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    An Incomplete Theology of Nutrition

    August 12, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    All Scripture is breathed out by God
    and profitable for teaching, for reproof,
    for correction, and for training in righteousness,
    that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
    I Timothy 3:16-17

    For the word of God is living and active,
    sharper than any two-edged sword,
    piercing to the division of soul and of spirit,
    of joints and of marrow,
    and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
    Hebrews 4:12

    [dropcap]S[/dropcap]hortly before Si fell ill, I encountered the concept of a Paleo Diet {also called a Hunter-Gatherer Diet} for the first time. My intuitive self immediately had a mental red flag when I read this:

    The Paleo Diet is a way of eating in the modern age that best mimics the nutrition of our evolutionary and genetic heritage – an ancestral, Paleolithic diet. For millions of years our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate combinations of lean meats, seafoods, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. But today in America, more than 70% of our dietary calories come from foods that our Paleolithic {Stone Age} ancestors rarely if ever ate … and that modern humans are not genetically adapted to eat. The result is epidemic levels of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, arthritis, acne, gastrointestinal disease, and more.

    Incomplete Theology of Nutrition

    What was interesting to me was not that someone managed to turn evolutionary theory into grounds for a diet, for I have seen this done with everything from theories of medicine to theories of education to theories of government, but that there were a number of Christian food blogs that were making reference to this diet without batting an eye or questioning its validity.

    I told Si about the diet and he, being the critical thinker that he is, immediately told me to think about better things.

    My researching self asked what better thing is there to think about than Scripture? I began to wonder if Scripture had anything useful to say about nutrition or, at the very least, food. {Can you believe I have spent years asking Google about this, rather than God?} Here is what I have learned so far. Part of this is a critique of the Paleo Diet itself, and part is broad observation.

    1. The underlying assumptions of the Paleo Diet are a rejection of what the Bible tells us is true. For instance, on the Paleo Diet website, we read:

      the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry approximately 10,000 years ago occurred too recently on an evolutionary timescale for the human genome to adjust.

      This is patently false. Scripture tells us that agriculture, in the form of a garden, was invented by God Himself at the very beginning of humanity. A garden was mankind’s perfect, God-designed environment. To say that we are not designed for agriculture is to deny the nature of creation and the created order.

      Animal husbandry was likely practiced by Adam, starting from when he named the animals, but was most definitely practiced by his son, Abel, who kept flocks. God made plants for man to cultivate that were designed to be food for us. It is a curse upon the land and its inhabitants when it is allowed or otherwise caused to remain uncultivated, which the Bible calls a wasteland. When God restores a land, one of the signs is that the land is no longer a wilderness, but again cultivated by man. In fact, a king who himself pursues agriculture is a blessing to his kingdom.

      There are so many folks out there who extol or romanticize this cave man/nomad existence. Culturally speaking, I would say that our departure from the family farm is probably one of our root problems. We no longer have kings who are connected to the land in any significant way, and as such they are lacking in certain types of wisdom.

      God designed man to be agrarian, not a hunter/gatherer. This doesn’t make gathering wild blueberries sinful, but living as a permanent wanderer is not a blessing. That was a result of the fall of man and the first murder, and it is a curse.

      Objection? Perhaps God made the garden to exist in a more hunter/gatherer state, and I am reading into the text? I do not think so, and I will tell you why: God commands Adam and Eve to rule, or have dominion over, the garden. The Hebrew word here is kabash, and it does not mean to passively interact with the garden; it means to put into subjection, to rule, to subdue. The idea is one of taking something wild and making it tame.

      The word kabash is used fewer than twenty times in Scripture. In Numbers, it deals with conquering the land and casting out God’s enemies from it. In Jeremiah, it is used when people are subdued and brought into slavery. There is even a sense of violence to this word in that it is very forceful and man or God WILL have his way. Of course, in a pre-fall existence, there is no fight of man v. nature in the way we think of it now. However, the land was not intended to be wild, but rather tamed and brought under Man’s express command. My personal thought is that the Garden was probably big enough for 2-4 people. As the human family grew, they would expand the borders of the Garden, developing the land as they went along.

    2. The Paleo Diet seems to be very heavy on meat consumption. Scripture warns us about being with people who eat too much meat. It also says that there are certain circumstances that would make a vegetarian meal superior to a fattened ox, which was feasting meat for special occasions. Daniel proved the superiority of God Himself through a strict vegetarian diet for a time; his nutritional success came from God Himself, and not the perfection of his food.
    3. The Paleo Diet theory contains a broad rejection of bread, and especially wheat. Now, you know our history, that our children were once allergic to gluten, casein, corn, coffee, chocolate, caffeine, soy, and so on. It is sensible to avoid foods which cause problems with individuals. What I am uncomfortable with is saying that these things are inherently bad, for all people all the time. There are so many references to bread in the Bible that I cannot list them all, but it seems sufficient to say that it played an important role in the diet of the people of God, and it was not on the list of forbidden foods by any means.When God spells out the benefits of His Promised Land, He says that it is flowing with milk and honey, and is a place of wheat and barley, fruit, olive oil. We are commanded by Christ to pray and ask God for our daily bread.An important thought concerning bread is a little more abstract: Jesus is said to be the Bread of Life, or the Bread of Heaven. If we assert that bread is “bad” we are not just destroying physical bread, but also all of the symbolism wrapped up in the idea of bread. The very ordinance of holy communion is in jeopardy when we reject bread! I believe that there is a side of this that is an assault on the faith and a distraction from more important issues.
    4. Depending on who you read, the Paleo Diet often contains an outright rejection of dairy products. These are traditional foods for humanity since the beginning of human generations. For instance, in Genesis 18, when the LORD visits Abraham, among the foods served is not only milk, but curds, revealing that dairy products were regularly used as curd takes a bit of time to procure. (Incidentally, he also serves a quick bread, or at least a bread that wasn’t fermented days and days.) Jael gave Sisera milk which she carried in a skin, even when he asked for water. When David’s people were hungry and tired and thirsty, they were brought wheat products, and also dairy products such as curds, cheese, and also milk. Goat’s milk is said to provide nourishment. It is only living on milk alone which is considered infantile and therefore inappropriate.
    5. The Paleo Diet often contains a vilification of legumes which seems inappropriate. These are things that Scripture tells us are food. Jacob serves lentil stew to Esau. Beans and lentils feed David and his people when they are famished. Lentils were farmed in large quantities. Ezekiel was commanded to eat a bread made from a recipe provided by the LORD Himself, a recipe that included not only wheat and barley, millet and spelt, but also beans and lentils. This sounds very similar to the bread carried by the ancient Roman army; it was fermented for a month or more before consumption, which, incidentally, digested all or most of the gluten proteins.It is not wrong for a person to avoid foods that make him feel badly. Jonathan Edwards, for instance, was known for keeping himself on a very strict diet because he was so sensitive to various foods. But that is different than standing up and saying that these things are unhealthy for the human race. The bulk of Scripture says that these things are created by God to nourish the body, and this is why I cannot accept the premise of the Paleo Diet.
    6. The Bible shows us that sickness can come from more than just a simple lack of vitamins. That is a human assumption, and peculiar to modern times. In Exodus there is an interesting passage connecting food with health, but in a spiritual sense rather than a nutritional sense:

      Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.

      Exodus 23:24-26

      In Deut. 28:60-62, disobedience brings sickness and disaster as well. We see this constantly in Scripture, though sometimes it is disobedience of an individual, and sometimes individuals are reaping the consequences of cultural rebellion (Deut. 28:58-59, c.f. I Cor. 11:29-31). The LORD sent disease as judgment on the household of Pharaoh and all of the Egyptians in Exodus. Wasting diseases and fever are the result if Israel breaks the covenant (Lev. 26:15-17). Health and fertility belong to God’s people when they, as a whole, honor and serve Him, keeping the covenant (Deut. 7:14-16). In II Chronicles, the Lord struck some of the kings with various diseases of bowels, feet, etc. And then in John 9 we see the man who was born blind, not from sin, but so God could be glorified in his healing later in life. It’s not that I’m saying that vitamins or even bacteria are not involved, but that Scripture reveals other causes as well.

    7. Forbidding foods is a sign of a false teacher. In I Timothy, the warning against the binding of others’ consciences concerning food is clear:

      Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

      I Timothy 4:2-5

    8. The Bible associates health, fertility, {even having a good breastmilk supply, c.f. Hosea 9:14} and long life with things other than diet. Namely, obedience, to God or to parents. Living wisely also. The covenant community keeping the covenant, even in the {seemingly} little things. Good news and a cheerful spirit can bring health to the bones or be considered good medicine. The simple favor of God is often a reason for good health, biblically speaking. And healing is said to come from God.

     

    My “Food Philosophy”

    All of the above is not to say that it does not matter whether, for instance, we eat real food or we eat something manufactured from inedible coal tar and chemicals produced in a laboratory. God uses means; we all know this. But the Bible says clearly that eating in obedience to God has more to do with an attitude of thankfulness and a spirit of submission to the Lord than a list of dietary guidelines.

    For instance, there is this interesting little tidbit in the New Testament in regard to foods:

    God has created [it] to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

    I Timothy 4:3-5

    There are two observations I have about this passage that, for me, form the foundation of how I have learned to view eating “Christianly.”

    First, “everything created by God.” We have a whole hosts of things defined by a governmental agency as “food” which were not created by God. If I eat a rock and get a stomach ache, I am eating something which is not among the foods created by God. The same goes for Red 40, aspartame, and vitamins derived from coal tar. God created food for our bodies, but the industrial economy often encourages us to eat something else.

    Along these lines, but not in the passage above, is the idea that food, specifically animal products, can become “unhealthy” because the animals have eaten {or in this case been fed} against God’s express design in the created order. A most extreme example of this is Mad Cow (or Creutzfeldt-Jakob) Disease. Man gets this from eating an infected cow. Cows get this by eating against God’s design, which is to say that they were fed animal products when ruminants are designed by God to eat grass and shrubs. Eating outside of God’s design hurts man and animal alike.

    I believe that God intended us to eat food as He made it. So, for instance, we eat milk that hasn’t been tampered with {raw, not homogenized, organic–from a goat we raise as well as possible} and we eat whole grains. I don’t think this makes us superior to people who choose not to do this, but I do think we need to ask ourselves if God really intended for milk fat to be blasted into teensy-tiny particles.

    My second observation is something I deem far more important, as things go: Scripture says that food is something we are to be thankful for, and it is sanctified by God’s word and prayer. The word sanctified here is agiazo, which means that it is cleansed and purified, set apart and made holy. Let’s hear it for eating pure and holy food! That sounds as pristine as an unadulterated glacial water source in some isolated location in Greenland.

    In general, diets like the Paleo Diet, or others like extreme food combining, tend to make us ungrateful for our food — real food that God made. We turn our nose up at bread made from real ingredients, or deem legumes some sort of cosmic mistake. This is quite far away from what the Bible says about eating in faith.

    When it comes to food, God has certain things that He requires here: a thankful heart, prayer, and the Word … which is pretty much what He requires of His people in all things.

    From personal experience, I can tell you that strict diets, even necessary ones, like the one our family was on during our fight with food allergies, are a form of bondage. They change the way you live. They dictate where you eat and who you eat with. They make you opt out of birthday parties because it is just too hard to make them work, especially with extremely small, extremely allergic children.

    And yet now, here we are, out of bondage, and for a short while I was tempted to put us back into it, a completely inappropriate action for someone whom Christ has set free. I should desire slavery in nothing and seek freedom whenever and wherever it is possible.

    A final thought, courtesy of Blog and Mablog:

    Foodism in America constitutes a significant false religion, and there are way too many Christians who do not realize the extent of their syncretistic compromises.

    [snip]

    [W]e have found ourselves saddled with a guilt-ridden, works-righteousness approach to our daily bread. How many Christians torture themselves with self-rebuke because they aren’t “eating healthy enough?” They didn’t have a whole lot of time for lunch yesterday, so they didn’t walk the three blocks necessary to get that bean sprout sandwich, and instead just stopped at the street vendor on the first corner. Instead of feeling guilty, though, they ought simply to have thanked God for the hot dog. What? Too spiritual to thank God for a hot dog?

     

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    14 Comments

  • Reply Why She Went Gluten Free | Afterthoughts June 21, 2019 at 9:12 am

    […] explained my thoughts on food in more detail six years ago in my post An Incomplete Theology of Nutrition. The pertinent part of that, for today’s discussion, at least, is when I explained how […]

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 15, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    You’re welcome, Carrie. 🙂

  • Reply Carrie Corder November 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I have been looking for a Christian response to the Paleo diet, and I found it!

  • Reply Mystie September 20, 2009 at 5:18 am

    Brandy, Matt and I have had similar thoughts lately about poisonous plants and such. A visiting pastor mentioned as a side point while preaching in Genesis that nothing was created after the fall. So, he was saying that weeds, viruses, immune systems, etc. all existed in the perfect world, but in balance. I have sympathies with the perspective that says our ideas of “perfect” are skewed to think it means easy and like a Thomas Kinkade painting, but I haven’t really figured out what that means or implies yet. 🙂

    Also, I disagree with the view that says the dietary and ceremonial laws were “good hygiene” ideas God made moral imperatives for Israel. They were symbolic of God making his people clean (washings) and of setting His people apart in *obvious* ways from surrounding cultures (circumcision & diet). They were all fulfilled in Christ and, especially with regard to animals, explicitly abolished in the New Testament, without a hint of “even though it’d still be a good idea” to not eat pork or such. I think there’s also a lot of symbolism in the law that we just don’t get because we aren’t steeped in it and we (as a culture) hardly believe in symbolism, although we do believe in salvation/sanctification through diet.

    I’ve read arguments that say all the dietary restrictions and clean/unclean distinctions have to do with cleanliness, but the point isn’t hygiene, but ceremonial and spiritual cleanness that shows our need for Christ and is fulfilled in Him. I wish I could remember where that was, but I can’t. Sorry!

  • Reply Brandy September 20, 2009 at 4:19 am

    Rachel,

    I like soaking my grains, but I agree that we shouldn’t consider it some sort of Biblical imperative. I do wonder if the NT (Nourishing Traditions) folks are on to something when they say that there is wisdom in the process, but wisdom shouldn’t necessitate feeling guilty because I forgot to soak my rice last night!

    Okay, this is going to sound like a wildcard question here, but something I have been thinking about the past few days is: what do you do with poisonous plants? Are they a result of the Fall? How does this impact how we see the healthfulness of Creation in general? I was thinking of this in terms of soy, which I consider to be a rank weed as a general rule. I have a thyroid problem, and soy is goitrogenic, so I avoid it like the plague, even the soybean oils. In addition to this, soy is a phytoestrogen, so I refuse to feed it to my sons. I want lots of grandsons. 😉

    Soy isn’t mentioned in the Bible, that I know of, but what do you think when someone questions the healthfulness of a certain food like that? I am trying to analyze my own biases here. Am I off-base?

  • Reply Rachel R. September 17, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    I agree! I have the same difficulties with Christians who advocate a vegan diet for everyone, or the “necessity” of soaking our grains, etc. These just don’t hold up to Scripture. (You might like What the Bible Says About Healthy Living.

    However, I do think it’s healthiest to avoid consuming those animals that God called unclean. It isn’t necessary for righteousness’ sake, but I believe it’s beneficial for health’s sake. The One who created our bodies surely knows what will nurture them! And I believe that the specific instructions God gave the Israelites were partially to serve as the means for protecting them from illness. Washing after touching the dead, or before eating, for instance, are things we now know have an impact on our health. I believe that the dietary laws do, as well.

  • Reply Brandy August 19, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Hi Sara,

    I have been thinking about you for a couple days, ever since I received your comment. There is such a burden in our society concerning diet, and a lot of this is because of the way it is all set up. Food used to be a central part of community, and I don’t just mean eating it. Producing it was something that communities did. It was something families did. But we have set up a world in which it is hard to find real food, and expensive at that.

    For us, this means that we are grazing laying ducks in our backyard (caged due to local laws) and we have a garden that we hope to expand every year. This will help us obtain food that God made with less difficulty and expense, plus we become producers and not just consumers.

    With that said, I can identify with having major health issues that are impacted by diets. We lived that way for years due to our two older children being allergic to so many things. You will have to pray for wisdom in this area. Just because God made something to be food doesn’t mean that removing it from my own individual diet wouldn’t be beneficial. I think of children who have peanut allergies. We can affirm, on the one had, that God made something that is good, and, on the other hand, that the child’s body is broken and cannot handle peanuts.

    The danger lies in someone who is allergic to peanuts asserting that God made something bad when He made peanuts.

    So a lot of life is going to be that way for you, if you have health issues. You’re going to have to discern the path of Wisdom and follow her. Depending on what your health issues are, however, this might be temporary. I think of the GAPS diet, where a person can eliminate a food for a couple years, which should bring about healing and allow reintroduction of that food later on.

    If I were you, I’d find a Neurolink practitioner in your area (or use my doctor if you are in CA). I am a firm believer in the ability of this technique to promote health, encouraging the body to function as God created it to.

  • Reply Sara Morse August 17, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you so much for writing such a thoughtful, Biblically grounded post about nutrition. We deal with some health issues, and have definitely been struggling with our diet. Many of the diets we have looked into are very strict and cut out many of the natural God-made foods we eat on a regular basis. I have been feeling overwhelmed with trying to figure out the best way for us to eat, and with the cost of eating this way. I’m not saying that we are going to give up eating healthy. We get raw milk and belong to a food co-op to buy from local farmers. However, it is so good to be reminded about our great God who knew exactly what our bodies need when He created the world. And, it is good to be reminded that the biggest thing that should be on our minds is not our diets, but the saving work of Christ on our behalf. Thanks!

  • Reply mrs. owens August 14, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Amen sista!!! Well said!

  • Reply Regular Jane from Oregon August 14, 2009 at 1:42 am

    Wow. I love how thoroughly you thought about this post and your response to the Paleo Diet. Thank you!

  • Reply Brandy August 13, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    It is so easy to end up in “bondage” to diets in this culture. We have been this way for at least a generation, for I remember my own mother studying food combining when I was a child.

    It really isn’t to say that these things are wrong per say, but that to the extent which they make us ungrateful for the things God has made (or say something untrue about what God has made), the diets themselves are unhealthy for our souls. I remember reading about food combining and then questioning legumes; I literally thought God had made a mistake! How upside down my world was for a while there.

    By they way: Today I feel convicted about the comments I made about milk. I think that the milk I drink should be considered an Ideal Type. The only thing better is loving and owning your own cow. But not everyone has this accessible, and pasteurization has greatly increased the safety of milk from inferior herds. I don’t think someone should feel guilty about drinking that, and so I’m sorry if it sounded that way.

    Karen, I am so glad to hear that allergy elimination is working for you! It is so freeing, and I love hearing about it working for other families. As far as sugar goes, that has been a battle for us, too. We actually had a person in our family who was allergic to sugar and, like a lot of allergy patients, craved it very intensely. In general, I think each family has to use wisdom and keep in mind their own constitutions when it comes to sugar. I, for one, am looking into the possibility of growing stevia. I don’t know if it would work, but if it did, I could use it for anything that didn’t require the other chemical properties of sugar, and I think that’d be beneficial for us.

    Kimbrah,

    I think I would like to borrow the book sometime. Thanks!

  • Reply LivingByDailyGrace August 13, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Brandy,

    This is wonderfully written and very convicting. I often find myself in bondage to diet and such. We have allergic people as well. God in His great mercy led me to a gentleman who does the same type of desensitizing to food you have gone through. My extreme eczema 2 yod is no longer scratching his skin raw. I am trying to figure out who will be next once he’s finished with his treatments. I have felt a bit of release with our diet but I still have questioned what we should be eating. All summer I have simply wanted to relax, cook from scratch, and enjoy the food He’s given us. I have even been able to find some recipes for the condiments I love so much without all the “bad” stuff. One thing I do believe, as you do, if God didn’t make it as food we probably shouldn’t be eating it. But I have recently had to question myself in this area as well. I got all the junk out of our diet only to turn to organic junk. Just because the type of sugar used in a product is different doesn’t make it better. 🙁 I just wanted to say thank you for this post and helping me realize the Spirit was leading me somewhere all along. (Uh Oh. Hungry baby. She’s climbing me. LOL!!!! That is a new one.)

    In His Grace,

    Karen

  • Reply Kimbrah August 13, 2009 at 5:39 am

    Brandy-

    I really appreciated this post, what a great follow-up to Doug Wilson’s post!

    I remember the bondage of food allergies! May those days never return again!

    I don’t know if you have ever read the book “Holy Feast, Holy Fast” which discusses food in relation to religious practices, but I have it in case you ever want to borrow it. It is a really good read.

  • Reply Jennifer August 13, 2009 at 2:48 am

    What a well thought-out post, Brandy. It really spoke to me! The Paleo Diet is sitting right next to my Bible on my nightstand. There are significant portions of my day that are spent worrying over the food that I feed myself and my family. I can’t wait to read your thoughts to Beau. It is everything he has been saying to me for years! But clearer, and more concise. Or maybe, it’s just the fact that someone else is telling me… 🙂 I am saving this one. I want to worship the Lord, nothing and no one else

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