Our Pages

Good to eat: did Jesus contradict the OT?

Weekly Q&A

Good to eat: did Jesus contradict the OT?
Posted on August 17, 2021  - By Thomson B Thomas

Why do Jesus and God the Father contradict each other in what they say about clean and unclean foods? In the Old Testament, God clearly declares some animals clean and unclean. In the New Testament, Jesus gives a very logical explanation for why what goes into the body cannot defile the man. Why the inconsistency? The same logic could technically apply to OT Jews too.

Basically, the question is about the dietary law that was given to the Jews in the Old Testament and about its apparent abolition in the New Testament. Jesus’ words make it seem like the New Testament revelation is correcting the Old Testament revelation of Jehovah.

Unity in deity

But Scripture makes it crystal clear that there is no such contradiction. The words of the Lord Jesus makes it clear enough that there is no “Jehovah vs Jesus” concept in Scripture: 

  • “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24). 
  • “So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me” (John 7:16). 
  • “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). 
  • “I and the Father are one” (John 10.30). 

It is important to know that the Jews were prohibited from eating various animals not because of any evil in those animals

What the NT teaches

Now, the dietary laws given by Jehovah to the Israelites are recorded in Leviticus 11. The Lord had clearly laid out what was unclean to eat and what was clean. And the Jews were very particular about keeping these rules given to them. 

We see that in Peter, who told the Lord, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). But the Lord immediately clarified that this Law was not applicable to them anymore. He said, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). 

Certain false teachers called the ‘Judaizers’ wanted to introduce the Jewish laws into the Christian faith. But the apostles wrote in response to them, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” (Acts 15:28–29). 

These verses clearly show that the dietary laws of the Old Testament were no longer applicable. Jesus’ words are unmistakably clear: “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:10–11). 

Tests of obedience

While this sounds revolutionary, it seems curative as well. It looks like what was illogical has been made logical in the New Testament. But the truth is far from this.

It is important to know that the Jews were prohibited from eating various animals not because of any evil in those animals. As Paul writes, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5). 

In general, this was true for all times. But the prohibitions in Leviticus 11 were given as a test of obedience. The Lord was proving their obedience to Him. Jews were not supposed to eat those unclean animals because the Lord told them so. It was unclean for them because the Lord declared them so.

In each epoch in Biblical history, the Lord had kept tests to prove the obedience of His people. We see such a test even in the garden of Eden. The Lord told Adam that they should not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.17).

It was not because of any intrinsic evil in the fruit. They were not supposed to eat it because it was forbidden to them. And because of the Lord’s command, eating that fruit became a sinful act. 

The sign of those under the new covenant — the church — is no longer external, but internal

A new covenant

Such tests of obedience are given in the New Testament time too. Those who have accepted the gospel as truth are commanded to live an obedient life. It is our duty to turn to the Word of God, see what is being commanded, and keep them in life.

What is different, however, is that Israel lived under the old covenant. It was set up to mark them out as a separate people from the pagan nations around them. And that involved keeping certain ceremonial laws — of which dietary laws were a part.

Under the new covenant, ceremonial laws are done away with. The sign of those under the new covenant — the church — is no longer external, but internal — physical circumcision vs heart circumcision, to put it another way.

Thus, we can see there is no inconsistency with God. On the contrary, what we see is consistency. In all ages, He demands obedience. The commands for the test may differ from time to time, but essentially, the Lord wants His people to be obedient to Him.

Thomson B Thomas

About Thomson B Thomas

Thomson B Thomas is an evangelist and Bible teacher based in Mumbai, India. He has authored many books (mostly Christo-centric) and contributes regularly to Christian periodicals. He holds a Masters degree in philosophy and religion, and is keenly involved in ministering at conferences and churches, both in India and abroad.



Get a notification in your Inbox

A weekly brief of new resources and Scripture-based insights from our editorial team.