1 Timothy 4:1-5
In order to understand what the apostle Paul is discussing in these verses, it is important to read the context of this letter to his friend Timothy. Paul was writing this letter to combat some serious errors that were creeping into the early church.
Referring back to the last verse of the previous chapter, we see that Paul is making a statement about the nature of Christ. He declares that Jesus is “God manifest in the flesh”. This understanding was much disputed at the time of Paul by a group of people known as Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that all matter was evil, and especially the human body was corrupt. This belief led them to teach that Jesus could not have taken human nature, else He would also have been corrupt. Paul is endeavoring to show that the basis of righteousness by faith, is the correct understanding of the nature of Christ. We are saved by grace through faith in His merits (Ephesians 2:8). From the context of this letter it becomes apparent that Paul is not discussing food, clean or unclean, or the eating of a diet which includes or excludes meat. It is his purpose to establish Christ as God in the flesh, and our faith response to that revelation.
Paul is here trying to correct the Gnostics’ concept of the nature of Christ. He is also trying to establish a firm foundation that we are saved only by grace through faith. We find this theme repeated over and over throughout the Bible, even in the Old Testament, as we read in that great chapter on faith, the eleventh of Hebrews. Here we read a long list of folks who were saved by faith alone, and they are all in the Old Testament (the only Bible Paul had, by the way). Paul continues in chapter four of the first book of Timothy, explaining that there would be in the latter times, just as there were already, some who would depart from faith as the sole means of salvation. They would attempt to save themselves by their works (“forbidding to marry” and fasting) in order to gain acceptance and favor with God.
It is interesting to note, that there is no place in the original Greek language of the Bible, where the word “meat” actually means “flesh food”. There are six Greek words used in the King James Version of the New Testament, that have been translated meat.
Again, there is no place in the New Testament where the English translation “meat” means literally the flesh of animals. The common diet eaten in Bible times was bread, grains, dried or fresh fruits, and some vegetables. It was an unusual and special occasion that would include the use of flesh in the diet, such as in the story of the prodigal son, where the calf that had been kept in the house to fatten was killed (Luke 15:23). Where the flesh of animals was specifically intended, the word “flesh” appears, as in Numbers 11:4. There is no single word in the New Testament that specifically means “flesh food.”
Understanding that the word “meat” (when used in the Bible) does not necessarily mean “flesh of animals,” we need now to look at the Bible to see what kind of diet God intended man to eat. In the beginning, God gave all creation “the 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.” (Genesis 1:29).
God is our Creator and as such, He has the Divine right to give us instruction as to what we should eat. He specified the “fuel” on which His creation would be able to operate at its prime. He knows the needs of our physical system and what it takes to make it function optimally, like a car manufacturer specifying to the new owner which type of gasoline to burn in the car. For instance, many cars have been designed to operate on fuel which contains no alcohol. The car will run on gasohol, but not as well and the life expectancy of the engine will be greatly diminished. We too, were designed and created to operate at peak efficiency on “fuel” other than the flesh of animals.
The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report (1988) states, Americans should “increase consumption of whole grain foods and cereal products, vegetables (including dried beans and peas), and fruits.” This same report also notes that “diet related diseases account for 68 percent of all deaths in this country.”
On April 24, 1991, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed replacing the Four Food Groups wheel, the visual eating guide for Americans since 1956, with an Eating Right pyramid. This pyramid gives more importance to foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables by featuring them at the base of the pyramid. Less importance was given to milk and meat products, featured at the pyramid’s top. The change reflected health concerns about the amount of saturated fats in the American diet. The food groups didn’t change from the 1956 version, but the new configuration visually stresses the importance of making fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains the basis of a healthy diet.
Many more facts could here be given as to the unhealthiness of a meat diet, but that is not our purpose. It is very interesting to note though, that God was right after all. Isn’t it amazing that science has begun to reinforce the instructions on our diet that God gave to us nearly six thousand years ago in the Garden of Eden?
But perhaps that has not really answered your questions, not from the Bible anyway. Why do we, as Seventh-day Adventists, promote a simple diet, free of meat, and the abstinence from such items as alcoholic beverages, caffeine, tobacco, and other substances that the scientific world is now becoming aware are injurious to our health? Let’s go back to the Bible.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God added the “herb of the field” (vegetables) to their diet. (Genesis 3:17-19). Sin brought a drastic change to the earth and as a consequence, the foods that Adam and Eve had to eat were no longer as nutritious as they once were. They no longer had access to the perfect foods in the Garden of Eden. Then came the flood and we have the first recorded instance where man is allowed to eat the flesh of animals. It was not the original will of the Creator that His creatures should consume one another. However, following the flood, God gave man permission to eat the flesh of animals.
In Genesis 9:2-4, we have God’s instruction concerning what Noah and his family were to eat after the flood. God told Noah that he could eat animals, but not the blood in the animals. God does not change (Malachi 3:6), but does meet us where we are, offering us solutions to the predicaments that we get ourselves into. After the introduction of flesh into the diet, a dramatic reduction in the life span of man is seen. The lifespan of man, pre-flood, was commonly more than 900 years. Noah lived to be 950 years old, his sons lived only about 400 years. Abraham lived 175 years, Joseph 110, Moses 120, and by the time of David, the common life span was only “three-score and ten.”
It was never in God’s plan for us to eat flesh. The consumption of flesh for food came about as a result of sin (the flood). But there is a more important aspect regarding the consumption of flesh for food.
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). “… and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23). “And let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8). God wanted to be with us, but we didn’t want Him. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; and he was despised and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3). God still wants to be with us, He has not given up on us, He has not left us, and He never will (Hebrews 13:5).
Daniel 8:14 tells us that the sanctuary will be cleansed at the end of time—that’s today. This particular passage is speaking specifically of the heavenly sanctuary, made without hands (Hebrews 9:11); however, it is an indication of the time in which we live, a cleansing time, typified by the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement the people fasted and “afflicted” their souls (Leviticus 16:29, 30). This was not mere ritualistic ceremonialism, but was an identification with the high priest and his ministry in the Most Holy Place of the Sanctuary. The people knew that he was working in their behalf for the “blotting out” of sin, to cleanse them from all their sins. Prior to this special day, the people had put all sin aside, asked forgiveness for all their transgressions against their neighbors, and offered the appropriate sacrifices. Their greatest desire was to be free from the burden of sin.
Fasting was not a penance, but a purifying process. They set aside the strong desires of the carnal nature, the cravings of the body. By so doing, their minds were opened to the impressions of the Holy Spirit, and the will of God. Examples of this type of “fasting” can be found in the simple lifestyle of the Nazarites (Judges 13:7), and individuals like Daniel (ch. 10:3), and John the Baptist (Matthew 3:4, “locusts” means the carob bean, similar to the local locust trees).
Christ came to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), not in them. When we begin to appreciate the cost of salvation, we will identify ourselves with our High Priest (Hebrews 8:1). Then like the Israelites of old, afflicting our souls, we will allow Him to purge us of all our sins. This is a purifying process fitting us for life in heaven where there will be no more death, sorrow or crying (Revelation 21:4), not even the death of animals for food.
It is obvious that we cannot live without eating any food, but the example of a “fast” which can be adopted, is shown in the above reference given in the book of Daniel (10:3). “I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth …” Daniel abstained from those things which gratify the carnal nature: cake, the flesh of animals, and any beverage which might contain even the least amount of alcohol. This was not done as penance, but because Daniel “understood” (vs.1) and was in mourning for the things he saw (see also Joel 1:14, 15; 2:12, 13).
When we begin to understand that it is we who are responsible for the death of Christ, we too will be in mourning and will “fast,” having a true heartbroken contrition for the sins that “crucify the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:6). We will begin to put aside those things that God has shown us are not good for us to eat. There are many who will not see death at the second coming of our Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17). These people will have been willing to have their sins removed and will be able to stand before a Holy God at His second coming. They will be ready to live in the earth made new where “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain” and where “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock” (Isaiah 65:25).
There will be no flesh eating in the new earth, no animal will die to provide food for another creature. Learning to live without flesh foods while on this earth is simply part of that preparatory, cleansing process that fits us to live happily in the new earth. Those cravings will have been done away, just as our sins are done away. We will have a new and enduring love for the Creator and His creation.
As you can see, following the guidelines of the Creator is by no means a method to gain merit. There is no salvation outside the merits of Jesus Christ. From the example set forth in Scripture, that desire to identify ourselves with our Savior in His work in the heavenly sanctuary will infuse us with a willingness to set aside the things that bind us to this earth, separating us from Him. If we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. Our will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, sin will become hateful to us. This attitude will fit us for an eternity of service to our Lord.
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