Paul’s first letter to Timothy suggests that people should not limit the kinds of food they eat because all food is created by God and is good: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5 NASB). This New Testament teaching argues that since God created everything that surrounds us, including the things that we eat, that nothing should be gastronomically off-limits. However, in the Torah, God also expressly forbids Israel to eat certain animals (cf. Lev 11; Deut 14). So how should we understand First Timothy in light what God said in the Torah?

For some New Testament readers, 1 Tim 4 (along with Mark 7 and Acts 10) is a prooftext for showing that Jesus’ arrival marks the end of the Bible’s prior dietary restrictions. But there is a flaw in such logic: In Jewish understanding, the dietary restrictions are not laws for the entire world; rather, they are only for Israel. In relaying the dietary restrictions to the Israelites, God repeats that the prohibited animals are objectionable “to you” (להם lahem; cf. Lev 11:4-8, 10, 12, 20, 23, 26-29, 31). The inclusion of non-Jewish (Gentile) believers in Jesus’ flock does not abolish or change the Torah’s dietary restrictions for Israel since not all Torah commandments were equally applicable to Israel and to those members of the nations who sojourned with them. 

Moreover, the passage in First Timothy is not discussing Jewish food laws at all. The Jewish laws apply only to “animals” בַּהֵמוֹת (behemot) and to חַיּוֹת (chayot) literally “living creatures” (Lev 11:2). First Timothy, on the other hand, addresses the eating of “food” in general (βρῶμα; broma in Greek, and מַאֲכָל; ma’achal in Hebrew)— not only foods that can be made from animals, but fruits and vegetables as well.

Finally, the larger context of 1 Tim 4 shows that food is not the real topic of the passage under discussion. Paul does not disapprove of the biblical diet, but rather criticizes ascetics who teach “doctrines of demons” (4:1), deny their conscience and lie (4:2), “men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created” (4:3). This language does not describe a Torah lifestyle, since Jews certainly do not forbid marriage and only exclude select groups of living creatures as food.

So if Paul’s words do not pertain to Jewish diet, whose notions about food is he criticizing? Judaism was not the only religious movement that regulated the adherent’s diet. For example, Egyptians refused to eat most animals based on their worship. Some Greek and Roman Cynics forbade all pleasures and enjoyments of life, insisting that people should only eat to stay alive. These are not Jewish ways; Paul’s focus seems to be not on Jewish dietary restrictions, but rather on broader restrictions of other religious groups. First Timothy insists that God created foods for which human beings should rejoice, rather than reject, and that we should enjoy the Lord’s abundance with thanksgiving (but it is unlikely that the laws of kashrut are in view at all).

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204 COMMENTS

  1. Romans 14:15 is instructive here. In it Paul says if what we eat causes others distress we should refrain from doing so in his presence. I believe he is really saying if our actions cause our brothers spiritual pain we should refrain from those acts while that brother is present. In other words do nothing that will lead your brother to sin.
    • Yes, Paul's words you bring up are relevant, but this article is not about Rom 14. Bringing in another letter context into the discussion usually complicates the matters. I will address that passage in another article.
  2. Dear Professor Shir. I love taking part and learning from the IsraEl Bible Centre. My query is, is it sin then for a Messianic Jew to eat the "forbidden" by faith in the One that created? Please fill in this missing gap
    • Dear Pastor Nathi, God stated that prohibited animals are objectionable “to you” (להם lahem - to Israel) cf. Lev 11:4-8, 10, 12, 20, 23, 26-29, 31. If a Jew (Messianic or not) wants to call himself a Jew and include himself in Israel than he is included in the "to you" group. If God clearly articulated his will but one goes against his will that would logically be a sin. But one does not have to be a Jew if one does not want to be. The good news God loves everyone, Jew or not. His grace and salvation are not dependent on such matters.

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    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Stories of Jewish Church I: Acts 1-5 or . You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
    • I highly suggest reading Hebrews carefully and consider the context and scope of the statement you mention. But Hebrews text is well outside of what I wrote here. Let's stay in Timothy.
  3. I find your view flawed for the following reason taken from 1 Yochanan ( John ) 2:6, "the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked." ( NASB ).
    While it is true that not everything in the Torah is applicable to non-Jews, we are admonished to follow Yeshua's example when it comes to our dietary choices. When it comes to following the Torah, Gentile believers have the option of complying as much as they want short of Jewish conversion. Acts 15 sets the basic rules for Gentiles to follow but the goal is always to grow more and more into the image of the Messiah. Jewish conversion is always optional but not a requirement for Christian/Messianic believers.
    • Dear James, I do not disagree with your line of reasoning at all. I think imitation of our Messiah is a great way of following him (Jew or Gentile). I believe that the nations are absolutely free to voluntarily take upon themselves the ways of Torah if they want to. It is not required, there is no obligation, but it is admirable if this is something people choose. There is a balance in all of this. :)

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  4. The Lord Jesus himself did away with the dietary laws, and the dietary laws were never really about physical food. It is a myth that God has one set of regulations for Jews and another for Gentiles. During the age of Moses anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, who wanted to worship the True God was required to observe Torah. Similarly, in the New Testament age, everyone is required to worship God in spirit and truthfulness. Our Lord Jesus nailed the ordinances to the cross because ordinances divide humanity, and God's intention is to unite us in Christ. God's requirements will not be as they are now in the age to come, the age of the Kingdom -- but they will apply to everyone on earth.
    • Obviously, you have worked this all out for yourself, Christian. Sorry to bother you with my thoughts on the matter. I cannot agree with what you wrote for many reasons. I simply challenge you to produce a more convincing argument on this 1 Tim passage without going to other texts to prove me wrong on the whole broad issue that "the Lord canceled everything". Just substantiate your views with evidence with proving me wrong on this one single text.

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    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The First Commandment: Deuteronomy in the Gospels or The Stories of Jewish Christ: Among the Rabbis. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
    • Not majoring in minors but Jesus said Man shall not live by bread alone, But EVERY WORD that proceeds from the mouth of God! Jesus quoting Old Testament! We don’t follow His Commandments for our Salvation (Yeshua in Hebrew) but as evidence Of Our Salvation as a reasonable form of Worship, because we want to, because He delights in it, blesses it, and Inhabits it! If you expect to walk in His Kingdom, doesn’t it make Sense to want to know the Ways in which He expects us to walk, He Gave Moses Instructions That never change, Gave us Jesus As The Way, Let’s consentrate on Unite in the Body! Amen?

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    • Christian, from the beginning of time Satin has convinced man that God's law deprives us of something we deserve. Matt 5:17-19 is pretty clear on the matter. Don't fall for Satin's old lie. Consider Jeh 17:9 when you think about trusting your feelings above God's law.
  5. The chapter opens with "in the latter times." Since we live in those "latter times" it's easy to see the things that other religions forbid as food. Veganism is huge right now. Opposed to this, we are commanded at times to eat meat (passover lamb, etc).

    Also, there is a difference in what God and His people refer to as "food", and what others consider "food". Horses, camels, Shellfish, pigs and other bottom-feeders were never meant for our consumption. God built a racecar and gave us an owner's manual that calls for Super Unleaded gasoline, but most owners try to fuel their car with mud or sand. The results are predictable.
    • LOL, Todd. Vegetarianism is not evil, but true, not in agreement with the Torah's instructions to actually eat the sacrifices. All cultures have food taboos.
    • Dear Todd
      I so agree with your comment. I am always bemused at the fact that some believers think that these animals that were created to be the garbage eaters of the earth are now quite fine and changed to be edible. As far as I know, they still eat rubbish and are unhealthy for the human body. At any rate, why don't we go the whole 'hog' and eat birds of carrion, snakes, and other forbidden animals, insects, etc. Have their metabolisms not been changed? At the end of the day - "What would Jesus do?" Paul says to follow him, as he follows Jesus - I am sure he would have kept the dietary laws. However, as has been rightly said - it does not affect one's salvation - we just might get to heaven a little earlier with ill health.

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  6. Unclean creatures are not "food."
    CAN WE EAT ALL THINGS? (1 TIMOTHY 4:1-5):
    http://scripturetruthministries.com/2018/03/23/can-we-eat-all-things-1-timothy-41-5/
    • I can appreciate a non-traditional exposition, George. But I must be frank with you. I personally find it in bad taste when people put down any church in their writings, be it a Catholic, Pentecostal or Methodist church. It just seems improper. Can we argue theology and Scripture interpretation without targeting specific people we disagree with? I have taught many former Catholics the ways of Torah. I know some of the things they had to overcome. I get it. When we Jews see someone targeting a particular group because of their membership or different religious beliefs in a wholesale way it brings up really bad memories. Sorry. It is a slippery slope. Here at IBC we welcome all earnest Christ-followers passionate for God's truth.
  7. Shalom, Thank you for this informative lesson. I agree with James that we should try to follow our Messiah who was Jewish and kept Torah. I am trying as best I can. I have not eaten pork in many years and I gave up shell fish all so. I am careful about which fish I eat. I have never eaten Cat Fish. My Mother would not eat them. Do I think I will go to Hell if I do eat the wrong thing? No
    • No, of course not, Dolores. Obedience to God's commandments is not a matter of going to hell or heaven. I realize some people teach this, but this is cruel and terribly mistaken. We obey God because we love him and already have a relationship with him. We do not obey him in order to have a relationship.
  8. First of all, let me say I really appreciate what I am learning in my studies here from all the teachers :) My question: If Gentile followers of Yeshua are seen as sojourners WITH Israel but not AS FULLY Israel, which was already a category in the Torah, why was the message of being grafted into the tree as wild branches so radical a teaching and such a surprise? The sojourners were not allowed to eat Passover or receive inheritance in the promised land. Peter says we are fellow heirs and a royal priesthood. I look forward to your exposition on Romans 14. and other passages such as the one in Peter.
    • Lois, great and very insightful questions. I will answer very briefly since they are not related to the post. 1. To be a sojourner one actually has to live and operate "within Jewish community" Most Gentile followers of Yeshua did not fit that and especially Romans in Rome to whom these words are directly addressed, hence the need to explain the relationship. 2. Peter's teaching about "royal priesthood" is taken directly from the Torah text (where it applies to Israel) and in Peter's message, it is designed to build up and elevate Gentiles who struggled to see how they are connected to God's promises and blessings. I call my little girl "a princess" all the time, but she is not really royalty :) I just want her to know that is how I see her...

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