Food Pharisees

A Hip and Thigh Classic

While I am preparing some longer posts, I thought I would dig back into the archives and bring to the front one of my more interesting posts so as to expose it to a fresher audience. It was brought back to mind after having a handful of conversations with some border line food pharisees.

Just as a note: The context of cancer is from 2006. I wanted everyone to know a head of time that I am fine and cancer free… In spite of my eating habits.

Food Pharisees

Since I announced I have an acinic cell carcinoma sitting in my neck (now officially confirmed), I have been exhorted on occasion as to the substance of my diet by what I like to call food Pharisees.

Food Pharisees are folks who vehemently insist that if I change my base diet from eating pepperoni/pineapple pizza, Noah’s bagel dogs, Costco chocolate dipped ice cream bars rolled in roasted almonds, and an assortment of otherwise unhealthy foods, and switch to only consuming juiced wheat grass, organic carrots, and purified water, my tumor would disappear.

Now I will confess I could eat better and I certainly need to lose a little weight. I would also imagine there is some truth about the impact of a proper diet on my overall health. However, these food Pharisees go way beyond just encouraging folks to eat healthy food, they assign a measure of intrinsic spirituality to eating their prescribed foods. In other words, if you really wish to be a spiritual Christian, as well as a totally healthy Christian with no physical problems, then you will eat the foods God has prescribed in the Bible. The fact that you do not eat them is the reason you have asthma, heart disease, sinus troubles, and cancer.

I had one person tell me once with a straight face and a voice full of authority that any cancer can be reversed and eliminated no matter how serious it is and how far along it has progressed, if only the cancer victim eats the foods ordained of God. This individual went on to inform me God’s foods are not processed by man; things like whole, uncooked vegetables and pure grains. Of course the term processed by man is rather vague. Something tells me Hamburger Helper and Lucky Charms falls into the category of processed by man.

This is not the first time I have encountered food Pharisees. Back in college when I was a fresh, brand new believer in the Lord, I had some close friends who started to imbibe the food Pharisee ideology. They had come across some alleged Christian food guru who insisted the food laws outlined in Leviticus was God’s special diet for all His people in both the OT, as well as the NT. Hence, spiritually minded Christians will have a diet reflective of the clean and unclean animals and other foods regulated upon the theocratic nation of Israel during the OT.

When confronted with the account of Peter’s vision in Acts 10 where he sees a great cloth lowered from heaven with all the unclean animals displayed on it, and then a voice tells Peter to rise, kill and eat, my friends told me that was not God repealing the Levitical food laws, but it was the inclusion of the gentiles to be under the Levitical food laws. (I am still scratching my head over that one).

They further appealed to 1 Timothy 4:3,4 where Paul writes concerning certain apostates forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from food 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. Rather than understanding this passage to be another confirmation of God lifting the food law restrictions, my friends told me it was an affirmation of their continual binding on the life of the Christian believer because Paul writes of food which God created to be received and every creature of God is good -– the food and animals God declared clean in Leviticus.

I was almost persuaded by their arguments as a naive young believer, but then they started telling me how this guru they liked suggested all new clean food converts must under go a colon cleansing in order for this new spiritual lifestyle to have maximum effect. The cleansing basically involved having to drink foul, enzyme-laden juice for a week, and then undergo a high-powered, yet invigorating, enema. I was told I would experience a little discomfort. Experiencing a little discomfort with a high-powered enema? That is like saying you may experience a little moisture in a hurricane. Any ways, that was the stop sign the Lord used to turn me away from embracing this particular food Pharisee model. Invigorating indeed.

As I have reflected on my encounters with food Pharisees, I believe it is rather telling they exist primarily in pseudo-Christian cults and false religions. That is because these groups are work oriented with their perspective on spirituality and they have to provide their personal holiness as outlined by their particular deity. The practitioners assign spiritual value to the maintenance of their rituals, and many of these rituals involve food.

For instance, Islam promotes ridiculous food and purity laws. Everyone knows they reject eating any pork, but some Muslims go so far as to insist that no one who has handled pork can touch any of their non-pork food, even if the chef has washed his hands thoroughly and hasn’t touched the pork in hours or days. I had a college friend who worked at the local Pizza Hut near campus. Every day Muslims would call to order pizza. Their one rule was that no pork could touch it, like pepperoni or sausage. My friend told me the person taking the order would assure the Muslim of no pork contamination, and then proceed to squeeze sausage juice on the dough before the pizza was made. All the Muslims I knew just loved the pizza from Pizza Hut.

Mormons also have their food laws against drinking anything with caffeine and Seventh-Day Adventists are probably the most notorious of all pseudo-Christian cults in that they have their entire line of food products they insist their members eat. Even pagan religionists have their food laws. Vegans not only abstain from eating any animal by-product, the more devoted will even stay away from using animal by-products like leather belts and shoes, or down filled coats.

One of the more curious examples of food Pharisees in recent times comes from the liberal secular world. There is a major push among America leftist elites to make all mothers breast feed their newborns. I say this is a curiosity because most secular liberals seem to disdain motherhood in general and it is a viewpoint cutting entirely against their pro-abortion stance. With this recent case, the public-health authorities in the state of Massachusetts, a cesspool for leftist social experimentation, in a push to promote breastfeeding now bans hospitals from giving formula samples to women who just had a baby.

Now I will admit up front that my wife and I are breastfeeding supporters. In the case of women’s breasts, God did design them to be the best means to feed an infant. However, neither one of us are breastfeeding “only” advocates, certainly not like those creepy lactation groups who breastfeed their preteen children. We definitely would not claim a mother is violating God’s spiritual blessing if she is unable to breastfeed, or even chooses not to altogether.

Colossians 2:20-23 is the one passage in scripture that silences all genuine minded food Phariseeism, particularly those who truly believe there is some inherent godliness with eating “biblical” food. Paul clearly states there is only an appearance of wisdom with eating foods self imposed by one’s religious conviction, but in reality, depriving one’s self of “unbiblical” foods really doesn’t do anything for the indulgences of the flesh (Col. 2:23). In other words, it doesn’t change a persons heart. That is because sinfulness is not caused by eating outward things, but is a condition coming from the heart. People are in need of a heart change, not a diet change, in order to experience true spirituality. As Jesus stated to his disciples, it is what comes out of a man that defiles him, not what he eats (Mark 7:20-23). So for you food Pharisees, may I say a heart felt thank you that you care about my well being both physically and spiritually. I will certainly eat in moderation, however, I will not be giving up my grilled ham steaks and fried chicken and I would likewise encourage you to treat yourself to a Big Mac.

18 thoughts on “Food Pharisees

  1. I enjoyed this post. CAN relate! I got caught up in a cultish mentality when it came to food, strict vegan, 2 meals a day, etc. Then I found grace & who knows where that will take me. Let’s just say that I eat the occasional meat these days with much thanksgiving. Salvation outside Christ is no salvation at all, but bondage.

  2. Fun post!I have noticed the movement toward health in the secular “hippie” world — and it is a movement that is starting in mainstream Christianity too. I don’t agree with Phariseeism, but it certainly isn’t a bad idea to research food — how its made, how its grown, how its processed, and eat the best you can.And I do have a friend who knocked out a serious form of lukemia — he believes mostly from the raw and organic diet he consumed. Dr. Spock’s book on Family Care has an interesting chapter on how he beat cancer. It seems research is moving toward revealing “some” connection between getting beyond cancer and the food we eat. If this is the case, why not eat that way BEFORE we have cancer? At least aim toward healthier eating? Be free to eat your Big Mac, but feel free to enjoy a luscious organic mandarin orange too!! Besides, it is fun to share with those hippie-types that we know personally the God who designed that “perfect” organic mandarin orange! It’s not “nature” that makes things better (like breast-feeding), but simply that the God who created nature knew what He was doing.– from someone who ate McDonald’s for lunch today :) and at least once a week

  3. I appreciate what you have to say, but don’t carry things too far. My mom had cancer, and tried the natural/healthy foods route. It didn’t cure the cancer, but she was in amazing health to face chemo, which is in fact working at an alarming rate because her body is so healthy already.We as a family have gone mostly organic/natural as a result and it has made a huge difference in our health. We’re not better Christians but we sure feel better!

  4. Mama of Three, I certainly believe there is wisdom in eating properly. Especially in moderation, and particularly eating your vegetables. The last thing I wish to do is give folks the impression I believe Christians are free to just eat 3 square meals of mac and cheese daily (something my 2 year old would do if we let him). In a strict manner of speaking, yes, Christians are free to eat just mac and cheese, but obviously this is not the best thing a Christian could do with his or her diet. I knew a guy my first year in college who ate nothing but pizza and hamburgers. And I am not exaggerating. Pizza and hamburgers washed down with soda. In fact, soda was the only variety he had in his diet. While in school with me, he did learn to like pasta, but he totally refused to eat any thing that smote of health. His grandparents had raised him and they pretty much indulged him to eat anything he wanted. He chose the hamburger/pizza combo. It is sad to say that he was a flabby, pastey white guy with greasy hair. I believe a person can enjoy the mac and cheese in moderation, but hey, let’s not go overboard.

  5. This reminds me of a t-shirt my friend has:on the front it says in beautiful script:”I love animals!”On the back in big bold letters it says:”They’re Delicious!”

  6. The epidemiologic evidence for links between diet and cancer is tenuous. Perhaps the best that can be said is that food choices exert their most significant influences in the events leading up to the development of cancer. Once a cancer is established there is little if anything that diet can do to influence the outcome, except that good nutrition can enhance one’s overall condition before, during, and after cancer treatment. Alterations in diet are, however, no substitute for medical and surgical intervention.

  7. I find christians are willing to embrace and preach any other gospel but that of Jesus Christ. In other words, if they can preach the gospel of healthy living, prosperity through the latest and greatest MLM, then they can excuse their conscience from its guilt of failing to preach Christ.I think another issue though is that of gluttony. Let’s face it, how many extremely fat baptists have you seen? It doesn’t do much for a testimony to God’s power in their life. We are free to eat anything that God has made, but with wisdom. The point is that food doesn’t make us less or more holy.Love of food can become an idol though, and a hindrance to true godliness. Actually, fasting is a practice that is much overlooked today.Interesting post though.

  8. Interesting post. I agree that there are a lot of whacky diets out there complete with theories of how each one is superior. However, I have recovered from a life-threatening illness (bone marrow failure) using natural foods and lots of juicing. I did not take the immunosuppressants or bone marrow transplant that they were offering me. That was in 1999, and today in 2006, I’m pretty well recovered. You can read my experience at When I embarked on my natural diet program, I was very new at it and since I was so desperate to recover (I was very blood transfusion dependent on both red cells and platelets), I was very, very strict with my diet. Looking back, I may have been too strict, and I probably didn’t have to go vegetarian (I’m no longer vegetarian), but I do seriously think that improved diet helped me to recover. I did not take their drugs for my condition, so the diet was likely instrumental to my healing. Anyway, thought I’d throw that in there. Oh, regarding the passages where God allows us to eat anything He has made, I’m pretty sure at the time that revelation was made, there was no coca cola, twinkies, kool aid, TV dinners, etc complete with food dyes, flavor enhancers, and preservatives that we can’t even pronounce, etc. And I don’t think those kinds of “foods” would be considered what God has made. I imagine at the time Peter received that revelation, people were still preparing their foods at home, and not by mass prepackaging of foods preserved in such a way that their shelf-life would last into the next century. That’s not natural, and not the way God made food. Industrialize foods is relatively new. It became widely popular only in this century especially after WWII. (Canning and preserving foods for the military introduced the idea that big money could be made if canning and preserving foods would not be limited to the military, but sold to the public. Even fast foods only came into popularity with the advent of cars). So I think lots of the foods we have today was not considered foods that were “okayed” by God. The livestock back then was probably not pumped full of hormones and anitibiotics either. There’s lots more to how food, and how we grow and acquire it, is very different from the time of Acts. So I think to say the foods we have now and the foods available to the apostles at the time of Acts are the same is erroneous. Thanks and take care!Marla

  9. So I think to say the foods we have now and the foods available to the apostles at the time of Acts are the same is erroneous.I think you are missing the point of Acts 10. The vision Peter saw was not setting a precedent for what sort of foods a person should or should not eat. It demonstrated to Peter that gospel redemption expands to the gentiles.I don’t believe God cares what a person eats. Food, no matter how it is prepared – fresh and organic, massed produced and canned – has no intrinsic sinfulness attached to it. Is it the wisest thing to eat processed food all the time? No, not necessarily and I prefer fresh cooked food because it more tastey. However, the wisdom of eating more healthy does not equate godliness as many food pharisees suggest and attempt to build a case from the Bible. In other words, the Bible no where lays down a diet a man of God saved in Christ is required to eat in order to get the maximum amount of spirituality.I can be just as godly, pleasing to the Lord, and filled with the spirit when eating a steady diet of pepperoni pizza, twinkies and soda, rather than wheat grass juice, organic salad and tofu.Fred

  10. Point well taken, Fred. I believe the bible says, “and a voice spoke to him again a second time, what God has cleansed you must not call common.” I realize the main thrust was to expand redemption to the gentiles. I only mentioned it because you appeared to use it as one example why all foods are okay to eat. So I was responding to that that I don’t think that Acts meant that everything was okay to eat. Certainly I am not saying that eating unhealthful foods will cause you to lose eternal life or anything like that, but there are a few things to consider. From the standpoint of the body being the temple of God, would we be right to intentionally harm our bodies, say by deliberately burning ourselves or from other methods of defacing our bodies? That would not be respecting the temple of God that He has given us. I realize that eating junk food isn’t as “obvious” that you’re hurting yourself, but from observation, we have witnessed that eating better foods is more healthful and healing to the body. Stuffing yourself daily with highly processed pastries until your colon gets clogged up and impacted is harming oneself. So, I can see if a person didn’t “know” that they were harming their bodies through poor food choices that would be excusable. BUT, when the person is confronted with the knowledge that healthful foods help to preserve and restore the body, and yet that person still ignores and rejects that, then this is where I think he starts to become accountable for his poor food choices. Not that he will lose eternal life or anything, but it may fall into the category of sin described in James 4:17 “Therefore to him that knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin to him.”One could also look at it from the standpoint of how we treat others. If we become sickly due to our lack of proper care, then we are less able to help others because of our physical weakness, and as disease progresses, we start to also become a burden on others to care for us. It is not easy for family and friends to care for a sick family member. It is heart-wrenching to watch your loved one suffer, while medical bills pile up and is left to the surviving family members. So deliberately allowing yourself to become sick is not loving your neighbor. The Bible also calls us to wisdom. How we handle many particulars in life has to do with wisdom. The Bible teaches us to gain wisdom. There seems to be an association of wisdom and godliness. We are to seek her. And I feel that a godly person who understands the connection of healthful foods and increased vitality would adjust their behavior as long as it doesn’t conflict with other Biblical principles. So how does eating good nutritous foods conflict with any Biblical principle? Now I realize you can eat well and still get sick, but at least then you’re not being neglectful. Take care,Marla

  11. Marla,May I respectfully point out that in your use of Scripture to support your personal food preferences, you commit a basic hermeneutical error by ignoring the context of passages you quote or reference.For example, the context of James 4:17 is all about presuming upon the future. It has nothing to do with dietary restrictions. To imply, based on this text, that it is sinful to eat certain foods is mistaken. You also refer to Paul’s teaching that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Look at the context of I Cor. 6:19-20. It is speaking of defiling the body with sexual immorality. Yet I’ve seen this text used to browbeat believers who drink in moderation, or smoke an occasional cigar or pipe, and yes even eat fast food and processed foods. This is an abuse of Scripture, not respect for it. I agree that a Christian ought not to deliberately abuse the body in any way. But to suggest that eating processed, preserved, or even fast foods constitutes such abuse has very little support.I suspect that eating and drinking such things in moderation does little or no harm to the body. This is what the Bible refers to as a “disputable” issue and our attitude and conduct in such areas is addressed clearly by Paul in Romans 14. Please study that chapter carefully and you will find that God is less concerned with the kinds of food we eat, and much more concerned about how we deal with our brethren who hold a different view that we do. What is not disputable is the fact that OT dietary laws were rescinded and any attempt by believers to use them to sting the conscience of another believer is a violation of the principles Paul lays out in Romans 14. By all means, eat according to your own conscience. But allow your brethren in Christ to follow their conscience as well in an area Scripture has little to say about. For His glory,Steve

  12. Hello Steve:I appreciate your insight and agree with you that the context of the passages I used above do not specifically pertain to foods. However, it was the “principles” of those passages that I was using and therefore, still believe they apply appropriately for how I used them. For instance, that our bodies are the temple of God is a principle. Just because in 1 Cor 6:19-20 the context is dealing with sexual immorality defiling the temple of God (our bodies), it doesn’t necessarily meanthat there is no other way to defile the body but through sexual immorality. According to that verse, our bodies are the temple of God, and we are not to defile it. That is the principle. I think a problem that some Christians fall into when interpreting scripture is that it is common to think that just because the Bible doesn’t “specially” mention something, that it is not included. Sure some go too far with that, but let me explain. For instance, the Bible talks about love being patient, kind, gentle, etc. But what exactly is being patient, kind, gentle, etc.? Those are general terms and what they entail is broad. There is no “list” of things that those qualities include, yet they can involve a lot of things and we are called to have and cultivate those qualities and act upon them. It doesn’t say, being gentle is . . ., being patient is . . . , being kind is . . . The Bible would be so big if it had to describe and itemize every single detail of what each principle included or didn’t include. Yet there are acts/actions which are kind, gentle, patient, etc. and those acts would be considered following those Biblical principles. The wisdom of using generalities in the Bible makes it timeless as customs and circumstances change throughout time. Being general preserves the “principles” so that specifics are not necessary to “list” in all of scripture. Sure there are many examples in the Bible for things like what is evil, but it doesn’t list every evil that we would agree today is evil such as dropping a dirty bomb in an orphanage. We know that’s evil, but not listed in the Bible. Are we to say then that since the Bible never specifically states that abortion is wrong that it’s okay to have them? But yet we know abortions are wrong from the principles of the sanctity of life laid out to us in the Bible of not killing. It is left to us Christians to determine/decipher what patience, kindness, gentleness, etc. includes according to our own consciences. So just because the Bible only mentioned sexual immorality as defiling the body, I don’t think that means there is no other way to defile the body aside from sexual immorality. Since I do have a conscience about health issues and food, it would go against my conscience to give candy to a diabetic or twinkies to someone I knew had colon issues. I have no idea what health weaknesses people around me have, so would not recommend to anyone to go ahead and just eat anything. I won’t give food or candy to other people’s kids that I wouldn’t give to my own kids. I hope you noticed in my posts above that I don’t think that any of this affects our salvation. I don’t try to force my dietary choices onto others, although I do realize there are some out there who do. HOWEVER, the reason I was compelled to respond in the first place was because of the disparaging tone Fred’s post has towards those of us with a conscience to eat healthful foods. I completely understand that he does not want to limit or change his food choices, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s fine for him. And I do think it’s wrong for others to try to “force” him to change his diet if he’s made it clear that he’s not interested. But then, Fred comes out doing just what he’s complaining about others forcing their views or making one feel stupid or guilty by calling other people with food consciences names such as “food pharisees.” I get the feeling from the content of his post and the title of his post that the use of “pharisee” is not complimentary to those who are careful with what they eat. He even goes so far as to say that they tend to be “pseudo-Christians.” Since the issue of food is completely separate from salvation, claiming that those who are concerned with the foods they eat are “pseudo-Christian is illogical. In my eyes, he is essentially “verbally” repaying evil for evil by disparaging their choice according to their conscience. Would it not be more loving to state your stance on foods “without” accusing those who do not follow your food choices as pseudo-Christian? Again, he can eat whatever he likes. I can’t speak for others, but outside of my family, I don’t push my diet on others, Christian or not. But as a fellow Christian who is health conscious, I did find Fred’s post offensive and not sensitive to my conscience. Course it is his blog, so he can say what he wants. I thank him for allowing me to express my thoughts about his post and “why,” however I did comment because I disagreed with his assessment of those of us who are concerned about our food choices.Take care,Marla

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  14. It seems a little foolish to motivate people to eat disgusting processed food that is filled with chemicals. One does not have to be a yoga lovin, guru following new ager to think pasture raised organic meat is healthier {because it has been tested and actually does have a different nutritional content then CAFO meat}, or that crops not sprayed with agent orange are better for our health. Cancer is a mutation of a normal cell process and it is not a stretch of the imagination to see how that could tie in to the processed junk people eat. Organic {meaning not chemicals or had the DNA altered} veggies and fruit and quality meat are simply eating as people did 200 years ago. There is a balance -yes – but please don’t push McDonalds on anyone. That’s just disgusting. And don’t make people feel like they are Pharisees if they choose to be healthy and want to encourage you to do the same. It is always helpful to fuel our bodies with quality nutrition especially when fighting something horrible like cancer.

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