The Issue of Eating Pork

Many Muslims are appalled at the sight of Christians freely eating pork. They are repulsed by the sight of a pig just as much as the early Children of Israel were under the Mosaic Law, which continues to affect the lives of millions of Jewish people still today. The pig was clearly forbidden in the Old Testament:

And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
Leviticus 11:7-8

A similar prohibition is also found in the Qur'an:

He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of God.
Surat-ul Baqara (2):173

We understand that since the flesh of swine is strongly forbidden in Islam, Muslims regard the eating of pork as an extremely unholy act -- an abomination before God. For this reason, they consider it an outrageous contradiction for people, who claim to be followers of the holy prophet Jesus, to eat pork.

It is very important to understand the nature of the Mosaic Law and its specific purpose for the Children of Israel. The Law of the Old Testament consisted of both the moral law and the civil law. The moral law dealt with the great ethics of life. Its purpose was to set apart the chosen people of Israel from all other nations on the basis of inner holiness with regard to honor for both God and man. This great moral law was to uplift the Children of Israel to a much higher standard of holiness and to serve as a model for all people of all generations. For example, the Ten Commandments are a code of moral law that pertain to man's duties to God and fellowman. They are laws unaffected by changes in the environment, and thus themselves remain unchanged.

The civil law was different. It consisted of rules and regulations that pertained to everyday living; and these rules were influenced by both environment and customs of neighboring pagan communities. Such laws dealt with issues of cleanliness, food, health, clothing, and religious ritual. The purpose of these laws was to set apart the Children of Israel from all other nations on the basis of outer holiness. They were to remain separate and distinct, and were to be distinguished in the eyes of the rest of the world for serving the one true God, and refusing to adopt the practices and superstitions of idolatrous worship that surrounded them.

Among these civil laws was the rule that forbade the eating of pig meat. It was a common practice among neighboring pagan tribes to offer a pig as a sacred sacrifice to their idols. Furthermore, in that time and in that part of the world, the pig was a very filthy animal that fed on dead meat and garbage. As a result, eating pork caused the spread of terrible diseases that affected the whole community.

The Children of Israel were to keep themselves completely separate from such pagan influence and filth.

Let us be reminded that the Children of Israel were chosen to be a holy nation submitting itself to the one true God, the very God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were to be a constant reminder to the rest of the world that God set them apart from other nations for a very special reason. The Qur'an speaks of this also:

And commemorate our servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, possessors of power and vision. Verily We did choose them for a special (purpose) -- proclaiming the message of the hereafter.
Surat-us Sad (38):45-46

0 Children of Israel! Call to mind the (special) favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I preferred you to all others (for My Message).
Surat-ul Baqara (2):47

Why were the Children of Israel so special, and for what purpose had God chosen them? They were the chosen community through which would come the Savior of the World, Jesus the Messiah, the Holy One sent from God to ransom mankind. The Word of God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus and was born of the virgin Mary. This Holy One was to be born among the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- the Children of Israel. No wonder they were called to be holy and unique from all other nations.

Unfortunately, at the time of Jesus' ministry on earth, many among the Children of Israel had lost sight of the purpose of the civil law. They substituted the washing of hands for the washing of the heart and began placing more emphasis on the civil laws of daily rules and regulations. In fact, the religious leaders began to add many more regulations of their own and claimed these to be the true standard of holiness as opposed to the purity of the heart which was much more difficult to observe. As a result, true religion for many degenerated into dead rituals lined with arrogance and hypocrisy. On the outside, the religious leaders could be seen of men reciting their prayers, washing their hands, and eating only permitted foods. But on the inside, their hearts were diseased with hatred, greed, lust, and jealousy. Men had abused the law to boast of their own version of holiness!

Jesus saw this human corruption of the civil law and took appropriate action according to the authority God had given him. He declared all food clean for the purpose of removing such hypocrisy and returning the emphasis of true holiness to the heart. As a result, for the followers of Jesus, all food was declared lawful. Even the Qur'an quotes Jesus as saying:

(I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me, and to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you...
Surat-u Ali Imran (3):50

From the New Testament, we read about the teaching of Jesus on holiness:

"Are you so dull?" he (Jesus) asked, "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean'."
Mark 7:18-23

It should also be pointed out that since Jesus finally came into the world, there was no longer any need for the Children of Israel to remain a distinct and exclusive community. In fact, Jesus had now come to unite all cultures of the world unto God and to empower people of all races to live up to the holiness of the great moral laws of God. It is obvious that as this community grows worldwide there are no civil laws that can be common to all, because of great differences in environment and climate. Nevertheless, the great moral teaching of Jesus remains the same for everyone: it is not the abstinence of food that brings great glory to the Almighty, but rather the expression of genuine love for God and fellowman! This law can apply to anyone and to anyplace in the world!

It should also be noted that the Mosaic Law was for the Children of Israel, and since most Christians are not descendants of Israel, they are not subject to the civil laws that dealt with community practice.

There are times, however, when Christians refrain from eating pork. If they know that in their area of the world, pigs feed on dead meat and filth, then they are careful not to eat pork for health reasons. To care for the body is also pleasing to God.

It is interesting to note that the Lord uses the very command "to eat certain animals" that were considered ‘unclean’ in the Torah in order to prepare the Apostle Peter through a vision that he should preach the gospel to a gentile family. The story is told in detail in Acts 10, particularly verse 28 where Peter draws his conclusion from the event.

Acts Chapter 10:

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 of the earth and birds of the air. 
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." 

28  [Peter] said to them: "You are well aware that it is 
    against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile 
    or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not 
    call any man impure or unclean. 

Even though the main force of the event in Acts 10 is God's message that Jews who follow Jesus can no longer consider the gentiles unclean, this implies that the laws of ritual purity are no longer in force either, since they do in fact state that anyone who eats unclean food is himself unclean. Thus the food laws which separated Jews from gentiles are no longer valid.

Consequently, in Acts 15 the apostles under the guidance from the Holy Spirit released the Gentile converts from just about all of the dietary laws of Judaism; in 1 Corinthians Paul says that all foods are fine to eat as long as one is sensitive to the conscience of a "weaker brother."

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