Are Christians allowed to eat pork?

What, are you a Jew?”

People typically ask this question when I tell them I don’t eat bacon/pork. But should they even need to ask that question?

Take a step back from any preconceived ideas you may have regarding this topic and openly and diligently examine the scriptures with me. Let’s take a look at each of the Bible verses people use when they bring up the idea of whether we’re allowed to eat bacon (or other Old Testament unclean foods) as Christians.

1. Mark 7:19

19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) NIV
19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) ESV

The problem with using this verse as proof-text is a failure to look at the context. In the previous chapter, Jesus had just finished the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and walking on water as the disciples traveled alone to Bethsaida while He went into the mountains to pray. They enter into the land of Gennesaret and He heals the sick as they move from city to city. Then in Mark 7:1, some of the Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem come and see His disciples sitting down to eat without washing their hands. So Mark 7:2-4 sets the context for what follows in 19.

2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

So the issue is that the Jews had a tradition (not a God given law–an important point) that they didn’t eat without first washing their hands and here are Christ’s disciples breaking that tradition. Verse 5 continues:

5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?

This is the crux of the matter for the Pharisees and Scribes and they call Jesus out on it. Jesus answers their objection in verses 6-13. Verse 8 is an important piece to our conversation:

8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

Jesus tells them they set aside, or disregard, the commandments of God and follow tradition instead. I’ll come back to why that is important in a minute, but Jesus follows by calling everyone around so he can explain what he just criticized the Pharisees for.

14 And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.

Jesus is teaching about matters of the heart (sin). Sin doesn’t enter from without, but comes from within. He is using the un-Biblical objection of the Pharisees and Scribes about hand washing to turn it into a teaching moment about sin for his disciples. Jesus enters a house with the disciples and they ask him further about it:

 

18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; 19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? 20 And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

Jesus is further emphasizing the fact that it is the things that come out of a man’s heart are what defile him and not what he puts into his body by eating (including whatever germs, etc., that comes along by not washing your hands first) because those things pass through and are purged from your body by going into the draught (modern word would be toilet). Notice that He doesn’t say anything about what foods are clean and which are unclean. Which is what people who use this verse as proof that all food is acceptable to eat are doing–that was already established in the Old Testament. What He is describing is the origination of sin in man and nothing else.

The KJV makes that point clear. It is the other versions that seem to add an after-the-fact statement about Jesus declaring all foods available to be eaten in verse 19 (See NIV and ESV references above). But from the context of the interaction, there is no logical reason for this interpretation–Jesus didn’t declare all foods clean here! And here is where I come back to verse 8. Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for laying aside the law. Exactly what Jesus would be guilty of if He suddenly proclaimed pork and all other unclean foods something that everyone could now eat. Because the law declared these foods unclean, Jesus would be guilty of changing the law. Jesus was blameless in all things until the moment of His death. And He said that He didn’t come to destroy the law. So He would not have changed God’s laws concerning clean foods at this point. These are poor interpretations and do not follow the context at all. Matthew 15:1-20 re-iterates this interaction and follows the same idea–Jesus is describing the origin of sin and is NOT! changing God’s dietary laws.

The comment in parentheses was added by Mark much later when he wrote the words and after he understood what Jesus really meant here,” you might say. That implies, 1) that Jesus really didn’t declare all foods clean at that moment–which would have to be true to keep him blameless. “I’m going to say something now that I am implying is true. But not right now. No, it will only be true later after I’ve died.” It’s either true when Jesus said it or it can’t be something Jesus said or implied. There is no way to align those two things given Jesus’ nature, 2) that Mark (and most likely the rest of the disciples) didn’t understand Jesus when he explained it to them twice that day. Which granted, is very plausible given that they often missed his meanings. But that would mean something else later on would have had to convince them that, “Oh yeah. Remember that one time when Jesus said…” So let’s table that implication for now until we find the revelation elsewhere, and then 3) that Bible passages are not clear, concise, and single-minded in their message but can have multiple meanings. In order for communication to work, understanding must follow. If Jesus was talking in code that required future revelation, He wouldn’t have said, “Are ye so without understanding also?” Jesus was being clear in his message and not being clear would leave the reader up to their own interpretation–which I believe is what happened with the NIV and ESV (among others) translators above. Significance of a passage can change with reader and speaker, but the message itself should remain clear.

Now, I will agree at this point that eating pork will not cause you to become defiled–it won’t create sin in your heart. But that still doesn’t mean you can, or should, eat pork based on this verse.

2. Acts 10:13-15

13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. 15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

Here, Peter has a dream. And in it, he sees all manner of beasts and creeping thing and is told to kill and eat. Clearly some of those creatures would have been lawfully unclean since Peter responds in verse 14 that he has never eaten anything common or unclean.

The problem again is context, post-text and even the missing of key clue. Let’s start with the post-text: If Peter awoke from his dream, went out and found a pig, killed it and proceeded to eat it (all being written out for us in some detail in the following verses), then one could clearly make the case that formally unclean animals were now suitable for eating based on these verses. This however is not what happens. No mention is made of what Peter eats with his guests.

Next, pretext: Chapter 10 starts the story with Cornelius the centurion. He is told by an angel in a vision that he should go to Joppa and find Simon Peter. Realizing that Jews did not keep company with Gentiles, this would present a problem when Cornelius shows up to commune with Peter. Verses 17-20 tell us Peter is still unsure of the purpose of the dream:

17 Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate, 18 And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. 19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. 20 Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.

Peter is still trying to imagine what the dream meant as the men from Cornelius appear. The Spirit tells him to go down and find out why they are there but not to fear them because He sent them. Without the dream, Peter would have sent them away and Cornelius (a Gentile) would never have met with Peter. Until this point, Gentiles would not have been considered part of God’s plan of salvation from a Jewish perspective. Verse 28 is clear on this point:

28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

So this passage is about how God was giving Peter a dream to deal with Gentiles. Seems pretty straightforward. Be careful of drawing out your own personal interpretation of some hidden meaning that clearly is not stated.

Especially if you catch the key clue: Peter makes a distinction in his response that has deep implications–he says common or unclean. And those are very different things in Jewish understanding. You see, merely touching an animal that was considered unclean would make a person, or another clean animal, common, or ceremonially unclean (unholy). So a bunch of animals being let down in a sheet would create a situation where the formerly clean animals would become ceremonially unclean (common) because they came in contact with the truly unclean animals defined by law. Peter would not have eaten either. And God’s response was, “Don’t call common something that I have cleansed.” God was teaching Peter that the Gentiles were no longer to be considered common (unholy) because He had cleansed them through the same blood that cleansed the Jews–Jesus’ blood. But he does NOT say anything about making the unclean into clean. God only addresses one of Peter’s two distinctions.

If there is still any doubt, we get the actual interpretation of the dream directly from Peter at the end of verse 28. God helps Peter understand that Gentiles are not lawfully unclean by using unholy animals from unclean contact as a representation for the Gentiles, NOT! that He made a change to His dietary laws. There is no logical or contextual reason to determine that Peter or anyone else can eat pork all of the sudden based on verse 15. Not to mention, this is ~7 years after Jesus has gone to heaven and ~8 years after Peter supposedly learned that all meats are clean in Mark 7. So if he, Peter, understood Jesus’ teaching in the Mark text to mean that all meats are clean, he (and all other Jewish Christians!) wouldn’t have had this objection at this point. He would have already been eating pork and other lawfully unclean foods.

3. 1 Corinthians 10:23

23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

Clearly Paul is not saying that lying, cheating, stealing, murder, adultery, and a host of other sins are lawful (can be done). Sin is still sin and this verse can not be used to say that previously prescribed laws no longer hold true. The context of the verse is that Paul is describing the grace bestowed upon Israel as they fled Egypt and the sins they fell into as they came into contact with the inhabitants of the promised land (another example of the mixing of clean and unclean). One of those sins being idolatry. Paul discusses the fellowship we have with God and contrasts that with the sin of idolatry the Gentiles often perform as they sacrifice food and drink to those idols. The purpose of which is to put to rest the fear these early Christians must have had that they were partaking in idol worship if they ate meat or drank drink that had been offered to Gentile idols. The crux of the chapter comes out in verses 28-31:

28 But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: 29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? 30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

It is clear this text is referring to meats offered to idols and has nothing to do with clean and unclean meat distinctions. Don’t eat things offered to idols out of respect for the person providing them. Rather, eat them out of respect for the One who provides all things and give Him thanks. If you eat or drink things that may or may not have been offered to idols, or you don’t eat or drink them, no matter what you do, do it to God’s glory. But still not a proof-text for all things being called clean from a dietary perspective. That would simply be adding in hidden personal meaning to a text that doesn’t state what you say it states.

4. Colossians 2:16

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

The context of Colossians 2 is Paul’s admonishment to be careful not to follow traditions over Biblical teaching (just like Jesus was doing in Mark 7). If it was tradition to eat only certain meats (clean), then this could be a text used to show that eating unclean meats is now allowed. However, it is not tradition as to what is clean vs unclean–those were God’s laws and can’t be changed. There has been no precedence so far in this or any other text that would make this a suitable context for the changing of God’s dietary laws.

For a better job than I could do on this passage, see here:

https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/bible-study-course/bible-study-course-lesson-12/what-did-paul-really-say-in

For a closer look at verse 14 of Colossians 2, see here:

https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/bible-questions-and-answers/i-would-like-some-information-please-in-colossians-2

In our modern justice systems, a parallel to the “handwriting of ordinances” would be a formal written order of a death sentence issued after the evidence against the accused criminal—in this case, us—had been examined.

Colossians 2:14 speaks of a death warrant rightfully issued because we have all sinned by transgressing God’s spiritual law (1 John 3:4). Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), we have all earned that sentence. However, the death sentence is mercifully commuted when we repent of sin and seek God’s forgiveness. The apostle Paul’s wording is a dramatic characterization of the benefit of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. The death warrant bearing our names and the sins we committed is nailed to the cross of Christ, who willingly took the death penalty against humanity on Himself.

Forgiveness, however, is more than a pardon because the penalty for our spiritual crimes wasn’t merely set aside. It was paid in full by Jesus’ sacrificial death for us (1 John 1:7-9).

Imagine the certified copy of an execution order with your name on it being hammered onto the beam on which Christ was crucified—right next to His body, splattered with His life’s blood—to show that you do not have to die for your spiritual crimes. This is the striking illustration Paul presents in Colossians 2:14.

Those who would have us believe that this passage refers to the cancellation of God’s law completely misrepresent Paul’s powerful teaching analogy. After all, if Jesus came to do away with His Father’s law, there would have been no need for Him to give His life for us since “where there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15; 5:13).

Again, likening the approach of those who believe God’s law was canceled to what takes place in our modern justice system, they in effect are saying that commuting the death sentence of a murderer has canceled all laws against murder. This obviously makes no sense.

I think both those sum it up pretty well and clearly take this passage off the table as a proof-text.

5. Romans 14:2 & 14

2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

This text is by far the hardest to discern at first glance. But if you look at the distinction made in verse 2, you realize the discussion is between eating meat and being a vegetarian for the sake of one’s faith. It doesn’t say, “One believeth he can eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth only clean animals.” So it’s not a question of clean vs unclean, but of omnivore vs vegetarianism. If you look back to the discussion of 1 Corinthians 10, it can be determined that many Christians of the day had a weakness of faith in regard to meats because many of the meats were being offered to idols prior to being eaten. So these Christians decided to only eat herbs (vegetarian) to keep their conscience clear of eating things offered to idols. But Paul is letting them know they don’t need to be vegetarians simply to avoid meats offered to idols. This is the context of the text. So the use of the word unclean in verse 14 is in regard to meat or drink offered to idols before being eaten (as we saw in the Acts passage-they were now considered unholy), not the clean and unclean distinctions set forth in Leviticus. And as Christ and Paul have both said now in the texts we’ve looked at, eating an unholy thing will not make you unholy and is not something to be avoided (or even eaten) for the sake of another.

Again, I will concede that eating pork “could”–on a stretch, fall into this category. But to say that eating pork is “allowed” based on these verses would be putting meaning to something that simply has not been said or even implied.

6. 1 Timothy 4:4

4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

This text is also a difficult passage. But looking at the context of verses 1-3, we see this is referring to Christians who were being told to not eat meat at all (along with not marrying and angel worship).

1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

You might be tempted to say, “It’s speaking of people like you who tell me to avoid pork because it says ‘every’ creature is good.” However, we need to look at the overall teaching of the Bible before making any claims as to whether things are still clean and unclean vs being able to eat freely of anything based on this single verse. No other “proof-texts” before this have proven any changes to God’s dietary laws. So to take this one text as proof-text in contrast to all the others would be a mistake. Let’s go back to Genesis 2:16-17.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Here we have God telling Adam that he can eat of every tree of the garden. It wouldn’t make sense that this would include things like belladonna, castor oil seeds, or strychnine and other extremely poisonous plants. So either these plants didn’t exist in the garden, or Adam knew (intuitively or divinely) these plants weren’t safe for consumption. If he didn’t have them in the garden, he would surely have faced them in the 954 years of his life outside the garden. We also see God saying every and yet still put a limit on the word every by excluding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So when 1 Timothy 4:4 says every it is in the same way every is used in Genesis 2. There are still divinely, expressly, or intuitively learned restrictions to what is good for food. (Divinely and expressly both come from God. But one would be said in a way that man recorded as a command from God and the other would be something man just knew because it was written into the law of his heart.).

The next passages to look at are Genesis 6:19 and 7:2

19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.
2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

This is the first time in the Bible the word clean is used in respect to animals. God didn’t tell Noah which animals were clean and which were unclean, at least that was recorded for us. So we can assume he already knew. Which means the idea of certain animals being unfit for something existed prior to this point. It is also interesting to note that Noah knew exactly what to do with these clean animals after the flood in Genesis 8:20 (and is why there were more than 2 of them on the ark–if he had sacrificed any of the unclean animals, that species would have ceased to exist).

20 And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

After this, we see God permitting the eating of animals in Genesis 9:3.

3 Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

Again the word every is used. But certainly consuming other humans wasn’t permitted? They would be among the “every moving thing that liveth.” Are you saying cannibalism is permitted? Why are you able to restrict God’s use of every in Genesis 9:3 because “it is common sense” but then not use the same common sense to realize that every in 1 Timothy 4:4 doesn’t mean all (without restriction) as well? You’ll notice God clarifies what living things can be eaten by comparing it to the green herbs he gave for eating. As we already saw, there were plants made for eating and others that weren’t. So it would follow that there were animals made for eating and others that weren’t without His needing to instruct Noah what they were. God even restricts this every further in the next verse:

4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

So there are restrictions to the every expressly granted here and divinely understood from before this point. So it would make sense that the animals Noah knew were acceptable for eating would be the very same clean animals he used for sacrificing and later defined in the law. This was long before God gave the spoken laws to the Israelites listing what animals were clean and unclean in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

Now we have historical context before the actual Israelite dietary laws were given indicating a clean vs unclean distinction for what was to be eaten–so this isn’t a Jewish only restriction. Judaism didn’t exist as a religion or society before Abraham, so there wouldn’t have been Jewish dietary laws in Noah’s day. But clearly Noah followed the same clean and unclean distinctions.

Returning to the 1 Timothy text along with all the other passages we reviewed, there would be no context for claiming that every in this case means anything other than what had been previously defined as clean. So “every creature of God is good” for eating–as long as it still meets the clean criteria according to the God ordained distinctions he established before it was more formally laid out in the law. Those every things that God created fit for food are what are to be received with thanksgiving.

God only gave these dietary laws to the Jews in order to set them apart from the surrounding people,” you might say. “It wasn’t about what they ate so much as just being different by following the commands of God. We don’t need to worry about being different like they did.” I think Peter (and God) had something else to say about how Christians should be considered in 1 Peter 2:9:

9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

But didn’t Paul tell us we are no longer under the law?” Again, I think this is a misunderstanding of Galatians. The problem faced in Galatians was that certain others were declaring that justification came by the keeping of the law along with God’s grace. Keeping or not keeping all the works of the law is not what justifies us. So don’t fall into the same trap by thinking that by saying the law still provides us a list of what is right and wrong means you have to keep the whole law to be justified. If you are a child of God, you need not worry that breaking a law will keep you from heaven. But it should still be our desire to know the law and let it guide us as we follow it. There is still right and wrong.

You see, the issue really comes down to a lack of understanding of the grace we are under in the new covenant. You can’t say, “Well, obviously the 10 commandments should still be followed, but not the rest of those laws. They don’t pertain to me as a Christian.” The entire law is our instructor and the grace we receive is freedom from the punishments that came with the breaking of those laws. Not a freedom from following the laws. Remember what Christ said in Matthew 5:17 and Paul said in Galatians 3:24:

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

I don’t like using extreme examples, but one might do well to explain the point. If the President (or whatever national leader you have) gave you permanent absolution from ever being tried and executed for killing another human, does that all of the sudden mean that killing humans is lawful for you and you don’t need to follow that law?

The law was not destroyed, but the necessity for keeping the laws to obtain justice was fulfilled by Jesus’s death and resurrection. And the law still teaches us what is sin and what is not. If God declared eating unclean foods an abomination (Isaiah 66:17 as well as all the Leviticus and Deuteronomy verses) and it pertained to non-Israelites before the law was given, as well as to the Jews once the law was given, then it is still an abomination to eat unclean foods now based on the fact that no texts indicate that law was changed or abolished-and more importantly, this “law” was around well before the Levitical laws were handed down. We just don’t need to worry about the punishment for breaking the law should we chose to eat unclean foods now. But we would do well to not eat them at all since God declared them an abomination. I don’t count myself any better a Christian than someone who has not come to this conclusion. Nor do I criticize them for eating those foods. Not eating pork doesn’t make me any more righteous in God’s eyes. I am justified solely based on the blood of Jesus Christ. But if anyone asks, or challenges me why I do not eat pork, then I will point out the flaws in their arguments and hopefully change their minds.

It seems to be a deeply held desire for some for whatever reason. But it is still just one more thing that we don’t want to give up control of over to God. As proof, I found this statement on one message board discussing the issue:

I am a Christian and I have read the bible and all the verses above regarding consumption of pork. We were eating pork before we were even Christian and so we will continue to eat pork, if it were sinful to eat pork then I rather to have sinned than not to have sinned by eating what I do not like

Wow, just blatant disregard for what God desires from us. I’m not sure what to even say to that. Remember what God says about himself in Malachi 3:6a.

6 For I am the Lord, I change not;

God simply would not call eating pork an abomination and then change his mind later. Trying to find proof in verses that aren’t even discussing clean vs unclean distinctions is an attempt to make God change his mind for your own desires. Please give up this idol dear friends.

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