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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART TWENTY-SEVEN

SERMON DELIVERED ON 03-09-19

        In my last sermon in my series on the Book of Acts, we continued to expand upon the decision made at the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15.  We took a close look at the whole issue of being clean or unclean before God under the Old Covenant.  We cited a number of the laws of clean and unclean and saw how they were all part of a very extensive body of ceremonial/holiness law.  We saw that the dietary regulations given to Israel were part of this package of ceremonial/holiness law and what they could and could not eat had to do with appearing ceremonially clean or unclean before God. 

       Under the New Covenant, holiness before God is not attained through the ceremonial regulations of the Old Covenant but through the sacrifice of Christ. We appear holy before God because of what Christ accomplished on the cross and not by adhering to the ceremonial/holiness regulations of the Law of Moses.  Paul makes this plain in his letter to the Colossians.

       Colossians 1:21-22: Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--    

Dietary issues in the New Testament:

       Having previously discussed the dietary regulations as seen under the Old Covenant, and having determined from the OT Scriptures that these dietary regulations were part of the ceremonial/holiness regulations contained in the Law of Moses, today we will examine and discuss how dietary issues are treated in the New Testament.  We will begin with Mark, chapter seven. 

       Some believe that during his ministry, Jesus said something that clearly did away with the dietary regulations of the Old Covenant system.  It is believed Jesus abolished the dietary regulations of the Old Covenant by how He answered a question asked of him by the religious leaders of his day.  We see this in Mark, chapter seven?

      Mark 7:1-5: The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles).  So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with `unclean' hands?"

       It is apparent Jesus is not being questioned about the keeping of Old Covenant dietary regulations but about the keeping of certain regulations the Jewish leadership had over the centuries added to the Mosaic Law. This is made very evident by Jesus’ response.

       Mark 7:6-9: He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "`These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."  And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!

       It is very apparent Jesus is chastising the religious leadership for giving more attention to rules and regulations of their own making than to the commands of God.  In verses 10 through 13 Jesus provides an example of how they have circumvented the command to honor ones father and mother by creating ways to avoid providing for the needs of parents. Jesus is then seen as addressing the crowd as to the issue of eating with unwashed hands.

       Verse 14-19: "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him `unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him `unclean.' "After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.   "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him `unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body."

       Verse 19b: (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") NIV

                        (This means all foods are clean.) NET

                        (Thus He declared all foods clean.) NASV

                       (Thus he declared all foods clean.)  RSV

       Because of the manner in which verse 19 is often rendered, it is believed Jesus is here doing away with the Old Covenant dietary regulations.  Is Jesus here abrogating the dietary laws of the Mosaic Law?  Before we answer that question, let's take a closer look at verse 19.  There has been a lot of controversy about how best to render this verse.  English renderings differ depending on what Greek manuscripts were used in the translation process.  For example, translators of the KJV and NKJV used Greek texts that, because of their grammatical construction, require these translators to render verses 18 and 19 in the following manner.

       Mark 7:18b-19: Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?  (KJV).    

       Mark 7: 18b-19: Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, Because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?'' (NKJV).

       The Greek grammatical construction in manuscripts used to produce the KJV and NKJV requires Christ making the statement, “purging all meats” or “purifying all foods.”   Other Greek manuscripts show a grammatical construction that requires Mark as the one that says these words, such as in the NIV, NET, NASV and the RSV translations.  In those cases the translators put these words in brackets to indicate it is Mark commenting on what Jesus was saying about this issue and not a direct quotation of something Jesus said.

       It must be recognized, however, that regardless of whether it was Jesus who said this or Mark reflecting on what Jesus said, taken at face value, it would appear that what is being said is that what you eat does not make you unclean. It is not what goes into your month but what comes out of your month that makes you unclean.  Jesus makes this clear in His next statement.

       Mark 20:23: He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him `unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.'" 

        Is Jesus here abrogating Old Covenant dietary regulations?  Under these regulations the eating of certain organisms made one unclean before God. Jesus appears to be saying that only what comes out of the mouth makes a person unclean and not what goes into the mouth.

       Those who teach that the Old Covenant food laws are still operative claim that Jesus was not talking about food but about dirt from eating with unwashed hands. It’s believed He was saying this dirt is purged from the stomach through the bowel.  It’s maintained that Jesus wasn’t talking about the food laws but simply addressing the issue the religious leaders of His day had brought up about eating with unwashed hands.  It’s maintained that Christ was addressing rules the Jews had added and was not addressing God’s food laws at all.   

       It should be noted, however, that whether it is Jesus or whether it is Mark making the statement about all foods being purified or made clean, it is food and not dirt that is being addressed.  The Scripture doesn’t say purging all dirt. It says purging all meats. It is food that is being addressed. Jesus was not talking about dirt. Whether it was Jesus or Mark who uttered these controversial words, it is not dirt that is being addressed. The Greek word rendered meats or food is broma.  This word appears seventeen times in the NT and over and over again can be seen by context to refer to food.

       So is what Jesus said or Mark’s reflection on what Jesus said abrogate the Old Covenant dietary regulations?  Was Jesus here telling the religious leaders, the crowds listening to Him and later His disciples that the Mosaic dietary laws were no longer in force and they could now eat anything they wanted to eat?  Very unlikely and here’s why.

       Jesus was a Jew and as such He lived under Old Covenant law.  Kosher law was part of the Old Covenant law and to violate it would have been considered sin. Since Jesus never sinned, he did not violate kosher law and didn't teach anyone else to violate it.  Jesus could not have been teaching that adherence to Old Covenant dietary law was no longer necessary. Such a teaching would have been met with absolute ridicule by both the religious leaders and the average Jew. Observing the dietary regulations of the Mosaic Law was deep seated and Jesus telling the people they no longer needed to obey these regulations would have virtually destroyed any rapport He had developed with the people.  It would have caused an uproar.

       So what was Jesus teaching?  He apparently was teaching that food rendered unclean by Pharisaic laws was not unclean or did it make anyone unclean.

       The Pharisees and other religious leaders had added many laws to the Torah. Requiring that ones hands be washed prior to eating something was not a requirement of Old Covenant law.  This is something that had been added by the religious leaders.  Under this added law, even a kosher food could be seen as unclean if it had been touched by unwashed hands.  Jesus appears to be attacking this Pharisaic perspective.  He was saying that to eat a food with unwashed hands did not make the food or the person eating the food unclean.  Jesus was not instructing that it was OK to eat foods prohibited under kosher law.  He was addressing the inappropriate adding of law that had no legitimate bearing on kosher law.

       The Scriptures do not show Jesus abrogating Old Covenant law but attacking its misapplication. For Jesus to have abrogated any Old Covenant law would have been unthinkable.  To teach the kosher laws had been abrogated would have caused quite a negative reaction not only from the religious leaders but from the general Jewish public as well. As seen in the Cornelius event discussed earlier in this series, Peter was still keeping kosher some ten years after the Christ event. He certainly didn't believe Jesus had abrogated kosher law.

       This all being said, it is apparent Jesus was teaching that spiritual dynamics of behavior were more important than the physical dynamics of the Old Covenant system, let alone the regulations that had been added by the religious leaders. 

       We saw in Mark 7:14-19 that Jesus in part responded to the religious leaders concerns about eating with unwashed hands by saying that nothing outside a man can make him unclean but only what comes out of a man is what can make him unclean.  It is then recorded that after he had left the crowd and entered into the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.  Jesus saying that nothing outside of a man can make him unclean but only what comes out of a man makes him unclean is seen as a parable. What is a parable?

       A parable is a saying or story that provides an illustration.  It often involves the taking of a familiar idea and comparing such idea to another idea to make a point.  Jesus was taking the well known physical cleanliness regulations of the Mosaic Law to teach that real cleanliness involves the spirit and not the physical.  In Jesus’ disciples seeing what He said as a parable demonstrates that Jesus was not here abrogating Old Covenant dietary law but was using such law to teach a much higher level of what it means to be clean before God.   

       During the time Jesus walked on this earth, the regulations of the Old Covenant were still in force and all of Israel, including Jesus, were required to keep these regulations. It is apparent, however, that Christ's focus was on the spiritual, not the physical.  Under the Old Covenant system, doing or not doing certain physical things could made a man clean or unclean. This physical approach to righteousness had become the focus of the Jews with the addition of many other regulations.

       Jesus was teaching the religious leaders and His followers that this focus on the physical was not the proper focus.  Only one thing really mattered.  That one thing was the condition of your heart.  Christ was showing that moral/ethical behavior was the determinant as to being clean versus unclean.  Jesus was in essence signifying that a new approach to being clean was on the horizon.  This new approach would replace the old approach of ritual cleanliness.  The old approach was terminated at the cross. 

       We see in NT Scripture that the death of Christ brought the covenant God made with Israel to an end along with the Mosaic regulations on which it was based. After the cross, the regulations that separated Jews and Gentiles were no longer in force. Recognition of this fact for Jews who became Christian was a slow and arduous process.  One example of this is the altercation between Paul and Peter as recorded in Galatians 2. 

      Galatians 2:11-14: When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.  When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

        Peter apparently had been eating with Gentiles but when some Jewish associates showed up, Peter withdrew himself because He feared what they might say. In doing this, other Jewish Christians including even Paul's companion Barnabas withdrew from eating with the Gentiles. 

       Paul rebuked Peter for being two faced and pointed out that Gentiles were not compelled to live as Jews.  How did Jews live?  They lived by a variety of Mosaic regulations which included the dietary laws of the Old Covenant and a variety of added regulations such as washing your hands in a certain way before eating. 

       Now the Gentiles didn’t do any of these things.  They did not observe Mosaic regulations or the regulations added over the years pertaining to food. Only Gentile proselytes to Judaism would have been doing this.   

       Now it is unlikely Peter had abandoned kosher law.  When Paul says that Peter used to eat with the Gentiles, it is unlikely he was eating foods deemed unclean under Old Covenant Law. All indications are that Peter and most other Jewish converts to Christianity, possibly Paul included, continued to observe Mosaic regulations. 

       What they probably did abandon was the added Pharisaic regulations. It certainly would make sense that they would have abandoned such add on law in view of what Jesus taught about such matters,   To this extent Peter had been living like a Gentile as Paul pointed out.  Peter simple became squeamish when his Jewish friends showed up who apparently hadn’t yet come to separate themselves from these added regulations or come to accept such close interaction with Gentiles as eating a meal with them.  Eating with Gentiles was a huge taboo in Judaism.  It took some time for Jewish converts to Christianity to feel comfortable sharing a meal with a Gentile.    

Paul on Dietary Issues:

       Paul on several occasions is seen dealing with the matter of dietary issues and in every case he appears to draw the conclusion that what one eats or doesn't eat is not important to having a relationship with God.   

       Romans 14:1-4: Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

       While it may be Paul is here dealing only with vegetarianism versus non-vegetarianism, he does appear to identify the vegetarian as being weak in the faith. Why would such person be considered weak in the faith?  Why would it be a matter of being weak in the faith to be a vegetarian?  When “the faith” is mentioned in NT Scripture, it generally is a reference to belief in the Christ event and all that event signifies.

        If the faith Paul is referring to is the New Covenant that Christ came to inaugurate, is Paul saying that that to restrict oneself from eating certain foods is to lack understanding of what the faith allows? In verse 14, Paul clearly says no food is unclean in and of itself and concludes his discussion about food by saying the Kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking.

       Romans 14:14: As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.            

       Romans 14:17: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

       In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he deals with the issue of eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. He concludes that it is not sinful to eat such food because the idol is nothing. It isn't a god or a lord.

       1 Corinthians 8:7: But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.  

       While the issue Paul is dealing with here is not Old Covenant dietary regulations as such, we again see Paul seeing the eating or non-eating of food as not being of importance in our relationship with God.  Paul again addresses a food issue in his letter to Timothy.  Apparently there were some teaching against marriage and the eating of certain foods.

       1st Timothy 4:3: They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.

       Now we don’t know what foods Paul is referring too here.  It could be he is referring to foods sacrificed to idols.  Eating or not eating foods sacrificed to idols was a big issue in the early church.  Paul had already dealt with this issue in his letter to the Corinthians where he indicated it was OK to eat such foods provided it didn’t offend a brother.

       Some will argue that when Paul speaks about knowing the truth about foods he is saying the truth involves knowing that only the clean foods identified by the Law of Moses are to be eaten.  It is argued that only these foods are consecrated by the word of God and therefore only these foods were created by God to be received with thanksgiving. Is this a valid argument? 

       Paul is dealing with an issue involving some forbidding people to eat certain foods which God created to be eaten.  In response to this issue of some forbidding others to eat certain foods, Paul goes on to make a rather broad statement about foods.

        1st Timothy 4:4-5: For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

       This statement, if taken at face value, would appear to teach that all living things God created can be used as food if they are received with thanksgiving. This statement by Paul, whether intended or not, virtually reflects on what God told Noah after the flood.   

       Genesis 9:3: Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything

       If this was God’s intention for mankind after the flood, why do we find in the Law of Moses prohibitions against eating certain organisms that are identified as being unclean?  The only conclusion we can draw is that these organisms identified as unclean were not in some way bad to eat but God simply required these dietary restrictions as part of an entire package of separatist laws to distinguish Israel from the rest of mankind. 

       Leviticus 20; 24-26: But I said to you, "You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey." I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations. "`You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground--those which I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

       It is evident that the dietary regulations had to do with Israel being holy before God and being set apart from all other nations. As already discussed in this series, it is apparent that designations of clean and unclean meats prior to the time of Israel only pertained to what organisms were acceptable and not acceptable for sacrificing.  It had nothing to do with diet.

       Why then did God now make this a dietary issue for Israel as well?  We have already seen how the dietary regulations had to do with Israel being holy before God and being set apart from all other nations. However, there may be more to it.  It is instructive that the various animals and birds approved for dietary consumption are the same animals and birds that were approved for sacrifices. Only animals and birds identified as clean were approved for sacrifices and only animals and birds identified as clean were approved for dietary consumption. These clean creatures were considered holy in the sight of God.  

       Because Israel is seen as a holy nation before God, they were restricted to using only those creatures God identified as holy, both for sacrifices and for diet.  In order to maintain holiness before God, both their sacrifices to God and their diet had to correspond to what God had determined to be acceptable. Sacrifices and diet were virtually tied together. By being restricted to eating only clean animals and birds that were also used for sacrifice, Israel was kept in constant awareness of their special relationship with God. Even their meals would remind them of this special relationship. 

       If it is indeed the case that the dietary regulations were tied to the sacrificial system and Israel was only able to eat meats that could also be used for sacrifices, it should be evident that with the termination of the sacrificial system so also were the dietary regulations terminated.  Since there is no Scriptural evidence that dietary regulations were for health reasons, there is no reason to believe such regulations continued after termination of the sacrificial system. 

       In my last sermon in this series, I discussed numerous regulations contained in the Law of Moses governing being clean or unclean.  These laws pertained to both people and things.  Menstruation caused uncleanness for seven days, and whoever touched the woman's bed was unclean until evening.  If a man slept with his wife during menstruation, he would be unclean for seven days, and any bed he laid on would also be unclean.

       Normal sexual intercourse rendered both husband and wife unclean. Childbirth made women unclean.  If a person touched a corpse, he would be unclean for seven days. If a person touched an unclean bed, he would be unclean until evening.  Even if a person accidentally touched something that was deemed to be unclean, he was considered guilty of being unclean.  He had to confess his sin and make a sin offering. 

       Being unclean was seen as synonymous with committing sin. Such sin had to be atoned for by presenting a blood offering to God. Such offerings were all a precursor to the sacrifice of Christ atoning for the sins of the world. 

       The system of clean and unclean given to Israel was intended to keep them in constant awareness of their need to behave in a manner acceptable to God. Much of it was designed to keep Israel separated from the pagan nations around them. It was designed to bring blessings to Israel.  Yet because it was complicated and demanding it came to be seen as a yoke of bondage.

       This was clearly acknowledged by Peter at the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 where the question of Gentile converts to Christianity having to keep the Law of Moses was being considered.

       Acts 15:7-11: After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."

        Peter clearly identifies the Mosaic regulations as a yoke that neither they nor their fathers were able to bear.  Paul on several occasions identifies these regulations as a yoke of slavery. 

       In this series, we have touched on just a few of the multiple dozens of regulations under the Old Covenant.  As you read through the Pentateuch you will see that many of these regulations were designed to achieve separation of Israel from the rest of the human race and to keep the Israelites in constant need of doing physical things to maintain an awareness of their privileged status as God’s chosen people.  Included in these regulations was prohibition against eating certain kinds of organisms which were defined as unclean.

       The dietary regulations were part of the many laws of clean and unclean. Under the New Covenant, the whole matter of being clean relates to the condition of our heart. As can be seen in what Jesus said, the condition of our heart relates to ethical/moral behavior and not what we eat or don’t eat.

       Our acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and accepting Jesus as Lord of our life is where it all begins.  Being clean no longer has anything to do with physical rituals.  We are clean before God because of what Christ did on the cross, not because we avoid eating certain foods.  Accepting Christ as Lord of our life means we will endeavor to please Him by implementing the law of love which is a spiritual law of righteous behavior toward our fellow man.   This is the law which facilitates spiritual cleanness. The New Covenant is all about spiritual cleanness. Spiritual cleanness is all about living the law of love.

       We began this series within a series by asking what is and what ain’t relative to what law is still required to be obeyed and what law is not required to be obeyed.  When looking at all the Scripture that bears on this issue, it becomes apparent that laws prefiguring the Christ event and what that event means for our standing before God are the laws that are no longer required to be obeyed.   

       Such law would include the entire body of ceremonial law revealed in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT). It would include the various worship laws such as Sabbath observance, keeping of holy days and new moon celebrations.  Paul shows these were all shadows of what has now been filled in Christ.  The Christ event fulfilled and brought to an end all law that in someway prefigured and foreshadowed what Jesus did to establish for us a holy standing before God.  This is the Old Covenant law that has been abrogated.

       Old Covenant law that has not been abrogated is all law that produces the kind of relational behavior between humans that God intended from the beginning. Many of the Old Covenant human relational behavioral laws are seen to be in force under the New Covenant.  This is evident in the teachings of Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John and what is seen throughout the NT.  While many of the laws in the Pentateuch governing humans relations are culture specific, we can still learn from those laws how best to love our neighbor as ourselves.  

       There are two great laws revealed in the Scriptures which are as valid today as they have been from the beginning of creation.

       Matthew 2:35-37: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.'  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

       Jesus is here referring to two commands found in the Old Covenant. In Deuteronomy 6:5 we find God commanding Israel to observe the first of these two commands.  In Leviticus 19:18 we see the second of these two commands cited.

       Loving your neighbor as yourself is defined in Scripture by a myriad of behavioral laws established by God.  We see these behavioral laws extant under both the Old and New Covenant.  Many of these laws are seen as extant from the beginning of creation. Scripture shows to love God means to live by his commandments.  It is to acknowledge His sovereignty which includes not worshiping anyone but Him as the Most High God.     

       Under the Old Covenant there existed a great deal of law that served to distinguish Israel as a nation from all other nations of the world. A certain amount of this law also appears to have served as prefiguring or foreshadowing the Christ event and all that event portends for humanity.  These prefiguring or foreshadowing laws appear to include all ceremonial and sacrificial law and various worship laws that were fulfilled in Christ and therefore became obsolete with the establishment of the New Covenant.  This is the law that ain’t.

      Under the New Covenant, we are to continue loving the Lord God with all our heart, soul and mind just as was true of Israel.  Our love of God includes being obedient to the moral law He established at creation and which was included in and expanded upon under both the Old and the New Covenant. The Christ event didn't abrogate moral law. It magnified it and made obedience to it more attainable by providing help to keep it through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the law that is.

PART TWENTY-EIGHT