Ham on platter

Answer by Diane Eager

The short answer to this question is yes, Christians may eat pork. 

To some people this seems like a contradiction to God’s instructions in the Old Testament, but to understand it we need to look at the total history of God’s instructions about what to eat.

In the beginning God told Adam and Eve to eat plants (Genesis 1:29).  This dietary instruction was not changed by the Lord after they sinned by eating the forbidden fruit.  God’s judgement specified Adam having to work hard to make bread – a grain-based food (Genesis 3:19).  Even though the ground was cursed, the climate and environment were still good enough with a mild, moist climate and lush vegetation, there would have been plenty of nutritious plant food for both humans and animals.  There is no case recorded in scripture of any person having eaten animals in the generations down to Noah.  

However, new dietary instructions were given to Noah and his family after they off the Ark into a very different post-flood world where Gods first prediction was the climate would change implying the environment would degenerate to many extremes. (Genesis 8:22)  Plant foods would not be so freely available in some places, such as deserts or sub-arctic regions.  Therefore, God gave the instruction: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” (Genesis 9:3) 

Notice God did not tell Noah to abstain from pork, crabs or any animal.  Whatever could be caught and killed was fair game.  But God did ban one aspect of eating animals.  After giving Noah and his descendants permission to eat meat the Creator stated: “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”  (Genesis 9:4)  In practical terms, this means the blood must be drained out of a freshly killed animal before it could be eaten. 

The Noahic food rules prevailed until the time Moses led the Israelites from Egypt, when God gave what is commonly called the Law of Moses, which is really the Law of God given through Moses at Mt Sinai.  These laws set out in detail what God’s people could and couldn’t eat, in terms of being “clean” and “unclean”.  Pigs are specifically mentioned as being unclean, and God commanded “You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.”  (Leviticus 11:7, Deuteronomy 14:8)  From then on pork was off the menu for Israelites.  God also re-affirmed the instruction about not eating blood, including that blood is to be poured out and covered with earth.  (Leviticus 7:26-27)  This rule was also to be obeyed by non-Israelites who were temporarily living in Israel.  (Leviticus 17:10-15)

These food laws are often referred to as Jewish food laws, because the descendants of Judah became dominant, so the whole nation became known as Jews.

The Law of Moses separated the people of the God from the rest of humanity, and from this time on people groups were divided into Jews or Gentiles.  Any non-Jew who wanted to become fully integrated into the Jewish faith had to abide by the Law of Moses, including the food rules. 

These food laws prevailed for the Jews until the death and resurrection of the Jewish Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  After his resurrection Jesus commanded his disciples to take the good news of forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ to all the world – first to the Jews, and also to pork-eating Gentiles.  But if Gentiles could be saved from their sins by faith in Christ without having to become Jews, did they have to abide by the food laws which had previously stopped Jews mixing with Gentiles?  God clearly answered this beginning with the Apostle Peter.

In Acts 10 we read that Peter was sent by the Lord to minister to a God-fearing Gentile named Cornelius.  God specially prepared Peter by giving him a vision in which Peter was shown a number of animals and told to kill them and eat.  The animals included creatures banned under the Law of Moses as Peter (a Jew) responds by saying “No”, and claiming he had never eaten anything unclean.  God gently instructed Peter that He had now declared previously unclean creatures to be clean. (Acts 10:9-16), which authorised Peter to answer the call from Cornelius, stay in a Gentile household, sharing Gentile meals.  God had removed any rule that would hinder the disciples taking the good news of salvation in Christ to all people, and enabled the growing church to become one integrated community.

As the disciples took the good news to all people, more and more Gentiles became followers of Christ, the issue of how much of the Law of Moses applied to Gentiles needed to be clearly set out.  After prayerfully seeking God’s guidance, the Apostles instructed the Gentiles with the following two dietary rules: they were to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, and from eating blood.  (Acts 15:28-29)  This meant that followers of Christ could eat any meat provided it was not part of pagan worship, and its blood had been drained out.  These instructions have not been changed since the time of the Apostles, and still apply to Christians of all ethnic origins. 

Why these two stipulations?  The idol regulation goes back to creation.  As God is the Creator of all people, it has always been forbidden (and foolish) for anyone to worship any other god.  The rule about blood is in the instructions originally given to Noah, and since we are all descended from Noah’s family this rule applies to all humanity, Jew and Gentile. 

Now back to the original question.  God did not tell Noah that pigs were unclean, so Christians may eat pork, including pork products such as ham, bacon and sausages, if they have a taste for them.  The only modification is that the meat must be prepared by having the blood drained out.  Meat killed in a modern-day abattoir in any western country is prepared this way, and yes, this is based widespread acceptance of Old Testament laws. Therefore, it is quite safe for anyone to eat pork provided it is raised, killed, cooked and preserved in hygienic conditions.

For further information on human diets see the questions:

BLACK PUDDING? What should a Christian attitude be toward eating blood products?  Answer here.

BLOOD: Are the instructions about eating blood a matter of conscience, as Paul refers to in I Corinthians? Answer here.

VEGETARIAN? If Adam ate plants and God called it good, should we only eat plants to please God and stay healthy?  Answer here.

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