Should a Christian Eat Pork?

In response to the question of whether Christians can eat pork, and if so, is this a sin according to the Bible? Answering these questions in a clear and concise manner is a yes or no question. Christians are free to eat whatever they want as long as they follow their faith. Whether it is pork, shrimp, seafood, meat, vegetables, or anything else you can think of. I explained in my previous post that there are no restrictions preventing us from doing what we want.

But, if you want a deeper understanding on whether or not you should eat pork, feel free to read this article.

Is There a Reason Why the Bible Forbids Eating Pork?

As a matter of fact, one of the most distinctive food practices of both Judaism and Islam is the avoidance of pork products. A prohibition has been a way for Judaism to express and challenge its identity. The book of Maccabees describes how the Maccabean revolt was in part caused by Antiochus Epiphanes’ attempt to force Jews to eat pork (2 Macc 6:18 ; 7:1 cf. 1 Macc 1:47). Similarly, Muslims avoid pork as a primary food rule (Qur’an 5:3; 6:145) and maintain their identity. Iranian law punishes bringing pork into the country with a three-month jail term. Both religions prohibit, but why? Is it true?

It is impossible to know what a ritual’s “meaning” is. There may be multiple meanings to avoidance, or none at all. In many rituals, whether religious, ethnic, or otherwise, the primary purpose is to create identity, and there may be no inherent meaning. As an example, circumcision (Gen 17; Lev 12:3) shows one’s identity as a descendant of Abraham. In Judg 14:3 and 15:18, the “uncircumcised Philistines” are distinguished from members of the Israelite community. This identity is enacted through circumcision, yet the scriptures never state why. Although we can speculate why it is significant (it is related to lineage and genealogy, male fertility, paternal power, etc.) we have multiple uncertain meanings. Circumcision separates circumcised people from non-circumcised people. The prohibition of pork also creates religious identity by separating pork eaters. By rethinking some aspects of the prohibition, we might be able to see more of its function and underlying worldview.

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Doctrines From The Past

According to the Hebrew Bible, forbidden animals were listed in the beginning. Deuteronomy, for example:

Oxen, sheep, goats, deer, and goats are among the animals you can eat

Gazelle, roebuck, wild goat, ibex, antelope, and mountain sheep.

Animals with split hoofs and cloven hooves

Animals that chew cud may be eaten. Camels, hares, and rock-badgers are unclean for you because they chew the cud but do not divide the hoof and chew the cud, but do not divide the hoof. A pig is unclean because it divides its hoof but does not chew its cud. It is forbidden to eat their meat or touch their carcasses. Lev 11:2–8, 14:5–8

Pigs and their meat are unequivocally rejected in these instructions, but the underlying reasons remain unclear. However, the text does not explain why not chewing cud is so problematic for pigs. The explanation for the practice is unclear, as in many ritual texts.

There has been much debate about the underlying rationale for the prohibition since ancient times, with varying explanations, because the text doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. Jews were forbidden to eat pork because it is the tastiest of the land animals and eating it would lead to gluttony; the prohibition teaches self-restraint and thrift. Further, he thought, animals ruminating on their cud are permitted because vegetarians are nonviolent “gentle mannered” souls, and their literal ruminating on their cud mimics good students’ intellectual ruminating (On the Special Laws 4:100-107).

Middle Age and Recent Doctrines

In the Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides argued that the Torah prohibits swine as food because both their habits and their food are filthy and loathesome; eating swine would leave houses and streets cleaner than any cesspool (Guide for the Perplexed 3:48). As he points out, Talmudic text states, “Swine dung is dirty as a swine’s mouth.” (b. Ber. 25a). The prohibition is often explained by disapproving of pigs’ food and habits. Cows, sheep, and goats are the main domesticated animals raised for food, in both ancient Israel and today. Swine have different food habits. Not only do pigs not chew cud or graze on grass, but they also eat waste of many kinds, like animal and human dung and slop, leftover garbage, and meat, including their own flesh. Furthermore, Maimonides was referring to swine’s other objectionable behavior of wallowing in urine and excrement without mud to cover their skin.

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Marvin Harris, who argued that the land does not accommodate pigs well in the ancient Near East, argued that pigs were shunned by ancient Israelites and others because of their problematic nature. Pigs not only require abundant water, which is hard to find in the Middle East, but also do best in densely forested areas, where they can forage for acorns. Pigs were also difficult to raise in the Middle East because forests were scarce. They are prohibited due to such practical difficulties, he thought. In spite of this, archaeological and written evidence shows that swine could have been raised in the Middle East, as the Philistines did, and their abhorrence cannot be explained by difficulties raised. It appears to be culturally based.

Undercooked meat can cause trichinosis, a parasitic infection caused by eating pork. In contrast to shellfish, which is forbidden and can cause deadly allergic reactions, pork has no evidence that it causes trichinosis more than other meats.

In what way does pork differ from other land animals? It seems that the prohibition goes beyond practicality. Aside from being unclean, eating pork is disgusting and horrific according to the Hebrew Bible. In Isaiah 65:4 and 66:3, it is associated with death, idolatry, and sin. Whatever the problem, it seems to violate important cultural principles. Other contributing factors may be deeply entrenched in society, and indeed related to the very construction of the system itself. This may be related in part to what pigs eat.

The main difference between pigs and ‘clean’ land animals is not how they eat, but how they reproduce. Though that may seem strange, many cultures have pronounced restrictions on reproduction and sexuality. Sex and birth, for example, are important sources of ritual impurity in the Hebrew Bible. In Deuteronomy, the clean land animals give birth singly or to twins, unlike pigs. In contrast to cows, sheep, goats, and deer, pigs give birth in litters. Nowadays, the average pig gives birth to 12 piglets; the record is 37! Consequently, pigs’ birth does not resemble the birth of clean animals or Israelites (or anyone else for that matter). In reproductive terms, pigs are incongruous with the Israelite community, but uniparous animals are considered members and observe the Sabbath (Ex 20:10; Deut 5:14).

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Conlusion

God made the world vegan. Only after the Flood – when God washed away the sinful world – did He permit eating animals (Genesis 1:31). Can we eat animals with God’s blessing? Gellman writes that Genesis 9:3-6 illustrates the biblical belief that eating meat is a concession to human weakness, not a virtue.

When Jesus declared all foods “clean” (Mark 7:18-19), he swept away these rules: “There is nothing outside the man that can defile him if it enters him; but the things that go out of him defile him.”

Hence, people’s food choices became their own, and based solely on conscience.

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