Troublesome Topic: Dietary Restrictions Were Not about Health Issues

Lesson 2 of 12

One of the most common explanations for this set of regulations is that it had to do with health. The mantra goes like this: “Pork, if not cooked well, will make you sick. Shrimp are like a garbage cans for the oceans, absorbing bacteria into their bodies.”

However, it seems to me that the idea of health alone cannot possibly be the reason God gave those instructions. The reasons why I say that are as follows:

1. If God were concerned solely about health, why did He not include a listing of poisonous plants? A person could follow the food regulations to the letter and still kill himself and his family with a multitude of poisonous plants.

2. It does not seem to fit what the conditions of that covenant were designed for. If these were simply for health purposes, they would not fulfill the self-declared purpose of teaching people to fear the Lord in the way that other regulations did. The rest of the Law taught deep spiritual truths such as respect, or compassion. If the food regulations were only about health issues they would, at best, teach people to obey God or suffer dire consequences. I believe there is more to it than that.

3. The Hebrew terms involved don’t have anything to do with health, and God never brings up health when discussing the food laws.

 4. If God’s purpose was to keep them healthy, He could have simply taught them how to cook things like pork and shrimp properly. There would have been no need for the level of detail we see in these regulations.

 5. There are many animals that were considered unclean (set aside or rejected) that do not present the health problems that are associated with pork and shrimp. In other words, if health were the main reason, we should find a verifiable health concern for each of the animals that were prohibited. But we do not. A good example of this is the rabbit, which was forbidden but presents no health concerns.

However, to say that health was not the primary purpose does not exclude the fact that there could be health benefits from following God’s instructions. Indeed, that is exactly what we see. Several of the animals that could not be eaten by the Jews are ones that need to be cooked properly or they can cause sickness. But this is a side-benefit, not the primary purpose.

The next lesson in all three series on Covenants is: The Food Laws Taught Holiness