the Gentiles in the Jewish temple. Those long and boring descriptions of the temple may have been for more than simply drawing up the plans and erecting the building. God took great care in having those dimensions written down. Even the garments worn by the priests were described in more detail than what I give when I go to get my hair cut. The fact that there is a gentile court is important. God didn't require all of Israel to be as ritually pure as a Levite. Levites weren't all required to be as ritually pure as an active priest. Priests weren't required to be as pure as the high priest during the yearly sacrifice. I am speculating here, but I think you can also work your way backwards from the nation of Israel through the visual representation of the temple to the gentile court. Gentiles aren't held to the same standard in everything. Deut 14:21 You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to the Lord your God." Romans 3 tells us that there's much value in being a Jew.
Here's a concise summary using Jesus words.
John 14:21 Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. [...] 24 Anyone who doesn t love me will not obey me. [...] 15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command. [...] 17:6 You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. [...] 14 I have given them your word. [...] 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. [...] 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
Couple that with Mt. 5:17-19, Mt. 23:1-2, and the fact that most to all of what Jesus taught can be cross referenced to the OT (including the scriptures he used to ward off the devil), and you begin to see that even though we aren't saved by the law, it sure is good, holy, and "God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness". (2 Tim. 3:16)
Wait a second, you may say, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave nor free... I respond that there is no longer male or female. Does that nullify marriage? Does that mean no more dresses? In some sense, that's absolutely true. Just by faith, gentiles are brought into equal status. But that doesn't by any means mean that gentiles are now going to inherit the land promised to Abraham. There is still today a semi-separation between the two. There is Israel and there are gentiles. God's instructions for ritual purity meant something. They allowed people to approach God. I don't understand all of why that was, but anything that might allow me to get closer to God, I want to do it. Forget this life, man. The hereafter is what matters. Maybe eating healthy doesn't cure cancer and maybe it does. Nobody is going to fault you for eating an organic peach or a Hebrew National hot dog. I'm not going to play the role of the Holy Spirit in your life and tell you that you have to do these things either. We stand or fall on our own choices.
"We don't have to keep any of the OT Law anymore, so why should we?"
Really? You may not have to kiss your wife either. Are you inclined to?
Heb. 10:26 "Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received a full knowledge of the truth, there is no other sacrifice that will cover these sins."
"Aren't you being a little Pharisaical?"
What were the Pharisees condemned for? I tell you that they were never condemned for obedience. On the contrary, they were commended for it and set up as a standard by Jesus. What they were called out for is not doing what they told other people to do. They were arrogant and loved men's praise. They didn't love down and out people. They were different in secret than they were publically. They spoke affirmative words with their lips, but their hearts were far from God. Nothing about being obedient. And as you look at the heroes of the faith, they all obeyed to the letter. It's what David told Solomon to do. "Observe the requirements of the LORD your God and follow all his ways. Keep each of the laws, commands, regulations, and stipulations written in the law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go." (1 Kings 2) It's what Samuel told Saul, "To obey is better than sacrifice." (1 Sa. 15:22)
Pr. 29:18 "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law."
"Well, I'm not a Jew. Paul was a Jew. I don't have to keep the law as a
On the one hand, this is a very good distinction to make. We are not on the original guest list for the wedding feast. On the other hand, it means that the only laws we need to keep are ones regarding sexual sin, idols, and blood/strangled animals. I'm sure you can think of a couple more that you'd impose on your kids, including the one Paul does about honoring your parents. How many pastors preach the tithe from Malachi? It's true that Circumcision (the sign of Abraham's faith) is not required of Gentile believers, because theirs is a new covenant, but it's a very precarious proposition saying that God doesn't have rules for Gentile believers. I'm sure nobody who follows Jesus would object to loving their neighbor in all forms. But would they love God that way? Would they keep from offending God by abstaining from homosexuality, for instance, or idolatry, or greed (a modern version of idol worship)? Think about it. It can't be just the things listed in the letter to the churches in Acts 15. There's too many other rules we all try to keep. Two scriptures lend to a decision on this. One is in Lev. 11 itself. Verse 44 says, "Be holy; for I am holy." We know that is quoted by Peter. The context of Lev. 11 tells us that we are to be holy in keeping our bodies ritually purified. In the context of what Peter is saying, it's no different. Holiness comes from obedience. (1 Peter 1:14-16) The other passage I'd point to is Isaiah 66. Verses 16-18 are clearly talking about the great gathering at the end. Those who eat pigs and rats will be consumed in fire. If you want to trust that the passage is mostly about idolatry, you're welcome to risk it. It costs me nothing to avoid eating rats. Pork actually stinks if you avoid it for a year or two. I've said what I know, and my hands are clean. You can read it how you will read it.
On a recent thread (6-5-15) I read
this in answer to the interpretation that Jesus fulfilled the entire law:
"Rom 13:8 'Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law'. So, according to your interpretation, now that I loved my brother, I fulfilled it and now it is done away with! I don't have to love him anymore!"
Another thoughtful quote from the
"Do you see how the word pleroo means to fully preach?
It is clear that Paul did not mean that he fulfilled the gospel by doing the gospel, and thus the gospel is not applicable to believers today. That would be plain silly. Yet, that is exactly what many try to make Yeshua say in Matthew 5:17. In Matthew 5:17 we discover that Yeshua came to fully preach the law of God, and not destroy it. Again...
Matthew 5:17 'Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill (or really to fully preach the law and prophets).'"
The book of 1 John is a powerful proclamation against letting sin reign in your life. Here are just a few excerpts. References are not given in hopes that you read it yourself to find it. Things are clipped together for ease of reading. I have also added a statement from 2 John. See if you can find it.
I write this to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. We are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. But if we are living in the light, the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. And how can we be sure that we belong to him? By obeying his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and really, that isn't difficult. Anyone who does not obey God's commands does not belong to God. If we continue to live in him, we won't sin. We know that those who have become part of God's family do not make a practice of sinning. Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you. The world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. It is by our actions that we will be confident when we stand before the Lord, and if we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, but if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us. Watch out, so that you do not lose the prize for which we have been working so hard. If you continue in the teaching of Christ, you will have fellowship with both the Father and the Son, and we will receive whatever we request because we obey him and do the things that please him. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who believe this will keep themselves pure, just as Christ is pure. Those who sin are opposed to the law of God, for all sin opposes the law of God.
There are times in an obedient believer's life that one law supercedes another. Recall that Jesus said that there were weightier matters than the tithe of mint and cumin. "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom also discusses two fuzzy issues. One had to do with lying to murderers to keep Jews safe. (Read the account of Rahab in Jerico. Look at Jer. 38 and what the king told him to say.) The other had to do with a Jew whose only food when he was starving was pork sausage. He ate it, giving thanks, yet the sister did not lie. Most people who read the account are offended by one and not the other. I wager you all know which one is which. For more, click. Did David ask Jonathan to lie in 1 Sam. 20:5-6? You should also recall that the righteous men in the book of Daniel agreed to eat the king's meat if their plan didn't work out. God should be allowed a part in the bargain. We stand and fall before our Maker. It is Him whom we should fear.
This is the best sermon I've ever
heard on the topic of God's Law. I
recommend it to anyone.
Ben David - Laws
A Small Group Handout here.
If you have a lot of time on your hands or are very interested in this topic, here is a link to a discussion I had with Dr. Jason Lisle on the Law. He makes some very good points. It is a discussion that was since gutted, and only a couple posts remain. So I'm also posting the longest reply I wrote on that thread here: Jason Lisle vs. Brian Forbes.
If you were wondering about Mark 7, here.