Pork is Good

or God is a Foodie


The Mosaic dietary laws were temporary. Just as a Nazirite made a temporary vow for the purpose of sanctification for holy war, so Israel’s purpose as a nation of holy warriors included certain abstinences prescribed by God. Once the war was over, the prohibitions were removed. “Bridal food” (the Feast of Tabernacles) was back on the menu in the first century.

The Nazirite vow was a symbolic form of death and resurrection, of the bridegroom going into the grave (short hair), slaying the serpents, and emerging from the chamber with His bride (long hair), whom He then presented to the Father. [1] The prohibition on the Tree of Knowledge was a temporary one. It began Adam’s holy war, but he broke the vow, failed to rescue the bride and was expelled from the Lord’s table. [2]

Jesus Himself said He would not drink wine until He drank it in the kingdom, after His holy battle. Although there were personal prefigurements of it (the vinegar, and most likely meals with the disciples after His resurrection included wine), that second “bridal” drinking is history, the wedding supper of the Lamb in AD70.

Christians, as holy warriors, abstain from things for the purpose of intercession — holy war — and then return to the “kingdom blessings.” We fast for others, and we fast for the purpose of holy war against our own members, bodily discipline. [3] But the death is always for the purpose of resurrection. God is a phenomenal foodie. As Robert Farrar Capon wrote, God made onions because He likes them.

So, the claim that a Mosaic diet is healthier has no basis in the Bible. In fact, such a view is the result of imposing the modern worldview upon Scripture, a worldview which denies that every part of Creation has a message for us. James Jordan writes:

…the Old Testament laws are being misused by persons who, with the best of intentions, want to find health hints in the Bible. My hope is that these studies will help redirect the focus of this concern and put matters back into perspective. The food law of the New Covenant is the Lord’s Supper, and sickness and health are indeed tied to its faithful observance (1Cor. 11:30). Sickness and health were related to the dietary laws of Moses for the same reason, but that reason is the Spiritual efficacy of the sacrament, not the biological mechanics of the human body.

The hygienic misuse of these laws arises, as do other misinterpretations, because of the pervasive influence of non-Christian philosophical viewpoints in our culture. It is clear that the laws of clean and unclean in the Bible are symbolic in nature. Peter’s vision in Acts 10 establishes a symbolic connection between the unclean animals and the Gentile nations, an association already set forth in Leviticus 20:22-26. No one denies this, but modern Christians are not accustomed to Biblical symbolism, with the result that full justice is not done to the laws of uncleanness.

Let’s take an example that will show how differently people in the ancient world thought from the way we think today. This story will show us that if we are to understand Biblical symbolism, we shall have to learn to think in Biblical categories, and set aside our modern worldview.

When Jacob returned to the promised land after his sojourn in Mesopotamia, he was met by the Angel of the Lord. God wrestled with him all night, and when the Angel “saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him” (Gen. 32:25). This dislocation, with Jacob’s subsequent limp, constituted a sign of Jacob’s victory. He had wrestled “with God and with men” and had prevailed (Gen. 32:28). Like a father training his child, so God had wrestled with Jacob for nearly a hundred years, using Esau, Isaac, and Laban as His tools to strengthen His son for service. Now, as a token of His grace, He gave Jacob a limp.

What does this mean? For an explanation we can look to Genesis 3:15, where we are told that the serpent’s head will be crushed, while the heel of the Seed will be bruised. It is possible to trace this imagery through the scripture, and what emerges is that because of sin, all men must suffer some wound. The head wound is for God’s enemies, while a mere foot wound is for His friends. Accordingly, Jacob’s limp was a sign of his victory and salvation, a sign that, with God’s grace, he had crushed the serpents in his life.

Now, would it occur to you or me to draw any culinary conclusions from this episode? Doubtless not. Yet we read in Genesis 32:32, “Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.” Notice what the verse does say:  It does not say that God commanded the Israelites to memorialize this incident by refraining from eating this muscle. Rather, it says that the sons of Israel drew an inference from the event: They inferred that it would be improper to eat this particular muscle.

Does this inference make sense to us?  Does it go along with the way we twentieth-century people think? Clearly not.

My point is that twentieth-century readers are not at home in the worldview of the Bible. We do not understand how people thought and reasoned, because we do not share their presuppositions and outlook. The result is that we are prone to misinterpret the meaning of significant parts of Scripture, and this is particularly true of the Mosaic dietary laws. If we are to understand the real meaning of the Levitical code, we must acquire the mindset of the ancient Israelite, which is the mindset of the Bible. When such passages as Genesis 32:32 begin to make sense to us, we will be in a position to investigate Leviticus 11, but unless we become familiar with the “inner logic” of Genesis 32:32, the other dietary laws in the Bible will continue to be somewhat obscure to us. [4]

[1] See The Fruitful Field.
[2] See Touch Not, Taste Not, Handle Not and The Greatest Consumer.
[3] I have summarised Arthur Wallis’ book on fasting here [PDF]. See also Fasting as Sacrament.
[4] James B. Jordan, Studies in Food and Faith. Document included in the Complete James Jordan set.

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11 Responses to “Pork is Good”

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Please, no comments about spare ribs!

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    I was going to comment, in memorial of the abomination of Mike Tyson’s biting, and to put the HOLY back in Holyfield, we should’ve begun eating the ears of our meat in 1997!

    All joking aside, I think this is a far better way to think about the dietary laws than most. I was struck, however, as I studied Mark 7:14-23, by the centrality of the “all foods clean” in the chiasm:
    * A. what comes out defiles a person (14-18a)
    ** B. outside in? no! (18b-19a)
    *** C. thus he declared all foods clean (19b)
    ** B’ inside out? yes! (20-22)
    * A’ what comes out defiles a person (23)’
    I was struck by the similarity to Mt 5/Mk 10 (talking about Dt 24). The feeling I get, is that the some parts of the Mosaic law were accommodations to existing Israelite practices. Everett Fox’s Torah says as much for the lists of clean and unclean animals. God took their existing customs and sanctified them. They don’t apply to non-Jews and they don’t apply after the Jewish covenant era.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    I like the chiasm – the flesh is made clean in the centre, in the grave, under the fire of the law.

    Following Jordan, I wouldn’t say God sanctified existing customs, well, not in the way that most modern expositors think. God is always first, always original. The list of clean animals goes back to earlier Scripture, Abrahamic and Noahic. So they were pre-existing, but they were still from God, and so not actual accommodations as such.

  • Drew Says:

    There are a number of elements of the Law that are undeniable healthful. For example, it is healthful for the family not to marry your sister. It is also healthful to dispose properly of human waste, and to quarantine diseased individuals. Hence, the argument that the dietary laws have nothing to do with health seems rather far-fetched.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    But Jesus didn’t tell Peter to arise and marry his sister, etc. The primary purpose of the Levitical Law was the camp of Israel. As Israel moved into greater engagement with the world (in Canaan, under Solomon, during and after the exile), the application of the Law required greater and greater wisdom.
    Jesus declared all foods, and lepers, clean, regarding their fitnesss for “consumption” by the Tabernacle in the ministry of mediation. That is the primary application of these laws. You don’t defecate in the house of God. David’s dumping of 200 foreskins at the foot of Saul’s throne was extremely unhealthy, as was Eglon’s defecation in his throneroom – but the symbolism is thick enough to cut with a knife.

  • Drew Says:

    Was it healthful or unhealthful to quarantine lepers?

    What exactly Jesus said about quarantining lepers (he said nothing), or about marrying your sister (he said nothing), or about defecating (he said nothing) is not particularly relevant. Jesus’s words about the cleanliness of animals were about morality, not health.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    I think that is Jordan’s point.

  • Drew Says:

    No, his point was that the UNcleanliness was separate from health. My point is that the CLEANliness is separate from health.

    I think it requires a rather crummy view of God to think that he gave the Israelites a bunch of complicated, difficult, and painful rules if those rules were largely arbitrary and weren’t even designed to benefit them. And if he wants to make this type of argument, the burden of persuasion is on him to make a scientific argument that the mosaic rituals had no health purposes. The Bible itself says no such thing.

  • Mike Bull Says:


    Where does the Bible ever say that these prohibitions *were* for health purposes. And you can’t say that uncleanliness is a health issue but cleanliness isn’t! The clean/unclean issue regarding food was pedagogical, a test of obedience, with a lot of important symbolic significances attached.

    It is interesting that the Israelites lived in Goshen because Egyptians considered shepherds (and sheep) unclean, in fact, an abomination. Was that a health issue?

  • Trev Says:

    Jordan says elsewhere, in a lecture, that the Law was quite easy to keep for the Jews. Israelites weren’t ordinarily going to eat pig or horse or other unclean things. Not many of them would come into contact with Lobster or Crayfish! In fact John the Baptisers parents were perfect before the Law in Luke 1. The complexity of the dietary Law argument is a little light on Drew. It assumes a western lifestyle and then argues back into the Bible. We oght to put ourselves into their context.

  • Drew Says:

    //Where does the Bible ever say that these prohibitions *were* for health purposes.//

    It doesn’t have to. Scientists have made the claim.

    Just pointing out God’s *capability* to offer miraculous blessings to Jews who kept the diet doesn’t negate the possibility of natural benefits as well. So therefore, Jordan’s argument isn’t any more biblical or theological than mine is, and the question remains a scientific one.

    //And you can’t say that uncleanliness is a health issue but cleanliness isn’t!//

    Sure I can. I am saying that health-wise, the animals WERE unclean and always have been unclean, even now. A long time ago, God recognized this intrinsic nature of the animals, and he therefore used their natural unhealthfulness to illustrate his theological truths. His designation of these animals as “unclean” was not arbitrary. Once Jesus came and fulfilled the law, however, this theological/moral aspect of their uncleanness faded away. But that didn’t change the original fact that they were unhealthful.

    Granted, nowadays we have technology and medicine that can better deal with issues such as trichinosis. In a sense, you could I guess argue that nothing is truly unclean just because we have medicine to cure all ills. But that doesn’t really change the intrinsic nature of the animals. And Jesus’s declaration of all foods as clean shouldn’t be construed to mean that all diets are equally healthy. That just was not his point at all.

    //Jordan says elsewhere, in a lecture, that the Law was quite easy to keep for the Jews. Israelites weren’t ordinarily going to eat pig or horse or other unclean things.//

    Even if this were true, it would support my claim — because it would mean that ancient peoples naturally recognized the unhealthfulness of certain foods.