Most denominations of Christianity are divided on the subject of whether pork is still a sin, etc. We need only go to 1John 3:4 to read “sin is the transgression of the law”. Christians within any denomination will say pork eating is their only sin. However they forget that God said we must confess and repent of sin (Confessing any sin, till we grow more and be transformed more into the image of Christ).
Some even go so far as to say we can now eat abominations found in the sea like crabs and toxic barnicles etc. The typical response of today’s Christians is they can eat pork now because we have refrigerators, and it doesn’t go bad. The farther you go back in time the more it was unimaginable to eat it. Even the Greeks and Romans limited their pork to very few special festivals, where it was eaten quickly.
However it has remained in the historic church a known factor. Several Bishops have been excommunicated from Rome based on their stance of rejecting the new traditions of pork eating, and telling Christians to turn against the Sabbath and feast days of YAHWEH. The purpose of this article is to show there have always been leaders in the historic church who remained true to the word in regards to pork.
Although we need only read from the word of God to form our opinions, this article is to show it has been historically understood.
The earliest Christian text (apart from the Bible) “the Didache” says in Chapter 6 that all believers should attempt to keep the dietary laws. It says also to be very careful when there is meat offered to idols.
Text: “See that no one causes you to err from this way of the Teaching, since apart from God it teaches you. For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able. And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods.”
Our Ancestor’s Historical Practice
The Scots have always hated pork and even several Kings banned it. Most farmers hated pigs. Although Jews launched many campaigns to promote Scots to breed pigs for profits, these always failed and Scots refused. They said even their lowest workers wouldn’t touch it! Here is a historical account of the Scottish aversion to pork.
W.E. Filmer in “Our Scythian Ancestors” (London), recorded “Herodotus tells us that the Scythians ‘never use pigs for sacrifice,’ and will not even breed them anywhere in the country.” (Herodotus, Bk. IV, para. 63).
Julius Ceasar, when describing the Celtic peoples of France/Gallia and Britain, in circa 55 BC, he mentions the Hebrew dietary laws prominently as follows,
“They do not regard it lawful to eat hare, and the cock, and the goose..” (Ceasar’s Gallic Wars 5.12)
The Eastern Orthodox still have major traditions in all branches for abstaining from all meat. In most monastic orders they often have only one day per week for eating fish. Still in either case, food laws even in Hebrew times were relaxed for the greater festivals, like Tabernacles where it says to eat whatsoever your soul lusteth after. There has remained a tradition on festival days to eat more than you eat on a normal day, even foods that would be considered only a delicacy. However while under no circumstance would I recommend pork, there are those who interpret it in Hebrew theology to include eating of pork on such larger week festivals as Tabernacles.
The historical understanding of Peter’s vision of the sheet coming down was NOT understood to mean that now everyone can eat everything. The verse itself in fact says it had to do with people, not with foods (Acts 10:9-16).
The early church father Saint Jerome wrote expounding upon the paraphrased verse “..forbidding to marry…. ..every creature of God is good, and none are to be refused if received with thanksgiving” (1Timothy 4:4) He wrote that this was NOT referring to swines flesh, but that it referred to marriage to a spouse, and partaking in all the cares of having a family.
Jerome said it was a “precept” that indeed had to do with all the belly desires (like marriage) that concern our lives in this world.
This agrees with 1Timothy 4:3 “..forbidding to marry and abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”(note “commanding” is not in the original) Verse 4-5 speaks of having “prayerful intercourse” with the meats?? which couldn’t be referring of speaking together with the pork meal…
Saint Jerome wrote to the Imperial Lady Salvina who had just been widowed and was still attractive. He said she is one who rightfully “rejects pork”. He praised her piety in rejecting pork, however, said that it’s even more pious if she will now as a widow be continuously fasting and reject other more savory and expensive meats like the black cocks of Iona, etc.
He further elaborated about abstaining from meats, wines, etc, and even the verse that “every creature of God is good, and none are to be refused if received with thanksgiving” he equated all to be a part of the precepts of when we are serving the fleshly life rather than the spiritual life. He said it referred more to all the concerns of bearing children, having a spouse and serving the flesh. However, admonished her, although she was still youthful to remain a widow and abstain from all meats (remarriages/flesh desires) and wines to be a deaconess for the church. Which she did do under ArchBishop Chrystom of Constantinople.
Source: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001079.htm (Letter from Jerome to Imperial Lady Salvina)
Read more on Jerome promoting the Sabbath, in the booklet “Honouring the Sabbath in The Historic Orthodox Church” subchapter “The Early Orthodox Church Held Onto Sabbath“
In the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem he was admonishing the church of many good things regarding the Canon of Scripture. Among these were the following phrases. We believe he is incorrect in some points, however this demonstrates the dietary laws was a matter still to be addressed. Several of his conclusions however we don’t agree with. For example, he chose to leave out the book of Revelation from the Canon of Scripture. He considered it Apocryphal and not to be read. Nevertheless, it is a good historical proof that there were various issues such as the dietary laws circulating around in the 4th Century Eastern Orthodox Church:
“And if ever thou hear any of the heretics speaking evil of the Law or the Prophets, answer in the sound of the Saviour’s voice, saying, Jesus came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it.
“…Keep away from all sabbathical observances(this Greek word for observances is “paratēreō” which in the Bible is always in a negative context of fault finding. It is also used for when they looked for ways to kill Jesus. The Greek dictionary defines the word as “observe scrupulously”.),…”
“.. and do not call some foods clean and unclean because they are all indifferent” [note: Preferring to call all meat indifferent, was the common teaching in abstaining from “all meats”, not just pork. Nevertheless it shows the teaching of unclean meats continued as a popular doctrine.]
The Nestorians (who came out of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Constantinople) continued to guard the dietary laws. As we can prove, the rest of the orthodox have continued to believe it’s a sin. The Nestorians are known for keeping the Sabbath day and the dietary laws.
“The Nestorians eat no pork and keep the Sabbath. They believe in neither auricular confession nor purgatory.” Schaff-Herzog, The New Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, art. “Nestorians”
“They(Nestorians) abstain from pork and every other meat prohibited in the law of Moses.” (Wolff’s Researches, p. 469).
The Seven Maccabean Saints who were tortured and Martyred for refusing to eat pork.
Gregory of Nazianzus in his fiftheenth oration, commemorated their Martyrdom for abstaining from pork. He said that such civil disobedience in order to keep the dietary laws was to be “living in accordance with the cross.”
Augustine of Hippo said “the Maccabees really are martyrs of Christ”.
John Chrystom of Constantinople argued in favor of the martyrs saying that “people who were killed for the Law shed their blood for the giver of the Law, (Jesus the Christ)”
The Celtic Church was Hebrew and Eastern Orthodox
The Celtic Church which occupied Ireland, Scotland, and Britain, had the Syriac (Byzantine) scriptures instead of the Latin vulgate of Rome. The Celtic Church, with the Waldenses and the Eastern empire, kept the seventh-day Sabbath.
The hundreds of pre-schism Orthodox Saints of Great Britain bear the strongest testimony of these facts. Today the Eastern churches still venerate most of these. For Britain alone we have cataloged 130 official Saints of England who pre-dated Augustine. An example of the most popular pre-schism Orthodox Saints of England can be found online on such sites as http://www.oodegr.co/english/istorika/britain/British_Saints.htm. Our list of the 130 English Saints before Augustine can be found at http://glastonburyculdee.org/130%20british%20Saints%20before%20augustine.pdf
Hebrew Celtic Law
Not only was the Celtic church using a Syriac Byzantine Bible, but they were more successful in guarding the whole law of YAHWEH.
One example of the Hebrew Celtic Law is the Ex Lieber Moisi.
The Liber ex Lege Moisi, was distributed by Saint Patrick and his successors at every Celtic church, whether in England, Scotland or Ireland.
Summary of contents:
- The seventh day Sabbath.
- Slavery and the relationship of master to servants
- Various capital offences.
- Compensation in money of “kind” for different crimes.
- Animals’ offences against person and property.
- Animals used as food, clean and unclean, and slaughtering.
- Sex and marriage.
- Feminine hygiene.
- Tithes, first-fruits, vows, and offerings of all kinds.
- Justice, bribery, witnesses, traduction, and usury.
- Cities of refuge, asylum, and hospitality.
- Wizards and necromancy and human sacrifices.
- Inheritance, and the Sabbatical and Jubilees years, debts.
- Sights of a true prophet.
- Cursing and blessing.
This formed the basis of beliefs by the Celtic Christians.
The regulations of Adamnan, accepted that people could eat the unclean swine, but not if it was too fat. The pigs must be lean.
The dietary habits of Columba were clearly described as abstaining from meat and ale. (see “Old-Irish Life of Columba”, or “Amhra Chulimb Chille”.)
Early Roman Church Fathers
Often the records of their dealings with the early Celtic Culdee church are quite telling.
In the biography of Augustine who came from Rome A.D. 596, to convert the heathen Saxons, we are told that he found the people of Britain in the most grievous and intolerable heresies, “being given to Judaizing, but ignorant of the holy sacraments and festivals of the church.” i.e. (Didn’t know of December 25, pork eating, etc.) (Mrs. Tamar Davis : “History of Sabbatarian Churches,” p. 108. Phila 1851.) ..
Irenaeus, A.D. 178, says that the church in his time was spread throughout the World; and especially mentions the churches in Germany, Spain, Gaul, and Britain. He adds: “There is no difference of faith or tradition in any of these countries.”…
The credit of introducing Christianity into Britain region has been claimed not only for Paul, but also for Peter, Philip, John, Simon Zelotes, and Joseph of Arimathea…
Venantius Fortunatus, A.D. 560, says: “St. Paul passed over the ocean to the Island of Britain, and to Thule, the extremity of the earth.” (Ireland)
While most know in their own practices to at least limit pork, we believe it’s important to show that it’s still a sin that should be completely turned from.
Today’s Mainstream Larger Churches
Today there are still many denominations who claim Apostolic succession and teach that we should not eat pork as official doctrine. Some examples are:
Syrian Orthodox Church
Coptic Church of Alexandria
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Western denominations with more than 100,000 members:
The United Church of God (formerly Worldwide Church of God)
The Seventh Day Adventist Church
Israelite Jewish/Hebrew Messianic Assemblies