The Paleo Diet
There is a fascination today with diets of various types such as Atkins, Weight Watchers, South Beach, etc. This craze is related to our affluent, sedentary lifestyle and general obesity. Paleo (ancient) diets were developed to mimic what the proponents presume was the diet of “early man” including lean meats and fish and with the bulk of the diet consisting of natural fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries, etc. Although the details of these modern diets are unimportant for the purposes of this study, I would like to consider the details of God’s commanded diets and the importance of the diets for us.
God defines the first diet soon after the creation of man. In Gen 1:29-31; And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good….”. I find it remarkable that God placed such importance on diet that He included it as part of the final actions of His creative process. I’ve also been intrigued by the fact that the diets of man and beast (animals that breathe) both appear to be vegetarian.
This leaves us with an interesting question: Why is man’s diet mentioned at all? Any question regarding God’s motives is always difficult to answer and we can only infer the answer unless God tells us specifically. God did not reveal the reasons for defining the diet but there are some implications for this newly created world. It means that the world will be peaceful, with little or no violence since neither man nor beast needs to kill animals for food.
This image of a peaceful, idyllic world is used not only for the Garden of Eden, but also to describe God’s kingdom in Isa 11:6-9 and again in chapter 65:17-25. Isaiah writes in Isa 65:25, “ ‘The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD”. Hold that comparison in mind because we will come back to it later in our discussion.
The command to eat plants also demonstrated the importance God placed on life. There are two instances where animals were killed in the first 4 chapters of Genesis. The first occurred after Adam and Eve lost their innocence due to sin. Consider that the one further limitation God had placed on this first diet was that they could not eat fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We read in Gen 2:16-17, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”. Adam and Eve defied God by eating the forbidden fruit. Nevertheless, God covered their shameful nakedness with clothing fashioned from animal skins (Gen 3:21), requiring at least one animal to be sacrificed.
In the second instance, in Gen 4: 3-4 when Abel brought his offering before the Lord from the “firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions”. Abel had to sacrifice animals to do this. Abel was not condemned for killing the animals since God accepted his offering. In both cases the death of the animals was a consequence of sin. As noted above, God covered the shame of Adam and Eve with the skin of an animal. In the second instance Abel offered animal sacrifice in worship to God since Adam and Eve had been driven from the Garden of Eden by God as a consequence of their sin. Sin resulted in mankind being barred from entering Eden. Thus Abel, who was born outside the Garden and out of the direct presence of God, needed to offer animal sacrifices in order to offer acceptable worship to God.
Vegetarianism was man’s diet until God directed a major dietary change during Noah’s lifetime. The peaceful idyllic creation that God had made and declared “very good” in Gen 1:31 had become corrupt and filled with violence. In Genesis 6:11-12 it states, “Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Although the text does not explicitly say that the increase in violence was the result of men and animals now killing one another for food, I have always felt this is at least part of the increase in violence.
The idea that “all flesh” refers to both man and animals is also suggested by the fact that animals are now grouped into two categories, clean and unclean for the first time (Gen 7:8). In the command to Noah concerning animals to be taken on the ark, we are told the numbers of each group but not the criteria for determining the distinction between clean and unclean. However, the distinctions between clean and unclean animals is more precisely defined in the Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 14:3-21. The most notable difference between the two groups is that clean animals are herbivores (eating plants only), whereas unclean animals eat flesh either by killing animals or scavenging on the remains of animals. In any event, God destroyed most of both man and animals with a great flood as described in Genesis chapters 6 – 8 because of the corruption and violence that been introduced into God’s idyllic creation.
After exiting the ark, God speaks to Noah and says “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.” (Gen 9:2-5).
To man’s vegetarian diet God adds everything that moves indicating that all animals may be eaten since there is no mention of whether animals have to be clean or unclean to be acceptable as food. The one major restriction in eating animal flesh is that the blood must not be eaten. The reason for this, given in verse 4, is that life is in the blood. This command emphasizes the great value that God places on life – it was not to be taken lightly.
The next major diet God ordains is for a select group of people, Abraham’s offspring who lived under the Mosaic Law. Although this diet is similar to the one given to Noah there are many more specific details provided in the Mosaic Law. Under Mosaic Law the diet absolutely forbids eating flesh of unclean animals. The more restrictive diet serves as one of several characteristics that set the nation of Israel apart from the world around them. As we learn from Leviticus 11:45-47; For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.” This emphasis on clean and unclean was very important to ensure that the nation of Israel would be set apart from the world in both worship of the One God and diet. (Many of these restrictions and practices may have also had the additional effect of protecting their health.)
A good example of the importance Jews placed on diet is the actions of Daniel and his three companions; Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah after they are taken captive by the Babylonians (Dan 1:8-20). Daniel and companions decide they will not eat the king’s food nor drink his wine to avoid defiling themselves presumably with food that is improperly prepared (with the blood), offered to idols, from unclean animals, etc. This inference seems justified by the solution they suggest to the king’s steward, to only be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. To defy the king’s command could have meant death for these four young men, but God blessed them for their faithful obedience and in the end, they were given positions of authority by the king. This account shows the importance Jews placed on diet.
The discipline gained by following the Law in worship practices, belief in one True God, and a peculiar diet, maintained the purity of the nation of Israel to lead them to Christ. Paul, in Galatians 3:24, calls the Old Law a schoolmaster (KJV) to lead them to Christ. It is only fitting that the coming of Christ brought about the next major change in diet.
Jesus lived under Mosaic Law and so followed its precepts including dietary restrictions during His sojourn on earth. Gal 4:4; “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” In His death and resurrection, the purpose of Mosaic Law was fulfilled and the law made void. Paul in Eph 2:13-15 wrote, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.”
Jews had difficulty accepting that the Mosaic Law had been abolished and that God now accepted non-Jews (Gentiles) into His Kingdom. To convince Peter that God now considered Gentiles as acceptable to enter God’s Kingdom, he was shown a vision in Act 10:10-15; “And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of four footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill, and eat’. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, ‘What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common’”.
Jews considered Gentiles as unclean. This vision draws upon the dietary restrictions imposed by God on Jews to emphasize that God determined who was clean and unclean. Through the imagery Peter was finally convinced that God now considered Gentiles clean and worthy of receiving the gospel message. The result was that the gospel would now be preached to the Gentiles specifically at this time to Cornelius and his household.
The addition of Gentiles to God’s chosen people brought about challenges in the early Church with Jews largely maintaining the strict diet of the Old Law, whereas Gentiles were used to eating pretty much anything in accord with God’s instruction to Noah. After Jesus crucifixion and resurrection no specific diet was commanded by the apostles, rather the attitudes and belief of the one eating determined acceptability of the food. Jesus was asked; ‘Why His disciples ate with unwashed hands in opposition to Jewish tradition?’ In Mat 15:17-20 Jesus answers that challenge with the principle that it’s not what goes into the stomach that defiles, it’s what we do that defiles. “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
Paul in I Cor 8:1-11 and Rom 14:1-23 discusses the idea that why you eat whatever you eat determines whether the food is acceptable or not. Dietary considerations are based more on the faith and conscience of the person partaking. In the first century meat for sale in the market (the shambles) may have been offered in sacrifice to idols before being sold, been improperly prepared (strangled, or containing blood) Because of this fact, some Christians believed that they could only eat vegetables, while others, who understood that idols were not gods at all, could separate eating the meat from worshipping the idol. Paul said in 1Co 8:8; “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” Further he states in Rom 14:21-23; “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Paul concludes that Christians should follow their own conscience in diet and act in a manner that strengthens their brother (whether Jew or Gentile) and does not set a stumbling block in their way. Thus, God now puts the responsibility for diet on the individual, rather than by His designation of specific foods. God expects the strength we gain from our food to be spent for good and not for condemnation of either yourself or your brother.
The diets given to Noah, the Jews, and to Christians were similar in one important respect: the prohibition of eating the animal’s blood with the flesh. (Gen 9: 4, 5). “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.” The importance God placed on eating blood is shown by the punishment proscribed for a capital offense, the death of the person doing so.
Eating the blood of an animal counted as common the God-given gift of life. This prohibition was reiterated in the Law (Lev. 7.26-27) and maintained after the establishment of the church. During the pivotal discussion by the leaders of the Jerusalem church in Acts 15, James offers the following restrictions that the Gentiles (though free from the Law) should continue to maintain: “…that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” (v.20). This judgment was agreed upon and sent to the church in Antioch (v.23-30).
As He was teaching in Capernaum, Jesus challenged His disciples and the others listening by telling them they eat His flesh and drink His blood to have life. In John 6:53-56 John wrote; “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” This seems to contradict God’s millennia -old laws concerning blood.
The Jews thought he was advocating cannibalism when in fact Jesus was speaking metaphorically of eating His flesh and drinking his blood as a way for us to intimately avail ourselves of the eternal life that is found in Jesus. In John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Paul later wrote in Gal 2:20; “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. Paul also says in Rom 6:3-4 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
How does one partake of Jesus blood as he commanded? These scriptures teach us that 1) drinking Christ’s blood, 2) being crucified with Him and 3) being buried with Him are all equivalent. Through penitent obedience to the gospel in baptism, we participate in His crucifixion and bring the abundance of Jesus’ eternal life into ours through the blood He shed for us. Jesus speaks of this in John 10:10b in the parable of the Good Shepherd, He says “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.
The progression of diets started with the first diet that celebrated the sanctity of life by not taking life. After the flood, in recognition of the evil thoughts in man (Gal 8:4), the relationships within His creation changed. The fear of man was on the animals and God allowed the animals to be killed for food. However, ingesting the life force, the blood, was still forbidden. Through God’s promise to Abraham, he created a people that were set apart and were trained to keep themselves pure. This was reflected in their diet by defining nonviolent animals as clean and therefore good for food, and animals that shed blood as unclean and not to be eaten. It was through this nation that The Christ would come.
The death of Christ ushered in God’s kingdom where dietary principles changed again. Those in God’s kingdom now ate based on principles of faith. If they believed that they should not eat something, then to eat it would defile their conscience resulting in sin. There was no set diet. The emphasis was on spiritual matters rather than matters that pertain solely to fleshly needs. The emphasis that God places on the “life is in the blood” concept demonstrates to us the enormous power of the sacrifice of Jesus, who gave His precious blood for the lives of all the world, paving the pathway back to the eternal kingdom. Man can now re-enter the presence of God and live forever in that sin-free peaceful idyllic realm just as at the beginning when He walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Thus, we see in the progression of diets, a rough outline of God’s plan for man and the fruition of God’s providence through that plan.