Wednesday, June 10, 2009






Question and Answer Details.

Name of Questioner: Jody - Mexico
Title: Jesus & the Consumption of Pork
Date : 18/May/2009
Question: As the swine flu outbreak continues spreading, some people blame Christianity for this, my question is did prophet Jesus command the people to eat pig meat? Where does the idea of eating pork come from?

Topic : Interfaith Issues
Name of Counselor : Idris Tawfiq.


Salam, Jody.

Thank you for your very interesting question. It is interesting because I don't think there are even many Christians who would be able to answer it.

Before answering it, let us first of all reject out of hand the very suggestion that Christianity is in any way responsible for the outbreak of swine flu. Such an idea is ridiculous. According to World Health Organization, there is no evidence that swine flu is transmissible to people through eating pork or any other products obtained from pigs. If pork is properly cooked, it will not transmit the virus.

The fact that Christians eat pork does not make them responsible for a medical illness. If that were the case, what about people with no faith or adherents of any of the religions of Africa or South-East Asia who also eat pork? Are they responsible, too?

Your question about Jesus, though, is important. You are asking, just where exactly did the command come from that allowed the eating of pork, when Judaism clearly did not allow it?

In the first place, we need to recognize that, according to the Christian Gospels, there were pigs in Palestine at the time of Jesus (peace be upon him). In one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus healing a young man possessed with devils, Jesus commands the devils to leave the man and to go, instead, into a head of pigs.

In the story, the pigs then rush off a nearby cliff and are killed. In Saint Luke's story of the Prodigal Son, too, Jesus talks about a young man who goes off with his share of the inheritance and wastes it on wine, women and song, until he is so penniless that he has to take a job looking after pigs.

So clearly there were pigs around. What were they doing in Palestine, when Jews do not eat pork? Who were they for? In fact, both the Romans and the Greeks used to eat pork as a delicacy, so we must assume that the pigs were bred either for export or to feed the Romans who were occupying Palestine at the time.

In one of the first books of the Old Testament the Jews are told very clearly which animals they may eat and which animals they may not eat. We read:

"… and the pig, which does indeed have hoofs and is cloven-footed, but does not chew the cud and is therefore unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their dead bodies you shall not touch; they are unclean for you." (Leviticus 11:7-8)

To this day, Jews do not eat pork.

From what we read in the Gospels, Jesus says nothing at all about eating or not eating pork, so where do his Christian followers get the idea from that it is permissible to eat pork?

As a prophet of Islam, Jesus would not have eaten pork, but it is highly unlikely, according even to the Gospel accounts themselves, that he would have done so as a Jew.

Why the change, then? Why do Christians eat pork, if they believe that their religion grew out of the Jewish one, which forbids it?

Jesus, in fact, is quoted as saying in Saint Matthew's Gospel,

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I didn't come to destroy them, but to fulfill them."

In such a case, then, we can only presume that he left untouched the instruction about pork.

The answer, in fact, lies not with Jesus, but with the Church which grew up after him and claimed to speak in his name.

After Jesus died, according to a book called Acts of the Apostles written by St Luke, a dispute arose among his followers about those who converted to Christianity. In the earliest days, the followers of Jesus were known as "followers of the Way." They did not consider themselves as anything other than Jews, but they followed the teachings of the Jewish rabbi, Jesus. It was only later in Antioch that they first came to be called "Christians."

Some people said that if someone wanted to be a follower of Jesus, he clearly had to become a Jew first.

"But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, 'It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic Law.' The apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter." (Acts 15:5)

A meeting was held in Jerusalem to discuss this. It was much more important than a debate about circumcision, since its results would determine the future of those who followed Jesus. There were basically two arguments.

The first was put forward by the Apostle James, heavily influenced by Peter. He upheld the traditional view about circumcision and observation of the Jewish Law. In other words, as Jews the followers of Jesus had to follow the Jewish laws.

Paul of Tarsus, on the other hand, said that there was no longer any need for those new to Christianity to observe the Mosaic Law and become Jews, since Christianity was something different to Judaism.

A compromise was reached. Those who were born as Jews but who had become followers of Jesus would continue to observe the laws of the Jews. Those who were converts did not have to. The prevailing idea was expressed by Peter,

"The truth I have come to realize is that God does not have favorites. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him." (Acts 10:34).

Laws particular to the Jews would no longer need to apply.

So, you see, it was not Jesus who changed the rule about eating pork. He was quite clear that the Law said you must not do so. As in so many other cases, it was his followers, who became known as the Church, who made this new rule.

If Christians did not have to become Jews, then Christians were no longer bound by the rules of circumcision or of dietary requirements. They could eat as much pork as they wanted.

These leaders would ultimately declare, three hundred years later, that Jesus was God.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.