Bacon is an extremely popular ingredient in many recipes and on many tables. But not all faiths allow it on the menu, including some branches of Christianity. What could be so wrong with it?
We might be tempted to refer to Leviticus 11, where God details what is okay to eat and what is not for Moses. And we would be right to make such a reference, which is likely the reason why certain people so vigorously defend Old Testament dietary restrictions.
But did you know God later changed His rules, and now we can eat whatever we want? Several New Testament scriptures prove this truth. The first is an easily overlooked chapter in the book of Acts, where God has a little conversation with Peter.
Rules, Rules, Rules
In Leviticus 11, God plainly details which foods are okay to eat and which are not. The purpose was to keep the Israelites separated from their idolatrous neighbors. Here are the “clean” animals allowed on the menu:
- Animals with cloven hooves who chew cud, i.e., cows. Both criteria had to be met.
- Anything with fins and scales in either oceans or rivers. Again, both criteria had to be met.
- Most birds.
- Flying insects with jointed legs, i.e., locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers.
Now, here is what was not allowed:
- Rock Hyrax (also called rock rabbit or dassie)
- Swine (ham, bacon, sausage, and all pork products)
- Crustaceans, mollusks, whales, dolphins
- Kites (not the toy)
- Insects that crawl or slide on the ground
- All reptiles
- Any mammals that are not cloven-hoofed and do not chew cud, i.e., dogs, cats, beavers, rodents, etc.
That’s a pretty long list!
Pork is considered especially unclean in Jewish tradition. Evidence of it is found in Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39 when Jesus delivers the insane man in the cemetery from demon possession and sends them into a herd of pigs.
As part of the rules in Leviticus 11, God declared certain consequences if you ate or touched something that touched an unclean, dead animal.
First, you had to wash your clothes, then leave the village until the evening, when you would again become ceremonially clean. If you touched a cloth that touched an unclean, dead animal, you had to put the cloth in water until evening. Then it becomes clean again.
If any part of the dead animal fell on a vessel of some sort, you had to break the vessel. If it fell on a stove or oven as you cooked it, the appliance was considered broken and never used again. And, if it fell on a seed meant for sowing, that is okay. But if the seed was wet at the time, it was unclean.
And, of course, if the clean animal you can eat somehow dies before you kill it for a meal (like vultures eating roadkill), it is unclean. In that case, you had to wash your clothes and stay away until evening.
It only makes sense that people kept the dietary rules considering all the various confusing consequences. If you did, not only did God consider you clean but also holy.
“You shall, therefore, consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy.” Leviticus 11:44
What made the problem worse was only the priests knew the rules by heart. They wrote none down then, so it was up to them to relay the information to the people. Even so, most people did not memorize them, so it became an ongoing issue. Gradually, people figured out what was okay to eat and what was not, but the issue continued for centuries.
But one day, God finally threw out the rules and declared everything clean. And Peter was the first to find out.
A Tale of Two Men
In Acts 10, we find two stories going on simultaneously. One was about Peter, and the other was about a soldier named Cornelius.
Cornelius was a centurion in the Italian Regiment of the Roman Empire, but he was not like other centurions. The people knew him as a kind, devout man who feared God, and his family was the same.
One afternoon as Cornelius was praying, he saw a vision of an angel of God saying to him,
“Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa and send for Simon, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” Acts 10:4-6
Cornelius called two of his servants, plus a soldier who was loyal to him, and sent them to Joppa. Meanwhile, as the servants and the soldier set off, Peter, already in Joppa, went up to the roof of the house to pray. Eventually, he became hungry, but instead of snacking, he waited for whoever was cooking lunch to finish.
As he waited, he fell into a trance where he saw heaven open and an object resembling a sheet descending to the earth. The sheet’s four corners were bound. Inside the sheet were different kinds of four-footed animals, wild beasts, insects and reptiles, and birds. That is when Peter heard God’s voice.
“Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” (v13)
Peter, knowing the rules, instantly protested.
“Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common [i.e., unholy or defiled] or unclean.” (v14, additions)
Finally, in verse 15, God declares the old rules are gone. He also admonishes Peter.
“And a voice spoke to him again a second time. ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’” (v15)
This conversation between Peter and God went back and forth three times before God took the sheet into heaven again.
A New Covenant
None of what God said made any sense to Peter. He was truly bewildered. As he sat thinking about it, the servants and the soldier knocked on the door downstairs, looking for him.
Peter went with the men back to Cornelius’ house, where he met a crowd of Gentiles waiting to meet him. It is important to remember that it was unlawful, according to Jewish tradition at the time, for a Jew to enter a Gentile’s house. To do so would make you ceremonially unclean. Peter knew this, of course. But He obeyed God’s direction and went inside (Acts 10:28-29).
With all his relatives and close friends crowded into the house, Cornelius told Peter about the angel’s visitation and the instructions to send for Peter. Looking around and assessing the situation, there was only one thing Peter could talk about—the Good News of Jesus.
That is when something totally unexpected happened.
Bacon Gets the Green Light
Here in Acts 10, God was about to do something amazing that would forever change how Peter ministered and how we understand God’s heart.
As Peter spoke to Cornelius’ family, the Holy Spirit suddenly fell on everyone, causing them to speak in other tongues (v46). Peter and his friends stood in silence, feeling stunned. How could the Holy Spirit come upon Gentiles?!
Being reminded of the events of the first Pentecost (Acts 2), Peter recognized what was happening and commanded everyone to be baptized. It was a very happy time in Cornelius’ house.
Now, you might be wondering what Peter’s conversation with God and the event at Cornelius’ house have to do with each other. How are they related? This is where a lot of people miss what God was doing.
First, God’s purpose for Peter’s vision of the sheet was to erase the old dietary rules and declare every animal clean to eat. In Acts 10:15, God says everything He has cleansed can no longer be called “common” or unholy. Peter needed to understand the old dietary rules were gone.
Second, to drive His point home, God illustrated for Peter what He meant by declaring everything and everyone clean by spiritually baptizing Cornelius’ household.
God proclaimed to Peter that spiritual cleansing is not reserved only for the Jews anymore; It is now for anyone who wants it. There are no more lines separating Jews and Gentiles to receive God’s blessing of salvation (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). When we accept Jesus into our hearts, He spiritually cleanses us through the Holy Spirit and the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
Gentiles are no longer “common” or “unclean.” We are sanctified through Jesus Christ. The Jews, symbolized by the clean animals in Peter’s vision, are now united with Gentiles, symbolized by the unclean animals. We are all united within the body of Christ.
Now that we are all on the same playing field, we can all eat the same food. No animal is unclean anymore since God alone has cleansed us rather than requiring our obedience to Mosaic Law.
Here in Acts 10, God gave bacon the official green light, and millions of people have been rejoicing ever since. But Acts 10 is not the only place in the Bible where God declares the new dietary rules.
More Support for Bacon
The apostle Paul confirms the change in dietary laws in several places.
“Therefore, do not let your good be spoken of as evil, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
Paul confirms that what we eat and drink have no bearing on our salvation, referred to here as “the kingdom of God.” Our salvation through Jesus is not evident because of our diet but from our fruit—righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Paul speaks of it again in 1 Corinthians 8, a chapter rich with clarifications about obeying your conscience in Christ rather than blindly following rules (if you debate whether to allow your kids to trick-or-treat, this is the chapter you should read).
1 Corinthians 8 mainly addresses idol worship and what to do with the meat left over from pagan sacrifices sold at the local markets. Believers did not want to sin against the Lord, so Paul clarified the issue.
“Therefore, concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there is no other God but one. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge. But food does not commend us to God, for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. (1 Corinthians 8:4, 7, 8)
Paul reminds us there is only one God who does not require animal sacrifices because of the finished work on the cross. No other deities exist, and neither do evil spirits. Food offered to any idols, or any other food, is now considered neutral under God (“Good does not commend us to God”), and there is no need to feel spiritually corrupted and guilty.
Here in 1 Corinthians 8, God declares that bacon and all other foods are okay to eat.
Salvation by Grace Alone, not Food
Paul later wrote to his protégée Timothy, encouraging and warning him to remember what Jesus accomplished for us, especially when false teachers exert their influence.
“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 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, for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
No food, bacon or otherwise, should be refused if we receive it with thanksgiving to the Lord for His generosity and kindness.
The author of Hebrews repeats Paul’s warning and reminder that abstaining from certain foods does not sanctify us.
“Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines, for it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” (Hebrews 13:9-10)
The author makes it crystal clear: Old Testament dietary laws are abolished because of Jesus. Because of the Messiah, we are saved by grace, not by keeping dietary rules. Keeping such rules profits no one any longer. Now, we have an altar called Jesus to whom we confess our sins and offer our worship that those who remain stuck in Old Testament laws do not have access (but hopefully will).
Some may argue that if God has thrown away the dietary laws, then every Old Testament law has been thrown away. This is foolishness. We are saved and remain forever clean by grace, not by laws, and we display the evidence of our fruit by keeping those laws that uphold God’s holiness as well as our own. The Ten Commandments is one example.
God calls us to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 19:2, 20:7, 20:26, 21:8; Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:7); therefore, we must keep the laws of morality. The Bible is clear: Laws about bacon and all other food and drink no longer exist.
Grace (and Bacon) is for Everyone
After spending a few days at Cornelius’ baptizing all his friends and relations, Peter returned home only to get some pushback from the other apostles. How could he have entered the home of an uncircumcised Gentile and eaten with them?
Peter explains the entire story from the beginning and what God taught him through his recent experience.
“John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. If, therefore, God gave them the same gift as he gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” Acts 11:16-17
The apostles completely understood Peter, causing them to declare, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18)
If you know anyone who believes they cannot eat pork, bacon, sausage, shrimp, lobster, or other specific foods, now you know the truth. God declares it is okay to eat these things. Even camel if you’re into that sort of thing.
Pray for your friend that the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth of God’s word to them, and do not give up. We would not want anyone to miss out on all of God’s blessings, would we? Especially bacon.