Apostle Paul wrote that he set up the following rule in all the congregations he established:

Was any man called circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised.” (1 Cor. 7:17-19)

Paul demonstrated this principle by not compelling Titus (a Greek) to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3).  However, he supported circumcision of Timothy because he was Jewish (the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father). Paul did so in anticipation that his rule regarding circumcision would be rightly challenged by the local Jewish community, since his co-worker Timothy was, in fact, Jewish, but was not circumcised (Acts 16:3).

Sometime later Paul wrote to Timothy:

…some will fall away from the faith… forbidding marriage, abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 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. 4:1-4)

The traditional interpretation is that Paul was instructing Timothy to oppose the Torah’s division of things into “clean” and “unclean.” It assumes that Torah’s unclean foods were meant in the above text. However, such a reading is problematic for the two following reasons:

First, such an interpretation ignores the fact that “the entire creation is good because God declared it so”  is a universally upheld Jewish idea (Gen.1:25). Second, just because God’s creation is good, it does not follow that all of it can be used for food by Israelites (Lev. 11:13). In fact, Paul specifically states that anything can be eaten only if two specific conditions are met: God has sanctified it by His Word, and the worshiper has sanctified it by his/her prayer (1 Tim. 4:4).

Paul instructed Timothy to remember, especially after his circumcision, that he must honor the God of Israel in every detail of his life as a Christ-following Jew, including the way he ate.

Did Paul tell Jewish Timothy to eat unclean? No, in fact, he told him the exact opposite!

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47 COMMENTS

  1. I’m assuming that this passage was also relative to the cultural context at that time, in that there were vegetarians who were condemning meats. I may be wrong but I’ve heard that this was one of the reasons for this passage. Also, “the circumcision” was not refeeeing to only circimcision but to the entire man-made ways and actions. Adonai’s ways and instructions are never legalistic, but rather man’s ways. Whatever Adonai teaches in His Word is always out of love and for the benefit of His creation….even if we don’t understand it.

  2. Another important comment. I lived in Korea for almost 15 years. I learned that many Korean Christian men get circumcised as adults. Now, this many be due to good intentions but I also know that there are quite a few Korean Christians who adhere to supersessionism, and I met some of those. I even saw young Koreans in my hometown wearing clothes with Bible verses that pertain to Israel and Jews. I’m inclined to believe that circumcision among many or most of these Koreans is being done out of legalism, not out of love.

  3. I enjoy reading what I can from these emails . I love learning all I can through these . . I am on a small fixed income and can’t afford the courses but am thankful for these emails so I can learn what little I can . God bless you for teaching his word .

  4. Is it correct for me to say that the unclean creatures God created to clean up the environment, were never considered “food”. I noticed that this article refer it as unclean foods.” It assumes that Torah’s unclean foods were meant in the above text.”Please clarify. Thank you.

    • Your question is interesting but a bit tricky. You’re correct that creatures declared “unclean” in the Torah were never intended to be considered as food for the Israelites. However the suggestion that God created these creatures to clean up the environment is just a tad anachronistic.

  5. Apostle, Paul is teaching that circumcised was used in order to stop the animal elements nature that curse mankind from the Fall of the Garden of Eden. Professor, all my life I held on to my Holy Book, however, Christians are going to church like they are having a tea party because the higher teaching was not to the lay people of their congregation. I owe $50,000 for a Christian education and never learn the higher teaching. Amen. Amen, Amen, and Amen

  6. Once again you cause this reader to pause and consider the scriptures with both a time and culture consciousness. I always wondered about the tradition of a Jewish mother being the prerequisite for being a Jew. It appears from your writing the tradition predates the Apostle Paul’s teachings. Regarding circumcision and clean food, if the Jewish mother prerequisite is indeed the motivation for Paul’s instruction to Timothy, then it surprises me that Timothy’s mother didn’t require both from him since his birth, so perhaps Paul’s demand was more of a personal C.Y.A. than an up keeping with tradition?

  7. So, if the unclean animals are not cleaning up the environment what are they doing? Are they just here for no purpose? I see that catfish, vultures, pigs and other animals clean up and they are considered unclean.

  8. Is it not true that the purpose of the circumcision BEFORE Christ coming to the earth, in flesh, was to “set apart” the Hebrew from the rest of the world. They were, and still are, Gods’ chosen people. And the act of circumcision was to celebrate that. Yet, when Christ did come to earth, in flesh, and died on the cross, circumcision is no longer required. Christ now intercedes the Christian believer to the Father through the shedding of his blood. Circumcision is no longer a requirement to ‘set us free and separate us’ from the worldly flesh.

    • There are many Jews around the world that for one reason or another (a lot of times in case of mixed marriages) do not get circumcised on time or ever.

  9. It is so interesting in reading many comments that have added more information for me. I am in West Papua, Indonesia and your e-mail has been a big blessing to me and my ministry. In my place in West Papua, some groups of people who are working in preventing HIV-AIDS now are doing ciscumcission movements. The purpose is to prevent people from HIV-AIDS and the purpose is more in medical reasons. Before West Papuan did not know what circumcission is all about because we know that circumcission is only done to Moslems, not us. What do you think?

  10. I wondered how the “Spirit” could say some will depart from the faith and I think the insight is in us. Our consciences were tested by the law that requires faith (Romans 3:27). We see both our sin and God’s goodness (Christ revealed). Those that depart from the faith are tested by the laws or lawlessness of the false shepherds, not God’s goodness. We are lead to repentance (Romans 2:4), they are devoted to laws but not lead by God’s goodness.

  11. Swine, which are unclean, are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat anything. They are also animals that will root up and eat corpses, including human corpses; this is probably mainly why they are unclean. Swine are monogastric (one stomach) meaning they are closer to humans biologically, to the point where certain internal organs of pigs have sometimes been used for transplants into human. Pigs will also attack and eat living humans, like other predators– canids and felines for example. I think that for Christians to follow Levitical dictates of clean and unclean, while not obligatory, just makes good sense and is healthier.

  12. As for circumcision, during a study I did for the Dept of State on HIV infection, statistics make it clear that HIV in Africa is far less prevalent in muslim areas where circumcision is routinely practiced. There are strong health reasons for circumcising male infants, whether Jewish or not, as there is little doubt circumcision reduces the chance of a male getting and spreading any STD. Parents should carefully research and consider these cogent reasons, despite the current fad of labeling circumcision “genital mutilation,” which is a far different issue altogether and applies only to females.

    • Johanna, the story is different in my country. HIV prevalence is high in the Moslem dominant region in spite of practicing circumcision for over 100 years. It is a tricky situation which contradicts with the claims of the benefits of circumcision. The male circumcision campaign is also viewed as a means for self enrichment through public awareness. HIV prevalence is least among conservative non Moslem communities

  13. For my understanding which is taught in my church is whatever food which is prayed to idols are consider unclean food and we Christian should not eat them.

  14. Paul is not telling Timothy to oppose Torah but Paul is telling him there is no unclean distinction any longer. 1 Timothy 4:4 is not giving requirements to be met: “…nothing that is received with thanksgiving should be rejected, ..it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” God has already sanctified it through His Word: thru His Word given to Paul, as written in Romans 14 as one example, to Peter “arise and eat”, and through his Spirit which guides our conscience. We pray over our food from our relational position to God and thanksgiving, not requirement.

    • Judy, shalom, my dear. Have you read the article? If so, can you please reread to engage with it deeper and give us better feedback. Blessings, Dr. Eli

  15. All understanding comes from the beginning. So to understand food you must start with the Book of Genisis… Not the middle. From the middle/ interrupted subject matter other types of beliefs and other religions got their start. Filler thoughts were added. Over time, these were established to be fact. Thus came World Religions. As we all know, Torah came later after Noah. God always wants the best for us. The Law is to stay on the safer side. Food from the beginning was vegetarian because we were created with that digestive system. The added law only stipulated safer/clean meats.

    • Harold Gunderman, I would challenge you to ask and answer for yourself this question. If torah is God’s instruction for living and lays out what is right and wrong behavior, and if God destroyed the entire world (except for 8 people) over their wrong behavior, how is it that “Torah came later after Noah” ?

      That conclusion does not seem logical to me.

  16. Scripture must always interpret scripture. These are the requirements for Gentile Believers when the issue of Circumcision and Dietary Requirements were discussed by the church Apostles & Elders. Acts 15 v 23 With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings… 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from (1)food sacrificed to idols, (2)from blood, (3)from the meat of strangled animals and (4)from sexual immorality.

  17. Hi Dr. Eli ! Speaking of “circumcision”, because the Greeks and other non-Jews were not forced to circumcise , I have always heard the focus placed on the circumcision of the heart where the Gentile Christians are concerned. What do you think? I am going to be 82 years old in August, and only on a small pension. So, even though this “INTRO” sounds enticing like something I would like to do, I cannot afford it. However, I will use this opportunity to ask you if you could resend for me, the “certificates” for the courses I had already taken.

  18. Hi Dr Eli… I am South African as you might notice from my address. I do enjoy much of your articles with insight into depth of scripture. I love the Word and His word. However, what I find is that you labour intensively to emphasise the Jewish content of the entire Scriptures; so much emphasis on Jews, Hebrew, and terms such as “Jewish Christ”, “Jewish Apostle Paul” and “Christ Followers”. I am definitely of the Christian camp that completely loves the Jews, Jerusalem, and Israel. I also do not believe in the doctrine of “Replacement Theology”! The latter would, of

  19. The dietary laws apply to every Believer, and to every non-Believer for that matter. Just as murder is sin for a Believer and for a non-Believer, eating unclean meats is a sin for both (and yes, today). God’s laws are not a Jewish-thing, but a God’s-people thing, and if so chosen to obey, an opportunity for blessing even among non-Believers as well. This is what it means when the Bible tells us that ‘God is not partial.’ Author of GOD’S WEIGH TO YOUR IDEAL BODY WEIGHT and PREDESTINED – ELECTED – CHOSEN: WHAT DO THESE BIBLICAL TERMS REALLY MEAN?

  20. So, I’m still not sure. For a Gentile believer in Christ, do the dietary restrictions of for example not eating pork apply to us today, as from Paul’s criteria not eating pork would meet the first criteria of lining up with the Word of God in the Old Testament. Thanks

  21. I cannot under stand why all worry about circumcition the bible tells us to repent and be born again be baphtised as to be the simble of dying in the grave of Jesus and allso standing up through God who has resurec Jesus the simble of being in the similar position Jesus was. This means we have to stand-up in Jesus for nobody gets to Jesus without God calling him and no one gets to God but through Jesus. Your are circumcition now takes place through the heart of your mind and you become a JEW. Go and read your bible if you belief and lisen to the awnsering of Your soul that was given to you by GOD. I still want to know of the firts light that was created in Gen.1:3. If you can awnser that you are on the right track.

    • Well… what can I say :-). It is always good to read more Bible. This is the one thing that can not hurt. The problem is that you seem to overestimate your grasp of what you have read up until this point in this incredible Jewish Book. But I am probably guilt of the same. It is human to be mistaken :-).

  22. I’m going to be honest, I don’t know what to think anymore. I left the Hebrew Roots b/c they were soooo legalistic and this was a verse they nail in the ground over and over and over to show how much “better” they are than Christians in keeping the food laws.
    Yet my understanding is that yes, Noah knew which foods were clean and unclean, but how do we know this had anything to do with food or just a division of animals? And when Noah was allowed to eat all things “remes” is translates as “reptiles” in the Septuagint and even reptiles are on the “unclean” list. But in Leviticus 15:31 at the end of the purity laws, it seems that the reason for the purity laws, including food, was to keep the tabernacle among them undefiled. Including women who have recently given birth, or are on their “monthly”, people with recent discharge, leprosy etc. Jesus also says that nothing a man eats makes him unclean. Is this because Jesus knew that the food laws had to do with keeping the tabernacle clean, but were not about man actually being defiled? Is it possible that before Israel, any food could be eaten by Noah, but that God used the “clean and unclean” list to remind them of the Noah account since their hearts were not in a good place as they did complain over and over to Moses that God was not providing for them? It seems like all throughout the laws there are little reminders to them of things past built in to draw their mind to the fact that he is the creator and the one who controls the universe.

  23. Thank you so much Dr Eli for deeper explanation about the we have read above. I am transformed and moving from glory to glory. Some of verses in Bible we don’t understand them because of English is limited and some of translators are hiding some truth the children of God should know. Thank you once again. The way I understood that passage before I read your teaching, it I didn’t make any clue. I also wanted to join the courses but I was retrenched at my work place to afford the courses. This is a mind blowing to be on your website. Thank you again and God bless you mightily.

    • Sarah, thank you so much for your kind note. We work so hard to be able to allow you to feast at the Lord’s Temple! Do join our learning community as soon as your situation improves!

  24. Shalom Dr. Eli I would think that people would do some more investgations on about eating meat. I was told by a Rabbi that the reason we should not eat pork is because they do not have sweat glands every thing they eat stays in the body. Once I was working in a kitchen and a lady there had pigs so she took the garbage that was food that was thrown away. Now mind you that this was a nursing home, they would put med. in the food for the patience there. So would that be what would happen to pig that they eat that too, with the medicine in to. Then eat that pork. I don’t think that would be good at all. I also wanted to say. In Gensis God made heave and earth, and every thing in it. So that would mean all the veg. plants and all animals. There are some plants that we can not eat because they pinsionus (sp)to us. So would that not be true about animals? Animals that eat meat like lions and wolves and other meat eaters. And what about the birds There are meat eating birds too are we supose to eat them? It says about egales, falcons, Mocking birds, or camp robbers, Ravens are meat eaters too. So are suppose to eat them too? I think Paul was trying to tell Timothy that about the gentiles not about eating meat. If that was so then why do we not eat the meat eaters too? I would rather eat what the Lord tells us to eat not what man says is ok to eat. Just something for people to think about.

  25. ” If a male anatomy is not circumsized, is does that person go to hell, this really puts a number on me, as my Dr. didn’t want to approve because of me weak heart . ” ” Is there anyone that can help my anxiety issue about this information I give you, and thank you so kindly for helping me at arms length . ” “BLESS YOUR HEART ‘

  26. I truly love these studies and debates. I see our wonderful Bible as Jewish, is for us (gentiles) but
    Not necessarily about us. I have, along with my husband believed in right division for many years.
    I love Israel and the people. The dietary laws I have found beneficial but am not bound by them.
    Paul gave us gentiles some simple rules to follow and they were mentioned by Kelvin I agree with them. but I disagree With Mr Lowery.

  27. My understanding from personal study and from discussions with Jewish friends is that the matrilineal nature of Judaism is a “modern” change and that during Bible times it was always patrilineal. If that understanding is correct, then it seems that Timothy would have been considered and treated by the general Jewish community as a Gentile.

    Dr. Eli, you obviously see this differently. Could you explain further?

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