It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and after walking out of the morning church service feeling spiritually rejuvenated, you can think of nothing better than having your husband throw a few Italian pork sausages on the grill and watching the football game as a family. As you begin to make the suggestion to him, you recalled the pastor talking about how in the Old Testament, God forbid Israel from eating unclean foods. Just before you propose stopping at the market on the way home, you begin to wonder, can Christians eat pork?
Upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God established a new covenant to be made with mankind, including redefining the old criteria that made a person unclean, such as eating pork. So, yes, Christians are allowed to eat pork, but there is more to this story. In this article, we will examine the Old Testament views about pork and why it’s okay to eat it now under the new covenant.
Being clean and unclean in the Old Testament Bible
During the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, God established laws for Israel to abide by to keep His chosen people holy in his sight. In the Old Testament Bible, the concept of cleanliness, or “being clean,” was not about a person’s physical appearance or hygiene, but rather the practice of abstaining from all types of detestable activities that failed to distinguish Israel from other nations. Eating pork was just one of the rules that was a big No-No under the Hebrew law.
However, sadly, over the centuries, the Israelites found themselves in constant violation of just about every law on the books. This widespread disobedience ultimately invoked the wrath of God, causing calamities on the Jews such as plagues, famines, and being enslaved by neighboring kingdoms. While today some may think that the act of eating pork would seem to be a minor offense, in the Book of Isaiah 65:2-4, God compared this to other serious crimes such as idolatry and offering sacrifices to other Gods:
“All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of impure meat”
God’s original plan for Israel was to set it apart from other nations by establishing a culture based on purity and spiritual cleanliness. But, due to Israel‘s constant rebellion, eventually, a new covenant would be established upon the coming of Jesus Christ.
Eating pork in the Old Testament Bible
One of the many ways Israel was mandated to remain holy in God’s sight was to follow dietary guidelines that governed what types of food they could eat and how to purify themselves if they came into direct contact with unclean foods. Pigs were one of the kinds of foods forbidden by God in the Old Testament Bible because it did not fall into the category of animals that chew the cud and have a split hoof. In Leviticus Chapter 11:4-8, God details to Moses types of unclean animals that should not be eaten.
4 “There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. 5 The hyrax, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. 6 The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. 7 And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. 8 You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
As we can see, pigs are one of the specific examples God uses because even though they have a split hoof, they do not chew the cud, which according to the law makes them unclean. So if you were a Jew living in the times before the arrival of Jesus, you would not have been legally permitted to eat pork under Hebrew law. To see a complete list, the full list of clean and unclean animals in the Bible, click here.
Eating pork in the New Testament Bible
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ established a new covenant with the Jewish people and all nations who accepted Him as their Lord and Savior. To this day, if you are a Christian, you are no longer defined as being clean or unclean solely based on the things you eat, such as pork. In fact, during Jesus’s ministry, He addressed the subject many times because He knew that many Jews believed that they were righteous because they prided themselves on not breaking the Old Testament laws. As told in Mark 7:14-23, one of Jesus’s primary objectives for coming to earth was to denounce the idea that keeping a set of rules alone was enough to make a person holy.
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. 17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
As we can see, Jesus establishes that it is not what someone eats that can make them unclean, but instead what’s in a person’s heart and mind that can make them detestable in the sight of God. Thus, Jesus declared that pork and all other foods were ceremonially clean, without stipulation.
Should Christians eat pork?
While we know that God no longer mandates that we abstain from pork, the question that many people have today is, “should Christians eat pork?” Regardless if they have the biblical right to do so? The answer to this question is that it depends on what you feel is right in your heart. However, the best biblically-based answer comes from the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:1-3:
“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.”
The Apostle Paul clarifies that the decision to eat pork is a personal preference and based mainly on whether or not you fully trust that God will not be upset with you for eating pork.
The Christian culture shift on pork
As we can imagine, the change from keeping Old Testament laws to the new covenant established by Jesus would have been a significant cultural shift for many during that time. So much so that even some of Jesus’ apostles had some initial reservation about eating pork and other unclean animals. In Acts 10:9-16, the Apostle Peter, who was one of Jesus’s closest disciples, when presented with the opportunity to eat foods that were previously forbidden under Hebrew law, immediately pushed back against committing such an act.
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Can Christians Eat Pork?
From the days Jesus walked the earth to modern-day life as we know it today, people have questioned and analyzed whether eating pork is an abomination according to the Bible. As we have learned, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating pork if you are a Christian. However, you also should not eat it if you feel uncomfortable or unsure about the decision. The main point that Jesus wants you to know is that no food you put in your body can make you unclean; only an evil heart can do that.