COMMENTARY: Is the New Covenant Kosher?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 |  Brian Hennessy

Views expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Israel Today.

In Judaism, much attention is paid to the kinds of food one is allowed to eat, as well as its preparation. A meal is considered “kosher” – ritually clean – if it conforms to the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law. Or as interpreted by today’s rabbinical standards.

The question is, should Christians have the same concerns?  I have met many sincere believers who, having rediscovered the Hebraic roots of their faith, believe the dietary laws are still valid under the New Covenant. And included in the restoration of Israel. But is that true? Or are we now free to eat all foods without worrying if some are still forbidden?

Let me say without hesitation that the only dietary restriction you will find in the New Testament is the caution not to flaunt our freedom in Messiah. Either to cause a brother to stumble who has a weaker conscience: “For one person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables” (Rom. 14:2). Or to perhaps bring offense to local Torah-observant Jews by eating (or serving) “what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:20).  

Otherwise, Scripture tells us that we are now free to eat whatever we want without wondering if God will be displeased: “For food will not commend us to God. We are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat” (1 Cor.8:8). We just need to believe it!

The best insight on the whole subject is found in the words of Yeshua in Mark’s gospel. The Pharisees had confronted him about his disciples not washing their hands before eating according to their tradition.  He immediately rebuked them for making up laws God never gave. And then, knowing God would soon be transitioning the nation out of the dietary laws He had given them, he explained that the true cause of defilement comes from within a man. Not from food.

When the disciples questioned him later, he explained: “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach and is eliminated….That which proceeds out of the heart, that is what defiles him” (Mark 7:18-20). Mark then comments, so his readers didn’t miss the important implication of his words, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” 

Which raises the question: Why did God establish the kosher laws and all the other stringent laws on ritual purity in the first place?  

Because God is a holy God. And His chosen nation was by nature an unclean, sinful people living in a fallen world. Therefore, in order for us to have fellowship with Him He had to make Israel “a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 1:9).  So He began the process of sanctification by making our forefathers acutely aware of their sinful, unholy state and the world’s potential to continually contaminate them. 

 Each of the purity laws showed Israel how easily they could become defiled again after being ritually cleansed. Either from our own flesh (represented by a skin disease like leprosy, childbirth, menstruation, etc.) or by things in the world (represented by unclean animals, touching a carcass, intermarrying with the nations, etc.). Because even though defilement can come only from us, temptations to sin can come from within and without.

 Of course, once Yeshua enacted the New Covenant those laws were no longer necessary. For believers are washed clean in his blood. And kept clean by confessing all future sins to God who is “faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

I believe the greatest challenge for a new believer, Jew or non-Jew, is to have the courage to put away his dependence upon the religious rules of his upbringing and not feel condemned. But to totally trust that faith alone in Yeshua’s work makes him righteous. If you think it is hard for those of us raised in Church Christianity today, think how difficult it was for first-century Jews to walk away from their God-given traditions. Even the great apostle Peter backslid into keeping the letter of the Law.

Paul relates the story, that before some Pharisaic believers came to visit them in Antioch, Peter had been eating with the Gentiles. But suddenly he came under a spirit of condemnation and began “to hold himself aloof” (Gal. 2:11-15). That is, he separated from the non-Jewish believers and reverted to eating kosher. Even Barnabas fell victim to his hypocrisy.  And Paul had to publically rebuke them both.  

Paul, of course, was the one whom God anointed to help transition Israel from Law to the covenant of grace. And Paul was unequivocal in his teaching that the dietary laws of Moses no longer applied to believers. “I know, and am convinced in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything is unclean, to him it is unclean” (Rom. 14:14).  He told believers to feel free “to eat anything sold in the marketplace…or anything set before you, without asking questions for conscience sake; For the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains” (1 Cor. 10: 25-27). 

And finally there is this. A big part of God’s call for Israel to be “holy” included separation from the Gentiles.  But once He lowered that heavenly sheet full of unclean animals and told Peter to eat, the world of Judaism changed forever. The Gentiles, as symbolized by the unclean animals, were no longer taboo. The wall of separation God had erected between Jews and Gentiles had been torn down. “What God has cleansed no longer consider unholy” (Acts 19:15). 

Therefore, Christians who want to embrace kosher eating as a way of uniting with the Jews should realize they are just rebuilding the wall of commandments that once separated us. We can never become one nation in Moses. But only in Messiah. “For he himself is our peace…so that in himself he might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph.2:14,15).

The bottom line: “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). 

Brian Hennessy is author of Valley of the Steeples

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