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Lesson 12: Nutrition in the Bible *

Introduction: If you were asked about the key to a healthy and long life, what would you say? Most would say "exercise, diet, good air, and common sense." Common sense meaning to avoid dangerous practices. The Bible says a lot about diet and common sense. Jesus famously said in Matthew 15:11: "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" Does this make diet irrelevant? If so, why does the Bible say so much about diet? Let's dive into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!

  1. Daniel's Diet

    1. Read Daniel 1:8-10. Did the king care about what Daniel and his friends ate? (Apparently.)

      1. Why should the king care? (The king's representative thought that the king's food would make these young men healthy. It was a quest for health.)

      2. Did Daniel care about what he ate? (Yes.)

        1. Why did he care? (He did not want to be "defiled.")

    2. Read Daniel 1:11-14. What did Daniel want to eat? (Vegetables - with water to drink.)

      1. Would that be your choice?

    3. Read Daniel 1:15-16. Ten days. Do you think the outcome of this test was the result of diet or something else?

    4. Read Daniel 10:1-2. Daniel is now a very old man. This text suggests that in his old age he ate meat and drank wine. What conclusion are we to draw from the difference in his diet when he was young and his diet when he was an old and important man in the kingdom? Has he become lax in his old age? When you get to be a certain age can you say, "Guess it doesn't matter what I eat anymore?" (Since God is still giving Daniel revelations, we cannot conclude that Daniel has become lax and fallen into sin in his old age. Instead, we get back to the word (Daniel 1:8) "defiled." Something about the King's meat, but not Daniel's meat, was different.)

      1. What do you think was different?

      2. Read Acts 21:25 and Genesis 9:4. What do these suggest about meat? (Acts tells us that it is as much a problem to eat meat not properly prepared as is sexual immorality! Genesis 9:4 shows us that this was a concern of God from very early in human history. The reasonable conclusion was that the "King's meat" was not properly prepared and might have been offered to idols. By the time Daniel was old and influential, he could dictate that the meat he ate was properly prepared.)

    5. Consider again Acts 21:25. Three of the four prohibitions have to do with diet! Had the leaders of the early church forgotten that Jesus said ( Matthew 15:11)that it does not matter what goes in your mouth?

      1. How can you explain what seems to be a serious conflict in the Bible? (Read Matthew 15:16-20. The actual issue is unwashed hands, not diet. Although Jesus is speaking in broad terms, it appears that His point is that controlling your mind is more important than controlling your diet. He is not saying that diet is unimportant. Daniel and the early church leaders teach us that diet is important. Next, let's explore the history of diet in the Bible.)

  2. Adam's Diet

    1. Read Genesis 1:29-30. What was Adam's diet? (Plants and vegetable.)

      1. What was the diet of the animals? (The same.)

      2. Why do you think God's original diet excluded meat? (The most obvious reason is that before the entry of sin in the world there was no death. No death = no dead meat.)

  3. Noah's Diet

    1. Read Genesis 9:1-3. How has Noah's diet changed after the flood? (He can now eat meat.)

      1. Why did Noah's diet change? Is this because the flood wiped out the fruits and vegetables? (That seems an unlikely reason, since they also had a limited number of animals. If God was worried about a short-term problem, He could have given them manna or limited the license to eat animals to a few months. Something more fundamental has taken place.)

      2. Let's revisit our thinking about Adam's diet. If the lack of sin and death was the reason for the "fruits and vegetables" diet, why do you think that God waited hundreds of years after sin to add animals to the diet? (That delay suggests that the difference between Adam's diet and Noah's diet was not confined to the sin/death issue. God must have considered Adam's diet to be superior independent of the sin/death issue.)

    2. Skim over Genesis chapters 5 and 11. What do you notice? (That the life span of humans drops dramatically after the flood - which is the point where Noah's diet was introduced.)

      1. Read Genesis 6:1-3 and Genesis 6:5-6. Does this suggest a reason for the change in diet? (It seems that God may have decided that it would be best to limit the life span of humans. I believe the "120 years" reference is to the timing of the flood, but it suggests that God is rethinking the longevity of His creation.)

      2. What lesson should we draw from this? (God's original diet has an impact on longevity. We know today that a diet which excludes meat has a clear impact on longevity.)

      3. Does longevity have anything to do with sin? (Imagine a world without books, but a world in which you could talk with your great-great-great grandparents every day. Longevity would increase learning and the transmission of knowledge. If the knowledge is about evil, then we can begin to see why God might have thought a shorter life-span was better.)

  4. Spirituality and Diet

    1. Read Genesis 7:1-3. On what basis does God distinguish between the animals?(He makes a distinction between "clean" and "unclean" animals.)

      1. Has this something to do with bathing? (No. Skim over Leviticus 11 and read Deuteronomy 14:3-8. Clean animals could be eaten and the unclean animals could not - they should not even be touched when they were dead.)

      2. Read Deuteronomy 14:21. What is the rule about road-kill? (You could not eat it, but you could give it to a foreigner.)

        1. What does this suggest about the nature of God's rules about diet? (The unclean things were not poison. Instead, they have something to do with being in a proper relationship with God.)

    2. Leviticus and Deuteronomy remind us of the sacrificial system. Did this idea of unclean = unholy end when the sacrificial system ended? (Some would argue that. But, there are some very serious problems with that conclusion. First, not every clean animal, for example grasshoppers and fish with fins and scales, were sacrificed. They had nothing to do with the sacrificial system. Second, the distinction between clean and unclean existed before the flood, before the sanctuary system was formalized, and before humans were authorized to eat meat. Third, the Acts 21:25 prohibition on eating meat with blood (which certainly reminds us of the sanctuary system) is imposed after Jesus' resurrection.)

      1. What are we to conclude from this? (I cannot explain it, but God has recommended levels of diet. Best diet practice is fruits and vegetables. Average diet practice is clean animals, no blood. Alien diet practice is roadkill!)

      2. Should a people walking the path to holiness strive for the best dietary practices?

    3. Read Romans 14:2-4. Wait a minute! If holy people have a holy diet, how can Paul describe them as those "whose faith is weak?" How can the alien, road-kill diet people be equated with those of strong faith? (This is a puzzle. We need to further explore Paul's thoughts.)

    4. Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-5. What does Paul suggest about diet and righteousness? (A spiritual diet and more does not mean you are pleasing God.)

    5. Read 1 Corinthians 10:18. What is the answer? (Yes! Those who brought their sacrifice to the temple participated in the removal of sin.)

    6. Read 1 Corinthians 10:19-24. Should we eat meat offered in a pagan sacrifice? (As a practical matter, we know that the idol is nothing. But, it would be "beneficial" to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols.)

    7. Read 1 Corinthians 10:25-33. What does this teach us about Paul's statement in Romans 14 about equating the road-kill diet with strong faith? (Paul tells us the most important aspect of diet is to use it to advance the Kingdom of God. Although an idol is nothing, if you know meat has been offered to an idol, it is not beneficial to eat it - especially, if in the presence of someone else has reservations about it. Thus, the "weak faith" person in Romans 14 is someone who has recently exited idol worship and does not have the faith to realize that idols are nothing.)

    8. What should be our "bottom-line" conclusion about faith and diet? (God has consistently given humans instructions about diet. There is little doubt that He has a dietary recommendation that it would be "beneficial" to follow. However, the most important issue about diet is how we handle it in terms of the faith of others.)

    9. Friend, what about you? Will you reconsider your attitude about diet and be sure it is in line with God's will?

  5. Next week: Social Support: The Tie That Binds.
* Copr. 2010, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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