One of most famous Old Testament laws is “You cannot eat bacon”. Okay, so it isn’t that precise wording but the Jewish ban on eating pork products is well-known. What is less well-known is that Jews can eat crickets. So, pigs are a no but crickets are a yes.
Fortunately, Christians aren’t bound by these same rules (see Acts 10: Peter meets Cornelius). So we can all enjoy our bacon sandwiches and cricket flour whenever we want. My question isn’t about whether or not we should be allowed to eat bacon. My question is…
What can Old Testament laws teach us about why we eat?
Being the foodie and health freak I am, I love trying new foods. The journey I’ve been on since adding food to CounterCultural. CounterCouture. has opened up my options even more. I have even tried cricket!
But with those options have come questions. Top of that list is the question of “Why would God ban certain foods and be okay with others?” So I started asking them.
Theories about Clean and Unclean Animals from Leviticus 11
A lot of my questions revolved around which animals were okay to eat. There are a couple of theories but only two that I think are actually likely.
The Hygiene Theory focuses on the correlation between which animals were labelled as unclean and those that are more likely to transmit diseases. The favourite example for this is pork, which when not stored or cooked properly can become home to tapeworms. And no one wants one of them living inside your gut. Other examples might include oysters or clams, which are even today one of the easiest ways to get food poisoning.
The Spiritual Symbolism Theory takes the religions of the times into account. Animals have been used as symbols throughout the ages. Egypt is an obvious example but tribes in Canaan also used animals as symbols. In the Bible, there are examples of animals used to represent different characteristics clean animals, such as cattle and oxen, have often been paired with positive character traits. Donkeys symbolised stubbornness and snakes are linked with deception, making them both unclean.
Can we learn from them?
If I’m completely honest, I’m pulling a blank on this one. I had originally intended to explain how pork is actually not that great for you while cricket is better for both your body and the environment. Then I actually did my research. Where else am I going to find actual theories about Leviticus 11?
You see, for every reason that a theory works, there is a counter-argument. Pigs are dangerous when uncooked, so they’re unclean. But all it would take is knowing how to cook the pork thoroughly and it would be safe. Equally, the lion is unclean yet symbolises Christ in the New Testament. I would call those holes in both theories.
Nonsense or setting the scene?
At this point, I can understand why so many Christians are willing to dismiss Levitical laws. It appears as though the food laws have no rhyme or reason to them. So why on earth did God include them in His laws?
At this point, I’m going to introduce a big, academic, jargon-y, Christian word. Exegesis is the critical interpretation of a religious text, normally using the text itself to support the interpretation.
In the case of the food laws, let me introduce you to a man called Peter and a dream he had. You can read about Peter’s dream in Acts 10 v9-33 but here’s a brief summary:
Peter was a Jew. As a Jew, he could not eat anything listed as unclean in Leviticus. But God had different ideas. Instead, He told Peter that he could eat anything he liked. Once Peter had got the idea (it took him three times!), he woke up a little confused. Next, the most surprising thing happened. He was asked to the house of an unclean Roman officer! And then he realised. If there was no unclean food anymore, then God probably didn’t want Jews to consider Gentiles unclean either. God was no longer off-limits to anyone!
So what does this mean for our delicious bacon? Well, we can go ahead and enjoy it. But the amazing bit is that without the food laws, Peter could never have been told all food was clean. He’d probably have never gone to meet Cornelius and the Church would never have moved beyond a Jewish sect. In other words, all these laws about what you can and can’t eat were setting the scene for bringing the rest of the world into God’s Kingdom.
So what can the 21st Century Church learn from Old Testament food laws?
Food has always been a brilliant way to bring people together, Family, friends, even enemies have been brought together around tables because of food. It is part of human nature. God used humanity’s love of food to set His people apart. And then He brought us into His kingdom by removing those boundaries.
How many times have we put up our own boundaries to keep people out of church? So the lesson that bacon has taught me is that no boundary is worth keeping people out of the kingdom.
What God has taken down, let no (wo)man put back up.
Here are a few of the sources I used in this article:
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