Dietary Laws – a dispensational marker

by Bob Davidson


As God is dealing with different groups of people in different ways at different times, i.e. dispensationally, it is to be expected that some practices would characterise different dispensations. Such things could be considered dispensational markers. One area worth examining is dietary rules, for God has given rules about food from the beginning.

Pre-Flood Laws

Before the fall the Lord told Adam: Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: Gen. 2:16. The only exception was that they were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were vegetarians.

After the expulsion from Eden, Abel was a keeper of sheep Gen. 4:2, and Jabal had cattle Gen. 4:20, but there is no record of whether they ate these animals, and no comment by God.

After the Flood – New Laws

No dietary pronouncements were made until after the flood, but when they came the new rules were revolutionary. “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” (Gen. 9:3) Man could eat any animal or any plant, but no blood (Gen.9:4). This was a major change and marks a new phase in God’s dealing with man. At this time God entered into a covenant with man, marked by the rainbow.

The Mosaic Law – New Laws

The next changes to the rules were given to Israel at the time of the Exodus. There were specific changes related to Passover, but also far-reaching changes related to general dietary rules. These rules, the basis of kosher food rules which exist to the present day in the Jewish community, were given during Israel’s time in the desert.

The things they could eat included: animals which are cloven footed, and chew the cud. (Lev. 11:3), fish which have fins & scales (Lev. 11:9), the locust, the beetle and the grasshopper (Lev.11:21-22.).

The things they could not eat included: fat and blood (Lev. 3:17), whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and … upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things (Lev.11:42), that which dieth of itself, or is torn with beasts (Lev. 22:8).

There were many more detailed changes than these few, and most can be found in Leviticus. The Lord told Israel why he had given these rules. It was to make them different from other nations. “I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people. Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl . ……. which I have separated from you as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine. (Lev. 20:24-26)

These laws mark a major change in God’s dealing with man and are associated with the Old Covenant between God and Israel.

Acts Period – New Laws

No more dietary changes were made until the book of Acts. There are two changes of note in Acts.

The first occurs when Peter is confronted by God. Peter fell into a trance while waiting for a meal to be prepared. He saw a sheet lowered from heaven containing all sorts of animals and birds. He was told to kill and eat but he refused, saying he had never eaten anything unclean or common. Peter was told not to call what God had cleansed, common. This was done three times. It is recorded in Acts 10:11-16.

Although Peter was not aware of it at the time, the Lord was about to begin dealing with the gentiles. The dietary rules which had been designed to separate Israel from the gentiles would be a hindrance in this situation, and so their importance was reduced. He could eat almost anything, for God had told him that anything God had cleansed was clean.

There is another dietary revelation during the Acts period. There were problems among Israelite believers concerning gentile believers. A church conference in Jerusalem gave dietary advice to gentile believers – “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19,20).

Clearly they had considered Peter’s experience for there was no mention of clean and unclean animals. This was a new dispensation following Christ’s death and resurrection and there were new rules.

The Present Dispensation – New Laws

In the present dispensation, which began at the rejection of Christ by Israel in Acts 28, there is a new approach to rules or ordinances.

“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances.” (Col. 2:20) We are not to be subject to rules about such things. Specifically about food we are told, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat” (Col 2:16). There are no food rules. Not even blood is mentioned.

So, it can be seen that whenever there were changes in the way God dealt with man there were changes in the dietary rules, making these rules very good markers of the various dispensations.

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Response to the above article

In response to the above article, the following question was asked …

Question: What are ‘dispensational markers’? Is that a scriptural term, or has it been coined by someone?

Reply: (by David Tavender)

The phrase “dispensational markers” is not a term which is found in Scripture. The author of the article in question, Bob Davidson, used the term to describe a concept in Scripture which we believe to be correct – namely that God has dealt with different people in different ways at different times, and that the conditions and laws we read in Scripture sometimes vary, depending on how God chooses to deal with a given group at a certain time.

To highlight this, Bob wrote about the different dietary laws which applied to different groups of people at different times throughout Scripture. For example, he illustrated the differences in the laws given by God to Adam in Genesis 2:16, to Noah in Genesis 9:3,4; to the children of Israel in Leviticus chs. 3, 11 & 22; to the Gentiles in Acts 15:19,20; and Christians in general today in Colossians 2:16,20 – all of which, though given by the one Lord’s hand, differ in detail. The idea was that the variety in dietary laws was a consequence, or visible “marker”, of the change in dispensation each time.

As for my own opinion, the term “dispensational markers” is one which may be used or not used as desired. However, I do certainly agree with the concept of what was being put forward in Bob’s article. Differences in various commands and circumstances throughout the Scriptures is often an indication that something has changed in God’s dealings with man. The examples put forward in the above article concerning dietary laws are good indicators of changes in dispensation.

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