When I grew up SDA I was taught that it was ideal to be a vegetarian or even a vegan. Not just that it was better for your health, but that you are a better Christian because your body is a temple so you should eat healthy (1 Cor 6:19).
Secondly, they state that it is not a sin to eat meat in general so it’s your choice. But that you have to abstain from certain kinds of meats such as pork and shrimp and that it is a sin to eat them. The code that they follow here is the same as the Jews and can be found in Leviticus 11. Growing up SDA I happen to have this figured out in a general sense. I knew that I couldn’t eat pork, shellfish, or duck. There are a few other particulars but those are the only common “unclean meats” offered in the american diet so I didn’t have to memorize everything.
Though I was not a vegetarian I did follow the Leviticus 11 rules for most of my life. Before getting started in presenting why it is Biblically permissible to eat or abstain from any particular food I want to address this concept of the body being a temple. To do so I am going to paste the whole passage so that we can see it in context.
“12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. 14 And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. 15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. 17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. 18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Cor 6:12-20 KJV
Read through the above carefully, notice that he is speaking about sins against the body, specifically with regards to sexual immorality. Also notice in verse 13 he precludes food from being included in this classification. It is clear from the context that Paul is speaking on spiritual matters not carnal ones. My point is that it is poor practice to make this passage about health in general. Doing so strips verse 19 from its context. Eating healthy is a good thing, but no spiritual blessings or curses are promised either way.
Furthermore it is inconsistent on the part of SDA to assert that you must be a vegetarian due to the fact that your body is a temple, but then say it is not a sin to eat meat. The passage is about sin, so if it applies to vegetarianism then it would be a sin to eat meat. It is either one or the other you can’t have it both ways.
The New Covenant
The Bible is actually very clear that prescriptive food laws are obsolete in the new covenant. They served a function and purpose for a time but apply no longer to a New Covenant Christian. For a full Biblical breakdown on this I recommend reading my post titled The Law of Christ, you can return after breezing through it. My point is that Lev 11 is not our source for laws anymore, instead we are to turn to the texts of the New Covenant.
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Col 2:16-17 KJV
This verse above is very clear, most notably there is no other first century religion Paul could be referring to other than Judaism. And the food laws that they followed are the ones detailed in Leviticus 11. So since Paul is saying not to judge each other for matters of food and drink when he clearly tells us to judge each other righteously with regards to sin in other places (1 Cor 6:2-3) that must mean that the Leviticus 11 food laws are no longer prescriptively binding on New Covenant Christians.
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Tim 4:1-5 KJV
Above we see a chain of events starting with people giving head to seducing spirits. Forgive me, it might be my own life that I am reading into the text here but I have no problem seeing Ellen White at least applying to this verse in principle. Even without that though, Paul clearly condemns commanding people to abstain from meats as if it were law and then states:
“every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving“
I don’t know how one with an honest heart can just ignore that.
“And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.” Mark 7:18-20 KJV
This verse above is a big one for me. It used to bug me a great deal as a kid because I was reading it in the NIV at the time. It bothered me so much that I switched to the clear word where all such verses had been removed or altered. Because of this many SDA prefer the KJV over other versions as this passage in Mark is easier to ignore due to archaic language. Let’s look at the same verse in the NIV, not my favorite translation but it was the one I first used as a kid so in this case I’ll pick it for that reason.
“Are you so dull?”he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.” Mark 7:18-20 NIV
In the context of defiling one’s self with sin we see that Jesus has declared all foods clean. In the KJV it uses the word purge, which can be confusing today because purge is most commonly used to describe throwing something away, like to purge files from your computer. Below is an excerpt from the 1611 KJV found online.
As you can see, in old english it means the same thing as we see in the NIV or any other modern translation. All foods are being made clean, and it’s no longer a sin to eat them.
Another passage that just put’s this case to rest is found in Romans 14.
Simply put, in a Spiritual sense it doesn’t matter what you eat or what day you go to church on. Anybody who rejects this is in open rebellion to the Word and needs to repent. This passage is too clear to be interpreted in any other way.
I feel I have made my case on this topic, if there is something you feel I have left out please drop a comment at the bottom. Before signing off though I am going to address one final thing that many SDA bring up. It’s more an argument that the laity toss around, you don’t see serious SDA theologians using it. But for the sake of those whose consciences might be burdened I’ll take a moment to talk about Noah.
In the Book of Genesis God tells Noah to divide the animals clean from unclean, and to bring different numbers of each into the Ark so that they would survive.
“Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.” Gen 7:2 KJV
This is of course true, obviously since Moses was the one writing Genesis it stands to reason that the meaning of clean and unclean is the same as what we find in Lev 11. The argument an SDA will put forward here is to say that:
- Noah had to divide the animals by clean and unclean.
- Therefore he had to follow the Lev 11 laws.
- Since such a distinction existed before the ceremonial law…
- The conclusion is that such laws must still in effect today.
The problem is that their argument breaks down at #2. We have no clear verses commanding Noah to obey the Lev 11 dietary laws nor do we see any examples of his following them. Instead all we see is how many of each he is to bring on the Ark.
Besides that, there are very clear verses that plainly state Noah did NOT keep the Lev 11 food laws.
“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” Gen 1:29 KJV
Based on the above passage it would be fair to assert that God wanted all humans to be vegetarian after creation. This is far more strict than the food laws of Lev 11 in that it excludes all meat from the diet. So if Gen 7:2 were talking about clean and unclean meat for Noah to eat that would contradict Gen 1:29 where he wasn’t to eat any. It is because of that reason that I think the purpose of “clean” and “unclean” in Gen 7:2 is to classify the animals rather than to give Noah directions on what to eat.
And below is the biggest problem for turning to Noah to rescue the food laws from the Old Covenant.
“Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” Gen 9:3 KJV
There is no escaping that, after the Flood God opens up the menu for all meats. He doesn’t restrict it again until Lev 11. Some SDA have complained about this saying that it is not okay for Noah to eat a poisoned frog. I find this silly because its not a Biblical assertion at all. Of course it would be foolish for Noah to eat a poisoned frog, but the eating in and of itself would not be a sin. And for Noah’s sake I would hope that he would clean the poison from said frog before eating, if possible, as that would just be common sense.
I would argue that of all the things SDA get wrong this one is the most obvious. They really don’t have a Biblical leg to stand on with their dietary restrictions. I would personally find it refreshing if they changed their position and simply asserted that they choose to keep healthy food practices for the sake of health. But then that would be a medical conviction not a religious one.