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Cover showing a woman with food all around her.All of us have seen the media's infatuation with the “fat American.” Statistics on how many children are overweight, and how high blood pressure and cholesterol levels plague middle-aged adults provide content for television shows ranging from “Dr. Oz” to “20/20.” It was fairly predictable that we would find skeptics blaming Christianity and the Bible for obesity, and animal rights groups have now joined in condemning the Bible for everything from animal sacrifice to the eating of trans fats. Should Christians be vegetarians? Is the raising of cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry cruel to animals and detrimental to healthy diets?

Let us begin this discussion by reviewing the history of humans on this planet. When God created man and placed him on the earth, man was what anthropologists call “a gatherer.” What that means is that the first humans did not farm or raise animals for food. They lived by eating fruits of all kinds which were found growing in the wild. God said in Genesis 2:16, “… You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” All archeological evidence supports the fact that early man ate a wide assortment of leaves, roots, seeds, and fruits. There is some evidence that clams, crabs, fish, and perhaps a few other small animals may have been eaten as well. Piles of shells in some caves do not seem to have accumulated naturally. This would have been a healthy diet, but protein would have been in short supply and gathering time must have been extensive.

PizzaWhen man sinned and died spiritually, his method of securing food also changed. God says, “Cursed is the ground because of you; … and you will eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17 –19). We know for sure that man not only had to fight all the battles that farmers fight with weeds today, but we also know animal husbandry was practiced because Abel was a keeper of flocks (Genesis 4:2). Whether Abel ate some of his animals could be debated. The fact that he sacrificed of his flock would suggest that he did, but that evidence is indirect. After the flood, as mankind spread throughout the world and increased in number, the food supply became an issue. Feeding a large population on plant material alone is difficult to Bowls of fruitdo, because plant carbohydrates do not provide a long-term energy supply. Animal protein and fat do provide a greater supply of essential food minerals. As you read over the food rules and regulations in ancient Israel, you see great wisdom in what they were told to do. Imagine feeding a wandering group of thousands of people. There is no time to plant and nurture a garden. Israel's flocks were vital to them until God sent the manna and quail giving nutrient balance. Throughout the period when kings ruled Israel, similar problems existed. The alternative to eating meat would be massive food shortages.

Various breadsJesus Christ lived under this system. We know he participated in the wedding feast at Cana. We know he prepared a fish meal for his disciples (John 21:9 –13) and fed 5,000 from a start of two fish and five loaves of bread. Nowhere did he command his followers to be vegetarians nor did he command food rituals. His emphasis was clear, “What goes into a man is not what defiles him, but what comes out.” Jesus was far more concerned with man’s spiritual health than he was with man’s physical health.

A piece of steakPerhaps the most significant change in God's dietary instructions for man took place in Acts 10. When Peter saw a sheet lowered to him with “all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds” (verse 12, NLT) and is commanded “Get up, … Kill and eat” (verse 13, NIV). Peter responds from Jewish law saying he has never eaten anything that is unclean, and he has no desire to start (verse 14). God's response to this is most interesting. “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (verse 15, NLT). The obvious emphasis of this account is that the gospel is now to go to all men, not just the Jews and the special Jewish food rituals would be done away with. Colossians 2:10 –16 tells us not only that Jesus nailed all of the Jewish laws and traditions to his cross, but also that no one should “judge you in meat, or in drink … .” This was a hard lesson and occupied much of the time and energy of the early church. Paul devotes much of Romans 14 pointing out that special days, foods, and celebrations are not to become issues which divide the church. Still, a part of this was that there were no food taboos in early Christianity.

A bowl of cookiesSo if there are no doctrinal prohibitions to eating meat, what should be the concerns of Christians as far as diet is concerned? First Corinthians 3:16 tells us that our bodies are the temple of God and we are not to defile the temple. Taking care of our bodies has many side benefits to offer. Paul talked about his death from time to time. In Philippians 1:21 – 24 and 2 Timothy 4:6 – 8 he indicated he was ready to die, actually preferred it, but also saw that God had more work for him to do and he wanted to do all God had in mind for him to do. I am ready to go to a better place, but I want my life to bear all the fruit that is possible.

Christians need to take care of their bodies, not because there is a ritualistic law that commands us to do so, but because we want to live complete, fruitful lives. Exercise is important, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control is taking care of the “temple of God.” We do it to serve, not to obey a religious law.

— John N. Clayton

Picture credits:
Cover photo: clockwise from center: © Subbontina Anna; © Olga King; © flippo; © Volff; © Irochka; and © frannyanne; background: © Konstanttin. All images from BigStockPhoto.com. Composite by Roland Earnst.
© Subbontina Anna. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© flippo. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© frannyanne. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© Irochka. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© Volff. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© Olga King. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.