A New Testament Perspective on Eating

Is salvation enacted directly by God as He looks on the faithfulness of His Son and the faith of those who loyally recognize Him...or is salvation mediated through the eating of foods consecrated by a priest at an altar?    In this post we will look at some explicit New Testament statements about eating. Doing this we can shape a kind of New Testament "doctrine of eating."  This will provide a stable starting point from which to judge some of the more divergent teachings of "sacramental eating" that are developed outside of the prophetic scriptures.
In the Gospel some Pharisees and Scribes criticized Jesus' disciples for eating without performing ritual washings, Jesus called the multitude together and responded.   "Hear Me, everyone and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear (Mark 7:14, 15)!"   The disciples, unsure that they understood the full import of His teaching, asked for further explanation.  Jesus responded with more on the subject of eating: "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated (Mark 7: 18,19)?" Notice that Jesus is making a distinction between that which is physical -the food and the stomach, and that which is non-physical -the heart.  As recorded in Luke's gospel, Jesus Christ instructs His followers with anxiety-excluding-wisdom, and this wisdom points to the life of faith in God over against the peripherals of food and clothing. "For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing (Luke 12:22, 23)."

In the passage above, Jesus speaks of eating in a non-mystical...even rationalistic sense.  Jesus' rational view of eating does not prevent Him, however, from using "eating food" as a powerful metaphorical illustrator of spiritual truths; as in the following three examples:
1)"I have food to eat that you do not know about...My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work (John 4:32-34)."
2)"Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal....This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent (John 6:27-29)."
3) "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst (John 6:35).
The New Testament perspective of eating does give room to the importance of the intimate fellowship and the relational aspect of a shared meal.  Under this aspect we properly understand the revelation to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), The stern warning against selfish class distinctions at Corinth (1 Cor.11:17-34), and the frequent shared meals in the book of Acts.

  The New Testament perspective on eating, not being weighted with religious ceremony or mysterious power, stands out in contrast to the backdrop of both Judaism and to the Hellenistic Idolatry of the Gentiles.  The New Testament understanding of the Kingdom of God gives rise to this contrast:  "...for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17)."

In the passage cited below the Apostle Paul, addressing the issue of Idolatrous rituals, undercuts the validity of Hellenistic sacramental thought.  The popular thought in idolatrous circles was that eating consecrated foods offered before idols would confer saving power to the participants. So Paul says, "But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat (1 Corinthians 8:8)."  In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author speaks of New Testament liberty from the Mosaic ceremonial laws which: "...relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation (Hebrews 9:10).  And the message of Hebrews is reiterated with this: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited (Hebrews 13:8-9)."

Aware of the New Testament perspective of eating which is behind these passages, the student of true religion is better prepared to grapple with, and reject, the catholic synthesis between  the doctrine of Christ and Hellenistic religion; especially as that synthesis popularizes a distraction from the way union with Jesus is actually effected. That is, by loyal-acknowledgment of Jesus Christ, chiefly manifest in a submitted embrace of His teaching.