An Exegesis of Meat in the New TestamentAn Exegesis of "Meat" in the New Testament
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By Richard Angelin rnangelin@earthlink.net

The New Testament speaks very little on the subject of flesh meat as a dietary supplement or staple food. The word meat is used 64 times in the New Testament, but in a wide variety of contexts. There are 15 different Greek words that have been translated as meat or pertaining to meat eating.

Of the 64 times that the word meat is used in the New Testament it is rarely used in a manor which explicitly implies the eating of animal flesh. The Greek words used for meat are most often understood as the general use of food and are rarely associated with animal flesh. This is in harmony with the very first usage of the word meat in the Bible when God included meat in the human diet. We learn what the definition of meat is in Genesis 1:29: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” So the word meat is most properly understood to exclude animal flesh by creatural definition.

While it is generally understood that meat eating is an acceptable portion of dietary regimen, there has been controversy over what constitutes acceptable diet which includes meat eating. Some hold the position that a person may properly eat anything they wish and be in complete harmony with Scripture, while others have suggested that certain Scripture texts only appear to teach that it is acceptable to eat anything that moves. In reality a person led by the Spirit will come to understand that certain living creatures are in fact not acceptable for food supplements once all the facts are obtained and Scripture contexts are studied.

1 Timothy 4:3,4

Let me explain this by example. Would a Spirit led Christian suggest that it is Biblically acceptable to eat human flesh? In horror most Christians would say “absolutely not!” However when we develop the argument used by some Christians this is a logical and acceptable conclusion by their reasoning. Let me explain.

Turn with me to James 1:18 where it says: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The word creatures is obviously speaking about human beings here and the word is taken from the Greek ktisma which literally means “created thing.” Now let us turn to another Scripture verse, 1 Timothy 4:3,4 which reads: “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. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.”

With the understanding that the word here used for meat comes from the Greek word broma which literally means “food which is eaten” most people would assume that he is speaking about flesh meats from the context which states “For every creature of God is good.” But we just learned that the word here used for creature can refer to humans, therefore it could be drawn from this passage in 1 Timothy that Paul is here giving an approbation of cannibalism.

Do you see how dangerous it is to put personal opinion into the context of a passage. One must look not only at the immediate context of a passage, but also at the larger context. A person can readily extract any opinion that they wish from Scripture by not studying the context in which they are reading.

If we carefully study the passage in 1 Timothy and replace the words meat and creature with their literal meaning, we can obtain an entirely different understanding than most people obtain. The passage reads like this: “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from food, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every created thing of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.”

Paul here refers to ascetic influences and tendencies that permeated the church. For ceremonial, ritualistic reasons these ascetics considered the total prohibition of certain foods to be spiritually desirable. The prohibition of certain foods on particular religious days may also be included in the apostles warning. For man to deny himself the privileges of marriage and food necessary for proper health would be to question and defy the wisdom and will of God. All things considered, Paul is not here referring to flesh eating at all, but is exhorting us not to listen to false teachers who preach ceremonial fasting as mandatory.

Romans 14

This chapter is often used by carnivorous Christians who desire to eat to most bizarre of living creatures. It states: “For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 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” Romans 14:2,3,14. Is this the proof text many flesh eaters are looking for that proves God admires eating whatever the heart desires? I am convinced that a closer look into the context reveals otherwise.

Does “all” mean ALL

The first phrase we need to study is in verse 2 where it says: “For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.” Let us look at what the eminent C.H. Spurgeon has to say on this word “all.”

“The whole world has gone after him Did all the world go after Christ? Then went all Judea, and were baptized of him in Jordan. Was all Judea, or all Jerusalem, baptized in Jordan? Ye are of God, little children, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one. Does the whole world there mean everybody? The words world and all are used in some seven or eight senses in Scripture, and it is very rarely that all means all persons, taken individually. The words are generally used to signify that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts some Jews, some Gentiles, some rich, some poor, and has not restricted His redemption to either Jew or Gentile.” C.H. Spurgeon from a sermon on Particular Redemption.

Is not this the sense in which Paul here uses the word “all?” Considering that the context of this passage is not about clean vs. unclean foods but is about rendering judgment on dietary regulations, it is unlikely that here Paul is giving a new commandment regarding what is clean and unclean. Considering that the Jews were strictly kosher dieticians, and that they raised no complaints against Paul about his teachings regarding diet, it is highly unlikely that he taught unclean meats had miraculously become clean and edible.

Again, as in 1Timothy, it is more probable that Paul is here speaking of kosher foods which may have been offered to idols, or practicing ritualistic fasting from certain foods which were without doubt kosher foods.

“Unclean”

The next word which we need to look at to obtain a proper understanding of Paul's statements is the word unclean. It is here taken from the Greek word koinos which literally means common or ordinary. The word is used in a variety of ways and is translated as common, unclean, defiled, and unholy. One example of the usage of this word is Mark 7:2: “And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled <koinos>, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.”

Peter also uses it this way in Acts 10:14: “But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common <koinos> or unclean.”

The passage we are concerned with is Romans 14:14 which says: “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean <koinos> of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean <koinos>, to him it is unclean <koinos>.”

There is very little if any evidence that Paul here speaks of unclean meats such as swine, and neither is their support from the New Testament as a whole. Nowhere is there an explicit command that states unclean flesh meats somehow became clean after Calvary. The usage of the word koinos here is most probably associated with kosher foods, both vegetable and flesh meats, which had been offered to idols. We have several examples in the New Testament of this as a possibility such as 1 Corinthians 8:7,10 “Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols.”

The uncleanness does not lie in the nature of the food but in the believers view of it. The “weak” Christian believes he should not eat foods offered to idols, for example, and makes it a matter of conscience to abstain from such foods. So long as he holds this conviction, it would be wrong for him to partake. He may be in error, judged from anothers point of view, but it would not be proper for him to act in violation of what he conscientiously supposes God requires.

The foods that the “weak” brother refrains from eating, but which the strong brother allows, are not the kinds of foods that are unclean in their own nature, but owe their defilement to conscientious scruples (see vs. 23). Paul is not here sweeping away all distinctions between foods. The interpretation must be limited to the particular foods under discussion and to the specific problem with which the apostle is dealing, namely, the sympathetic treatment of those whose partly-enlightened consciences prevent their eating certain foods.

It is best if we don't try to draw out of the context more than is in it. The message in Romans 14 is not about freedom to eat anything that moves and freedom to break the Sabbath, it is about not judging others who do not have a full understanding of what may or may not be acceptable to eat, and in what ceremonies may or may not be necessary for worship.

Acts 10

It is hard to take seriously those who turn to this chapter for support on eating unclean meats, but since there is no other support in the New Testament it shows how far out on a limb one must go to try and satisfy carnal lusts. The argument is this: “In verses 11-14 God shows Peter that unclean meat has now become edible. Then when Peter objected to eating such unclean foods God commanded not to argue with Him when He said, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common Vs. 15.”

Two things are completely ignored by those who use this as an example for dietary instruction. First they ignore the context which plainly is not about diet to begin with, but about the acceptance of Gentiles into the Christian community. They ignore that the vision which Peter saw was symbolic. Symbolic revelation does not even count the symbols as necessary, but as tools to gain understanding of a particular truth. Finally they ignore that Peter himself explained the vision very clearly, and he did not mention unclean flesh foods.

Verse 28 gives the interpretation of Peters vision: “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.”

If this is all the support there is for eating unclean flesh it is no support at all. Abstention from unclean flesh was one of the most characteristic marks of the Jew, and a distinction to which Peter held rigorously. It had been one of the basic issues between the Jews and the Syrians during the Maccabean War, an issue over which stanch Jews willingly laid down their lives. To suggest that Christian Jews gave up their deeply rooted convictions on dietary regulations without so much as a whimper is beyond comprehension, so where is the support for this suggestion? It is glaringly absent from Scripture.

Those who attempt to point to the cross as the removal of dietary regulation also ignore that the designation of clean and unclean animals was not made at Sinai, but was made long before and at an undeterminable time. All the way back to the time of Noah there has been a distinction between clean and unclean animals (Gen. 7:2), and there is no reason to believe that the distinction does not go all the way back to Eden. Thus there is no good basis for the position that the ban upon unclean foods was removed when the Jewish ceremonial law ended at the cross.

In interpreting the vision one should recognize that, although it was given in the setting of physical hunger, it did not concern food, it concerned men. It was for the souls of men, of every kind everywhere, that Peter was to experience a hunger.

Conclusion

I light of the fact that there is absolutely no command suggesting that unclean flesh meats are included in what is acceptable in controversial passages such as Romans 14, it is reasonable to conclude that God knew what was best for man when He gave him a vegetarian diet in Eden and when He presented His dietary law as a precept by which men may live holy lives before God. The health benefits of a kosher diet have been scientifically proven in the modern era, and give sound proof that God knows best. He is not trying to restrict us by giving us health laws, He is showing His eternal love for us in ways that too few understand. He is showing us how much He loves us by guaranteeing a long and healthy life if we follow His principles.

The 64 Usages of The Word “Meat” in The New Testament

Direct translations of the word “meat”

1033 broma Usage: 16 times; literally - that which is eaten

1034 brosimos Usage: 1 time; literally - eatable

1035 brosis Usage: 7 times; literally - (1) act of eating (2) that which is eaten, food (2a) of the souls food

4371 prosphagion Usage: 1 time; literally - (1) anything eaten with bread (1a) spoken of fish boiled or broiled

4620 sitometron Usage: 1 time; literally - a measured portion of grain or food

5132 trapeza Usage: 1 time; literally - a table on which food is placed, an eating place

5160 trophe Usage: 13 times; literally - food, nourishment

5315 phago Usage: 3 times; literally - to eat, to take food, eat a meal, devour, consume

Indirect translations of the word “meat”

345 anakeimai Usage: 6 times; translated “sat at meat” literally - to lie at a table, eat together, dine

347 anaklino Usage: 2 times; translated “sit down to meat” and “make sit down to meat” literally - to lean against, to lean upon, to lay down, to make or bid to recline

377 anapipto Usage: 2 times; translated “sit down to meat” literally - to lie back, lie down, to recline at a table, to sit back

1494 eidolothuton Usage: 1 time; translated “meats offered to idols” literally - sacrificed to idols, the flesh left over from heathen sacrifices

2621 katakeimai Usage: 3 times; translated “sat at meat” literally of those at meals, to recline

2625 kataklino Usage: 1 time; translated “sat at meat” literally - to make to recline, to recline at a table (in reference to eating)

4873 sunanakeimai Usage: 4 times; translated “sat with him at meat” literally - to recline together, feast together

Translators additional use of the word “meat” without original usage by any of the above words

Matthew 15:37
Mark 8:8

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