A Biblical Theology of Food and Drink
I love food. I could never begin to imagine a world without it. Prior to entering the ministry a large amount of my time was spent working with and preparing food for others to enjoy. Food is one of those great blessings of God that we enjoy in community with one another. So much of our social interaction is built around meals. It’s no surprise, then, that there are a ever increasing number of websites, magazines, television show, etc. that focus on the preparation and presentation of food. It may, therefore, seem unnecessary to write something else about food, but I believe that a significant warning must be raised; It’s not a warning about what kinds of food you should or shouldn’t eat (although it certainly has an impact upon that subject). It is, in fact, a warning about that very sort of warning that I wish to raise. I wish to address the issue of morals with regard to food and drink practices–especially with regard to what God’s word says about the question of what we should or shouldn’t eat, whether we have liberty to drink alcohol or not, and whether we can bind the consciences of others with regard to our personal food preferences. The Bible–sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly–speaks to all of these issues. In fact, a surprising amount of Scripture is taken up with these issue and the individual conscience. At present, there seems to be a real lack of clarity on the issues of conscience with regard to “food and drink” in the church. Interestingly, the Bible opens with the issue of eating at the center of man’s actions, and ends with the idea of spiritual eating and drinking in the Kingdom of God.
The First Fruits (Literally!)
The Bible opens with some very clear statements about food. Almost immediately upon the creation of mankind, the Lord blessed men and animals, and 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” (Gen. 1:29). In the pre-lapsarian (pre-fall) state men and animals were given the right to eat vegetation. Prior to the fall all men were vegetarians. The goodness of God is seen in that He gave His image bearers the right to eat of “every tree of the Garden,” with one prominent exception.
While the Bible opens with a picture of blessing and delightful amazement at the newly created world, it doesn’t take long in the Genesis narrative to see how quickly and radically things changed. Instead of delighting in God and in His bountiful blessings, our first parents rebelled against Him. Adam chose a piece of fruit over the infinitely glorious God. It was in following his wife in this regard that Adam led the entire human race into destruction and misery. As C.S. Lewis so poignantly put it, “She who thought it beneath her dignity to bow to God now worships a vegetable. She has at last become primitive in the popular sense.”1 The first–and most destructive–sin of humanity involved food, and a single piece of fruit at that! It was not in eating meat that Adam sinned. It was in taking of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil–the only thing that God had withheld from him.
The sin of our first parents was not primarily a sin against fellow creatures, or creation in general. Surely, Adam’s sin had adverse effects on all of his descendants, thus making his sin a sin against humanity. In addition to effecting humanity, Adam’s sin brought a curse on all of creation (Rom. 818-23). Adam’s sin, however, was first and foremost sin against his Creator. The God who had given man freely to eat of all vegetation set off limits the fruit of one tree in order to test the obedience of His image bearers. God was King. In order for Adam to remember this–and for him to know this experientially–there had to be at least one object that was set off limits. In this way, the LORD would test Adam as to his knowledge of the distance between the Creator and the creature. Instead of choosing to love and obey his Maker, Adam failed the test and brought misery upon Himself and all His descendants. Thomas Boston, in Human Natures in its Fourfold State, put it this way:
Now this fair Tree, of which he was forbidden to eat, taught him…that his happiness lay not in enjoyment of the creatures, for there was a want even in Paradise: so that the forbidden tree was in effect the hand of all the creatures, pointing man away from themselves to God for happiness: It was a sign of emptiness hung before the door of the creation, with that inscription, “This is not your rest.”2
Cheeseburgers After Paradise
In the unfolding of redemptive history, a striking development emerged with regard to God-given directives concerning animals (Gen. 9). Noah was commanded to take two of every clean and seven of every unclean animal in to the Ark. Both land animals and birds were to be brought into the ark: “Then the LORD said to Noah, ‘Come into the ark, you and your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of the birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of the earth’” (Gen 7:1-3). Just as God had given Adam creation mandates to be fruitful and multiply so He gave Noahre-creation mandates. The Lord had given Adam instruction concerning what he could eat. So too Noah received instruction concerning food. In redemptive history, however, man would not simply have the right to partake of vegetation. When He spoke to Noah concerning food, the Lord said, “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” (Gen. 9:3-4). One of the great questions we must answer is, “Why would God give man the right to eat animals after the fall when He did not give him that right prior to the fall?”
It is clear from Scripture that Noah was a type of “the second Adam;” he was not “The second Man,” or “the Last Adam,” but was a type of the One to come. Noah’s name meant “rest.” His father named him “Rest,” saying, “This one will give us rest from the ground that the Lord God has cursed.” Noah only brought that rest in a typical sense when he walked off of the Ark with his family to inhabit a typical new creation. But Christ, the greater Noah, actually gives rest to the souls of men and women (Matt. 11:25-30). Christ alone has secured the new creation through His death and resurrection. The Lord preserved mankind after the flood in order to fulfill His promise (Gen. 3:15) to send the “seed” of the woman to crush the head of the Serpent. He also preserved Noah on the Ark because the Redeemer was in his loins–so to speak (Luke 3:23, 35-37). Because Messiah had not yet come, God would have been unfaithful to His promise if He had utterly destroyed the world. He left a remnant so that men might multiply, and that the Christ might come and redeem a multitude of people to great to number. Though the flood had been a judgment on the wickedness of the fallen world, it could never take that wickedness out of the hearts of men, only the saving work of Christ could do so. God promised never to destroy the world in the way that He had done so for the very same reason for which He had destroyed it in the first place (Gen. 6:5-7; 8:20-22). In short, the humanity of Christ was in the Ark in Noah’s loins, and everything in the Ark with Noah was going to be used in the unfolding plan of redemption. Why did God preserve clean and unclean animals in the Ark? The most significant answer that can be given is, “For the work of redemption.”
When the waters receded, Noah stepped off of the Ark and offered an animal sacrifice to God for his sins. This, in part, accounted for the clean and unclean animal distinction which was already in existence. We know that the Lord had taught our first parents about the need to sacrifice, since their sons were proven to be what they indeed were in the act of sacrifice (Gen. 4:2-7; Heb. 11:4). The clean animals were set apart by God to serve as preparatory sacrifices–a practice that originated in the Garden immediately after the fall, and which would in turn be legislated into Israel’s worship. They were integral to the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan which was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. Jesus is the One to whom the animals were typically pointing. He is the “Lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19) who would end all sacrifices by the sacrifice of Himself. This is demonstrated by Noah’s first act after leaving the ark: “Noah built an alter to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the alter. And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma” (Gen 8:21). It is abundantly clear from the teaching of the New Testament that the sacrifice of Christ was an “offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2)–the fulfillment of all the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that God had revealed the clean and unclean animal distinction to Noah this early in redemptive history, and that he was aware of it at the time when he went to offer a sacrifice to God for his sins. The observations of C.C. Jones’ are noteworthy:
On Noah’s coming out of the ark, the use of ‘the alter’ in sacrifice is mentioned for the first time, but in such a familiar manner that we are constrained to believe that the alter is coeval with the sacrifice; and the same God who ordained the one ordained the other. Mention is made also for the first time of ‘clean beast’ and of ‘clean fowl,’ in distinction from the unclean, which assures us that the laws regulating the sacrifices were full and particular, and must have been so from the beginning.3
It is also clear from the New Testament that “these clean and unclean animals would, in time, become illustrative of the two groups of mankind–Jews and Gentiles. These two classifications represented spiritually clean and unclean groups of humanity in redemptive history until Christ came. The Scriptures expressly teach this in the account of Peter’s vision of the unclean animals brought down from heaven in the sheet for him to eat. (Acts 10:9-11:18). David Gooding explains the moral dimension of the clean/unclean distinction with regard to Israel’s relationship to the nations in the Old Covenant economy:
A widely held view has been that God [appointed the clean and unclean distinction with regard to animals] because He was concerned for the health and hygiene of His people. In those far-off primitive days, so the argument goes, when people had no scientific understanding of germs and viruses, and no refrigeration to stop meat going bad, God forbade the eating of certain animals, birds, and fish, to protect His people from the poison that those creatures could easily carry.
But this explanation is inadequate. When the Lord Jesus was on earth He canceled these food laws—see Mark 7:19: “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.” And that was not because science and technology had advanced so far in His day that it was now safe to eat foods that up till that time had been a danger to health! If they had been dangerous to eat in Moses’ days, they were still dangerous to eat in our Lord’s time. If they were now fit to eat, it was because they were consecrated by the Word of God and prayer, as Paul subsequently put it (1 Tim. 4:4-5).4
During His earthly ministry, Jesus stood against the Israelitish perversion of making ceremonial practices (which were always meant to serve a redemptive-historical purpose) into a platform for ethno-religious righteousness. The majority of the nation missed the all-important truth that the clean/unclean distinction pointed forward to the moral transformation and cleansing that men would experience in Christ in the work of redemption. Significantly, this distinction had passed away with the earthly ministry of our Lord. Gooding further notes:
What our Lord was concerned about, therefore, was real moral uncleanness, and very forcefully He made the point that physical food entering the body cannot defile a man morally or spiritually: for it touches his stomach, not his heart.2 Now the very fact that the disciples did not at first understand Him (see Mk. 7:15-18), and He was obliged to repeat His lesson, shows that the apostles had originally confused these two things. They originally thought that eating “unclean food” defiled a man morally, when of course it did not. It was God’s prohibition on certain kinds of food that made eating it defiling, not the food in itself.5
Finally, Gooding offers an explanation of the distinction from the practical dimension for the clean/unclean distinction in Israel in redemptive-history when he notes:
These ceremonial and ritual laws would have both a positive and a negative effect. Positively, they reinforced in Israel’s thinking that as a nation they were separated to the Lord; specially set apart for Him. However morally and spiritually clean the members of another nation might have been, they did not have the role that Israel as a nation had. Israel’s role, as a kingdom of priests, was special, indeed unique. The ceremonial separation from certain kinds of food which other nations ate reinforced and underlined the fact that they were in a special sense separated to the Lord, especially “holy” in a ritualistic way.
Negatively, these food laws had an immediate practical effect: they made social mixing with Gentile nations difficult, since Israelites could not eat Gentile food. This would not only reinforce the fact that Israel was a special nation, but also act as a constant reminder that Israel was to avoid the moral and spiritual uncleanness of the Gentiles.6
Feeding on Christ
The Jew-Gentile distinction was not the only redemptive-historical meaning behind the clean/unclean animal distinction it he OT. There was also an important anticipatory dimension relating to the eating of meat. Until the flood all men were–by default–vegetarians; after the flood it pleased God to give men animal meat for food. This served as a precursor to the eating of the sacramental and ceremonial redemptive meals, such as the Passover. It was impossible, however, to be a Vegetarian if you were a member of the Old Covenant church, because God was foreshadowing the spiritual eating of the flesh and blood of His Son in the sacrifices. The apostle John began draws out this fulfillment when he wrote:
Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced” (John 19:32-37).
The apostle Paul explained the significance of the crucifixion when he wrote, “Christ our Passover Lamb was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). Jesus Himself had taught the necessity of seeing in the animal sacrifices a prelude to His sacrificial death on the cross when He said:
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him…whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me.(John 6:53-57).
Only those who partake of Christ by faith enjoy the blessings of His sacrifice. The same idea is conveyed in our Lord’s command to eat of His body and drink of His blood, as they are symbolized in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. The bread and the wine do not become the body and blood of Christ, rather they represent the reality of those things that are the sum and substance of our spiritual nourishment. The eating of the animal sacrifices of the Old testament was a prefiguring of the spiritual feeding on Christ by faith. The eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine is a reflective action by which we remember what our Lord has suffered for us in His sacrifice on the cross. The clean animals on the Ark and in Israel’s sacrificial system were meant, from the first, to be anticipatory expressions of the spiritual realities of Christ.
Eating and Drinking in the Kingdom of God
As has been already noted, Jesus alluded to the cessation of the clean/unclean food distinction in His coming into the world. In Mark 7:15 He explicitly said, “Nothing that enters the mouth defiles a man…” In this statement our Lord asserted the freedom that we have in the New Covenant era to eat any kind of vegetation and/or animal. Our Lord ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. The repeal of ceremonial laws in the New Covenant era included not only meant the repeal of the dietary restrictions concerning ceremonially unclean animal meats–but also the abrogation of the vows that forbid the drinking of alcoholic beverages. It is clear from the teaching of Jesus Himself that He ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. The Son of God contrasted His own festive missional outreach with the ascetic ministry of John the Baptist (Matt. 11:18-19). John did not come eating and drinking; the Son of Man came eating and drinking. Just in case someone might object by saying, “Well, Jesus doesn’t say that He drank alcohol,” our Lord added that He was called falsely, on account of what He was eating and drinking, “a drunkard and a glutton;” and just in case someone objected by saying, “Well, the wine He was drinking wasn’t strong enough to get drunk on,” Jesus says they falsely accused Him of drunkeness–thus proving that what He drank was intoxicating drink. Now, to be sure, the Son of God never would have drank a sip of alcohol in any sort of excessive way. He was without sin. He would have drank alcohol to a non-sinful degree. But our Lord created wine for gladness of heart, the blessings of the New Covenant are symbolically represented under the figure of the redeemed of the LORD drinking new wine up in the mountains (Amos 9:13), and our Lord Jesus opened His ministry by miraculously turning 180 gallons of water into wine fora wedding party. In this final act Jesus shows that He is bringing the eschatological blessings of which Amos spoke.
The apostle Paul constantly seemed to be engaged in battling legalism in issues concerning food and drink. Whether it was Peter’s refusal to sit at table with Gentiles in Antioch, or the insistance of the false teachers in Colosse, Paul was relentless in insisting on the freedom Christians have from the ceremonial laws of the OT. Paul plainly declare that all foods and drinks “perish with the using,” and that the abstinence of such “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” It is for this reason that we cannot, and must not, bind the consciences of others with regard to what we eat or what we drink. We must not say, “do not touch, do not taste, do not handle” (Col. 2:20-23)–as if pure and undefiled religion consisted in abstaining from things that “perish with the using.” There is no intimation in Scripture that in the New Covenant era any foods are unclean. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true. Paul explained to Timothy that teaching others that they may not eat such and such food (as an ethico-religious principle) amounted to “doctrines of demons:”
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Here, it is important for us to make a biblical and a modern application. There has been a rise of interest in the organic food movement among many Christians. This is in many ways a good thing. For instance, my wife is part of a co-op in which she and several other ladies in our church collectively buy grain to bake their own bread. I have, therefore, been the recipient of some amazingly delicious and healthy breads. There is certainly great benefit from eating foods that promote healthy bodily function. That being said, I’ve also noticed dangerous pitfalls with regard to the organic food craze. I took a seminary class several years ago and had eight hours of class nearly nonstop for one week. On one of the days in particular I brought some fast food back with me to class and was seriously into some fries. A fellow student walked by, looked at the fries and said, “Brother, ‘You shalt not kill.’” This person was attempting to bind my conscience concerning a personal (not a biblical) sanction. I instantly responded by telling him that I had thanked God for the delicious fries and that they were actually keeping me alive. This serves to show the kind of sinful conscience binding that can enter into the live of God’s people via an obsession with organic/health food.
Paul sums up his teaching on foods by saying “For all creatures of God are good and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5). The Westminster Confession of Faith sets out the biblical teaching on liberty of conscience so well when it says, “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship; so that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.” A friend of mine once gave one of the most helpful illustrations of the offense of making God’s word more narrow that it actually is. If the speed limit for the main road in your town is 35 miles per hour, and you don’t like that speed limit, you may choose to do one of two things. You may choose to break it by going 55 mph. Surely this course of action would be displeasing to the authorities and would probably result in a fairly sizable ticket. If, however, you choose to pull over on the side of the road by the speed limit sign with a can of paint, and proceed to change the 35 mph limit to 15 mph you would probably incur a greater punishment. It is one thing to break the law by surpassing the limits and quite another to try to change the law itself. When someone seeks to bind another’s conscience unbiblically they are doing the latter. It is an affront to God’s wisdom and holiness to tamper with the law of God.
The Apostle Paul wanted to ensure that believers understood that “that there is nothing unclean of itself;” and that “to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14). These are the two great categorical distinctions that must be kept in view when considering the ethics of food in the New Covenant. One the one hand, God has given us all good things to enjoy. This means that limiting the food we eat to vegetation or organic is to deny what God has said in His word. We have the right to eat all kinds of meats and all kinds of foods. Even food that has been offered to idols is kosher for the believer since “an idol is nothing.” There is, however, a significant “one another” factor to the liberty we enjoy as Christians–a “one another” factor that deals with stronger and weaker consciences.
Weak is Not Stronger
The biblical teaching on the weaker and stronger brother in the book of Romans is not easy territory to charter. On the surface it appears that Paul says that things that may be good in themselves may become sinful if they are done in the face of the unbelief of a weaker brother. Can the Scriptures really be teaching that something that is not sinful may become sinful on account of our brothers’ conscience? The easiest way to answer this question is to consider Paul’s teaching in Romans 14. The chapter may be divided into two sections: (1) The law of liberty, and (2) the Law of Love. It is in this two divisions that we find the biblical balance for how we ought to approach the biblical teaching on foods. Paul says very clearly at the outset, “For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.” There is clearly a principle of faith sanctifying foods. The word conscience means “with knowledge.” If someone has faith-knowledge that Christ has fulfilled all things, that an idol is nothing, and that nothing is–in itself–unclean, he can eat to the glory of God. If someone’s conscience has not been instructed adequately as to what God’s word says about these things–and his eating and drinking would be done so with a sense of guilt–it is sin. Paul insists that “One believes he may eat all things.” This is a statement of fact. If someone has faith in Christ he or she ought to be able to approach the question of food with a large and free conscience. Paul makes it very easy for us by asserting that “nothing is unclean of itself.” However, there are some believers who have weak consciences and who “eat only vegetables.” It is here that we must acknowledge the distinction between the stronger and the weaker brother.
The principle of Christian liberty is actually tempered by the principle of Christian love. Paul says that a strong brother is free in his conscience to eat meats and drink alcohol; nevertheless, if that liberty would cause a weaker brother to stumble (since he or she would not be eating or drinking in faith) he ought not to do so in that brothers’ presence. Love supersedes liberty in our everyday relationships with one another. Paul states very clearly that the danger for the stronger brother is to despise the weaker brother, and the danger for the weaker brother is to judge the stronger (Rom. 14:3). This does not mean that the stronger brother ought never eat certain foods or drink certain drinks for fear of offending a weaker brother. That would be making the weaker brother the stronger brother. Neither does it mean that the stronger brother should never instruct the weaker brother in the freedom he has to eat and drink, otherwise Paul’s writing of Romans 14 was in vain. The goal ought to be the maturing of the believer in the knowledge of the freedom that he or she has in Christ. Until this occurs the stronger brother must bear with the weaker brother in love. This means that he will be willing to lay aside his privileges in the presence of the weaker brother in order to have fellowship with the weaker brother. This highly nuanced and somewhat complicated subject can be simplified by understanding that, at times, “love supersedes liberty.”
Meals in the Mission of Jesus
One final observation about the biblical theology of food and drink. It’s interesting to note just how prevalent a place meals played in the mission of Jesus. A large segment of His ministry took place around tables. Whether it was at the table of a newly called disciple and his friends (Matt. 9:9-13), around the table of a skeptical opponent and a prostitute (Luke 7:36-50), at the table of tax collectors and renown sinners (Matt. 11:18-19), with beloved friends (Luke 10:38-42), or in his final supper with the disciples where He predicted His betrayal (Matt. 26:20-25), Christ’s ministry was often carried out in the community-creating atmosphere of a dinner party. This is not an accidental detail, as Jesus Himself likened the eschatological Kingdom to a dinner party with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and as a feast where Jesus shares table fellowship with His disciples. In the book of Revelation Jesus promises to come in and have table fellowship with the one who overcomes by faith (Rev. 3:20). To the church of Ephesus, Jesus promises those who overcome by faith a right to the tree of life (Rev. 2:7). To the church of Pergamum He promised to give the hidden manna (Rev. 2:17). All of these symbols point to the believer’s eternal feeding on Christ. In one very real sense we can say that food was created for the purpose of showing forth the joys of being with Christ in the eschatological Kingdom of God. What Adam lost in paradise (i.e. a right to the Tree of Life) Christ, the second Adam, gives us access to by faith. Jonathan Edwards put it so masterfully when he wrote:
The gospel don’t merely offer to us such an opportunity as Adam had before the fall; we have the same offer made to us as Adam would have had after he should have finished his obedience. Then the condition would have been already performed, and he would have been immediately invited to the tree of life; and so we are now. So that we han’t merely the glad tidings of a restoration to that state that we were in before the fall. It is not merely the privilege of being tried once more to see whether we won’t obey and so obtain eternal life in that way; but all is done already that needs to be done. The obedience is performed already by another.
Christ himself now stands instead of that tree of life that grew in the midst of the garden of Eden. ‘Tis Christ that is meant by “the tree of life, that grows in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). And we are immediately invited and called to Christ to eat of the fruit of this tree without any sort of terms, but only to come and take and eat. The condition of righteousness is fulfilled already by our surety. God shows us which is the tree of life and where it grows, which Adam probably did not know, nor was to know, till he had finished his obedience. We are as immediately invited now as Adam would have been if he had stood and had finished his obedience.7
While food and drink do not form the sum and substance of the Kingdom of God (Rom. 14:17), the mission of God was, nevertheless, a mission built around table fellowship. This was true of those in the Kingdom in the days of Jesus (Luke 24:30; 41-42; John 21:4-14), it was true of the believers in the Kingdom of God in the first Century (Acts 2:46), and it ought to be true of our fellowships today. Believers gathered together around a meal presents the prelude to the eschatological feasting that we see in the Kingdom of God. It is for this reason that we ought to be inviting unbelievers to missional meals. When the world sees us feasting with one another on physical food while we feast on the rich banquet of God’s word and sacraments, they ought to see something of our hope in the eschatological feast in glory and long to come to the One who invites them to His redemptive supper (Matt. 25). Jesus Himself told His disciples at the last Supper (which was incidentally His first Supper with them) that He would not eat and drink with them until He did so anew in the eschatological Kingdom (Matt. 26:29). In the concluding section of his outstanding book, A Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester sums up the significant role that meals play in the Kingdom of God when he writes:
What are the Christian community’s meals for? They achieve many things. They express so much of God’s grace. They provide a glimpse of what it’s like to live under God’s reign. They express and reinforce the community that Christ has created through the cross. They’re a foretaste of the new creation. They’re a great context in which to invite unbelievers so they encounter the reality of God among us. But they’re not “for” any of these things. It’s a trick question.
Everything else—creation, redemption, mission—is “for” this: that we might eat together in the presence of God. God created the world so we might eat with him. The food we consume, the table around which we sit, and the companions gathered with us have as their end our communion with one another and with God. The Israelites were redeemed to eat with God on the mountain, and we’re redeemed for the great messianic banquet that we anticipate when we eat together as a Christian community. We proclaim Christ in mission so that others might hear the invitation to join the feast. Creation, redemption, and mission all exist so that this meal can take place.8
1. C.S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost (New Dehli: Atlantic Publishers and Distributers, 2005) p. 120
2.Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State (Philadelphia: Towar and J. & D. M. Hogan, 1830) p. 28
3. C.C. Jones, History of the Church of God ( New York: Charles Scribner & Co, 1867) p.12 2.
4. David Gooding, True to the Faith p. 161
5. Ibid., p. 162
6. Ibid., p. 163
7. Jonathan Edwards, “East of Eden” (WJE Online) http://edwards.yale.edu/archive?path=aHR0cDovL2Vkd2FyZHMueWFsZS5lZHUvY2dpLWJpbi9uZXdwaGlsby9nZXRvYmplY3QucGw/Yy4xNjoxNy53amVv
8. Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community and Mission Around the Table (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011) p. 138
Just wanted to say thanks for your article. I am finishing a paper on the theology of food for seminary and reference your article.
Eric Potter MD
Thanks Eric. Glad it was of some help. I would love to see your paper when you are finished with it. My email is email@example.com. Blessings.
Thank you. Balanced and informative.
Looking forward to the great Day of the wedding feast!
Excellent article full of enlightning information
On one hand when Christians act like they know the answer so vehemently I want to respond in a brash way, but then again one the other hand I think honey catches more flies than vinegar.
To be simple and right to the point. Jesus did not come to start a religion, he came to end the religious system of trying to earn something or anything from God. God does not need worship, praise, or service. God only gives. Everything he does is for us. The teaching of abstract spirit, heaven, etc is non hebraic, but rather Greek from Plato. This means it’s not from Jesus.
The garden of the eden story is not about produce selection. It’s symbolical like so many other biblical references. The subject of eating in the bible always accompanied a belief hence eating is symbolical of believing. If people really think god staked all of existence on a tree with bad produce then I have a bridge to sell you where geese lay golden eggs and cows jump over the moon. The story of adam eating fruit means he chose to believe incorrectly. What was the lie? The lie was about the heart of God and who and what man was created for. It’s really as simple as that. If you want to know the answers of that then look at Jesus and how much he gave on a day to day basis for mankind, and btw, throw out the concept of salvation from spiritual death or hell as both are Greek concepts stolen from Egyptians.